Jazz Therapy: Reflections on Antisemitism and Kanye West

At Jazz Therapy, we affirm and celebrate Jewish People and Judaism

I have been thinking about the rise in Antisemitism lately, and the connection to Kanye West (now known as Ye West).  Recently, Ye was in the headlines for making several antisemitic remarks.  I won’t repeat them hear, as it can be retraumatizing for people to see the things that he said and wrote.  To read more about this, Forbes has a timeline of everything he said and when he said it.  You can read more about that here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/marisadellatto/2022/11/04/kanye-wests-anti-semitic-troubling-behavior-heres-everything-hes-said-in-recent-weeks/?sh=2c9d5e565e8f

When I first read about the antisemitic remarks Kanye made, I felt sad, disappointed, upset, confused, and concerned.  I felt sad because it is sad when someone says racist things, disappointed because I do really enjoy the music of Kanye West, and I think he’s a super talented fashion designer.  “Should I stop listening to his music?” I wondered.  I felt upset, since hearing these mean things he said about Jews is just plain upsetting.  I have a Jewish surname myself, as my husband’s family is of Jewish descent.  My husband is Jewish, and my children and part-Jewish.  I feel protective of them, and this important part of their identity.  I deeply respect Jewish people, especially since my family members are Jewish now.  (And on a side note, a big shout out to the genius Sigmund Freud (a Jew), who was the Father of Psychotherapy.  I wouldn’t be here writing this for Jazz Therapy today if he did not exist.  I also felt confused when I first read about Mr. West’s remarks, since I didn’t understand what would motivate him to say these things.  And finally, I felt concerned, since I was worried about what his remarks could mean in terms of contributing to more harassment and violence against Jews.

I did some more reading about the rise in antisemitism, which is increasing in this country.  As this NY Times article points out, Jews are being blamed for “failures” in society, be it “government or the markets or anything else, leaders often look for someone to blame” https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/04/us/kanye-antisemitism-midterms.html.  Furthermore,

“All it takes is a couple influential people to say things, and suddenly it becomes very tense.”

-Rabbi Simon Taylor (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/04/us/kanye-antisemitism-midterms.html)

I felt very scared when I read that after Kanye’s antisemitic remarks, a right-wing group hung another offensive antisemitic banner over the Interstate 405 Freeway in Los Angeles, endorsing the rapper’s remarks (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/banner-kanye-right-los-angeles-freeway-antisemtic-group-rcna53653).  Rabbi Simon Taylor was right in his quote, apropos above, that the public is influenced by statements made my famous people, in this case incendiary statements about Jews.  I felt worried and concern for my Jewish family members and friends as well.

 I also noticed another feeling emerge: compassion for Kanye West.  I reminded myself that he must be suffering to have hatred and antisemitism inside him.  I also read that he recently divorced Kim Kardashian, and seemingly is having a hard time with this.  I have worked with many people going through a divorce or who are divorced in my therapy practice, and I have heard how painful this experience can be for a person.  I also read that Kanye may struggle with a mental illness, and while I won’t speculate on that, since it’s against my ethical code as a therapist to speculate about the diagnosis of person who is not my patient, I took this into account as well.  I feel empathy for the suffering that he must be experiencing.  If Kanye were in a better place, I sense he would not be making such anti-Semitic, hurtful remarks. 

            Eventually, as I sat with all these feelings, I wondered “What should I do about it?” As I mentioned above, I had the thought of wondering if I should stop listening to Kanye’s music.  For now, I think I will take a break. “What else can I do?” I wondered. “I cannot solve antisemitism; I can’t stop Kanye from saying more antisemitic remarks. And yet I am alarmed for the rise in antisemitism and fearful that it could contribute to more violence against Jews.”  So, I do what I always do, which is to do meditation, and then, listen to jazz. And I started to feel better.  I hope you will join me today, in this meditation and that this jazz playlist will lift you up as well.

Jazz Therapy Social Justice Meditation: Affirming Jews and Compassion for Kanye West
In this meditation, we will do a variation of Buddhist-style Tonglen meditation (to read more, click here: https://www.yogapedia.com/definition/8717/tonglen-meditation), where you visualize the suffering of yourself, or another person/group and then transform it/dissolve it. In this meditation, we will:
-Visualize our own suffering and imagine that we transform that suffering into light
-Visualize the suffering that Jewish people might feel due to antisemitism, and then dissolve that and transform it to light
-Visualize the suffering of Kanye West and dissolve that, sending him positive energy to accept and embrace all people

Jazz Therapy Playlist: Honoring and Celebrating Jewish People

To honor Jewish people, all musical compositions were composed or sound-engineered by people of Jewish descent. Some of the most famous composers in Jazz are Jewish, like Ira and George Gershwin and Irving Berlin, for example.  Rudy Van Gelder is a Jewish-American sound engineer who has worked on some of the best albums in Jazz, so we will feature some of his work as well. All in all, this playlist is meant to celebrate and honor the talented Jews who have contributed to the artistry of Jazz.

Emotional Dwelling (To Mirror Your Mood)

“Blues Back,” Art Blakey Quartet, A Jazz Message, 1964, Impulse.

Art Blakey is on drums, McCoy Tyner is on piano, and Sonny Stitt plays alto saxophone for a change.  This piece is bluesy, and at the same time, really gets swinging.  I chose this for Emotional Dwelling since it captures the pain of antisemitism, and it also still offers hope that things will get better.  I also chose this piece since the sound engineer who worked on the piece was none other than Rudy Val Gelder, a Jewish-American sound engineer.  He worked with the best in the business, including Miles Davis, Coltrane, Art Blakey, and many more.  He is “regarded as one of the most influential engineers in jazz.”

Emotional Elevation (To Feel Better)

“A Foggy Day,” Frank Sinatra, Songs for Young Lovers, 1954

This is a George and Ira Gershwin tune composed in 1937.  Many artists have covered this tune.  I was an adolescent when I first heard (a young) Frank Sinatra’s version of it, and I was hooked.  I instantly felt better, because of his jaunty, soigne approach to this tune.  Listen to it anytime you feel down about something, and it no time, you will be snapping your fingers and tapping your feet!

Emotional Galvanization (To Inspire)

“Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off,” Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, The Complete Ella And Louis Verve, 1997, Verve.

This is a Gershwin tune, and it has the loveliness and warmth of Ella and Loius duetting on this song.  I chose this song, since in this tune, they are singing about having differences between them and are talking about ending things.  Eventually, they decide to “call the calling off off,” meaning they will stay together and accept and love one another.  I love this message of acceptance and tolerance, and I am hoping this message of racial tolerance will be embraced by everyone.

Emotional Tone Setting (To Intentionally Create an Emotional Vibe)

“Blue Skies,” Diana Krall, Turn Up The Quiet, 2017, Verve

I chose this song since “Blue Skies” since it is an Irving Berlin tune, composed in 1926 (https://www.jazziz.com/short-history-blue-skies-irving-berlin-1926/).  I also chose it, since November 16th is Diana Krall’s birthday.  This song is hopeful and optimistic that “blue skies” are ahead, and I am hopeful that acceptance and affirmation of Jewish people will increase all around the world.

Emotional Transcendence (To Be Taken Beyond the Normal to the Divine)

“My Funny Valentine,” Miles Davis, Cookin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet, 1957, Prestige.

I chose song because it is a Rudy Van Gelder tune, and he was such a wizard with sound.  This tune is from the Miles David Quintet, and we have Red Garland on Piano, Miles on Trumpet, John Coltrane on Tenor Sax. This tune is absolutely beautiful.  The lyrics which go along with the tune in the song are “But don’t change a hair for me/Not if you care for me/Stay, little valentine, Stay.”  The message of this song is that you are wonderful just as you are.  You are wonderful being Jewish, you are wonderful whatever you are.  I need to hear this message as I feel inadequate at times.  And I hope that this song invokes in you a feeling of love and acceptance for yourself and for others as well.

Jazz Birthdays (Each week, we will highlight birthdays of jazz performers around the world.  We are grateful they exist!)

Diana Krall, November 16th (B: November 16, 1964-Present)

Diana Krall is a Canadian-American Jazz vocalist and she has a beautiful, robust, sensual, full and melodious sound.  I am hoping to see her perform someday. Have you heard her in concert?

Call for Poetry

Are you a poet? We are accepting submissions for our weekly “Poetry Play” portion of the “Jazz Therapy” newsletter! Your poem could be about jazz, civil rights, or any current event/theme that might go along with each newsletter.  You will get free publicity and appreciative eyes from the readers of “Jazz Therapy!”

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