[The Cotton Club] was a place where white customers could experience so-called “jungle nights” in Harlem, full of what they thought to be the darkies’ “natural” behavior — authentically imbecilic, if not amusingly or intriguingly subhuman, much like the thug-and-slut hip-hop world of today.
To middle America, the Negro jazz musician comes across as both drug-addicted and a clownish buffoon donning a funny hat.
Quotes respectively from Stanley Crouch, Kansas City Lightning
, and Robin D.G. Kelley, Thelonious Monk: the life and times of an American original
. From minstrelsy
to gangsta rap, there’s a whole history in the USA of manufactured racist entertainment, which role is to comfort whites in their stereotypes about blacks (and thus about their superiority as a race).
If I had to choose one hard bop album for a desert island, and if Sonny Clark’s Leapin’ and Lopin’ did not exist, then the task would be difficult. But it exists: incredible, geometrical, funky, focused.
The Beatles were good inasmuch as they drew attention to our music in
the white world. They made white people listen to our music with a different
attitude than they had before. It could be that they give their respect
only to the Beatles and that they are as racist as they’ve ever been, but
I think that we are listened to more and given more respect than before the
Beatles. I do not know if this is true, and if it’s not true we’re in worse
shape than we were. Because that would mean the Beatles had come along
and distorted a part of our music while admitting they got their inspiration
from us. It would mean that whites are only listening to whites, as before,
and that youngsters who listen to the Beatles’ music don’t even know what
good music is. Only history will prove whether the Beatles were a good thing.
Nina Simone on the Beatles, 1970.
The Sidewinder has been one the
most popular jazz album in the sixties, and a highlight of hard bop. Most notable
is the presence of Billy Higgins at the drums and the distinctive beat he used
in the title track; here’s what Ron Carter had to say about it (this is from a
1969 interview with Art Taylor):
In my research I have found that most of the current rock beats are nothing
but very poorly executed New Orleans jazz drumming. […] Billy Higgins is
a fine example of a New Orleans-beat drummer. He’s just playing funeral
street beats. But if you listen to the record he made, The Sidewinder, with
Lee Morgan, it sounds like a rock beat. It is not rock. It is only classified
as rock for the commercial value of the term. […] All they do [white rock
bands] is play it louder and much poorer for commercial reasons.
I know what the problem is. It’s the people who want to design and control the music consumption the way they want to dictate it.
Ornette Coleman, interviewed by Art Taylor, 1969. I think that the Afro-American musicians perceived already 50 years ago (or more) what is the ongoing problem with the music industry, the same problem that today brings us DRM, internet censorship, filtering and monitoring lobbies.
The Colored Idea Band of Sonny Clay arrives in Sydney, 1928 / Sam Hood by State Library of New South Wales collection on Flickr.
In 1928 Sonny Clay’s jazz band started a tour in Australia. They were quite successful, a bit too much for the times maybe; after it was found that some white-skinned Australian women were engaging in fornication with dark-skinned musicians, the whole band was deported, and Australia decided to ban Afro-American musicians from visiting their country and spoiling the gene pool. The ban was only lifted 26 years later, for Louis Armstrong.
On this LP cover, Donald Byrd reads (or pretends to read) the iconic French newspaper Le Figaro. The front page allows to date the photo quite precisely in 1958: it’s just after the coronation of pope John XXIII. At that time Byrd was living (and recording) in France.
Phineas Newborn’s rendition of Lush Life on his 1961 recording, A World of Piano, shows in a particularly clear way the influence that early XXth century French composers (notably Debussy and Ravel) had on jazz musicians. Phineas is by far not alone in this position.
Death and resurrection of Henry Grimes
Henry Grimes was a famous bassist in the 50s and 60s; in addition to playing with Monk, Sonny Rollins, and even Mingus, he became an highlight of the free jazz scene. Then, he apparently fall into depression.
In the late 1960s, Grimes career came to a halt after his move to California. It was commonly assumed Grimes had died; he was listed as such in several jazz reference works. Then Marshall Marrotte, a social worker and jazz fan, set out to discover Grimes’s fate once and for all. In 2003, he found Grimes alive but nearly destitute, without a bass to play, renting a tiny apartment in Los Angeles, California, writing poetry and doing odd jobs to support himself.
The New York Times adds
According to Mr. Marrotte, Mr. Grimes no longer owned a musical instrument; he had never seen a CD, although his work is on them; and he was unaware that many of his colleagues had died, including Ayler, the tenor saxophonist, who was found drowned in the East River off Manhattan in 1970.