Today is a somber day, today we lost South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela. Though his musical resume' is extensive, his social justice and reform work are equally remarkable! I came to know Hugh Masekela when my granddad showed us a video of Paul Simon's "Graceland" live concert in Johannesburg. As young black kids, it was an opportunity to connect with our musical heritage and roots in a modern way.
At that time, Nelson Mandela was still not a free man. Can you remember that far back? It's hard to imagine this world in its former state, though current times aren't much better. His song "Bring Him Back Home" was uber melodic and his prowess on the flugelhorn caught my attention. I was a drummer since the age of four, but I hadn't formally studied drums in school. I played violin in the fourth and fifth grades and started on trumpet in the sixth grade. I was mesmerized by the way he handled the flugelhorn and trumpet and their corresponding ranges with ease-smoother than well greased valves! In America, the flugelhorn was known by artists Freddie Hubbard (a veritable jazz icon) and...Chuck Mangione.
He was to trumpet was George Benson is to the acoustic guitar
I watched in amazement as he played that concert and never forgot him. His performances were what I looked forward to each time I watched the video. Much more than the song about Nelson Mandela, he penned another gripping piece about the coal mining industry entitled "Stimela". He wasn't only a brass virtuoso, he was an enthralling story teller and exciting vocalist.
As I got older, my admiration for one of my favorite musicians grew exponentially. A fast food chain (I can't remember which one) ran an ad campaign in the late 90's featuring the song "Grazing in the Grass" which featured the song recorded by The Friends of Disctinction. Once I discovered that Hugh Masekela was the first to record the Billboard charting instrumental, he was solid gold in my eyes!
I found my first recording of his at a music store here locally and grabbed it as soon as I could. It was Masekela's 1998 release"Black to the Future". Listening to the album connected me to his music even more. To this day, I still regularly listen to "Mama Ndoro", "Song of Love", "The Boy's Doin' It" and "Strawberries" from that album.
Hugh Masekela covers of popular songs
Mr. Masekela was married to the late Miriam Makeba for a period of five years while the two lived in New Jersey. As if this musical fairytale couldn't get any better, they lived next door to Dizzy Gillespie. Yeah, let that sink in!
Though they had been divorced for a long time by the time I met them both( by way of the concert), I was enamored with their collective musical genius. The two teamed up for the "Graceland" concert for the song "Soweto Blues".
Thanks for the awesome memories, Mr. Masekela! My life and music have been greatly impacted by you. We're not guaranteed to be here forever, but we are guaranteed time to make an impact while we are here.
This year, Christmas and New Year's Eve fell on Sundays. This was special for me because it marked 17 years to the day since I began playing in church. I'll share the journey from the drums to the organ in another post.
I watched the forecast as the days approached and quietly wondered about the weather. See, 17 years ago we had bad weather and stayed in instead of going to church on New Year's Eve. As we got closer to the day, I wondered if we would get ice or snow and have to cancel. Well, it got bad and fast!
I was in my early morning service when I got a call from the Pastor at my other service stating that service was cancelled. I had already gotten word that my evening service (Watch Night) had been cancelled because of the impending weather.
For some reason, the roads in Fort Worth weren't prepped for ice, I don't know why! So, after some sliding to church to be with my family at their service, I was on my way home. My Sunday wouldn't look the same as other Sundays because I didn't make my normal service schedule. This is a point of pain for those of us that play in church. This year, I failed to make good on a payment that was promised that day. As a person working at church, not having service also meant not getting paid. I was worried but my faith rose to the challenge in the form of the song. Things turned around for me, but what about my contemporaries who are not as fortunate, this week?
There's always the fine line of "full time" versus "extra" money. In each instance, we should note that the churches have an expectation of excellence in the output of the music ministry. Many churches cannot afford to pay musicians a full time salary, still the demand remains on their schedule to be available for all services scheduled and impromptu (such as funerals). In the instance of extra services, many churches never compensate beyond the agreed upon Sunday salary.
While some churches do have clauses available that make provisions for inclement weather and other personal emergencies, some of the clauses are actionable with stipulations. Per se' tenure. Most jobs have a 90 day rule, most churches have up to a year and some are almost immediate with certain "benefits".
Church musicians and staff are often encouraged to seek employment beyond the church which relies on member contributions. With our time goes our commitment and obligations. Many jobs do not care that you have off the clock obligations and will demand your time, overtime and full schedule if allowed. This makes serving in ministry difficult for some of us.
Others of us don't need full time employment at church and serve as an outlet to God as their reasonable service. These people serve God with their gift and if they are compensated for it, it is supplemental and not detrimental should they miss a service.
That's a lot to digest considering only one service missed. But what about those for whom compensation at church is supplemental? What happens when inclement weather or a personal emergency takes them away from their post on Sunday morning? Should the church have provisions in place that allow for emergency compensation or do contract employees need to contract services like AFLAC?
An ice storm or freezing rain doesn't necessitate a sit down with the duck branded company, but it does make me think! Future planning includes ever aspect of the future-near and far! After this last bout of inclement weather, I'm making changes so that I never have to be in the position to say: "rain, sleet, ice and snow, go away!" Let's make this year, our year of financial stability, responsibility (for me, especially) and most importantly...growth!
Music is my first love. It has many forms but one function in my life. In this space, I'll talk about music in its many forms. I'll also share some of my deep, personal thoughts about professional music and the music industry at large.