Jazz Is the Sound of God Laughing As a child, NPR listener Colleen Shaddox loved hearing her uncle play jazz piano. Now her son is developing a love for the music that she believes unites her family even in the most troubling of times.

Jazz Is the Sound of God Laughing

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Unidentified Man #1: I believe in the power of love...

Unidentified Man #2: I believe that a generation of young people...

Unidentified Woman #1: I believe it deeply and sincerely...

Unidentified Man #3: I believe in the importance of passing this knowledge...

Unidentified Woman #2: I believe that every one wants to love and be loved...

Unidentified Man #4: All of these add up to my belief in the dignity of the individual.

Unidentified Man #5: I believe in people.

Unidentified Man #6: This I believe...


As part of NPR's weekly series This I Believe, we're inviting listeners to write a three-minute statement of personal belief. Over 3,000 of you have sent us essays. Today, we hear from Colleen Shaddox, a listener from New Haven, Connecticut, who consults for non-profit companies. Here's the series' curator, independent producer Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON reporting:

The range of beliefs reflected in the essays we're receiving from you is wide. You talk about how you structure your lives around giving to others, honoring the moment, defending your country, loving your families. Some of your beliefs are less commonly held, centering even on the smaller things in life, which, when viewed in a certain way, stand for much more. Here is Colleen Shaddox with her essay for This I Believe.

Ms. COLLEEN SHADDOX (Listener): Jazz is the sound of God laughing, and I believe in it. I came to know jazz as a child, stretched out beneath my uncle's baby grand. I would lie there for hours, drawing while Uncle Charlie practiced. I could feel the vibrations go right through me, filling me up with jazz. I felt happier in that room than anywhere on the planet. A lot of that had to do with being admitted to the inner sanctum of my favorite grown-up. But in retrospect, I realize it was also about the music.

I believe in the fundamental optimism of jazz. Consider the first four notes of "Rhapsody in Blue." Da-da-da-dum. Can you hear it? It's saying something monumental is going to happen, something that's never happened before, and you are alive to witness it. Jazz is always like that. Even the songs that take you to despair lift you. That's because the music remembers where it came from--from people kidnapped and enslaved. It came from a humanity that was attacked a thousand different ways every day, but never defeated. It's the people's music.

I remember my uncle's hands on the piano. His fingers always had tiny burns on them, a hazard of his job as a welder. He spent his days at the Brooklyn Navy Yard building the ships that won the Second World War. He spent his nights playing piano and sax for couples who glided and gyrated across the city's polished floors. In jazz, anybody can sit in. It's dogma-free, which allows the music to take more than its share of detours. This forces you to have faith, faith that if you keep moving forward, you'll get there.

As an adult, cancer tested my faith. I was not afraid of dying. After all, that's only a key change. But I was terrified of leaving my baby without a mother. Walking in the woods with my son, who by no coincidence bears my uncle's name, I was fighting back tears. Charlie noticed some honeybees and started imitating their sound. All of a sudden he sang, `Buzz, buzz-buzz, buzz-buzz.' Those are the opening notes of "Green Dolphin Street," a jazz standard that I'd wager few three-year-olds know.

Thankfully, I lived. But if I hadn't, I learned that day that I would never leave my Charlie, any more than Uncle Charlie had ever left me. The three of us shared a treasure passed through generations. My baby knew jazz, which is the same as knowing that the universe carries us all toward joyful reunions.

There are some ugly noises in the universe today. At any given moment, I can turn on my television and watch people trampling over each other to gain the moral high ground. Sometimes I despair, but on good days I turn off the television and put on some Oscar Peterson. And I whisper a prayer for America to remember that we are "Green Onions," "String of Pearls," "A Sunday Kind of Love" and "The Dirty Boogie." We are the people of Louis, George, Miles and Wynton. We are the jazz people. We'll get there. I believe it.

ALLISON: Colleen Shaddox of Connecticut reading her essay for This I Believe. Shaddox told us that she does not play an instrument, as she is completely tone-deaf, a condition which does not, however, interfere with her love of music. For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: Colleen Shaddox sent us her essay through our Web site, npr.org. And we invite you to do the same. You'll also find a new This I Believe essay there. It's from 84-year-old jazz great Dave Brubeck.

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ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): I'm Robert Siegel.

BLOCK: And I'm Melissa Block. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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