Posted by: Reginald Cyntje | July 29, 2013

For The Love of Music: A lesson from Jim Harris

This morning I woke up thinking about a good friend who became an ancestor in 2004. Jim Harris and I would be on the streets of DC checking out the sessions and then we would spend the last part of our evening at 24/7 talking about life and music until 5am. U Street had a strong cultural vibe then. There was music, poetry and artistic expression everywhere.

One of the things that stuck with me was Jim asked me a question one night. He asked “Why do you play music?” I replied “love.” I told him that music has been in my life consistently since I was 12. I spoke about the hardships, the sacrifices, the ups and downs.

Jim then talked about why he moved back to DC from Africa. He talked about being over qualified for jobs but loving the opportunity to spend time with his grandsons. I learned about his passion for social justice and his love for his daughter.

I asked him “why are you taking trombone lessons at 65?” he replied “I love music.” Then he spoke about all the great musicians he knew. He talked about marching and life in the 60s.

Jim wrote a book entitled “Coming Home To The Motherland.” Before his murder, we were working on promoting his book. See Jim was a trade unionist and college professor who became a poet and musician.

Jim’s journey reminded me that life is not fair but while you are living you should do what you love.

When we finished our conversations at 24/7 with Curtis Fuller playing in the background, I would hold up my cup of strawberry banana smoothie and say “For the love of music.” Jim would reply “For the love of music.” Then the music would fade until there was nothing but silence.

Jim headed home to his 1 bedroom apartment in SE DC and I headed to my studio apartment on 17th St in NW DC.

The cycle continued until one night Jim called and said “Do you want to go check out some music?” I replied “I’m tired. I need to get some rest.”

Jim came to all my gigs. If folks were talking, Jim would walk over and tell them to be quiet. Jim introduced me to many of the elders in DC. Jim also let me know when I was not on top of my shit. I had tremendous respect for his life story. His beginnings in the American South. His time in the Air Force.  His activism during the 60s with civil rights and trade union movements. And his amazing story of life in Africa around the time of Zimbabwe’s independence and the transformation of South Africa.

That night that he called to hang out I was exhausted from a busy week of performances. I had no idea that would be the last time Jim would be on this planet. Jim was murdered.

I often wonder if he would still be here today if I had got up that evening. Or would I be six feet under as well.

The main thing is I still say “For the love of music” and smile…


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