Amiri Baraka: Perspectives on Music and Race
Baraka remarks, ..."often it would seem that Jazz and Blues are European and Euro-American inventions. Racist media and anti-scholars are working feverishly on such a klannish historical genocide." Though racism is alive and well, I still have difficulty with these types of open blanket statements that reflect a type of race related paranoia. Who is it that is trying to diminish or eliminate the names of the greatest African American composers in American history? Who is trying to take away the accomplishments of Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Monk, Dizzy, Ellington, Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Miles, Ben Webster, Al Green, Smokey Robinson, Dexter Gordon, Charles Mingus, Johnny Hodges, Don Cherry, Eric Dolphy, Lee Morgan, Art Blakey, McCoy Tyner, Sonny Rollins, Sarah Vaughan, Charles Lloyd, Coleman Hawkins, Art Tatum, Pharoah Sanders, Max Roach, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Ahmad Jamal, Freddie Hubbard, Benny Carter, Ray Charles, Lester Young, Tupac Shakur, Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Otis Redding, James Brown, Sly Stone, Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith, Betty Carter, Stevie Wonder, Jackie McLean, Aretha Franklin, Malaih Jackson, Wayne Shorter, Ornette Coleman, Andrew Hill, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, Otis Redding, Bobby King, Buddy Guy, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye? I mean, who are these genociders of the 21st century? What are their names?
In chapter 58, Baraka discusses saxophonist, Odean Pope and remarks that, "Pope is a longtime Max Roach stalwart, a daring, resourceful, skilled, and passionate player, but alas, too solid and fundamentally "inside" to get much ink from the "Gee whiz, it don't even sound like jazz...ain't that great!?" school of music insulters, who got regular jobs as buffoons of music commentary." As Baraka mentions, because little word or airplay is available for musicians such as Pope, they remain largely unknown. There are very few venues and festivals that are available to such brilliant artists who choose to take the risk and step outside the mainstream of what is called jazz. But in today's world, I would argue that the problem doesn't have as much to do with race as both white and black musicians have an extremely difficult time finding venues where this innovative and progressive "creative music" is welcome.
What the author should consider is that when someone as creative as Odean Pope cannot get a gig at Lincoln Center where the Artistic Director is black, how fair is it to be critical of anybody else? If Albert Ayler was alive today, could he still get a gig at Lincoln Center? Since Cecil Taylor has now been invited (finally), I would venture to say that the answer would probably be yes. But why should 50 years have to pass by in order to get a gig strictly because of name recognition rather than for the brilliant music that is being performed? Shouldn't that be enough? Fred Anderson who is now 80 years old, is a giant in this music and one of the original members of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), yet he hasn't been invited. How many years of dues does he have to pay? Is anybody listening? What about Roscoe Mitchell, Leo Smith and Anthony Braxton, who is surely one of the greatest composers in the history of music. However, with that being said, I also believe that Lincoln Center has the right to invite who they wish into their performance hall. The problem I have lies in the fact that they receive funding from those that should take more time and initiative to understand the artistic work that is being accomplished by a number of great artists today. There is a total lack of awareness with a responsibility that is still not being taken seriously.
In his chapter titled, "Miles Later," Baraka affirms, "And finally the classic quintet with John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Philly Joe Jones and Paul Chambers attests to this with much power." I'm sure it's just an oversight but Miles never had a recording quintet of these musicians together. The first classic quintet did not yet have Cannonball Adderley, but rather the pianist, Red Garland. Adderley would join Miles to form a sextet and then recorded Milestones. After this wonderful recording, Miles removed Red Garland and Philly Joe Jones and replaced them with Jimmy Cobb and Bill Evans. Bill Evans would leave less than a year later and was replaced by Wynton Kelly.