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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Connectedness

I just got an email from an old musician friend named Arkady. 

My connection to him goes back almost 20 years when we used to play together in some of the fanciest halls and hotels in NY, as well as some of the, um, least fancy ones. 

I wasn't really in his league... he had been a big time classical star on clarinet in the Soviet Union, and had lived, eaten and breathed almost every other woodwind instrument and genre of music since coming to the US.  But he and I got along just fine, and I learned a lot playing in the horn section with him.

Considering all the Broadway, recording, and TV work he has been doing lately, I found it odd that his email was all about an award he had won way back when he was a student at the Manhattan School of Music.  The Award, which had been created by his clarinet teacher, Leon Russianoff, in memory of a former student, consisted of a simple certificate and $200 which was given to an outstanding clarinetist each year. 

It turns out that when Arkady had been studying music at Manhattan, he was largely innocent of any detailed information about recent American history.  He would later take a much greater interest in the story of his adopted homeland, but back then he was focused 24/7 on "playing perfectly, faster, louder, nice tone, ... ".

It wasn't until years later that someone explained to Arkady that the award he had hung on his wall next to his piano had been named in memory of a promising clarinetist who had been murdered during 'Freedom Summer' in the struggle over civil rights.  This was an interesting piece of information, but he still didn't make any particular connection to the name.

Then Arkady saw 'Mississippi Burning' and suddenly the name on his wall was thrust into a context that was impossible to ignore.  The award he had won was the Andrew Goodman Prize, and had been named in memory of one of the three civil rights activists (James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner), who's murders and murderers were depicted so movingly in the film.

In the years since seeing that film my friend has become a voracious student of American history and a fiercely proud US citizen.  I remember him telling me that the evening after he got his citizenship he proudly marched to the center of the Brooklyn Bridge with his saxophone and serenaded the passing motorists and pedestrians with a jazz rendition of the Star Spangled Banner!

It turns out that the reason Arkady emailed me was that an 80 year old former Ku Klux Klansman named Edger Ray Killen was finally convicted of manslaughter today in the deaths of Andrew Goodman and his two friends.  The three were ambushed and killed on June 21st, 1964 (although it would be 44 days before their bodies were discovered by the FBI)... and 41 years later, to the day, a jury handed down a long-overdue verdict.

As my friend Arkady said so eloquently about this verdict, "[It] won't be talked about as much as Michael Jackson's... but, as I see life connecting the dots, for me at least, what remains in my mind today is more about a young man, who, like me, tried to play perfect scales, looked for a good reed for his clarinet, prepared his weekly clarinet etudes, concertos or whatever he was working on with Leon Russianoff... ". 

With his email, my friend Arkady connected me to people and events that I had only experienced from books and movies.  For some reason, knowing a personal detail about one of them... that before he started off on his one-way journey to Mississippi, he had been a musician... like Arkady; and like me, made him more real... and more tragic.   I hope by reading about these things you will also take a bit of connectedness with you as you follow the predictably brief news coverage.

May the families of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner take some small comfort from this bit of belated justice. 
221_16_12

 

Posted by David Bogner on June 21, 2005 | Permalink

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In "Connectedness" Treppenwitz tells the story of a musician friend of his who received an award. The manslaughter conviction this week Edward Ray Killen brought this to mind because of the connection of his victims - Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 24, 2005 8:18:27 AM

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Andrew Goodman went to school with my mother. I know that today is a special day for her. Sometimes the world can be a very small place.

Posted by: Jack | Jun 21, 2005 11:25:58 PM

Great story! I hope he spends his last days in jail, oxygen tank and all. (With a large, black, Jewish, angry, clarinet playing cellmate.)

Posted by: Alice | Jun 22, 2005 12:14:58 AM

The wheels of justice grind slowly, but exceedingly fine. (Who first said that?)

I hope your friend reads this. Mr. Kofman: From one naturalized American to another, I'm delighted that your instrument has joined the symphony of human liberty. May we both be as good to America as she has been to us.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Jun 22, 2005 12:15:53 AM

Since Bayou is from Mississippi, we've both been waiting for the verdict with bated breath.

Justice sometimes is very slow to come. But when it does, the impact tends to be huge.

Wonderful story, David.

Posted by: Lachlan | Jun 22, 2005 7:19:35 AM

Lovely post. My sister and I were chatting online when the Michael Jackson verdict was announced, and her first reaction was to point out that the media should be paying more attention to the Edgar Ray Killen story.

Posted by: Lisa | Jun 22, 2005 8:36:35 AM

Jack... I'm just sorry that this old bigot got to live out most of his days in comfortable freedom while his victims were denied the right to life's pleasures. In my humble opinion, there aren't punishments sufficiently medieval for the likes of this animal. As punishments go, jail time for the few remaining years of his life seems horribly inadequate.

Alice... Our world isn't sufficiently perfect for that kind of justice to find Edger Ray Killen.

Doctor Bean... I wouldn't want to be around when you and Arkady try to figure out who is more patriotic... that argument could take a while! :-)

Lachlan... Thanks... and please send my warm regards to Bayou. Her creativity and humor are sorely missed here in the blogosphere.

Lisa... As a journalist you probably didn't have much doubt about which story the various media outlets would lead with. The only consolation in MJ's verdict is that now he and OJ will both be free to track down the real culprits!

Posted by: David | Jun 22, 2005 9:28:40 AM

As punishments go, jail time for the few remaining years of his life seems horribly inadequate.

You are probably right, but we can hope that incarceration is horribly difficult for this old man.

Posted by: Jack | Jun 22, 2005 4:27:00 PM

In addition to the news about justice being served, there's something wonderful about Goodman's name being preserved by his teacher through assisting future musicians.

In my distant youth, I received a science fair award named after the late physicist Heinz Pagels. At the wise urging of my parents, I wrote a thank you note to his wife, who sent me an absolutely lovely reply, expressing her wish to see her husband's legacy extended. While I almost certainly will never attain the prominence he did, I will never forget his name.

Forty-one years after his death, it is heartening to think that Andrew Goodman will be remembered in song as well as in legal history.

Posted by: efrex | Jun 22, 2005 6:28:20 PM

I feel privliged that I got to play with Arkady for several years. I certainly learned a lot about improv by just being around him. I've seen some of the lead charts he's written although a bit jazzier then I like, they were brilliant. I will bite my tongue and not say any more than that.

Posted by: Jewish Blogmiester | Jun 23, 2005 1:48:12 AM

i have been googling andrew goodman and michael schwermer for the last few days.a really interesting story.his brother jonathan lives in the country.
this caring attitude of the youth of that generation(mine) is something to relish.
the parents of andrew goodman and michael schwerner deserve respect for having brought up such fine men.

Posted by: richard | Jun 23, 2005 9:57:12 AM

Jack... Are you saying that pridon is supposed to be a form of punishment and not a path to rehabilitation? ;-)

Efrex... Just please, please promise me you won't pitch the idea of a Broadway musical based on the story of 'Mississippi Burning' to any of your theater buddies! :-)

Jewish Blogmiester... Thank you.

Richard... I assume that it was an oversight that led you to leave James Chaney's name off your list of well-raised children.

Posted by: David | Jun 23, 2005 10:35:51 AM

david-yes it was,many apologies.
james chaney is of course included.

Posted by: richard | Jun 23, 2005 5:05:12 PM

david-yes it was,many apologies.
james chaney is of course included.

Posted by: richard | Jun 23, 2005 5:05:16 PM

Arkady is one of the most amazing sax players I've ever met. He's one of those guys who can literally blow you away with one note. He's on a level above people like me.

I think he was with us on stage that time that Shlock Rock caught fire.

Posted by: psychotoddler | Jun 29, 2005 12:32:13 AM

Arkady is one of the most amazing sax players I've ever met. He's one of those guys who can literally blow you away with one note. He's on a level above people like me.

I think he was with us on stage that time that Shlock Rock caught fire.

Posted by: psychotoddler | Jun 29, 2005 12:36:40 AM

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