What’s a groove? The word has been around since the jazz days. It went mainstream back in the sixties in the word “groovy”. While hearing that word after 1975 is a bit of joke, the concept of the groove has stayed with us for almost seventy years.
I learned about the Groove from my teachers, many of whom were getting old when I was born. What business does a white boy from the east end of New York City have talking about the Groove? Outside of music, probably not that much. I am not naïve enough to claim any bragging rights about understanding what it’s like to be African American in this day and age because I’m a musician. But what I did learn from the likes of Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and, my absolute favorite, Wes Montgomery, was a complicated, endlessly fascinating musical language. They also taught me about the “Groove”.
The term has gone underground, at least in white America. I hear it in movie titles like “How Stella Got Her Groove Back”. For musicians the Groove is the Holy Grail. It’s a place you go, especially when you’re playing with other musicians, where everything fits, the music drives itself and saying that all of the players are together is an understatement. It’s almost as though one person or a conglomerate mind is playing.
Returning to “Stella”, stories like her’s demonstrate how the “Groove” is a goal for life in general, perhaps its most important manifestation. So many of us stay safe and keep things quiet, myself included; a simple life is a life more easily lived. So what does the Groove require? Not surprisingly, the forefathers of the groove, musicians who invented jazz, blues and by extension, rock and roll, are one of the best example of the path to the groove. These men and women were pioneers who bet their future on presenting a growing, rapidly changing form of music. It was risky both financially and to some extent physically. These were men and women who showcasing their considerable talent in a world that was not friendly to black men and woman. There have been countless stories of violence against jazz musicians.
What is striking is that their passion to build something intelligent and complex held their fears at bay. The same passion also allowed them to ignore an uncertain financial future, especially when they were starting out. Years later these men and women are legends because they found their groove but most of them paid a high price to do it.
As we hear, life is short. I don’t think that most of us believe that until it becomes obvious that it’s true, when you become older. Following the path to your groove takes courage but, in the end, isn’t it the only thing that does honor to the life that God gives you. I doubt that people who are not music enthusiasts see the full meaning of the “Groove” through discussions of the pioneers of jazz. But I’m sure that you can look toward actors, activists, social workers, businessmen, all people who have focused on one thing and ignored all the fears and obstacles to get where they were called to go.
These sentiments have been echoed in the work and philosophy of people like Joseph Campbell who coined the phrase “follow you bliss” and presented the concept of the “hero’s journey” which eventually became the basis of the Star Wars franchise; Campbell and George Lucas were longtime friends. The hero’s journey, stated simply, is a journey that involves leaving your comfort zone to go through devastating changes and challenges. The end game for this journey is to return from the warzone of drastic change to bring something valuable to the hero’s life and the lives of those around the hero.
Regardless of what you call it, The Groove represents the journey of letting go, not staying safe, and being ready to take whatever comes. The path is hard but the rewards are incalculable.