Heavy D's Monday morning (6am to 9am) jazz show usually starts with Dave Holland's Conference of the Birds. I hadn't heard this piece since 1977 when my fellow deli workers discussed this piece through an entire lunch rush. We were always looking beyond the deli to fight the creeping despair that comes from hours of cutting turkey on a Hobard. So we listened to the radio to escape our surroundings.
Conference of the Birds was infatuating. At the time, it was probably classified as "outside" jazz but for us it was nothing less than "freedom" and we discussed it like the deli prisoners we were. The deli owner hated Conference of the Birds and thought our music conversations were pretentious and goofy. In a fit of misplaced frustration over our infatuation with this song, he cruelly picked on one of us for something he considered important. Something with the gravitas of improper tomato slices, too much mayo . We proletarians wordlessly accepted his aggression. After all, it was about his po'boy destiny not ours.
The deli owner knew that the music we worshiped wouldn't magically deliver our utopian dreams. But neither could the deli in which he invested his life. We slowly figured out that the deli and our subsequent surroundings were just decorations, irrelevant to whether we enjoyed our lives. The good life, like jazz, was an abstraction and the game was to simply work through abstractions.
I kept in touch with the deli owner for years. I remember the cruelty of his aging. The conceptual trick bag he couldn't escape. He was always stuck in his "here-and-now" surroundings. From tomatoes and mayo to cars and houses. These were his only reality. He never gained the self-confidence to think about his situation abstractly.
I hadn't though of him now for almost thirty years. Not until Heavy D played Conference of the Birds.
That David Holland, Heavy D and WWOZ all come together is a tribute to the magic of WWOZ. Volunteers, board and staff are trying to reach an ideal once shared by, but now abandoned, by almost all radio stations. Radio stations don't need to restrict themselves to tired entertainment formulas or product promotions. Just by trying, radio can become audio art. When music is served up right, we are all enriched by the transformative, profound and even magical experience.
Saturday from midnight until 3am Sunday.