Newsletter,2008 -- Some Thoughts on the New Year
December 29, 2008
The Content of His CharacterFirst, because it sets the tone, we have so much hope for the administration of Barack Obama– not because of the color of his skin, but because he seems so elegantly smart, measured and willing to address the mess this country is currently in. In that spirit, we reach across many aisles this year. We send you greetings in the best sense of personal note cards and holiday letters wrapped in hopes for the future.
Royce Reaches for the Stars On his easel today is an oil painting of the Nebular Hypothesis he did several years ago which he is now expanding as he keeps re-pondering the universe. Julie’s “Blue Angels over San Francisco” is a popular note card. Perhaps, he wonders, would it be good to make prints for SF tourist shops?The note cards are now in gift shops in two San Francisco Kaiser Hospitals. And finally, with sadness but great resolve, Royce is resigning his post as CEO of the Oceanview, Merced, Ingleside Business League (OMIBL) to concentrate on Ravenna. (Italy, not Ohio!) Will this Renaissance artist ever relinquish the dream to study the influence of Asian and African art on early Christianity? Even as we talk, he’s looking for a sponsor.
Grace A tourist asked the lady docent why San Francisco’s Episcopal cathedral is named for Grace and not Saint Somebody. “What exactly does grace mean?” he asked. The answer, remembered from Salvation Army Colonel Ray Robinson years ago, was just two words – “unearned favor”. For us, the cathedral is a blessing, a remarkable gift of ideas and solace, a place so inclusive that symbols of the world’s great religions are placed equally in the AIDS interfaith chapel of healing – Islam, Christianity, Taoism, Native American, Shintoism, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Jainism and an all-encompassing circle recognizing other traditions.
We ask the question again and again. How can we ever heal if we don’t reach across the barriers which separate us?
All That Jazz A few years ago, Jerri Lange* and I were sitting across the table from each other at a Sunday brunch in Oakland. Some African-American guests were giving wonderful histories of their heritage. Jerri teared up and said, "God, I love black people!" "Me, too, Jerri," I said. "Me, too! I did not marry the black community. I married Royce Vaughn.But what a world he opened up for me…."
This November we went to the 80th birthday party of Dr. Willis Kirk at the Oakland Boat Club. Royce knows him as the former president of City College, a drummer of note, composer of a jazz Mass, author of a book on drum brush skills, mentor to many and a good customer of California Collectors' Series cards. In addition to City College people, a wide variety of old friends from Willis’ jazz drumming life were present, including San Francisco favorite John Handy. They arrived with instruments in hand and after a down-home catered meal, the music began! Keyboard, drums, trumpets, saxophones, trombones, bass - each with solos and then all jamming together. At one time there were six trumpets, two saxes and one trombone playing at once.
Next, a fabulous surprise, “scat”, that special variety of vocalizing like an instrument that Ella FitzGerald made popular. The man who did it was incredible! Until now, “scat” was a word this Indiana honkey knew only through crossword puzzles. I was spellbound and ran back to Jerri who was sitting at another table, and reminded her, "Jerri, I love black people!" "Me, too," she said. "Me, too! Jazz is so much of our heritage. Kids today don't know how important this music was to us.”
After that, a young woman sang (make that wailed!) the blues. Using a California Collectors' Series card, Willis presented $100 to a 99 year old in honor of her years. A 90 year old who still performs on Thursday nights at a club in San Clemente, crooned "You Make Me Feel So Young."
The musicians -- both black and white -- had come from all over the country, including Indianapolis (Nap Town), Kokomo, Akron and Cleveland, those places we came from, too. It was a magical evening full of memories of people remembering fondly the days of Max Roach, Cal Tjader, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker....
An incredible evening.
From our family to yours, from our part of the world to yours,
we hope your pilgrimage this year is full of healing, peace
and wonderful adventure.
“We are a part of all we have met,” said Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
We believe that. We really do!
* Author of“Jerri: A Black Woman’s Life in the Media”