Philosophers often ask important questions, and the new book What Is Soul? follows suit, as author David Bloom uses this question to throw a wide lens on the word “soul”.
Culling over thirty interviews for juicy insights, memorable stories and perspectives, Bloom asks the questions, and the majority of the book is in the voice of the interviewees: including the late radio host Studs Terkel, as well as creative professionals ranging from a chef to a flamenco dancer, featuring a range of life experience, from teenagers to a federal judge.
David Bloom is a music education icon in Chicago as founder of Bloom School of Jazz in 1975, came across soul music in the 1960's. As as a teenager he attended concerts at Chicago's Regal Theatre, witnessing James Brown and many other famous acts. Bloom observed he “didn’t feel he was being conned or sold anything” when he heard what was described as soul music, just witnessing music that demonstrated deep humanity while revealing a full spectrum of feelings.” He promptly stopped listening to bands like The Beach Boys and kept the ember of “soul”—and its inarguable authenticity—burning throughout his career.
In the early 2000’s, he began interviewing people and filming the interviews. Originally planning to make a video documentary, the raw amount of content, stories and the way it all related began to indicate a project larger than a video documentary. Bloom interviewed people at their place of work, at schools, and more. With the help of Editor Barbara Kaplan, a book became the best way to organize the thoughts into sections, with titles like “Soul and You” and “Soul Expressions” and “Soul to Soul”. These chapters, designed to be read at any pace, and explored in any order, allow the reader to dive into “soul."
While some chapters discuss music, and jazz artists are discussed briefly, the overall arc of the book is to take the word soul beyond music, as well as religion, and find the word’s value in identifying what makes us human—and ways to increase and nurture our own humanity.
In these times, there is no better question to ask, than “what is soul?”
ELSA MORA, ARTIST
"When I was living in Cuba, in 1992, I was going through a very hard time. I had just graduated from the art school. The country was in a very difficult situation, a big crisis. People used to call that period “Option Zero.” We didn’t have any food. The transportation was horrible. I was living in a very small place. I was really desperate. I didn’t have any money. I didn’t have anything. My brother had left the country in a very crazy way – in a boat – so I was really depressed. I even thought about committing suicide.
I thought I have to do something. I have to create something. I started working on a little painting. I remember very well that the title was “All You Have is Your Soul, Todo Lo Que Tienes Es Tu Alma.” This was a very small figure, a woman without arms but with many feathers. I was just trying to forget about everything and focus on this little painting, and I realized that during the process, I was getting stronger and stronger. I thought wow, this is very funny. My soul just saved my life, because I was realizing that in the end, when you’re lost, desperate, depressed, you still have that little something called soul. It’s something that you can never lose. You can lose all the material things in your life, your hopes, everything, but you don’t ever lose that thing that is really the essence of what you are."
Music Education Icon and Author David Bloom Asks, “What Is Soul?”
New Book Includes Over 30 Interviews with Professionals, Students and Public Figures Including Studs Terkel and More
What is Soul? by David Bloom
STUDS TERKEL, AUTHOR
"The former Grand Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan, C.P. Ellis, led me to feel that anybody can change, depending on circumstance and fortune or whatever may be the case. It wasn’t a metamorphosis; it was just a gradual series of epiphanies, you might say, a gradual series of discoveries of how he was being used by the big boys. He was poor and all of his life was miserable. He felt that he failed – and who’s to blame? Well, he’d been taught all of his life: “the nigger,” that’s what the guys told him. So he joins the Klan.
Now it’s the 1960s, the civil rights movement’s just beginning, and there was a certain woman in his town, a black woman, name was Ann Atwater. They would hate each other with such rage, and he used to break up her picket lines, these picket lines trying to persuade, force the department stores of Durham, North Carolina, to hire black clerks. Then one day things happen, and these two find themselves in the same boat: She has a girl going to school, he has a boy going to school, and they realize they’re both being used. From then on, through knowing her and working with her and the experiences that they shared, he became a spokesman for civil rights and civil liberties, and he found himself as a person. It was also going to visit her church and hearing some of that music that he found familiar. He’s a white churchgoer, but some of the hymns are similar, like “Beulah Land.” “Beulah Land” is both a black and a white song – “Oh, Beulahland,” and as they were swinging, he was tapping his foot. And she said to me, “I knew I had him going then.” You might say his soul was touched."