Racism In Jazz
by Martin Timins (originally printed in CODA Magazine)
“There is an ironic contradiction between the inherently democratic art form that is jazz and the social disease that is all too tragically extant here.” – John Tynan, 1956
A handful of films have been constructed around the theme of the jazz musician and his unique environment. Among the more honest efforts have been All Night Long, Paris Blues and Man With A Horn. All have advanced the assumption that the jazz community has somehow been impervious to the world’s racial tensions – a bastion of “nearly ideal democracy in which everyone is judged by what he has to say musically, not by an external characteristic like skin colour”. This is the “Jazz Myth”, as defined by critic Nat Hentoff.
The myth assumes a degree of realism when jazz is seated alongside other American institutions since jazz accords whites andNegroes more opportunities to develop fraternal relationships than can yet be enjoyed in other business and social activities. It is unrealistic, however, to expect the jazz community to be clear of those blemishes that disfigure the face of all society around it – to expect the young black in the New York ghetto to burn with any less hate for white society merely because he happens to blow a horn.
No jazzman is an island.
Though he belongs to a community that is relatively free of indigenous racial diseases, the jazz musician cannot help but breathe into his lungs the noxious elements that contaminate the atmosphere outside. The surrounding society imposes potent pressures upon the jazz artist. Consequently, there is less socialising between white and black musicians beyond the studio than is commonly imagined by the jazz fan. The Negro jazzman develops close relationships primarily with other musicians of his own race because housing discrimination often restricts him from sharing quarters with that same white artist with whom he shares a stand. Los Angeles, for example, is notorious for its isolation of the Negro community.
The jazz body has contracted a unique variety of racial disease.
“The difference in the pattern of segregation between the jazz world and American society in general …is that at the heart of jazz there are many Negro musicians who are not yet ready to extend full musical and social equality to whites”, reads the diagnosis offered by Nat Hentoff. “Since whites outside fight their entrance into homes and schools and jobs, many Negro musicians are all the more determined to fight to keep jazz for themselves, or as much of it as they can”.
This variety of racism, peculiar to the jazz community because of its overwhelming Negro proportions, has been affixed with the unpleasant label “Crow Jim”, since it represents a position that is obviously diametrical to the more common anti-Negro “Jim Crow” of white society. Crow Jim has become especially conspicuous since the Black Power movement gained momentum and activated the Negro jazzman’s latent race pride. Under the vocal leadership of avowed black racists like LeRoi Jones and Archie Shepp, the term “jazz” has been discarded by the more militant musicians and supplanted by “Black Music”.
In his Down Beat article “The Avant-Garde: Down Where We All Live”, Gus Metzorkis classified the many claims and charges being spewed forth to justify the term “Black Music” into four basic notions shared by proponents of Crow Jim:
1) Only Negroes can play great jazz.
2) All the originators in jazz, the truly creative jazzmen, were, and are Negroes.
3) Jazz is Negro protest music that only Negroes and a few white men endowed with “soul” can understand and appreciate.
4) All Negroes in jazz have been, and are now being, exploited by whites and the “White Power Structure.
There has already been a superfluity of words written by whites to disprove these generalities. Rather than repeat the usual list of outstanding white musicians and promoters who have lent their personal energies to advance jazz, it is more important to examine the history behind the formulation of Crow Jim’s four-point philosophy.
“Racial hatred in jazz is shifting sides. There are more coloured musicians hating whites than vice-versa”. This was the response of Michael Stephens to the question, “Do you feel the Jim Crow situation has improved in recent years?” put forth by veteran critic Leonard Feather in his poll, “The Jazz Fan, 1967.”
“The implication that white musicians in great numbers have actively hated Negroes in the past is curious”, Feather commented in regard to Stephen’s assertion. “The real problem has not been a matter of hate, but rather one of apathy on the part of whites and acceptance of the status quo.”
Feather is correct. Since the New Orleans beginnings of jazz, whites – even in the South – have respected the “natural” rhythmic talents of the Negro musician and listened intently to his jamming, studying the techniques of his execution. The elder Negro jazzmen have been recognised as indispensable ancestral figures.
Many Negroes, however, have resented the unfortunate fact that the white artist could find more lucrative employment and greater recognition than the Negro from whom he’d “stolen” the music. Consequently, Negroes laboured to develop a musical form too rhythmically complex f or the whites to reproduce. In his book Urban Blues, Charles Keil argues that “each successive assimilation of Negro musical styles into white musical culture has stimulated the Negro musician into the creation of yet another stylistic offshoot that is peculiarly ‘his”. This position had been earlier submitted by LeRoi Jones.
Economics, then, is a major factor behind Crow Jim.
In 1916 New Orleans trumpeter Freddie Keppard declined Victor’s offer to cut the first of all jazz phonograph records, and the distinction went to the white Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Keppard was apprehensive that his style would be too easily pirated if preserved in wax for anyone to study.
‘The boppers at the beginning of modern jazz deliberately worked out a music they thought would be hard to steal”, recalls veteran pianist Mary Lou Williams, “And the stance of some of them in night clubs seemed to defy the audiences to understand the ‘new’ music! Nevertheless, it was not long before talented white musicians burst upon the scene, and some, like Lennie Tristano and Lee Konitz, joined the vanguard of innovators. It was white pianist Dave Brubeck who bore the brunt of Negro attacks in the ’50s when unprecedented publicity and fortune were being lavished upon his quartet. The Negroes’ jaundiced attitude involved no personal distaste for the West Coast pianist – Brubeck had long been an active opponent of segregation – but rather the fact that he was yet another white making money playing music born in the sweat of Negroes. Nat Hentoff relates the tale of a bitter Negro trumpeter-leader who was billed with Brubeck at a concert some years ago:
“His combo got nearly all the attention even though they were playing nothing. It’s like people took it for granted that we could swing because we were Negroes, but thought it was something to make a fuss about when whites do it.”
The “Piracy” commotion continued into the Sixties, now concerning the rock-and-roll field. Altoist John Handy complains, “I find it ironic that these new groups are so popular for doing things that were done much better a long time ago. I give them credit for treating blues as something worthwhile, but I find it very disappointing that the audience will enjoy what these groups are doing, yet they’ll call a Negro an animal. This has been going on for years with the American public”.
“I guess everything still has to have the white stamp of approval”, Handy continues. “I don’t know who made it that way, but I wish they’d unmake it…”
The “New Thing”, avant-garde expressionism, is the latest stylistic offshoot to be embraced by the Negro as ‘peculiarly his”. Since there are as yet only a handful of whites to have made the adjustment to the avant-garde – Don Ellis, Paul and Carla Bley, David lzenzon, Charlie Haden, and a few others – the “New Thing” remains a black sanctuary in the eyes of today ‘s militants and can thus be cherished as “Pure BlackMusic”. Being so precious to the Negro’s race-pride, it is no wonder that Ornette Coleman aroused the displeasure of his colleagues when David Izenzon became the third white bassist in succession to join the Coleman group.
“I guess everything still has to have the white stamp of approval”.
John Handy’s resentment is not unique. It reveals the degree to which Crow Jim is merely a reaction to the Negro’s hyper-consciousness of Jim Crow in American society. Leonard Feather denied the existence of Jim Crowism among white musicians to any considerable degree. He could not, of course, deny that white audiences have too often displayed cruel prejudice.
While the white bands of Benny Goodman, the Dorseys, Artie Shaw and others enjoyed lucrative livings during the Swing Era, the more talented Negro organisations of Ellington, Basie, Lunceford and Calloway found it necessary to make exhausting tours of one-night stands. Often these journeys led them into the South, where there was a particularly large Negro audience. In Hear Me Talkin’ To Ya – The Story Of Jazz As Told By The Men Who Made It, Nat Hentoff and Nat Shapiro offer testimony of Southern “hospitality” toward Negro musicians.
“At dance halls the whites would insult us”, recalled bassist Milt Hinton, then with Cab Calloway. “Sometimes it would be so bad at intermission we couldn’t get off the stand for a drink of water unless we had a police escort. There were two police in front and two behind, and you know they would poke at us through the police!”
“I’m telling you, some of those people came and paid their money just to heckle the Negro bands, like some people like to tease an animal, and we had no recourse”, Hinton continued. “Did you know that in Miami, where we used to play after nine o’clock at night, Negroes had to be off the streets unless they had a note saying something like: ‘This boy works for me’?”
Edmond Hall, longtime clarinet standout with Claude Hopkins, offered his not-so-fond remembrance of a Birmingham, Alabama, dance hall with a rope strung down the middle of the floor – whites on one side and Negroes on the other.
The North is no haven of liberalism.
“Southerners were at least honest in their bigotry”, declared Billie Holiday in her Lady Sings The Blues. Ironically, when she was featured with Count Basie at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, someone told the band-leader that Miss Holiday was “too yellow to sing with all the black men in his band. Someone might think I was white if the light didn’t hit me just right. So they got special dark grease paint and told me to put it on.”
John Hammond, early jazz critic and Down Beat columnist, was attending Benny Goodman’s recent Carnegie Hall Concert of 1938 anniversary party when he was asked about the racial situation in the Thirties.
“Back in those days, Negroes were referred to, sometimes affectionately and sometimes not, as ‘spades’ by white musicians, who would be perfectly happy to go up to Harlem and have fun and have a kind of drinking camaraderie with them. Yet Negroes couldn’t return that with visits to the white spots in midtown. Then, too, not many persons in the music business had any kind of social vision, so no one wanted to buck the tide and risk job losses. Except for record dates, which were beginning to loosen up, there was complete Jim Crow.”
Hammond, still one of the most dynamic proponents of racial equality on and off the bandstand (he resigned his post on the national board of the NAACP in 1966 when Executive Secretary Roy Wilkins became “too right-wing” for him) was himself the pioneer of jazzland’s integration efforts in the late Thirties. Noted for “discovering’ such Negro celebrities as Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Lionel Hampton and Teddy Wilson, Hammond was also responsible for convincing Benny Goodman that it was worth the inevitable headaches to hire pianist Wilson and vibist-drummer Hampton. Showcasing these two gentlemen as a separate attraction in early 1937, Benny Goodman’s band became the first white aggregation to embrace Negro performers.
The colour line was broken.
Others soon followed Goodman’s example, most notably Charlie Barnet, Tommy Dorsey, Red Norvo, Artie Shaw and Gene Krupa. Krupa was first to hire a Negro as an integral member of his organisation when trumpeter Roy Eldridge replaced Shorty Sherock in the horn section. Though strides were, at last, being made, it would be a gross error to imagine that the music world underwent some sort of purgation, as Roy Eldridge testifies in the Hentoff-Shapiro collection:
“One thing you can be sure of, as long as I’m in America, I’ll never in my life work with a white band again. It goes all the way back to when I joined Gene Krupa’s band. It killed me to be accepted as a regular. But I knew I’d have to be awful cool. I knew all eyes were on me to see if I’d do anything wrong”.
“All the guys in the band were nice, and Gene was especially wonderful”, the trumpeter emphasised “But when we moved to California I had to live way out in Los Angeles, while the rest of the guys stayed in Hollywood. It was a lonely life. I’d never been that far away from home before, and I didn’t know anybody. I got to brooding”.
Sometime later, when he was a featured soloist with the Artie Shaw organisation, Eldridge was blocked from entering a hall where his band was appearing. The security guard caustically informed him that this was a white dance. “And there was my name right outside, Roy ‘Little Jazz’ Eldridge, and I told him who I was. When I finally did get in and played that first set, I couldn’t keep from crying. “
“Man, when you’re on stage, you’re great – but as soon as you come off, you’re nothing”, Eldridge grumbled. “It’s not worth the glory, it’s not worth the money, not worth anything. Never again”.
One of the late Billie Holiday’s most traumatic experiences also occurred while affiliated with clarinettist Shaw’s band. After enduring the anticipated anguish of an expedition through the southland, Lady Day arrived in New York City only to be informed she could not sing with the band on its coast-to-coast broadcast from the Lincoln Hotel.
The colour barrier was broken at the 1937 Dallas Exposition when Lionel Hampton and Teddy Wilson first appeared with Benny Goodman’s group despite riot rumours. But Jim Crow is like acne. It does not clear up overnight.
Though Goodman’s giant step in 1937 did, by no means, qualify him as the Messiah of racial equality in jazz (the project is obviously yet to be completed), it did nevertheless mobilise a legion of musicians with the ambitious project of tearing every Jim Crow weed out at its roots. Little did this band of crusaders realise that another weed was sprouting up in the very ground that they were busy clearing. Negro writer Brooks Johnson discussed this ironic phenomenon in a Down Beat article:
“Paradoxically, white musicians provided us with part of the basis for the new posture we see so prevalent in jazz today. It was one thing for Negroes to feel pride in their musicianship, but still, another when musicians like Benny Goodman, Charlie Barnet and Artie Shaw recognised this talent and used Negroes in their bands. To many this was proof of Negro jazz superiority because it was a common notion – with a basis in truth – that, in order for a Negro to receive this sort of consideration, he ‘had to be twice as good as a white man.”
“With so few provinces of pride left to us, Negroes became proud and sensitive about their acknowledged monopoly on ‘rhythm’ and ‘soul’. Whites, to a large extent, were happy to allocate this to us, diluting our need and desire to pluck pride from the mainstream.”
Understandably, it was the Southern white who was most content to “dilute the Negro’s need and desire to pluck pride from the mainstream” and to subscribe to the Negro stereotype “All Dark People Are Light On Their Feet” (adopted from a Tin Pan Alley ditty of the Thirties).
Less understandably, it was the European jazz critic who next joined the chorus of Southern whites in singing “All Dark People”, though his lyrics treated the Negro with much more reverence. The French critics, such as Hugues Panassie and Andre Hodeir, have been outstanding vocalists in this chorus. In Das Jazzbuch, German critic and promoter Joachim Ernst Berendt classified innovations in execution along “schwartz” and “weiss” lines. British authorities have employed designations “Negro jazz” and “white jazz” in their reviews, the former enjoying a definite positive connotation.
The magnetic Song of Europe has drawn many American Negroes across the Atlantic since the Thirties. Entranced by the unaccustomed sensation of being exalted by white audiences, some have remained. Employment is more plentiful than in the States, though the rate of pay is lower; in Europe, it is the home-grown white who demands equal opportunity with the black invader.
One of the happiest Negroes in Europe is altoist Sonny Criss, who sings a verse of I Love Paris:
“And racially — oh, man – racially, it is the greatest feeling over there. I wish more American Negroes would go there to see how everyone gets along. I must admit, for the first time in my life – and that means from my childhood in Memphis right up to Los Angeles I was completely relaxed. What a wonderful thing it is to know that there’s no pressure to prove anything.”
But the European fan’s adulation makes many other Negroes uncomfortable. Saxman Ray Pitts, for example, would rather prove he is better than the musician next to him who happened to be born white and in Copenhagen. It is a matter of pride.
“I found that a lot of these people who crawl over you have a kind of backwards prejudice”, says Pitts. “That’s something I don’t need, just like I don’t need bigotry… How different is that from the man who wants to keep you down because of your colour?”
Miles Davis once grumbled about his European audiences: “When they get to like everything we do, even the mistakes, that gets to be too much.”
After the novelty wears off, most Negroes tire of the European adventure and sail back to the United States, even though it is still a hotbed of racial prejudice long after the reforms of the late Thirties.
Integration is a slow business. Even into the Fifties returning Negroes found locations where integrated bands could not get booked, or perhaps could perform only under certain restrictions. In 1956 Count Basie is band, featured at the Dunes, broke the Las Vegas colour barrier. But members of the press were not permitted to invite Basle or any of his sidemen to their tables. The musicians even had to leave the hotel through the back door. In 1960 Dave Brubeck cancelled a 25-concert tour of Southern universities because his contract demanded that he replace Negro bassist Gene Wright with a white musician. Contractual clauses likewise led flautist Herbie Mann to decline an invitation to appear at a Mardi Gras celebration several years ago. Pianist Erroll Garner has had a nondiscrimination clause in his contracts since 1954. Norman Granz, whose Jazz At The Phil-harmonic (JATP) concerts would play only to integrated audiences, likewise protects those artists under his management. Granz has also been the leader of a campaign to require that all agents adopt a non-segregated audience clause in their own contracts. The massive Associated Booking Corporation has employed its own version of this clause since 1961.
One encouraging phenomenon of the Fifties was the integration of television and the motion picture studio, offering opportunities to Negroes for lucrative employment on a salaried basis. As these opportunities first materialised, however, they brought the expected anxieties to the pioneers. Once again Roy Eldridge, who had decided to play with white organisations after the Artie Shaw episodes, is our anecdotist as he recalls auditioning for the studio orchestra of a late-night TV show in 1956:
“Because I was a jazz musician and because I was a Negro, the music director came on with warnings that I’d better not be drunk and with questions about how well I could really read. I’ve been a professional for thirty years, and I have to prove myself now?”
Though the television and film studios have since relaxed their restrictions, this remains an area dominated by whites. Multi-reed artist Bud Shank was recently lambasted for suggesting to the New Yorker’s Whitney Balliett that this situation is the result of the Negro’s inadequacy, rather than racial discrimination. Few Negroes, he declared, have trained themselves to be proficient on more than one instrument, whereas everyone in a studio band is expected to “double” on occasion. Symphony orchestras are still foreign to most Negroes, one reason why the classical idiom is usually disregarded in favour of jazz.
Segregation within the unions has been particularly deplorable throughout the lifetime of jazz. In 1961 Pep. James Roosevelt of California initiated action to “bring the harsh light of publicity on unions to make them abandon segregation”. The American Federation of Musicians certainly could not be favoured with an exemption from this campaign. Chicago’s AFM was especially notorious over the years for its segregated locals, white local 10 and Negro Local 208. Jimmy Petrillo of Local 10 dictated policy to both posts for several decades.
“Petrillo didn’t like Negro musicians taking jobs reserved only for members of Local 10 on the north side”, tenor saxman Budd Johnson recalled of his days with Earl Hines at the Grand Terrace Ballroom in the Thirties. “He called out to one job on opening night and told us if we didn’t leave in 30 minutes, he would have some people out there to run us off the job or wipe us out”.
“We were second-class citizens, even as musicians”, added drummer-leader Red Saunders, one of twelve charter members of the Chicago Musicians for Harmonious Integration that laboured for the overthrow of Petrillo. Through their efforts Barney Richards was elected president of Local 10 in 1962, breaking the power structure and relieving some of the tension. On March 20 of the following year, 150 of Local 208’s 2000 Negroes applied for membership and were admitted by Richards.
“Nothing all white or all black can survive in this generation” was Saunders’ decree upon his March victory. Crow Jim was evident in Chicago, however, as many members of Local 208 – particularly the youngest generation of Negro artists – rejected Saunders’ tenets and viewed the incorporation of their congregation within the white community as a loss of identity. They bitterly opposed the merger, though it meant expanded economic opportunity, and Chicago’s two locals were united in 1966 into Local 10-208 only after four years of mulish wrangling.
The Civil Rights movement of the Sixties has obviously made this an especially fertile decade for Crow Jimism. Racial liberation has brought with it an intense pride in blackness, as well as irresistible new tensions and pressures. These tensions are apparent in the conflict between Red Saunders and the young militants of Local 208. Saunders’ generation has fought long and hard for integration only to find, in the wake of their success, that the young blood of their race prefers segregation as a means of preserving the homogeneity of black music.
Today’s black militants preach Crow Jim upon a platform whose construction was begun in the early Fifties by the then “angry young men of jazz” – Miles Davis, Max Roach and Charles Mingus – whose un-compromising racial attitudes and irritating aloof-ness often brought them more publicity than their notable achievements in “free expression”. In the late Fifties came the “second wave of innovators”, as classified by Brooks Johnson, “who pushed consideration with traditional structure and form further into the background”. Leading this company were the late John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy, and Ornette Coleman.
“Their imitators were less gifted, less knowledge-able, and more extreme in ways that required no musical skill”, Johnson continued, categorising the “third wave ‘ that appeared about the same time as the first Civil Rights Law. The aggressiveness in the blowing of these young Negro horn men has crescendoed markedly as the violence in the civil rights struggle has increased.
“Currently there is a perversion of black pride in jazz”, laments Brooks Johnson, himself a Negro. “It is easier to be a racist than to be a good trumpeter.”
The mass media have been ostracised during the past year for allegedly exaggerating the influence of racists Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown within the Negro community, thus giving the public the “false” impression that these black powerists are the spokesmen of that body. The jazz scene has experienced an identical situation. The loudest voices of the black avant-garde band – particularly play-wright LeRoi Jones and tenor saxist Archie Shepp – have been enjoying unlimited passages in the jazz press in which to blow solo. The white audiences naturally wonder if the rest of the Negro boys in the band “got that same feelin’. ” Jones and Shepp performed regularly in Down Beat while it was under the direction of Don DeMichael, whose repertoire included the playwright’s “Apple Cores” column and several bitter pieces by the saxist that were often politically, not jazz, oriented. For example, Shepp once screamed:
“Don’t you ever wonder just what my collective rage will – as it surely must – be like when it is – as it inevitably will be – unleashed? Our vindication will be black as the colour of suffering is black, as Fidel is black, as Ho Chi Minh is black.”
Black consciousness manifests itself as a hypersensitivity in the presence of whiteness in jazz, which is considered “pure” black art. A black trumpet player-leader was once heard berating a sideman in Detroit for “playing too white”.
“Ofay” is the fundamental expression around which Crow Jim revolves. The Negro’s term for “white”, it has been defined as pig Latin for “foe” by some jazz historians and now has a more hostile connotation than it has had traditionally.
Traditional Negro roles (“Uncle Tom” in particular) have likewise been revised or rejected. Young Negroes are hostile toward those veteran performers who have adulterated their performances with elements of comedy – regarding clowning as “Uncle Tom”, as well as a perversion of the art of black music. Their special target has been Louis Armstrong. The assault on Satch reached its peak in August 1956, when he appeared at an all white Indianapolis dance and afterwards explained that, though he did not know in advance it was segregated, he would play wherever his manager booked him.
“Somehow I have always been a greater attraction among whites than among my own people, a thing which has always disturbed me”, Louis admitted sadly. “I have to love them and what they stand for to love myself. After all, it’s no secret what I am”.
“I have my own ideas about racial segregation and have spent half my life breaking down barriers through positive action and not a lot of words”.
The attacks on Armstrong have subsided substantially since he unexpectedly criticised President Eisenhower in print for his handling of the Little Rock crisis of 1958.
The total absence of Dixieland scores from the folders of young Negroes is especially significant as a repudiation of the traditional. No serious black jazz musician of today’s generation will perform in this earliest of jazz modes which laid the foundations of improvisation through the efforts of such black New Orleans giants as George Lewis, Sidney Bechet and Jelly Roll Morton (who claimed he “invented jazz in 1903”). With the ex-communication of Dixieland, blues and gospel have been elevated to a position of exaltation as the only “true black root” pure art and devotion, never commercial-like Dixieland.
The conviction that the Negro has been exploited by the “rotten white power structure” is an integral part of Crow Jim and the genesis of the ofay passion.
“The Negro has been inadequately recognised and recompensed for his contribution to jazz”, declare the militants, with some justification to be sure. The record industry has been the major target of their invective. Negro artists complain that they are not offered the recording opportunities accorded whites, nor do their albums receive the generous promotional ballyhoo of a Getz or Brubeck LP. At the premiere of Oliver Nelson’s Jazzhattan Suite 1967 on New York City’s “Jazz Day”, several Negroes carried placards: Jazz Is Black People’s Music – White People Make The Money!”
Jim Crow is also blamed for the number of unemployed Negro avant-gardists. The aim of the militants, then, is to form an autonomous self-sufficient Negro community, the philosophy being that as long as he is dependent upon the white, the Negro will be exploited. Thus LeRoi Jones devoted one “Apple Cores” column to preach:
“Great White Liberals of The World, give all these young men a job, or at least some money! Until they learn, and all other black people learn, that they must finally support themselves”.
It is true that practitioners of the New Thing, in particular, have been overlooked by the major record labels and are hard-pressed to find clubs and concert halls that will support their experimentation in free expression. But it is more a matter of economics -the traditional plight of the artist – than of racism. White avant-gardists are as hungry as Negroes.
The large record labels – those with the ample budgets for promotion, are commercially-oriented and rarely gamble on the obscure artist, be he Negro or white. Consequently most young avant-garde musicians must rely upon small, art-minded independent labels like ESP to be put on wax, and these labels are understandably incapable of offering full-scale promotion. Once the commercial potential of an artist has been recognised, he will be picked up by a major label. Look at Archie Shepp himself. ABC-Paramount’s Impulse division has been more than generous to Shepp through the efforts of producer Bob Thiele. Exploitation has nothing to do with it.
The very nature of free expression makes it commercially unattractive to jazz club owners. Not only does the avant-garde attract a meagre gate, but it is also a form whose complexity either drives out the unprepared listener or requires his complete absorption. Either way it does not sell drinks, and the club owner is unfortunately dependent upon money for survival.
“The public accepts Dave Brubeck and rejects Cecil Taylor (in the broadest sense) because Brubeck is a populariser and Taylor a creator”, declares critic Don Heckman, an avid supporter of the new thing. ‘!But even granting the not-so-subtle discriminations of the entertainment industry, there have been Negroes who, having chosen to be popularisers, have had notable success”.
“Exploitation” has too often been used as an excuse for self-pity. But just as irrational as the Negro’s cry for “exploitation” has been the white’s growl to “leave racism out of jazz ” The first overt rumblings of Negro racism in jazz were the white musicians’ complaints of Crow Jim.
“It has always been generally accepted that whereas whites might be prejudiced against Negroes, Negroes were always open-minded and free of prejudice about whites. This, of course, was never the actual case”, writes Brooks Johnson. The Negroes’ survival has, in fact, been dependent upon the ability to make whites see and believe what they wanted to see and believe. Crow Jim is merely the materialisation of long-re-strained prejudices against white values, brought to the surface by the new-found pride in being black. Whites generally reacted to Crow Jim by saying it will kill jazz by alienating the white fan upon whom jazz depends for financial support. Jazz magazines receive bales of letters from upset fans:
“The words that people like Shepp and LeRoi Jones are putting into print are pure animal and can only harm the music we love”, read one entry in Down Beat, also running another:
“They seem so flagrantly immature. I expected much more from Negro people in our racially more liberal society than to say, ‘Okay, now it’s our turn to be bigots’. We’d all be better off if they’d just blow their horns and not talk or write. Hate and music don’t mix”.
At the Monterey Jazz Festival in September 1966, members of SNCC and other civil rights groups were refused private booths because it was announced, the promoters of the affair wished to make the weekend “one of fun, relaxation, and the enjoyment of good music.”
It is unfortunate that ignoring life’s discomforts doesn’t make them disappear. No, the jazz community has not been impervious to the world’s racial tensions. No jazzman is an island. Racism is especially with us in jazz because here the Negro is doubly-alienated from white society in being both black and a member of a profession that is ignorantly smeared with talk of booze and dope. When this antipathy is considered, it is incredible that Jim Crow has not been more violent. It is a tribute to the intelligence of jazz musicians and harmony between the races in their mutual love of jazz. Negro veterans have traditionally volunteered their assistance to young white apprentices, and likewise, young Negroes have acknowledged their indebtedness to white standouts. Though this loving cooperation has perhaps cooled a bit in the shadow of the past decade’s violence, it remains an integral element in our music, as Nat Hentoff annotates:
“Even in the harshest, most hating jazz, there is an undercurrent of affection between musicians; be-cause jazz, to exist at all, has to be created collectively.”
“It is difficult for even the harshest modernists to hate all night on their horns. A man swings most deeply and self-satisfyingly when he’s feeling good, not lacerated.” According to avant-garde saxist John Handy, the harmony of the musicians on stage is infectious: “In jazz clubs I’ve noticed that people in the audience don’t care who’s sitting next to them.”
It’s really too bad that the world isn’t one enormous jazz club, isn’t it?