The Cry of Jazz
November 3, 2013 11:21 PM   Subscribe

"Edward Bland’s 1959 documentary The Cry of Jazz is one of the most remarkable films I’ve ever seen. An early statement of the black nationalism that would become famous in the late 60s, Bland argues in this 30 minute film that only African-Americans have the soul and history to play jazz and that whites need to understand their inferiority in the genre is precisely because of their racist history. It’s an amazing film." -- Apart from articulating a debate that's perhaps as old as jazz itself, The Cry of Jazz also is the earliest recorded appearance of Sun Ra and his Arkestra.
posted by MartinWisse (57 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite

 
Denied a future, the negro’s joyous celebration of the present is the negro’s answer to America’s ceaseless attempts to obliterate it. Jazz is the musical expression of negro’s eternal recreation of the present.

Thanks MartinWisse. That little insight is gonna change the way I listen to jazz.
posted by three blind mice at 1:44 AM on November 4, 2013


The Negro and the Negro alone created jazz.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:11 AM on November 4, 2013


The Negro and the Negro alone created jazz.

Not alone. That point is made again and again in the film. Jazz was as much a creation of "the Negro" as it was a creation of the circumstances in which African-Americans were forced to live. Jazz didn't come from Africa - it is an American art form resulting from the unique circumstances present in America. Without slavery and the lingering effects of Jim Crow and segregation there isn't any jazz which is an easy concept to get my head around, but - as a jazz fan - a hard one to absorb.
posted by three blind mice at 2:26 AM on November 4, 2013


Nice. Great.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:06 AM on November 4, 2013


Yay essentialism!
posted by spitbull at 3:18 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jazz didn't come from Africa - it is an American art form resulting from the unique circumstances present in America.

Isn't that true of most of American music? All American music (save Country) is from these circumstances?
posted by double bubble at 4:14 AM on November 4, 2013


> Isn't that true of most of American music? All American music (save Country) is from these circumstances?

How does country get a saving throw?
posted by jfuller at 4:59 AM on November 4, 2013


Well, yeah, it's trivially true of all music of course, even country. But in context I can understand why three blind mice would've trouble absorbing the idea that jazz is the byproduct of slavery and centuries of racism...
posted by MartinWisse at 5:00 AM on November 4, 2013


Seems like Country's origin is more Irish and Appalachian. Granted, as it evolved it picked up the African American influence but it has it's own genesis.
posted by double bubble at 5:11 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of the greatest tragedies of human experience is the fact that great tragedies are necessary to give birth to great art. Perhaps we would be better off without either one. Fortunately or unfortunately we're not in danger of trying that experiment anytime soon.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:11 AM on November 4, 2013


In other words, some sort of country would have emerged on its own, but not true of say rock n roll.
posted by double bubble at 5:13 AM on November 4, 2013


You could argue that country too came into being because of the economic effects of slavery conspiring to keep Appalachia a poor and isolated place. Not to mention the long interaction and musical sympathy between Appalachian string bands and traveling jazz string bands from the 10s-20s.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:14 AM on November 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


[One comment deleted. Sorry, but let's try to avoid a complete civil war derail here; thanks. ]
posted by taz at 5:33 AM on November 4, 2013


Haha I'm watching the doc now (it's utterly amazing) and the part where they contrast scenes of black life and black jazz with white life and white jazz is hi-larious. Like literally shots of poodles being groomed during a Paul Whiteman song.

Gold.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:34 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


great tragedies are necessary to give birth to great art.

Not necessarily true. One can make an argument that without slavery, the transport of African slaves to America, the subsequent erasure of their original culture, as well as the pre and post slavery cross fertilisation between various American "bastard" cultures jazz would not have existed as we know it, but that doesn't mean that if African cultures had been able to develop on their own without interference from Europe and elsewhere, just as rich a music couldn't have sprung up from indigenous sources (and in fact, Afrobeat music et all, though being influenced by European/American influences, does show a way in which that could've happened.)

More generally, there is quite a lot of great art that was not borne out of misery: e.g. Golden Age Dutch painting was the product of the most wealthy period in the country's history, while the post-war affluence in Britain produced modern rock...
posted by MartinWisse at 5:40 AM on November 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't really know much about Dutch painting but I'm not sure that anything was particularly great about British modern rock. Do you mean like the Stones? Because they would agree more than anyone that they were just trying to imitate true innovators like Howlin Wolf.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:53 AM on November 4, 2013


The end of the movie, about the death of jazz is really interesting. Jazz did manage to live for another 10-15 years but really hadn't come up with anything new, just combined with different genres like latin and soul. But then, is hip hop a totally new form of music or the ultimate zombie of jazz--A dead form re-invigorated by technology and poetry or a retreat further into the underworld of the restraints of an endless chorus?

The best ending to this would have been the Bad Brains busting in suddenly and ripping through "Attitude ".
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:02 AM on November 4, 2013


This is a good period piece showing American thought in 1958. We still have that: 'some of us are human (my group) but your group is not human' which was the foundation of slave owning culture to begin with.
posted by naight at 6:18 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


You could argue that country too came into being because of the economic effects of slavery conspiring to keep Appalachia a poor and isolated place.

Can this argument realistically be made? I'm not questioning it, more asking out of ignorance. If so, it would sort of neatly dovetail with a few things I've come to think about that area.
posted by nevercalm at 6:23 AM on November 4, 2013


> More generally, there is quite a lot of great art that was not borne out of misery: e.g. Golden Age Dutch painting was the product of the most wealthy period in the country's history, while the post-war affluence in Britain produced modern rock...

I think that's a weak counterargument. I have an abiding affection and appreciation for Golden Age Dutch masters but by and large the era is dominated by staid-ass shit above which a few exemplars shone. And the go-to description for the most popular -- or at least most influential -- music of the 60s was as a bombastic, over-amplified revival of 1950s blues.

The Stones were mostly raised as comfortable, middle-class kids while The Beatles and The Who came from the struggling lower classes. Jimi Hendrix was raised in poverty; The Beach Boys, not so much.

The relationship of wealth (or lack of) and creativity is a hard thing to make sweeping statements about; even where the anecdotal evidence points to a culture's essential creative source being from the lower classes, there can still be the question of who's consuming the creative output. Whether it's flourishing in a way to perpetuate itself and permanently influence the culture or languish permanently outside the cultural mainstream can also be influenced by - or be an influencer of - class and class relationships.
posted by ardgedee at 6:39 AM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Can this argument realistically be made?

There is ample musicological evidence that poor Appalachian whites and poor sharecropper blacks exchanged musical knowledge in the 17-1800s.

The economic argument for Appalachia's sideways oppression by the institution of slavery is summed up pretty well by this quote from wikipedia:

The character and condition of the Poor White is rooted in the institution of slavery. Rather than provide wealth as it had for the Southern elite, in stark contrast, slavery considerably hindered progress for non-slave holding whites by exerting a crowding-out effect eliminating free labor in the region.[9][10] This effect, compounded by the area's widespread lack of public education[...] prevented low-income and low-wealth free laborers from moving to the middle class.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:47 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I wasn't trying to go in with guns blazing there, Martin. I think our conclusions are not too far apart, but my previous comment came out sounding a lot more fighty about the differences than I mean them to.
posted by ardgedee at 6:48 AM on November 4, 2013


Years ago, I read an interview with Wynton Marsalis. He said, you know, Armstrong, Bird, Monk - these were extremely intelligent men. In a different society, they would have had a hard choice, perhaps, between music and becoming a doctor or professor, say. For that matter, they would have had a decision as to pursuing jazz or conservatory study. But they tended to not have that choice.

The bassist Ron Carter did go to a conservatory. He speaks with bitterness to this day of the discrimination that he faced in classical music.
posted by thelonius at 6:58 AM on November 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Country has a great deal of African American influence as well, being based on the blues and African American spirituals at least as much as it is on Anglo-Irish ballad forms.
posted by chrchr at 7:18 AM on November 4, 2013


great tragedies are necessary to give birth to great art

One thing you should know by now from reading MetFilter:

CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION!!1!

Great tragedy is an inescapable and chronic feature of human history. Great art is also an occasional feature in history. Crap art also happens to follow tragedy because everything in human history follows some horrible injustice, bloodletting, or epidemic it's what we homo sapiens do. We club each other and then we make a cave painting or tell stories in song.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:31 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cool, thanks Potomac.
posted by nevercalm at 7:32 AM on November 4, 2013


Dear Black People:

Great tragedies are necessary to produce great art. You *needed* slavery in order to produce Jazz.

You're welcome.

--White People.

P.S. African Civilization didn't produce any great art in the millennia before chattel slavery did it? I don't remember learning about any in school anyway.

P.P.S. Just think what Bach and Beethoven, Haydn and Liszt could have accomplished if they lived under crushing racism and a brutal history of slavery!
posted by edheil at 7:58 AM on November 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


If you think country music's origins are all Irish and Scotch, you need to read up on Jimmie Rodgers, the "Father of Country Music," or do some reading on so-called "country blues" or read Nick Tosches' sardonic and biting, yet sincere "Country: The Biggest Music in America." Or you could learn about Western Swing, or the history of the banjo, for a start. Or you could go see a performance by the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and start to wonder. Meanwhile, a meeting of Jimmie Rodgers and Louis Armstrong.
posted by raysmj at 8:09 AM on November 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Early Classical music was invented by peasants in a monarchy. I think those folks knew a little about suffering.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:13 AM on November 4, 2013


Early Classical music was invented by peasants in a monarchy.

The music that wasn't ecclesiastical anyway, but actual "Classical" music came at a time of comparative wealth and democratization of education that also gave birth to the age of democratization of politics and the overthrow of the great empires and the birth of science. The composers generally came from a priviledged aristocratic class. I guess the "tragedy" that inspired Beethoven was the final turning back of the Ottomans from the gates of Vienna and the "liberation" of "Christian" Europe?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:24 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Country music owes as much to the African(-American) musical lineage as any other genre. If you listen to string bands from the 20s, you cannot audibly discern the differences between the black and white musicians, and the first major star of the genre got famous for singing blues songs.

Country is black music too.
posted by spitbull at 8:35 AM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Or what raysmj said.
posted by spitbull at 8:36 AM on November 4, 2013


Here, I'll plug Diane Pecknold's new and superb edited volume (Duke UP) on country as black music, Hidden in the Mix.

Read and learn.
posted by spitbull at 8:41 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's just like how humans will never be great creators of electronica, because they can't understand the trials and tribulations of Computer Americans.
posted by happyroach at 8:46 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's just like how humans will never be great creators of electronica, because they can't understand the trials and tribulations of Computer Americans.

Or maybe the racial disparities in Computer Science will mean there won't be enough black people to steal the genre from.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:59 AM on November 4, 2013


Tragedy can be personal too. I'm sorry that you don't agree but I have yet to hear anything that isn't anecdotes about the audiences for different artforms. The audience for jazz has always partially been white upper class people, particularly in the 20s and 30s, that doesn't make Duke Ellington any less affected by the history of racism.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:59 AM on November 4, 2013


Oh don't worry, do a little digging and you'll find that electronic music is also stolen from black people from Detroit, not computers.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:01 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I read this listening to DJ Zhao. Fascinating ideas.

So, the boogie is about, and it bites. We know this. But the boogie is catching, and it isn't confined to one community or one side of town. And everyone the boogie bites adds a bit of themselves. You can't isolate this stuff.

All hail the Boogie!
posted by Goofyy at 9:05 AM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Electronic music came from Africa Afrika!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:22 AM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Word.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:28 AM on November 4, 2013


Oh don't worry, do a little digging and you'll find that electronic music is also stolen from black people from Detroit, not computers.

Not true. That is just a couple genres of electronic music.
posted by scose at 10:33 AM on November 4, 2013


My bad! Should have put the word "Dance" in between Electronic and Music. For sure it's been around in various experimental and classical worlds from way back, not necessarily in the African American community. But as popular music, it all comes from Detroit by way of Italy and the South Bronx.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:45 AM on November 4, 2013


There's a saying that country music was borne from a combination of blues and yodeling. Jazz was a separate fork.

To address the sidethread, the ancestry of drum machine music is decidedly more complicated, not the least due to its deconstruction to a larger landscape of social and compositional history through its emergence as a product of the Information Age.
posted by rhizome at 11:29 AM on November 4, 2013


True enough rhizome. I still think EDM of all kinds owe a huge debt to disco, which is an african-american form, but it wasn't exactly folk music in the same way that any pre-recorded music was, and as such was a lot more about musicians of equal status, Afrika and Kraftwerk and Italian dudes and british proto-goths and black soul singers, all digging the same sounds immediately upon their release. Very complicated, much more than my glibness above seemed to acknowledge. Sorry bout that.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:50 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jazz was created by mixed-race musicians, applying African-derived rhythms to European instruments and scales. Attempts to make pure-race claims about it say more about the speaker's needs than the history of the music. It's true that white jazz was in a pretty dire state in 1958, but then, all white music was in a pretty dire state around then. If they'd make this doc in 1928, or 1968, it would be very different.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 12:08 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Any discussion about the "roots" of disco that lacks the word "commercial" or "marketing" is invalid. Disco is not a natural phenomenon. The music undoubtedly has musical roots. But those roots were pulled up, sanitized and rebranded by marketeers. So someone could sell 'hundred-dollar jeans'.
posted by Goofyy at 9:48 PM on November 4, 2013


Bland argues in this 30 minute film that only African-Americans have the soul and history to play jazz.

I wonder if Bland would also agree that only the French have the soul and history to play impressionist music, or that only Russians have the soul and history to play Tchaikovsky.
posted by epimorph at 12:18 AM on November 5, 2013


It also doesn't make sense that he would cast someone from Saturn as a representative of (African-American) Earthling soul and history.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:09 AM on November 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


from article: “Bland argues in this 30 minute film that only African-Americans have the soul and history to play jazz.”

epimorph: “I wonder if Bland would also agree that only the French have the soul and history to play impressionist music, or that only Russians have the soul and history to play Tchaikovsky.”

It's worth ignoring the terrible article and actually watching the film, which doesn't exactly do that, and which seems fully aware of the issue you're referring to.

Really, this is an incredible piece. The appearance of Sun Ra is amazing; but even more amazing is the interesting dialectic taking place between the characters. The first thing that strikes me is the uncomfortably raw honesty from the white people – and almost exclusively the white people. By which I mean: the white people in this film are not afraid of talking in broad terms about "the Negro" and what "the Negro wants" and "the Negro needs." I know this is a simulated conversation, not real, but it seems to have the flavor of authenticity on that point. We white people have had that presumptuousness trained out of us now, at least on this overt level; but the reason that's interesting is because the black people in the film don't really exhibit the same presumptuousness. They know, from long experience, that they're not supposed to be allowed to talk about what "the white man" wants and needs. Whenever any black person does, even in this "civilized conversation," it's intended and perceived as a transgressive threat that disrupts the discussion entirely. It's necessary to disrupt it because the conversation always pulls back to patently racist tropes and categories – and the participants need to be gently (or not-so-gently) shocked out of their complacent acceptance of those tropes and categories.

I mean – take, for example, a kind of pernicious and subtle racism to which jazz musicians were subjected to a lot in those decades: the racism of fetishization, of 'benevolent' reductionism. I always point to Mezz Mezzrow as a gleaming example of this; his book Really The Blues is full of the stuff, talking about how Negroes are born full of rhythm with a smile on their face and a spring in their step and all that. Mezz Mezzrow took fetishization of black people to a new low, calling himself an "honorary Negro" because he sold weed and got thrown in jail a few times (apparently those are things that Negroes just do) and played some jazz. America has always been happy to relegate black people to the ghetto of entertainment and sports; this kind of racism is still alive today in the idea that "black people have natural rhythm" or "black people are born athletes." Most everybody thinks this isn't really racism – but it clearly is, because it sells short the achievements of black athletes and musicians, as it always has. Black musicians and athletes aren't flukes of nature that won a genetic lottery; they're human beings who worked hard to attain the mastery they display, and they deserve as much credit for that as anyone else. And of course we white people in general get to pull a Mezz Mezzrow and pretend to be black whenever it suits us. This is why the younger jazz musicians in the decade before this film was produced were so careful to distance themselves, often with derisiveness ("don't shuck and jive!") from people like Paul Whiteman and even from such genuinely thoughtful musicians as Louis Armstrong.

So we can see both the reasons behind and the problems with a statement like "the Negro and the Negro alone created jazz." This is problematic because it leans toward an essentialism that says that black people are somehow different than anyone else physically, and that that difference (and not, say, talent or hard work) is the reason why they have great achievements in music. And it's also problematic in its implied exclusionism. As other black people in the film themselves note, jazz is a monolith of humanity specifically because it is open to all.

But – saying it that way was necessary. It was striking, it was jarring, but it was necessary, first and foremost to reclaim jazz from the notion that it is simply an amalgam of American musics that is neutral common property or that it is simply a style with no cultural content attached. After all these people, after Sun Ra and Miles Davis and John Coltrane and even the pedagogy of Wynton Marsalis, we're quite used to thinking of jazz as rooted in African-American experience; but it's very important to remember that it was easy for whites of this time to dismiss that idea as crazy exclusionism and claim that it's just everybody's music and why can't we all just get along? It was necessary for the black people in this conversation to say: no – this isn't just a form of pop music, or whatever, it's not just a style or a sound or anything like that – it's an essential and important feature of a culture, the culture which is furthermore at the heart of what America, as a nation, means.

And now I'm using the terms that later thinkers have used to render this argument somewhat more fittingly. African-Americanism is a culture as well as a race; races are genetic, but cultures are something we can be born with or grow into. White people from Bix Biederbecke to Bill Evans and beyond have sat inside this tent and taken part in jazz music; but it has never stopped being African-American culture at its core, and they have done so only insofar as they have been able to do it with humility and acceptance that they were being given a place.

And it's important to remember these arguments, and why people had to make them. Not only the French can play impressionist music, not only Russians can play Tchaikovsky; but if people had told Russians and French people for centuries that the music they played, the culture they were born to, the things that were theirs were not really theirs at all, then they would probably have recourse to standing up and making it clear that there is something essentially and culturally French about musical impressionism or Russian about Tchaikovsky.
posted by koeselitz at 8:00 AM on November 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, it's fair to note the the inflammatory pullquote is from Erik Loomis' under-informed ramblings, not the genuinely interesting film.
As for the essentially African roots of jazz: It's hard to imagine bebop without the influence of Django Reinhardt.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:29 AM on November 5, 2013


I did watch the movie, koeselitz. But it goes far beyond merely arguing that jazz is rooted in African-American culture, and into ridiculous pronouncements like "the Negro is the only human American". It also dismisses or outright ignores any developments in jazz that don't fit neatly into the jazz-is-an-expression-of-black-suffering narrative, like big band jazz, cool jazz, and European jazz. Instead it opts for more grand pronouncements, like "jazz is dead". It is understandable that many generations of oppression could produce the emotional need for forcefully reclaiming one's culture, but that doesn't make this move any less biased, exceptionalist, or obtuse.
posted by epimorph at 10:01 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


epimorph: "I did watch the movie, koeselitz. But it goes far beyond merely arguing that jazz is rooted in African-American culture, and into ridiculous pronouncements like 'the Negro is the only human American'."

"The movie" makes that pronouncement only insofar as a character in it does. By that argument, "the movie" also exclaims that "that's nothing but black chauvinism!"

"It also dismisses or outright ignores any developments in jazz that don't fit neatly into the jazz-is-an-expression-of-black-suffering narrative, like big band jazz, cool jazz, and European jazz."

There is some dismissal of cool jazz, but I don't remember anybody in it dismissing big band jazz, and European jazz is explicitly embraced.

"Instead it opts for more grand pronouncements, like 'jazz is dead'."

I wanted to say something about that - it's not a novel idea. Duke Ellington was saying the same thing a decade earlier, and plenty of musicians have said so over the years.

"It is understandable that many generations of oppression could produce the emotional need for forcefully reclaiming one's culture, but that doesn't make this move any less biased, exceptionalist, or obtuse."

Well, I certainly don't love every single thing about the conversation; I like it mostly as a document of its time (it is a fine one, as far as I can tell) and as an expression of something worthwhile about the music. I'd mostly be interested in hearing how you think it gets jazz wrong - that is, I'd rather hear how you feel about jazz.
posted by koeselitz at 8:35 PM on November 5, 2013


"The movie" makes that pronouncement only insofar as a character in it does.

You're technically right, but it seems pretty clear that the black characters are in the driver's seat here. They get the last word in every argument, and the editing, as well as the reactions of the other characters, make it clear where the sympathies of the movie-makers lie. Besides, one of the black characters, Alex, is also the narrator, and he suggests that white Americans need to work to become human (around the 26-minute mark).

European jazz is explicitly embraced.

I must have missed that part. The bit where they sketch the history of jazz doesn't mention it at all.

I'd mostly be interested in hearing how you think it gets jazz wrong.

I wouldn't say that the movie gets jazz wrong, except for the part at the end about jazz being dead. I'm perfectly happy to describe jazz as a product of African-American culture (though with a heavy dosage of Western tonality and instrumentation). My problem with the movie is that it seems to prize shock value over nuance, and that doesn't do favors to any subject.

For example, Alex says early on (and gets no rebuttal to): "All the fundamental and basic contributions to all the various kinds of jazz have been made by negros. The white musicians you speak of merely play follow-the-leader." I suspect that Django Reinhardt, Benny Goodman, Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, and Bill Evans would beg to differ. (You might notice that none of them was chosen to represent white jazz in the segment contrasting it with black jazz.) Sure, black musicians invented jazz, but is it really necessary to make such sweeping and insulting statements?

Getting back to jazz being dead, here's another example of the sort of pronouncement that made me cringe throughout the movie: "If any attempts are made to develop the form and/or the changes, the swing or the spirit of jazz is lost." Forget white jazz musicians--this is a slap in the face of people like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, and Ornette Coleman.

In short, as far as I can tell, a big hammer is the only tool Bland has in his toolbox.
posted by epimorph at 11:43 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, as I (very vaguely) recall, Bland was one of the critics who was *incensed* over free jazz and post-bop, thinking them arty white-person bullshit. Like a lot of essentialists, he didn't believe his subjects could evolve or change, only remain perfectly in stasis that he may admire it.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:33 AM on November 6, 2013


epimorph: “For example, Alex says early on (and gets no rebuttal to): 'All the fundamental and basic contributions to all the various kinds of jazz have been made by negros. The white musicians you speak of merely play follow-the-leader.' I suspect that Django Reinhardt, Benny Goodman, Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, and Bill Evans would beg to differ. (You might notice that none of them was chosen to represent white jazz in the segment contrasting it with black jazz.) Sure, black musicians invented jazz, but is it really necessary to make such sweeping and insulting statements?”

I agree that this is problematic. I kind of have to see it that way; I'm a white jazz musician. But many of the examples you give don't really work, I don't think. I would probably insist that Bix should have been included as a non-black musician who gave the music early shape and form. Django Reinhardt was a fine musician, but I'm not sure he was that influential, and there are people who wonder if his music should be called jazz really. That's a thorny thicket. There's some controversy about Benny Goodman, too, although I'd put him firmly in jazz even if he said repeatedly he'd rather not be.

As far as the rest of the people you mention – Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Bill Evans – you can't really blame this documentary for leaving them out – they were virtually unknown by everybody at this time. Dave Brubeck's Time Out wasn't even recorded until December of '59, Gerry Mulligan might have been on the Birth Of The Cool sessions ten years before but they were largely ignored until the next decade, Stan Getz didn't have his burst of popularity and influence until around '63 doing bossa with Jobim, and Bill Evans really rose to prominence after the Kind of Blue sessions a year after this was filmed. So I don't think we can blame Bland for not mentioning those people.

It really does seem to be true that, in the bop landscape, there didn't seem to be a whole lot of non-black musicians. That is no reason for being exclusionary, I know, but it does seem to be a fact on the ground. Still, black musicians themselves, from Sidney and Louis on up to Clifford Brown, generally insisted that color shouldn't matter and that they'd rather play with other good musicians no matter what color their skin was.

And your point totally stands – even if those particular white musicians might not have been mentioned, there were others who could have been.

“Getting back to jazz being dead, here's another example of the sort of pronouncement that made me cringe throughout the movie: 'If any attempts are made to develop the form and/or the changes, the swing or the spirit of jazz is lost.' Forget white jazz musicians--this is a slap in the face of people like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, and Ornette Coleman.”

I agree that those pronouncements are a little grating, but the thing is – they seem to be pronouncements musicians are and always have been in the habit of making. There's been a wave of people recently announcing that "jazz is dead," plenty of them musicians themselves. This is just an old expression of the fact that musicians hate being hemmed in by rules that restrain them, and they tend to reject categories.

He really isn't saying that "jazz must never be changed because changing it would be evil." He is saying that jazz is too narrow as a category for the music he thinks musicians should aspire to. He says that the spirit of jazz has to "remake serious music," spreading out into all the other forms of music and trying them out. I can see that as a project, honestly. It makes some sense, and it is an interesting way to want to go.

To be honest, the thing that bothered me most was the "here's some white musicians playing cool jazz, listen to it while you look at people grooming poodles" bit. And even then, it didn't bother me so much because I think white musicians can play fine – though they can; it bothered me more because I actually liked it! They really screwed that up. The "white musicians" section actually features some good, legitimately swinging jazz. I'm confused as to how they ended up doing that. I guess maybe they asked a band to play "white" or something? I'm not sure.
posted by koeselitz at 9:53 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


(The section about whether jazz can be "further developed" is right here, incidentally.)
posted by koeselitz at 9:55 AM on November 6, 2013


Thanks for correcting my chronology, koeslitz.

Regarding the death of jazz, I'm with ThatFuzzyBastard. My interpretation, based on what is said in the movie, is that Bland viewed jazz as a certain closed form, which could only be diluted by further changes. I took the "too narrow" comment to mean that Bland thought subsequently black culture would be channeled in other media, but those would no longer be jazz.

I must admit to having enjoyed the "white jazz" piece also, though less than what preceded or followed it.
posted by epimorph at 5:37 PM on November 6, 2013


« Older Chess 2 - How a street fightin' man fixed the worl...  |  A Russian bodybuilder shows of... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments