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The Wisdom of Yawdy Rum




YAWDY RUM - CODA, March 1, 2007, Jim Torok

This book is a work of fiction, and thus would not normally be reviewed in Coda. However, most of the book is about the jazz musicians who play in Preservation Hall in New Orleans, and the book is both fascinating and engaging. The musicians are fictional, but they show the kindness and friendliness found in many real Preservation
Hall jazzmen. The author puts himself into the book: An upper-level executive is required to travel a great deal to various locations including New Orleans. He is learning to play guitar and carries a guitar with him when he travels. He meets Yawdy Rum, an 81-yearold clarinet player in the Preservation Hall group, on an airliner. They become friends. Yawdy teaches him to play jazz better, gives him advice about life, and takes him to Preservation Hall. Some quotes:

"You know, we can all learn something from jazz…First, things don't start off complicated; we make them that way over time. Second, life is supposed to be fun. And third, if you love what you're doing, you never get tired of it."….

"Mister Mike, we all got a different place to play in the band, and we sure do need the others, don't we?"…

"Yawdy, how would you explain jazz at its most basic level. Would that be New Orleans Jazz?"

"I'd say so. To me, jazz is spiritual. It's about the rhythm of life. It's about the creative energy that flows through all of us."

"But it's still more than that, isn't it?"

"Well sure. There's the whole musical technique side of it. If you are goin' to understand jazz, you need to know a little about music theory, the way harmony works, rhythm, improvisation, instrument technique, and things like that."

"But some musicians play totally by ear, right?"

"Sure, and they're darn good, too. But to really know what's goin' on, you need the technical side as well."…
Yawdy showed Mike Congo Square. "The slaves who lived in New Orleans gathered here. New Orleans afforded them a bit greater level of tolerance and freedom than any other location in the South." … He continued, "And they danced. Some say an African line dance called the Calinda and the Bamboula. … I believe it was more the creative energy that brought jazz to life. I heard this anthropologist
one time givin' a talk on the subject. He used the term 'syncretism'. I think it means the blendin' together of two cultures" …There were French, Spanish, English, Acadians, and Native Americans all here together. Just look around, the ethnic diversity is still here"

"And you're saying, with it a greater level of tolerance, to explore and create."

Yawdy looked at me straight on. Some call it the Africanization of American music and the Americanization of African music. I believe it was a blendin' of the discipline of European musical structure with the free form of native African music. Jazz is the embodiment of the creative energy that began with the slave dances that happened here where we are standin'. And it happened here because of the tolerance that existed. Multicultural tolerance and respect to a point. You have to remember they were still slaves."

"I'm hearing you describe this emotion-driven, boiling cauldron of humanity mixing with the steamy atmosphere of New Orleans, coming together in a way unlike any other place on the planet."
"Bingo."…
"Yawdy, I could make a comparison between business and jazz."
"How's that?"
"Well, some employees are more spontaneous than others, more likely to go against the flow or challenge the direction in which the business is moving."…"Some managers have
hell of a time with that"…
"I think you were sayin' improvisation was a good thing."
"Oh, yeah. I'm saying that the total outcome is better because you allow everyone to express their individuality."…
"I think, for whatever reason, the corporate world has a hard time with improvisation."
"Probably scares 'em," he added.
In the course of this novel, Mike, the salt executive, loses his job because of a personality conflict with his bosses. He is caught in New Orleans during the Katrina disaster, and he and Yawdy weather the hurricane by staying in Preservation Hall. Yawdy manages to save his clarinet as well as an old cornet that an ancestor won in a card game.

The author, Micheal Lane, acknowledges the help of various Twin Cities musicians who helped further his understanding of traditional jazz, and who took time to read the original manuscript and provide feedback. They include Tony Balluff, Dr. Henry Blackburn, Charlie Title, Charlie DeVore and Irv Williams.


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