September 28, 2012

Five Questions With… Joseph McNair

Joe McNair has been a good friend for almost twenty years now, and the biography that he provided at the end of this interview does not do him any justice. Although he has retired from Miami Dade College, we still keep in touch, and when I learned about the publication of his new book, I Hear Music in the Air, I requested an interview, which he kindly granted.

1. There is a recurrent trope of the connection between jazz and spirituality, yet based on casual observations it would not seem as if many of these musicians could be regarded as spiritual people. Is there a connection?

Giving oneself over to the music is as special as a spiritual experience. This is why being overtaken by the muse is similar to getting high. What many musicians learn too late. Musicians grow into their spirituality when the music becomes as addictive as life itself. And playing good music requires a discipline as steadfast as getting high on a daily basis. One needs to develop spiritual tools to maintain their spirituality. Yes, there is a connection.

2. Many of the jazz greats did not seem to have lived "happy" lives, but the overwhelming tone of "I Hear Music in the Air" is triumphant. What am I missing?

Kicking any addiction is cause for celebration. As a recovering alcoholic, kicking alcohol is probably one of the most courageous and triumphant thugs I have ever done. and is something that I am most proud of.

3. Which musicians best embody the nexus between jazz/ water/liquid imagery in the collection?

The Neptunians such as Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Hodges, Ben Webster, Bennie Carter, Lester Young, Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker, Dizzie Gillespie, John Coltrane, Milt Jackson, Jutta Hip, ART Tatum, Mile Davis, Fred Anderson, Alice Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Sonny Rollins, Doc Austin, Dorothy Ashby, Freddie Hubbard, Joanne Brackeen, McCoy Tyner, Black Arthur Blythe, Chick Correa, AVotcja, and Winton Marsalis.

4. You've used several different poetic forms in the collection such as the sonnet, villanelle, and the Kwansaba. What attracted you to the Kwansaba?

The Kwansaba was invented by the Eugene B Redmond Writers group out of East Saint Louis Illinois. I was attracted due to my close association with Redmond. I used to follow him around years ago when He was a professor of English at Sacramento State University.

5. What makes you laugh?

The aggressive or obscene idea is activated in the unconscious but disguised by the wit-work (or technique) so that the psychic energy initially aroused can be safely relieved. According to Arthur Koestler metaphoric perception is, indeed, fundamental to all science and involves bringing together previously incompatible ideas in radically new ways.

In The Act of Creation, Arthur Koestler explores a similar notion, which he refers to as bisociation. Koestler himself makes use of a metaphor between “the logic of laughter” and the creative act, which he defines as “the perceiving of a situation or idea in two self-consistent but habitually incomparable frames of reference.”

Joe also provided me with an alternate answer to the first question.
A good friend asked me the following question: "There is a recurrent trope of the connection between jazz and spirituality, yet based on casual observations it would not seem as if many of these musicians could be regarded as spiritual people. Is there a connection?"
The following was my answer.

just as all humans are spiritual
to breathe according to philosopher
dane rudyar
is the first independent act that
expresses i am.
this action of independence
is to be independent
and relatively at least
self sufficient .
complete and
to breathe is to inhale the whole
world. to open oneself to the
air that has coursed through
millions of lungs that the sun has
kissed, the earth has scented and
the stars have blessed & exalted
to stop breathing and very soon the
the song is ended.
having refused to contact
the whole living world through
the magical performance of breathing
the body loses its significance and
disintegrates, it has been rendered useless
and meaningless.
when buddy bolden opened himself
to the air that that carried
the molecules and atoms of a million cultures
with a deep breath shaped by his embouchure
and sent that blown air sound
through closed lips, producing a "buzzing" sound
that starts a standing wave vibration in the air
column inside the instrument.
by playing daily and pitting himself against
all players, perfected his skills and broke through
the inertia of static tradition into a new world fluidic
and scintillating with light, a world of
strange perceptions and glamorous mirages
for some and transcendental realizations for others
he opened himself up to the air and the music
took him there. this i believe is true for any
musician of note. the black musical spiritual,
over my head i hear music in the air
came out of my breathing. as such
writers and musicians are connected

About Joe McNair

Joseph D. McNair is an African American educator, poet/writer, journalist, and musician. He is currently an Associate Professor, Senior in the School of Education at Miami Dade College, North Campus in Miami-Florida. He is the founder/editor of Asili: The Journal of Multicultural Heartspeak, an on-line literary magazine ten years old this year. He is a recipient of two of Miami Dade College's endowed teaching chairs. His published works include two volumes (Earthbook in 1971 and An Odyssey 1976) and one chapbook of poetry (Juba Girl in 1973). A collection of Selected Works is scheduled for release in early 2008. He has written three books for adolescent readers published by The Child's World Journey to Freedom: The African American Library series. These are Leontyne Price (2000), Barbara Jordan: African American Politician (2000), and Ralph Bunche (2001). His latest release, O Şe Şango, a novel, will be published by The Asili Press October/November 2007. As a journalist, he is the author of sixty-five feature articles and commentary written under his own name and several pseudonyms between 1986 and 1989 for Hotline Newsmagazine, a popular and influential Northern Nigerian weekly. In 1996 he authored a college textbook entitledMulticultural Awareness/Consciousness: Toward a Process of Personal Transformation. In 1997 he coauthored Individuals In Transition with three Social Science Colleagues. In 1998 he revised his first text under a new title: Personal Transformations: The Process of Multicultural Awareness/Consciousness. He is a prolific on-line author and manages several websites.

For more information about I Hear Music in the Air, please contact josephmcnair48 [at]

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