Race and Jazz
Gregory Thomas examines the controversial issue of race and jazz.
Jazz, an art form given birth in the United States by descendents 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 dividing 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 ...Read More
Since the last Race and Jazz column, the first of a multi-part discussion with John Gennari--the top scholar on the history of jazz criticism--a firestorm of controversy has arisen surrounding Nicholas Payton's declaration that, to him, the word jazz is dead. He also feels that the word jazz is tantamount to or worse than the n" word--nigger--and that the best and most descriptive umbrella term is Black American Music: BAM.We'll continue sharing our conversation with Professor Gennari soon, but first I'd like the All About Jazz audience to digest and respond to this piece. The scholarly dialogue with ...Read More
When I began this Race and Jazz series several months ago, I knew the topics I wanted to touch upon, and the general culture vs. race point-of-view I intended to pursue. With those chord changes (topics) and that melodic perspective (pro-culture, anti-race) in mind and at play, I figured I'd proceed with the rest by ear. As it turned out, the most recent column featured an interview with premier jazz critic and book author Gary Giddins, in which he discussed disparities in the recognition and acclaim attained by certain black American jazz critics/journalists compared to some so-called white" jazz critics/journalists ...Read More
In the first essay for the Race and Jazz column, I gave a first-person account of how my love and appreciation of certain white" saxophonists served to safeguard me from the temptation of racism back in college during the early-to-mid-'80s. My second essay privileged culture over race, and told the story of how attorney and constitutional law professor Charles L. Black's love of Louis Armstrong's genius from the early '30s gave him a way out of the morass of Southern racism, a better appreciation for the culture he shared with Southern black folks, and a foundation for his legal brief ...Read More
The date: October 12, 1931. A sixteen year-old white male from Austin High School in Texas, who in later years would help shape the future of the United States, bought a ticket to see Louis Armstrong, King of the Trumpet, and His Orchestra" at the old Driskill Hotel. He knew nothing about jazz or this King," he recalled many years later, but did predict that a lot of girls would be at the dance. So, of course, he figured he should attend. What he heard and saw astounded him. Steamwhistle power, lyric grace, alternated at will, even blended," ...Read More
Jazz saved me from becoming a racist. Back in the early to mid-1980s, while attending Hamilton College in central New York, I learned details about the transatlantic slave trade that sickened and angered me. I read about the history of the abolitionist movement in the 1800s, and the civil rights movements of last century, as well as the apartheid-like Jim Crow system that arose in between those movements. Jim Crow," particularly in the U.S. South, maintained the economic, social and institutional power of whites over blacks and others with darker pigmentation, based on the legal doctrine separate ...Read More