Is music the ultimate expression of human freedom? Having written so much about the music called jazz and the socio-political nuances it often carries, I do feel like I may be laboring the point just a bit, but each time I look through my old notes, I keep finding half-finished essays and quotations connected to this phenomenon. The aim is to elaborate on the various ways in which Black peoples invention is misappropriated to their detriment, but I am also investigating how music and other art-forms are the spaces where possibilities for deeper intercultural communication can be articulated and convergence of humanity can be established. It is not an easy road towards harmony. But as we have heard and witnessed, music is a great equalizer, or is it really? Because what does it really mean to be equal, and when can the Black peoples of the world get their dues? As a cultural currency music is unmistakably translucent, anyone who has a heart can captivate us with song and even their understanding earned through learning or experience. Anyone who has a heart can feel and express it, so how come the racial stereotypes and abuse of power still persist?
A case in point is a quote attributed to Greg Thomas, dated February 6, 2012.
“Jazz, an art form given birth in the United States by descendants of the formerly enslaved has a complicated relationship with race. Although race as a popular idea has no basis in biology, many people mentally adhere to the idea of diving groups of people based on ‘race’ as opposed to understanding how groups of people evolve or regress, via culture, so very real social dynamics and results exist based on the belief in race. A key purpose of this column is to explore culture vs race as it manifests in the discourse of Jazz, historically and presently. “ – Find this and other articles on this subject here:
Another great and more detailed article is this one by Stanley Crouch, a veritable writer, jazz activist and critic.
I have chosen to highlight these two articles according to their merit and scope but I also deliberately chose two writers from the two ethnic backgrounds in question. The white man’s and the black man’s perspective gives a balanced understanding of what is at stake. Perhaps jazz like many forms of art born in the pervasive climate of racialized capitalism is as Bud Powell put it ‘A Dance Of The Infidels’ and we cannot remove it from its milieu, maybe then the best that one can do is enjoy it without visceral interrogation. But then the music itself kind of forces one to delve deeper than the sound. The creative impulse, themes and motivations of the musical creators compel us to Listen deeper, beyond basic enjoyment.
Elsewhere, writing about himself, Crouch states: ” He came into politics slowly, through art, as a child, he had posters of Dizzy Gillespie hanging everywhere, formed a jazz club in high-school and was an actor and director with the Watts Repertory Theater, in the wake of the Watts riots of 1965, he was caught up in the black nationalist movement, but he became a traitor to it later because he was bored with the militant strategies. The movement, he wrote, “helped send not only black America but his nation itslelf into an intellectual tailspin on the subjects of race, of culture, of heritage, where there was not outright foolishness, there was a mongering of the maudin and a base opportunism.” –
The above is taken from some of his essays in his first book, ‘Notes of a Hanging Judge“, (Oxford University Press, 1990), originally published in the Village Voice that same year.
So when will music and arts escape from the racial traps that have been constructed by capitalism and opportunism?