JUNE 1, 2003
(Copyright © 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)
& THE WHITE CRITIC: THIRTY YEARS LATER
second article I published about the music, in Metronome, was J&TWC.
theme was, broadly, that a fundamental contradiction, sharp, at times
antagonistic, existed between American Classical Music, it's creators,
mainly Black, and the majority of commentators, critics, critical opinion
about that music, which historically are not.
cause of this is obvious, whatever the slaves created was owned by the
slave owners. The fundamental social philosophy characterizing American
Capitalism (and feudalism before that) has
always been shaped by white
supremacy, whether it was slavery or the national oppression and chauvinism
that still exist today.
fact that an oppressor nation could judge the creations of the people
they oppress is not strange but "natural" in the context of the
between ruler and ruled. Just as the slave was part of the "Means of
Production," (and when feudal slavery changed to capitalist slavery)
variable capital, so whatever was produced by the slaves was, by
definition, part of what the owner of the slave owned.
"art", the music was
useful as entertainment, social control,
pedagogy, as commerce. "Black
Tom" the amazing 19th century
who knew 10,000 pieces of music and became a touring novelty, known
throughout the South, even during
slavery, is said to have
million dollars for his owners!
contrast, there were thousands of slave "entertainers" confined
to a single plantation. At first despised in a utilitarian way, but
ironically, as democracy made it's tortured way toward the Afro-American
their cultural product was more and more co-opted, commercialized and,
nowadays, even claimed.
read Lincoln Collier or Richard Sudhalter, and their bizarre
ubermenschlichkeit is to be annoyed with a tinge of melancholy that our
oppressors are, to quote poet Robert Creeley, such "unsure egotists".
a poem I wrote, MTV---"We can
have your life, without being poor, &c."
New Orleans Rhythm Kings, after the first years of the music's
emergence, claimed that the Black
musicians were white. The context of a
white racist superstructure, i.e., institutions, organizations,
curricula, ideas and philosophies those are meant to maintain and forward.
are a reflection of the Monopoly Capitalist imperialist economic base,
almost completely defining, "evaluating", advancing dubious or
chauvinist theories, explanations, about Black Music, at this point through
writing, other media, reaching
incredible proportions. Each year floods of
such mainly superficial materials (from books, tv and radio series, even
calendars, t-shirts, post cards) defining and classifying Black Music are
is this superstructure with its various critics, scholars,
journalists that have even succeeded in naming Afro -American Music, "Rag
Time," "Jass & Jazz" (in their musical and non-musical
"BeBop", "Rock & Roll," all coined as media- driven
generic titles, by this
collection entity. Since the creators of the music did not have the same
access to publishing, writing. &c.
Roach tells how Duke Ellington lst told him that when we accept
and forward this essential commercial nomenclature foisted on the music by
others, same presence can then identify any thing commerce want as that.
that Paul Whiteman became "The King of Jazz," Benny Goodman, "The
King of Swing," The Rolling Stones, "The
Greatest Rock & Roll Band in The
World." Then dig the grand
larcenous essence of commercial Copperheads
inducting Black Musicians into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when,
Jimmy them dudes was playing Rhythm and Blues, BEFORE THERE WAS A ROCK OR A
is not general commercial label for the works of Bach, Brahms,
Beethoven, &c. That music is called, more precisely, "The Music of
Beethoven". "The Music of
Bela Bartok"---then why not, says Roach, "The
Music of Duke Ellington, The Music of Thelonius Monk" &c. But then that
would confer a station and dignity to The Music the racist superstructure
has never wanted to allow.
this day, there is not a single Afro-American writer heading up
the Jazz Section of a major newspaper! (Imagine there were only Afro
American or other non- white writers who entirely monopolized writing about
European Concert music!) During the hot sixties there were black writers
about the music on the Village Voice, Philadelphia Inquirer, Washington
Post, but dig this, when the hot times passed, the most fortunate of
were made sports writers! Get to that! (Now what that mean, Jimmy?)
Crouch was the last surviving name by-liner writing about the
music. And I told him at a forum at the Village Gate, that the VV was
to sic him off in another direction, e.g.,
politics, novels, the former
which he is completely off -the- wall, the latter "well, ax his boys,
Bellow or Updike! I told Stanley, Gary Giddins was going to get that main VV
gig. And while the editorial Iblis is working his number Stanley has still
not put out a single book on the music, though he is more knowledgeable
about the straight up history of American Classical Music than most of the
chosen at the Times, Voice, &c.
(A good question bu?oy!) Is it, in this case, because Stanley could
say some heavy stuff that perhaps dem udder guise wdnt dig?
It seems Die
Ubermenschen hate for the darkies to sound knowledgeable about anything,
even their own lives. But tell me this glaring ugliness of arbitrary
(racial?) exclusion from access to professional position in a subject which
must bear some relationship to Afro-America is not dagger-sharp proof of the
continuing national oppression of the Afro-American people , right now!
ownership relationship of Big America to The Music has meant
denigration, marginalization, "covers"
and dismissal. While European
concert music is produced in major US
concert halls, theaters, played by
permanent resident orchestras in cities across the country, while the
authentic Classical Music of the US has historically been marginalized,
performed in the worst venues available. The conductor of the New York
Philharmonic is paid 1.5 Million dollars a year. This music is called
"Legit," i.e. "Legitimate," historically Afro -American
music, by inference,
is "Illegitimate". In the NYTimes and NJ Star Ledger,
there is a category
called "Music", another called "Jazz"!
is even more disingenuous, as it is dishonest, is that within
the last decade or so, there has been a distinct movement issuing crab-like
across the chauvinist US superstructure to systematically distort the
history & development of The Music, but also it's class origins in the
marginalization of this, only recently recognized by Congress
National Treasure." One main distortion made essentially by positing
simultaneous development in the white and black communities. Obviously
chauvinist commentators, like Sudhalter, Collier, sickening with their
disinformational denigration of Black creativity, seek to construct , at the
same time, a completely ersatz
meta-history for it's actual evolution.
idiotic and bluntly racist attacks on Duke Ellington,
claiming, as the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, that Ellington's music is just an
imitation of European concert music, flies in the face of astute European
commentators like Ernest Ansermet, Ravel, Stravinsky, Horowitz. Likewise,
the testimonials of even American
popular artists like Bix Beiderbecke,
Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, &c.
like Collier's racism confirm and pipsqueaks some continued
legitimization of the general historic American chauvinism toward Black
Music, including an earlier travesty such as The American Pulitzer Prize
committee's refusal to award Duke Ellington that prize in 1967, even though
their own group of judges named Duke to receive the Pulitzer! The bitter
absurdity of all this white supremacy is that Afro-American music is in its
total possession by the American people, American Classical Music!
like George Gershwin, who literally learned at the feet and elbows of
Willie "The Lion" Smith, James P. Johnson and Fats Waller could be
Great Composers and live
STILL insist on
selling Black Music short
while his teachers always struggled
even survival! Gershwin's
masterpiece Rhapsody in Blue is clearly a skillful recombining of
essential elements of James P.'s Yamekraw Rhapsody, orchestrated by
William Grant Still, performed at Carnegie Hall 1927, with Fats Waller as
himself, was an awesome composer of extended works, at
least two symphonies, Harlem Symphony, '34, Symphony in Brown, '35.
one of which, The Organizer, 1940 (with Libretto by Langston
Hughes) was performed, like Yamekraw, exactly Once, at Carnegie Hall!
extended work, Jump for Joy
performed, to my knowledge, about the
same number of times. While Gershwin's estimable "adaptation" of these
composers' works, is given grand presence as an American Classic! Or
consider for a split second, in contrast to any of the great Afro-American
composers the awesome tribute and major repertory status given to Gershwin's
Porgy and Bess, a work
derived directly from and shaped by Afro-American
life and culture.
arrogant cultural and musical "autonomy" American critics
bestowed upon Gershwin and the work was so aggressively and subjectively
chauvinist that it even caused Ellington, usually a consummate diplomat
about these things, to express his
irritation openly at such haughty
to be bluntly precise, just as the history of European "Classical"
music would not be essentially changed by the exclusion of the many
non-European artists who have contributed to it, by the same measure
Afro-American music, which is the Soul of what must be regarded as American
Classical music, would not be changed if not a single white artist's
contributions were included. And, face it, this analysis is not black
chauvinism, but like they say, hard fact!
important development and change in the US since my earlier
that where I saw, as principal,
the contradictory relationship
between Black Music, it's creators, on one hand and The White Critical
establishment on the other , today it should be more and more obvious that
that contradiction, still, at times, antagonistic, is, at base,,
contradiction of class and class "stance", distance and alienation,
exist generally in bourgeois society and are no less clearly perceivable in
the context of this relationship between "critic" and creator. Even
this contradiction is still most obviously visible as "Black Vs White."
it, there has been, since the late '50s, a very visible and impacting
increase in the size and influence of the Black petty-bourgeois (middle
class). This has been caused directly by the political-social upsurge of the
period, of the Civil Rights-Black Liberation Movement or more precisely what
substantive changes occurred because of the interlocking force of the twined
Afro American national movements for Democracy and Self- Determination, one
aspect loosely labeled "integrationist", the other, "separatist."
essentially anti-imperialist anti-war movement should also be factored into
but predictable scientifically , this development has created a
much larger "gap" between the burgeoning, but still mustard -seed
recently emerging Black petty bourgeoisie and the great majority of
considerably more distance between the black majority and the so-called
"neo-con" (neo-conservative ) Negroes, now hoisted into profitable
visibility with attendant official "Hoorahs" as a fallacious display
has meant that more and more we see "well placed" Negroes co-signing
the most backward ideas of the US
rulers. The most bizarre, for instances,
the "three blind mice," The Colon, The Skeeza and Tom Ass, at the top
Bush-2's junta. They have been made seemingly ubiquitous by the power of
relentless duplicity. At American Express, Newsweek, across the media, as
film stars, &c.
the field of Jazz commentary, we have Stanley Crouch, Albert Murray, who
have taken up many of the reactionary, even white-chauvinist, ideas of the
racist U.S. superstructure and its critical establishment. A few years
ago, at a Midwestern seminar headed
by Dave Baker, Crouch, in a discussion
on intellectual contributions to The Music, and in response to this writer's
statement that it should obvious
that it has been Black people who have
contributed the fundamental and essential intellectual innovations to the
music, spontaneously ejaculated, that "Black people have not contributed ""
Breaking the statement off in mid ugly, apparently shocking even
himself, at the ignorance of his intended comment. Especially, I would
imagine, in the face of several scowling "Bloods," most,
musicians, including Muhal Abrams, who commented immediately on the tail of
my repeated requests for Stanley to finish his thought!
Crouch also wrote more recently in the New York Times, that Black
didn't like George Gershwin because he was a better composer than all of
them (except Duke). It should be
clear to most folks with any clarity that
both statements are false and reek
of the national (racial) foolishness
that characterizes white supremacy. And this from a "Negro" (as
objective accuracy, prefers to be called)!
it means is that the creators and artist-guardians of American
Classical music must create, as part of a revolutionary democratic movement,
an alternative superstructure, i.e., institutions, organizations, venues,
critical journals, in order to rescue the history, socio-economic
productiveness and potential and even it's
artistic strength and free them
and themselves from dependence on the socially exploitative and artistically
diluting mechanisms of corporate commercialism and its attendant racism.
is a howling need for more independent journals, performance circuits,
educational institutions, whose form and content relate directly to the
artists, the history, the socio-economic and political needs of the masses
of Afro-American people and to the whole of the US majority itself.
title Ken Burns Jazz is disheartening up front. Whether there
apostrophe or not! It's always gratifying to see tapes and cuts of the
musicians and hear some of the music. But it is maddening in the extreme not
to hear them speak for themselves!
all the petty jealously that Wynton Marsalis elicits
behind his Lincoln Center visibility, even from otherwise knowledgeable
people, Wynton was the single saving element to the series. Without him it
would have consisted of almost random images and largely superficial
injections by Burns' obligatory clutch of "ultimate"
"Gee Whiz"-ologists and now a smaller group of Negro autodidacts,
the most prominent, but also a Negro "Gee Whiz"- ologist, Gerald
was an embarrassing tourist of very limited relevance to any serious
one point, Crouch referred to the musicians in Ellington's great
orchestra as "knuckleheads!" You mean Hodges, Gonsalves, Webster,
Tizol, Cootie, Tricky Sam, Blanton, Strayhorn?&c."
What kind of
thoughtful analysis could come from such contempt? But such is one of the
seamier products of the vaunted "social equality" of the fake
rights era." But in addition
to this direct class-deformed commentary,
more subtlely obvious ignorance and dismissal characterized the series as
"white critic, black musician apartheid".
the top, Burns said he knew nothing about the music! Then how did he
get to do a series? I wonder if the producers
would allow some similarly
self-described "Non" to do such a series on European classical music?
this similar "Gee Whiz!" essentially non-intellectual, attitude and
method has always been allowed in what passes as serious commentary on the
music because of the predominance of Afro- American artists. It is a
is one reason I support Marsalis' work of, to some extent, archiving
the music at Lincoln Center. By re-presenting the music's classics in
repertory , a consolidating
stability and status is accorded to it, not
seen before. Just as Lincoln Center does its annual "Mostly Mozart,"
should be gratified to see something like a "Mostly Monk" repertory
established. Even if
Marsalis' orchestra is sometimes not fully up to the
task of say, reincarnating Duke Ellington,
but could Bernstein improvise
like Herr Beethoven?
essence of Burns' piece is the implied ideological dictum that the
collective "braintrust" Burns gathered , largely white, mainly
the paradigm for the intellectual source for any lasting analysis and
measure of this music and that is the deepest content of its vulgar
accounts for the general absence of any impressive philosophical
analysis of the music itself and except for Marsalis, scant discussion of
it's changing genres as music as
art or social expression!
the music means, at a given period,
as aesthetic, social and
philosophical expression? Why it moved from one genre or style to another?
Why the abiding classical elements of its constantly reconfigured continuum?
specific musicians were characterized by raconteurish
clich'd retellings of flaws in their personal lives---Sidney Bechet described
as "a thug;" the drawn out docudrama of Bird's drug addiction;
Billie Holiday---without a similar depth of musical, aesthetic and
philosophical analysis of their music. Nor was there a historical overview
of these constantly developing factors intrinsic to the music.
serious interviews with a representative group of the great musicians
still around would have offered a much more profound composite and
intellectual and social access to this still unplumbed
chest of American culture and art. Far from opposing the interview of
critics, scholars, writers, club owners, the greater and more informed
inclusion of the artists themselves (not just contemporarily but from
existing archives) would have provided a much more incisive, scholarly and
entertaining document to inform the ages.
saying "Later!" I would add that like Fred Douglass, after he
whipped on the "white church" in his majestic "Fourth of
July" speech and
so had to make some slight
qualification, if my analysis of "white critics"
seems inaccurately sweeping, I should point out that at root it is aimed at
"the establishment" of what passes and has passed for over a century,
say this because some of the young critics I met when I first came to New
York---Dick Hadlock (whom I worked for at The
Record Changer), the always
penetrating, Martin Williams (though we had a running argument about whether
Billie Holiday sang the Blues or not). Others like Larry Gushee, Dan
(once he began to dig that the music did not stop after Duke Ellington, if
he ever really believed that), my man, John Sinclair,
the mixed up Frank
Kofsky, I have always had respect for, whether we totally agreed or not.
other "white critics" like the great Sidney Finklestein was
an immense contributor to what storehouse of scientific discourse
about this music. I could add
the redoubtable Stanley Dance, Ellington's
shadow, not a deep thinker, (but
European analysis of the music for a long
time was always more objective and scientific) the anthropologist
Herskovits. There were even some dudes we will always jump on we learned
something from, (I wont even mention Nat Hentoff till he returns from
land of national -liberal crypto chauvinist social- hypocrisy). Suffice it
to say, there is That and there is Them. I know the difference.
just to add some reminder of the kind of stilted hollowness most
commentary on the music resembles, recently there was an article in the New
Jersey Star Ledger, some of us call The Star Liar, by writer
Kanzler. (How are you spelling that?) In claiming to list the musicians
coming out of and associated with Newark
and environs, he left out the
SALOME BEY, Lead Singer with Andy(
Bey) & The Bey Sisters;
Jackie Bland, leader of the legendary
teenage bebop orchestra out of
which came Wayne Shorter, Grachan Moncur 111, Harold Van Pelt , Hugh
Brodey, Walter Davis, "Humphrey" the Be Bopper's Be Bopper, Blakey's
Pianist for years; EDDIE GLADDEN ,
Dexter Gordon's regular drummer;
VICTOR JONES, Getz' regular drummer, the last years; Harold Mitchell, who
played with Willie The Lion, Basie, Lionel Hamptaon,
Gillespie's Big Band; NAT
PHIPPS, Leader of the other wonderful '50's
teenage orchestra, which
featured Nat & Billy Phipps,
Moncur 111, Ed Station, Wayne and
Shorter, L,ightsey: Danny Quebec, one
of the earliest Bop saxists, also
with Babs Gonzalez , Tadd Dameron, JJ Johnson in Babs' classic 3 BIPS
BOP; Lawrence Killian, long time hand drum master; SCOTT LAFARO, Ornette
Coleman bassist, LaRue, an unsung
master piano teacher to Newark musicians,
ask Moncur, Gladden, Morgan,
&c ; Freddie Roach, one of Newark's organ
funk- masters, along with Larry Young &c; CHRIS WHITE, one of Cecil Taylor's
absent: The entire Newark
Phipps Family, Harold, Ernie, drums, Gene,
Nat, pianist, Billy, Gene Jr., the rest well known saxophonists, Robert
Banks, piano, Herbie Morgan, Tenor & reeds, Jimmy Anderson, tenor,
Lightsey, bass: Bradford Hays, tenor, Steve Colson, piano, , Ronnell
vocal, Chink Wing, drums, Chops Jones, Bass,)
Rudy Walker, Drums, Pancho
Diggs, Orch leader, piano, Rasheema, vocal, Eddie Crawford, drums, , piano,
Orch leader, Santi DiBriano, drums, Pat Tandy, vocal, Charyn
trumpet, Hugh Brodey, saxophone, Eli Yamin, Piano, Gloria Coleman,
vocal, Bernie James, sax, Ed Station, Trumpet, Art Williams, bass,
owner, "The Cellar"; Shad Royful,
Orch leader, piano, Harold
Tenor, Geri Allen, Piano, Wilber Morris, bass, Connie Pitts Speed, piano,
vocal, Gene Goldston, vocal, Everett Laws, vocals, Warren Smith, drums.
Time Area Residents: RAY BROWN, DIZZY GILLESPIE , DONALD BYRD.
Residents: David Murray, tenor: Reggie
Workman, bass, Oliver Lake,
alto, reeds, Andrew Cyrille, drums, Steve Turre, trombone.
thirty years later".you dig?
Baraka 5-7/01 ##
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