Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for readers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!


Jazz at Lincoln Center: "Is Jazz Black Music?"

Daniel Kassell By

Sign in to view read count
Lewis Porter, Moderator; with Don Byron, Daniel Carter and Nat Hentoff
Jazz Talk: Is Jazz Black Music?
Irene Diamond Education Center
New York, New York
January 31, 2008

Is Jazz Black Music? "Where does jazz come from, to whom does it belong and is this important?" The program, advertised as a "Jazz Talk" by Jazz at Lincoln Center (now on Columbus Circle), polarized some and infuriated many attendees. Moderator Lewis Porter, a professor of music and author, explained that he purposefully titled the topic to provoke inquiry and at the same time disavowed the title and byline as implying a personal opinion of his own.

Panelists were well chosen and insightfully represented their positions. On Mr. Porter's right was Don Byron, a prolific musician/composer, artist-in-residence and educator, and Daniel Carter, a reed, flute, and trumpet player also well known as Danny for his work with "Other Dimensions in Music" and "Test." On Mr. Porter's left was the Village Voice's productive and internationally recognized analyst Nat Hentoff, who in 2003 received the first NEA Jazz Masters Jazz Advocate Award as a critic.

Audio dialogue from a 1959 movie that included "Negro" in the scripted conversation and the question "Were they or were they not the creators of jazz?" established the tone for this evening's presentation. Nat Hentoff answered first by relating what Duke Ellington told him. Duke went to Fletcher Henderson and suggested replacing "Jazz" with "Negro" so that their music would be identified as an ethnic music. Hentoff also stated that there is a difference between the "originators," like Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, and "originals" who became well known for their recordings. Daniel Carter interjected, "Anyone can get inspired." Don Byron observed: "Blacks have a special relationship . . . that comes out of speech and the way we walk . . . a special kind of musicianship," emphasizing "the idea to steal ownership is a nasty impulse. . . A lot of technology, such as film, borrowed from black culture to make and elevate white performers." Fred Astaire was mentioned as an example. Mr. Hentoff corroborated by describing knowledge of white vs. black recording contracts. Don Byron attempted to close the issue by offering "ethnicity" as a substitute for "race."

The nature of the discussion continued along historically familiar lines as panelists added well-intended, often educational information. Hentoff was first to state that many classical composers transcribed and performed jazz compositions and that Ellington listened to the sounds of European music during his international travels and put their influence into his music: "Charlie Parker loved country music," Mr. Hentoff concluded. "It's the individual." Continuing the theme Mr. Byron stated that in today's colleges "players are listening to Michael Brecker and are not looking back at all."

Lewis Porter next posed the issue of whites writing about blacks. Nat Hentoff grabbed the subject and described his experience as New York's Downbeat correspondent, citing that there were no blacks on the Chicago staff and that he was fired ostensibly for hiring a woman of color for his office. He reported feeling "liberated." From that point on he would "write as a fan, not as a critic."

The audience posed questions for the panel. The first, coming from this writer, addressed the words "jazz" and "black" by suggesting that indigenous Caribs from the Caribbean and Native American Indians must have contributed to the creation of the music in New Orleans before the Civil War and before 1917 when the word "jazz" was first used on a sound recording. Mr. Hentoff agreed about including indigenous people as did Mr. Porter, who added that his scholarly research revealed that "jazz" first appeared in print in reference to baseball.

Although the provocative title may have attracted a sold-out a house and many African-American attendees, the senior publicist Phoebe Jacobs suggested afterwards that its inclusion replaced many other worthwhile subjects.

The next Lewis Porter moderated session will be with Randy Weston, a musician committed to the heritage of Africa. The next panel, titled "Hoofin' It Jazz and Tap," will bring Harold "Stumpy" Cromer, Jared Grimes and Stephanie Larriere to JALC on Columbus Circle.

Related Bulletin Board thread.


comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Jazztopad 2017: Concerts In Living Rooms Live Reviews Jazztopad 2017: Concerts In Living Rooms
by Martin Longley
Published: January 17, 2018
Read Lean On Me: José James Celebrates Bill Withers @ NYC Winter Jazzfest Live Reviews Lean On Me: José James Celebrates Bill Withers @ NYC...
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: January 15, 2018
Read Carl Bartlett, Jr. at Jazz At Kitano Live Reviews Carl Bartlett, Jr. at Jazz At Kitano
by Keith Henry Brown
Published: January 13, 2018
Read Kurt Rosenwinkel at Chris’ Jazz Café Live Reviews Kurt Rosenwinkel at Chris’ Jazz Café
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: January 2, 2018
Read Terence Blanchard at Christ Church Cranbrook Live Reviews Terence Blanchard at Christ Church Cranbrook
by Troy Dostert
Published: December 29, 2017
Read "12 Points Festival 2017" Live Reviews 12 Points Festival 2017
by Henning Bolte
Published: August 6, 2017
Read "Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2017" Live Reviews Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2017
by Nick Davies
Published: May 13, 2017
Read "Edgefest 2017: Give the Drummers Some, Part 1-2" Live Reviews Edgefest 2017: Give the Drummers Some, Part 1-2
by Troy Dostert
Published: October 30, 2017
Read "The Donny McCaslin Group at The Arden Gild Hall" Live Reviews The Donny McCaslin Group at The Arden Gild Hall
by Mike Jacobs
Published: January 25, 2017
Read "Steve Winwood at the Space at Westbury" Live Reviews Steve Winwood at the Space at Westbury
by Mike Perciaccante
Published: May 6, 2017
Read "Slovenian Showcase Festival 2017" Live Reviews Slovenian Showcase Festival 2017
by Ian Patterson
Published: October 4, 2017