Terry Teachout, Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington
It is fitting that I am speaking on Jazz Sunday. Jazz has been an important part of my life since I was a freshman in high school, and it has influenced my life in many special ways. From my days as a Jazz DJ in college to my first dance with Joyce at our wedding, jazz has been instrumental to my life. This past summer, I read a biography about Duke Ellington by Terry Teachout, and it was a thrilling ride through the life and times of one of the greatest Americans to have ever lived. I learned many things about Duke, but there is one characteristic of Duke that caught my attention. He was a great listener. His orchestra would play three to five times a night in their heyday, and he carefully listened to the superbly talented men in his charge. From Cootie Williams and Johnny Hodges to Harry Carney and Jimmy Blanton, he listened closely to their riffs, solos, and melodic ideas, and then he turned these musical nuggets into some of his most memorable compositions. He would then feature the performer from whom he “borrowed” the idea for the new composition, thereby elevating the performance of the musician and creating unforgettable music.
I imagine that God is like Duke, sometimes. Without us knowing, he listens to us, and listens to us, and listens to us, and then he pulls out of us that characteristic within us that can get us through the toughest times. Many say that I am a patient person. Joyce might say that I am patient to a fault, the master of temporizing. On December 22nd, I sat in the basement of the Lowell Juvenile Courthouse from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. as I waited to witness a critical legal step in our journey to adopt Juliana. To make a very long story short, there were 12 people involved in this process from lawyers to social workers along with a taciturn judge, and anyone of them could have derailed Juliana’s process. I was beyond anxious and amped. I refused to leave the hallway outside of the courtroom, as I tried to figure out a way to convince everyone to do their job, and do it right for once. While I waited, I felt something tug at my ability to be patient. Inside of me, this sensation of patience calmed my soul; it was like a prayer came out of my belly. It was God’s grace working through me. God was gently pulling at that little riff inside of me, and I knew that I could get through the day….and yes, everyone did their job! I feel blessed knowing that God can work through me in quiet and powerful ways. Amen!