Race Relations and Their Expression in Jazz


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One of [Charlie Parker's] contemporaries, pianist Hampton Hawes, wrote in his biography that bebop was his way of rebelling against societal oppression.
The word "Blacks will be used here to describe the Americans of African descent, and "Whites will refer to Americans of European descent. Our subject will be "black music , of which theologian James Cone has written: "It is an artistic rebellion against the humiliating deadness of western culture... through song, a new political consciousness is continuously created, one antithetical to the values of white society . We will show that until recently, black music has been able to accommodate the real needs of the black community, as opposed to superficial needs created by the market in search of more profit.

Black-White relations in the USA have been characterised from the start by different levels of domination of Blacks by Whites, and different modes of resistance and adaptation by the Black community. This oppressive reality has created needs in several dimensions within the black community. The assault of what can be termed "the White power structure , was directed at the bodies, pockets and souls of the transplanted Africans, creating a need for physical, economic and cultural survival. The white establishment was intent on proving that blacks could only become fully human by imitating white culture and becoming white. Since becoming white was very difficult, the most viable option was imitating white culture.

Music can be viewed as one of the main battlefields on which cultural and economic assaults by the white establishment were met by different resistance strategies of the black community. It is reasonable to generalize that each phase of the racial struggle had its distinct musical dimension, a dimension consisting of two dialectical forces, arising from the original clash between the African and European forms of music and approaches to musical expression.

During slavery, the burning need of the black slaves was to maintain their humanity, and create a new cultural community, as Africans of different tribes and languages were brought together in subhuman conditions. One of the main African musical tools, the drums, was explicitly forbidden across the US, because it was assumed to constitute a threat to the white owners. During that period, the blacks developed several musical forms that were directly linked to Africa in form, style, and social significance. The spirituals, field and street hollers, cries, toasts and work songs, borrowed from the Europeans only the English language, and in the case of the spirituals, the Christian religion. Other than that these musical forms were African. The need for freedom, acute and existential, created by slavery, was answered by the prevailing freedom motive of the spirituals, such as "Go down Moses . John Lovell went so far as to associate "a tactic battle, a strategy by which to gain freedom with the spiritual. The identity crisis was dealt with by the strong African identity of the music - the melodies, rhythm, singing approach, and the call and response form.

After the abolition of slavery, circumstances changed, creating different needs and different musical answers. On one hand, new communities were formed by the freedmen in the North and in the South, requiring a music to strengthen the new communal bonds. This was answered by the church spirituals, later developing to Gospel. In some places, integration seemed an attainable goal for some, requiring a more European approach to music, which gave birth to Ragtime. Economically successful Blacks, a tiny minority, made a conscious effort to shed any African properties, and completely adopted European musical traditions. This effort included forbidding the playing of what was considered "black music , especially blues and boogie-woogie.

The effect of Black-White relations on the music of those times can be demonstrated be the story of New Orleans, the cradle of jazz. During Catholic French rule, New Orleans was formally composed of three main social groups—Whites, Creoles of mixed blood, and Blacks. The blacks were allowed to use drums, unlike their brothers living under Protestant rule in the rest of the country. The Creoles were given a status almost equal to whites, and adopted European culture. They learned to play European instruments and studied European music. This state of affairs continued a few years after the Louisiana Purchase, until the South put an end to the disorder and pushed the Creoles into the black quarters, declaring them "legally black . This new mixture, of Creoles trained in European music with Blacks who kept the drumming tradition alive, provided the ingredients for the music, which came to be called Jazz.


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