Jazz Roots-Relevance links and texts

After a fantastic discussion at Manchester Jazz Festival yesterday which indelibly scraped the surface of the links between the roots of jazz and consciousness now, below are some texts that were read out last night along with their respective links – a proper report and video of the discussion will follow in a while.  Please also feel free to share your thoughts on the discussion page for this event at www.liftingthelid.kooj.net/discuss/jazz-rootsrelevance-questions .  But for now :

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Opening speech at the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival
“Humanity and the Importance of Jazz”

“Jazz speaks for life. The Blues tell the story of life’s difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph. This is triumphant music.

Modern Jazz has continued in this tradition, singing the songs of a more complicated urban existence. When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument.

It is no wonder that so much of the search for identity among American Negroes was championed by Jazz musicians. Long before the modern essayists and scholars wrote of “racial identity” as a problem for a multi-racial world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was stirring within their souls.

Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.

And now, Jazz is exported to the world. For in the particular struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the universal struggle of modern man. Everybody has the Blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for faith. In music, especially this broad category called Jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.”

– taken from http://www.aajc.us/php/items-of-interest.php4 (thanks to Homer Jackson, USA, for this link)
One thing to note about this is simply that a European Jazz Festival actually had such a speaker and felt that jazz was a part and parcel of and should connect with such issues rather than simply being a musical style or way of playing.

Extract of interview with Janine Irons (MD of Dune records, described as “an example of black empowerment in the record business”) :

“One of the major problems facing young black musicians (then and now, though it’s not quite as dire now) was the lack of access to career development opportunities.  The majority of jazz musicians in the UK are white middle-class kids who’ve had private tuition from a very young age, had their own instruments, gone straight into their local youth jazz orchestra, studied music at school, and then gone into one of the conservatories, while perhaps [also] joining the National Youth Jazz Orchestra.  After that they come out already having become part of a network, making it easier for them to find work.

Not so for your average young black musician who very likely has started music late because of cultural or economic reasons (or both), has not had the opportunity to take up music at school, or had their own instrument.  These youngsters are then significantly behind their white counterparts by time to go to college.  So they don’t make the grade to go to a conservatory because, for example, their music reading skills may not be up to scratch.  They’re not in any kind of network so have little if any support, and so they fall by the wayside.  If they’re lucky they might get the odd gig in their local pub but little beyond this.

. . . . .  As a commercial organization I think it’s significant that a black-led organization has managed to stay the course in this industry and develop its own niche.  Let’s face it, it’s still very hard for black people to gain any kind of foothold in this, or indeed any other business.  As my father says: ‘As a black person you have to come first to come third’, so we have to work much harder and be significantly better than our white counterparts to get just a fraction of what we actually deserve, or to get as far along the field as we should for the same level of input and endeavor.

It’s also important for us as black people to create our own opportunities because there ain’t nobody out there going to hand them to us on a plate.  If we want to change our lot we’ve got to go about changing it ourselves.  We have to dig our own foundations and build our own ‘houses’ so that we can have some control over our own future and have something solid to pass on to those who come after us.  Furthermore, we hope that our successes will inspire others to follow suit and give them the confidence to take their destiny on their own hands.”

– taken from www.dune-music.com/black-empowerment-dune-records

The Black British Jazz Research Project, led by Dr Jason Toynbee of the Open University and culminating this year with a publication, is something I also mentioned.  Unfortunately I didn’t have time to read his stuff out so it will hopefully become a part of future discussion, but here is the full email he sent to me:

I’d make two general points to begin with. One is that black British identity is shifting and is likely to shift in the future as successive generations become increasingly distant from the great wave of migration to the UK after World War 2. The other is that jazz as a musical style and as a genre in the market place is also changing  – it’s becoming more remote from popular culture as compared with the high point in popularity from mid-80s to early 90s. This suggests that when we are casting forward into the future we need to think about some quite complex relations between society, economy and music.

Here are 3 areas we’ve been looking at in particular on the What Is Black British Jazz project:

  • BBJ and education – acute under-representation of black music students in HE, yet also the recent rise of jazz training in HE. Meanwhile the decimation of state supported instrumental tuition which occurred in the 80s (landmark year of 1986 with the abolition of ILEA) has not been reversed. I.e. there’s structural class-race exclusion in music education today, including ‘the curse of the DJ workshop’. This is a term Janine Irons from Tomorrow’s Warriors uses to refer to the assumption that community music initiatives for ‘urban’ youth should consist purely in hip hop, grime and DJing skills. This is the context for the various BBJ initiatives in music education which we’ve been looking at – i.e they are marginalised to a significant extent. Yet education/arts policy makers would do well to have a look at what is going on. Our data suggests that BBJ training provides a model for a new kind of music education which is socially inclusive whiile also developing democratic creativity, team working and cognitive skills.
  • Jazz education is important for its potential in bringing excluded youth in then. But it also has a role, more directly, in training jazz musicians. Where can they go, what can they do, specifically as black British musicians? We are doing a survey of working lives and opportunities (still unfinished) among BBJ musicians. It seems likely that with the declining value of recording, and the need for a mixed portfolio of jazz-related products and services, musicians’ working lives are changing. Soweto Kinch has a particularly interesting approach to maximising self–sufficiency via the web, own-releases and promotions. Also the mixed nature of jazz musicians’ work (always a feature) has become more pronounced – jazz may only form a small part these days. On the vexed question of working practices and race – are BBJ musicians discriminated against? – this is certainly possible, and there is some anecdotal evidence. But there is also the wider sense of jazz musicians being exoticised. Some discourses about jazz and blackness from the 1920s and 30s seem to be still present today. That said there is a growing cosmopolitanism in British culture at large, especially in London. So, a mixed picture then.
  • Finally, there is the question of audiences for black British jazz. Whereas BBJ musicians ‘punch above their weight’ within the larger British jazz scene, black British audience members are under-represented. How and why?  This is partly to do with the middle class basis of jazz taste. Working class people go out to see music much less, and black British people are predominantly working class. There is also tacit exclusion via venues and locations (‘arts centre syndrome’). Nevertheless our research suggests there is an audience niche which includes black people. It might be described as ‘cosmopolitan activist’  – middle class certainly, but sees jazz and black music more generally as a progressive cultural and social force.

All the above pose the central contradiction that runs thru BBJ. I.e. celebration of cultural struggle and extraordinary musical achievement, but always underpinned by persisting racism at a structural level. Perhaps the most important conclusion to reach from our research is that BBJ musicians, educators and entrepreneurs are playing a crucial part in breaking down barriers, showing what a truly multicultural way of life might feel like, not just in terms of music but also of practice – how to live and work right. But ultimately major shifts will depend on policy and political change which address social inequality as well as race as a cultural issue.”

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