Corey Kilgannon has an amazing piece in the NYT about the jailed bassist Tarik Shah and his brother Antoine Dowdell, who's been picking up pointers in jazz theory from his sibling during visiting hours:
While a public drama has played out in headlines and courtroom hearings over the terrorism charges, a private one between the two brothers has been occurring every other week in a special isolated visiting area of the jail. There they enter a booth and sit separated by a wire security screen, their conversation monitored by correction officers, and Mr. Dowdell takes a tutorial from his brother during which the two discuss jazz theory and sing passages to each other.
“We know the guards can hear us scatting and singing away, and they probably think we’re both crazy, or talking in code or something,” said Mr. Dowdell, 49, who uses his brother’s left-behind collection of sheet music and handwritten practice exercises to help teach himself.
He says his brother’s inspiration and instruction from prison has helped him make huge strides as a jazz pianist who now gets paying gigs around the city, including a regular weekend engagement at the Caravan of Dreams restaurant in the East Village.
“All my life I studied the piano, but I was never able to play what was in my heart,” Mr. Dowdell said. “I could never make the piano cry, maybe because I couldn’t get in touch with the blues. But seeing what’s happening to my brother — his music and his life unfairly taken away — I feel an urgency now to play his music for people. It’s like they took the jazz musician from my family and I have to fill that void.”
In jail Mr. Shah has no access to an instrument or radio, but he has begun to write exercises, chord progressions and even compositions for his brother.
Tarik Shah was arrested as a suspect in the global war on terror in May 2005. He has been held in solitary confinement since then. His long-delayed trial is finally set to begin April 23. David Adler has written extensively -- and controversially -- about Shah's case for his blog (links to Shah-related posts here) and for Jazz Times. (See also the subsequent letters exchange.)