By William Carter

Photographer, Author, Jazz Musician

Crossing Party Lines – Creatively

with 3 comments

When angry goons with Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders banged on the door, the man who later married us opened with a big grin and invited them in for tea.

Such was the spirit — and cross-cultural savvy — of John Markarian, the founding President of the Armenian-American College of Beirut, a post in which he served for three decades. The date was October 26, 1975 — in the depths of the terrible civil wars that destroyed Lebanon’s old image as the Switzerland of the Middle East.

John’s invitation to the goons was the first of several similar incidents in which he effectively saved the college. A devout Presbyterian minister with a Ph.D. from Princeton, he knew Muslim society almost as well as he knew the Bible. His actions at the college door — and later the title of his autobiography — came to him from the Book of Proverbs, and Paul’s Letters to the Romans: “When your enemy is thirsty, give him a drink.”

Leaving their weapons near the door, the would-be assailants happily sat down and sipped Arab-style cups of tea with John and his wife Inge — then departed, leaving the college alone.

Not that a similar strategy would necessarily work in Cairo today. Still, it’s worth remembering that fixed positions often lead to fixed bayonets.

I am glad the U.S. State Department is no longer led by Condoleezza Rice. In Cairo, near the beginning of her term, she announced very publicly to Hosni Mubarak and the listening Arab world that the U.S. was about to confer democracy on the Middle East.

I did work out of Beirut as a photojournalist in the 1960s. For many more years I have worked as a fine-art photographer, and for even more years I’ve been a semi-professional jazz clarinetist.

But some of my richest experiences were as a devotee of spiritual master Baba Muktananda in India. The rules in his traditional Hindu ashram were strict. More broadly, that experience freed me  to more fully appreciate, later, the achievements of many other deep masters, such the Dalai Lama.

Now pushing 80, I have been assembling my jazz pictures and memories spanning six decades. Crossing – or not crossing – party lines can have consequences in this field as well. Originally a fierce traditional-jazz purist, I gradually modified that position. For one thing, I noticed that the jazz masters were less often purists than many of their fans. They played as they played — and were cordial with their colleagues across the aisles of nightclubs and recording studios.

Twenty-five years ago, in Mendota, Minnesota, I had dinner with famous bassist Milt Hinton before working a gig with him. Showing me layouts of his new photo book, Milt told me how he had transitioned through every style of jazz, from the 1920s, through years on the road with swing bands, to studio gigs in the “golden age” of modernism and after.

Later, I met other major musicians of today, like Dick Hyman, Shelly Berg, and Arturo Sandoval — all of whom continue to cross over, easily, among jazz styles.

As for me, I still just play funky New Orleans clarinet from the earliest period of jazz. The other night we played a Lindy Hop swing dance with Clint Baker’s band: not even a bandstand, and the light I could see in the dancers’ eyes and feet had no name or form.

And Egypt?

The politics appear far from hopeful for the foreseeable future.

That wonderful land, with its vast plurality of peoples,  has a long habit of being governed by pharaohs.

We can only hope Egypt, with its sophisticated depth, soon finds its way back to a sense of unity in diversity — a vision of its own stillness at the core.

our wedding 001

our wedding 002

our wedding003

Above: Pastor John Markarian officiating at Ulla’s and Bill’s wedding, March 23, 1985.

Below: Dick Hyman at Filoli, near San Francisco: the fleet, versatile jazz pianist is known for his expertise across the “party lines” of many styles and periods, from  ragtime to swing to contemporary.

Photograph of Dick Hyman © William Carter 2010

Dick Hyman

Copyright statement: William Carter papers, © Stanford University Libraries. Click here for a detailed usage guide.

Written by bywilliamcarter

August 20, 2013 at 8:09 pm

3 Responses

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  1. […] to all those who responded positively to my last blog, “Crossing Party Lines — Creatively.” Several of you complimented us on our wedding pictures! Which made me realize, to my chagrin, that […]


  2. Dick Hyman will be performing at SF Jazz this Sunday with Mike Lipskin and Stephanie Trick playing Harlem Stride. If I were not already committed to Buddy Guy and George Thoroughgood I would love to see this trio. Hyman’s talent cannot be overstated. Thanks for another glittering commentary.


    Medea Isphording Bern

    August 20, 2013 at 9:55 pm

  3. Mr. Carter,   I had the great pleasure of sitting next to you and your wife at a holiday dinner last year- and was quite curious about your photography. Your clarinet playing was so entertaining and joyful that evening. It has been with much anticipation and amusement I receive your updates by William Carter. You truly have lived a very cool life- thanks for sharing.   Colleen          



    colleen dougherty

    August 20, 2013 at 9:09 pm

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