By Charles D.J. Case
On a characteristically cold and slippery January day, a young jazz guitarist and composer settled into a chair in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery auditorium. She turned a page on the music stand in front of her, pushed some hair back over one ear and leaned forward like she was engaged in some thoughtful, delicate act.
She could have been peering into a microscope, or been in meditative prayer. Then this young artist, Mary Halvorson, created 90 minutes of wild, improvisational and meticulous art. It was jazz, the music invented in America.
From the third row, sometimes with my eyes closed, sometimes holding my wife’s hand, I absorbed the moment not as a fan, but as an apostate. Just sitting in an art museum auditorium surrounded by human achievement, listening to America’s music, felt like an act of defiance.
By the fourth song, I had given into this new reality, as real as airport detentions and border delays. Just as real as the fact that the president’s admiration of Japanese internment might not even be the worst of his flaws.
My first act of defiance followed the 2016 primary when I unenrolled from the Republican Party, where I had started my career as a staffer 22 years ago. I had seen the Trump moment coming. There was, and is, no going back.
With my support for marriage equality, immigration, diversity and public-private solutions to health care and poverty, my political home had been torched.
My next act of defiance was donating money to Hillary Clinton’s campaign because I believed that Donald Trump, not Mexico, was the real threat to this nation’s fabric. He is proving me right.
This is our new world, a bridge into the unknown. When the president governs with his caps lock key, the simple act of being surrounded by beauty, thinking people and music that has been marginalized because of its difficulty is an act of defiance.
New acts of defiance are called for now – picking up signs, putting our names on lists and calling our representatives.
We must talk to one another, not just those with whom we agree. We must defiantly break the glass of our echo chambers. We must educate ourselves, right and left, instead of confirming what we already believe. Independent thought has never been more defiant.
But now, curiosity is an act of defiance. So is passionate devotion to excellence, chasing beauty and opening your heart.
Jazz, created here and one of the great contributions to the world, is an act of defiance. Jazz, ignored here by the masses in favor of music that requires less training, less active listening and less thought, is an act of defiance. Days later, I still cannot believe this is true.
Charles D.J. Case is a writer, attorney and unapologetic music snob living in East Aurora. From 1996 to 2000 he worked for then-Assembly Minority Leader John Faso, now a Republican member of Congress.