On the subject of no man is ever ahead of his time, a moment of reflection produced a series of events perhaps worthy of consideration.
As early as 1948, a bored and forward striving group of early teenagers began playing music together. They were aided and abetted in this activity, which at the time seemed to be a trivial pursuit, by an alcoholic drummer turned barber for money and a old woman who thought that music would save the world. Choosing the name, Syncopaters they made some dance band music stands and with borrowed money bought matching chartreuse jackets and red bow ties. Their play list consisted of all the music, really old and new, that folks, old and young enjoyed. With regular weekly gigs alternating at a local Moose lodge and a rural Grange hall, their popularity was ensured.
Then in 1952, one of them, as a second year college math major was earning his keep by playing the saxophone. As part of the Four “G’s” and the Billy Autumn Trio he played such notable venues as an NCO Club at a local airbase and a Stateline dive called “The Midway Club”. It was owned and operated by a regional arm of the Italian Mafioso. After playing there one Christmas eve, the group attended Midnight Mass with the owners and without prior knowledge, became a ruse for a misguided and poorly planned withdrawal from the local bank. No time earned, no time served. The planning perpetrators, however, were not so fortunate.
Still in college, on the road to a yet another gig, he penned an arrangement of “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby.” on a clipboard sitting in the back seat of the car. It was a vocal trio for three male voices and it got it’s first of many performances later that night on the bandstand. He followed that with an arrangement of “Autumn Leaves”, which met with similar approval in his limited sphere of influence.
By 1955 there was a plague of black and white, male and female trios and quartets sweeping the country and the world. “shboom, shboom, hey nonny ding dong, alang, alang,alang”. The CrewCuts, The Teenagers, The Platters; – – “Oh, Yes, I’m the Great Pretender”, “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?” and, of course, the ever-popular Beatles. Buddy Holly and Elvis followed in quick succession, riding the wave of what white folks called Rock and Roll and blacks knew was just simply the blues ripped off.
In 1960 imported Caribbean rhythmic structures, repetitive melodies, harmonic redundancy, brass punctuation and woodwind lines were assimilated into the main stream. Mambo, Merengue, Cha, Cha, Cha, Mantuna, Rhumba and Bolero became staples in the dance and entertainment world.
Without so much as a blink of the eye or tick of a metronome, time moved on and no one looked or listened back to see or hear where this evolution had begun.
Then on Maundy Thursday of Holy Week in the spring of 1969, a church choir made up of mostly professional- class, musically educated singers and instrumentalists presented a special performance. The program for the evening included the usual homily and The Seven Last Words of Jesus Christ. Composed by the early baroque composer, Heinrich Schutz, this seminal piece preceded the works of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Conducted and directed by the previously mentioned American of German ancestry, with the help of his Amsterdam Dutch naturalized American wife, the music was a setting of Jesus last words as reported in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John of the New Testament. This anachronistic mostly Protestant, but historical Catholic musical event featured an University trained American Black bass soloist, and the wife of a Rabbi singing the tenor role of the thief on the cross to the left of Jesus. The congregation/audience was a group of middle and upper class Presbyterians in a wealthy island suburb.
A southern-born minister gave the homily for the evening. As a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary with post-doctoral studies in Edinburgh, he often spoke loud, articulate sermons against the Vietnam War. After receiving a call from a congregation close to the Pentagon, he brought his message to the powers that were. At that time he had a wife and two daughters, and much later came out as a homosexual.
As a precursor of a more recent worldwide attempt by groups of people of Judeo-Christian lineage and heritage to unite, things don’t get much more ecumenical than that.
However, in retrospect, it might have been a good idea to find a Muslim to sing the role of the other criminal to make up for the Old Testament indiscretions of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Abraham, Sarah, Joseph’s multi-colored dream coat, Hagar and Ishmael etc.
Indeed, no man is ever ahead of his time. He just finds himself in a universe that has failed to synchronize and it may well never do so.