You are on page 1of 21

[JRJ 5.

1/2 (2011) 21-41] doi:10.1558/jazz.v5i1-2.21

(print) ISSN 1753-8637 (online) ISSN 1753-8645

Complaining time is over:


Network and collective strategies of the New York Musicians Organization Michael C. Heller1
Department of Performing Arts, McCormack Hall, 2nd Floor, Room 617, University of Massachusetts-Boston, Boston, MA 02125-3393, USA michael.heller@umb.edu

Abstract
This article traces the history of the New York Musicians Organization (NYMO), an artist-run collective that rose to brief prominence at the dawn of the loft jazz era. Founded in 1972, NYMO attracted a broad membership and considerable press attention for two heavily-publicized summer festivals. In stressing themes of self-reliance, avant garde performance practice and African American agency, the groups organizers drew extensively from earlier Midwestern collectives like the AACM. Yet unlike those groups, NYMO failed to establish a strong central governing body, instead acting as a consortium of smaller, independently-managed ventures. This approach laid the groundwork for the proliferation of small-scale initiatives that characterized the loft period, and several former NYMO members went on to establish important loft venues. While the groups prominence was short-lived, it played a crucial bridge role between the collectivized strategies of the 1960s and the loosely-connected musical networks of the loft era. Keywords: collectives; jazz; lofts; New York; New York Musicians Jazz Festival; New York Musicians Organization; NYMO

The landscape of musician-organized activities in New York during the 1970s was as widespread as it was fragmented. While the late-60s collectives of the Midwest had built inclusive citywide constituencies in an effort to consolidate resources and influence, such activities in New York

1. Michael C. Heller is an ethnomusicologist and Lecturer of Music at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He received his doctorate from Harvard University in 2012, where his dissertation focused on the New York jazz loft scene of the 1970s. He has received research awards from Harvards Warren Center for Studies in American History and the University of Illinois Kate Neal Kinley Prize, and his writing has appeared in the Grove Dictionary of American music and Jazz Perspectives. He serves as Co-Director of the WKCR/Center For Jazz Studies Jazz Oral History project at Columbia University, which seeks to document the stories of New York-based jazz artists from the 1960s and 1970s.
Equinox Publishing Ltd 2012, Unit S3, Kelham House, 3 Lancaster Street, Sheffield, S3 8AF.

22

Jazz Research Journal

emerged in a scattered collection of smaller venues, festivals and organizations, characterized broadly as the loft scene. Though the lofts are noted briefly in the histories of other groups (Looker 2004; Lewis 2008), little attention has been given to their relationship with jazzs larger tradition of artist-run ventures. Loft organizers often shared concerns with the Midwestern collectives, including musician empowerment, economic control, community involvement and the recognition of African-American artistic contributions. Yet the unique context of early 1970s New York gave rise to a very different set of challenges that led musicians to employ strategies that often diverged from traditional forms of collectivization. More frequently, the lofts functioned as a decentralized network of individuals, spaces and organizations, occasionally working in tandem but remaining distinct entities.2 The rise of the lofts was tied to many factors, including the New York real-estate climate, the economics of the jazz industry and the politics of the civil rights era. But in addition to these, a unique launching point for the period can be found in the story of one collective that rose to brief prominence in 1972. Dubbing itself the New York Musicians Organization (NYMO), the group staged two heavily publicized festivals before splintering into a range of smaller musician-run activities. In this way, NYMO acted as an important bridge between the collectivized strategies emerging from the Midwest and the more grassroots approaches that characterized the lofts. In addressing this issues theme of Jazz Collectives, this essay will trace the story of NYMO and its two festivals in order to interrogate its role in the history of musician-organized initiatives.

Oppositional origins: Newport announcement


Although NYMO emerged in response to similar concerns that mobilized other groups, the specific catalyst was a massive musicians protest that took place during the summer of 1972. The conflict began with an announcement in January that the Newport Jazz Festival was leaving Rhode Island and relocating to New York (Calta 1972). The move was not undertaken entirely by choice. The previous summer, the festival had fallen victim to its second riot in just over a decade. It was hardly the first outdoor event to be marred by crowd violence during the period. Several similar outbursts had
2. My use of network is modeled primarily on Bruno Latours actor-network theory (ANT), which argues that social systems entail interaction between both human and nonhuman agents (objects, technologies, etc). Specifically, I argue that the unique structure of the loft era emerged from both the actions of musicians and the presence of particular types of physical space (lofts) in the city (Latour 2005).
Equinox Publishing Ltd 2012.

Complaining time is over

23

occurred in the preceding years, including the well-documented murder at the Altamont Free Concert (1969) and crowd disturbances at the Isle of Wight and Atlanta International Pop Festivals (both 1970). Though Newports identity as a jazz festival might seem to cater to a different clientele, the recent inclusion of groups like Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, and Sly and the Family Stone in 1969, as well as the Allman Brothers Band in 1971, made it a plausible destination for rock fans seeking outdoor music events in the wake of Woodstock. In a deeply ironic (and perhaps apocryphal) twist, at least one newspaper account had the riot peaking when audiences broke down the fences during Dionne Warwicks performance of What the World Needs Now is Love (Frazier 1971).3 Within days of the riot, the Newport City Council voted to ban the event from the city. The Newport Jazz Festival would not return to its namesake until the summer of 1981 (Wein and Chinen 2003: 30412). Rather than seek another outdoor venue in the mold of Newport, impresario George Wein chose to relocate the festival to New York City, a move necessitating significant changes in format. Instead of operating at a single site, concerts would take place in several venues, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Centers Philharmonic Hall and Radio City Music Hall. The shift from outdoor stages to more tightly organized concert venues had the dual benefit of lessening security risks while also courting prestige by presenting jazz in spaces normally associated with concert traditions.4 The schedule moved away from popular music5 and focused primarily on well-known jazz artists from the swing and bebop eras. While a handful of avant-garde performers were showcasedsuch as Cecil Taylor, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, and Ornette Colemanthe bulk of the schedule consisted of more straight-ahead styles from earlier eras (Goldblatt 1977: 27558). The festival was welcomed with open arms by city officials, and both Mayor John Lindsay and former Mayor Robert Wagner accepted honorary chairmanships on festival planning committees (West 1972). A
3. Wein corroborates this version of events in a dramatic passage of his autobiography (Wein and Chinen 2003: 308). Despite these accounts, I question the exact coincidence of the song with the riot based on other contemporary reports, which have the riots peaking just after Warwicks set (i.e. Santosuosso and Cobb 1971). The delicious irony of the rioting fans alongside Warwicks paean to peace and love might have led writers to employ a degree of poetic license. 4. Wein made the latter point explicitly in the festivals introductory press conference: We will create the same kind of atmosphere for jazz in New York City that exists for classical music, ballet, and theater in Edinburgh and Salzburg (Newport Jazz Festival Moves to N.Y., 1972). 5. Pop-oriented groups would begin to return by 1973.
Equinox Publishing Ltd 2012.

24

Jazz Research Journal

major publicity campaign was launched in the spring, featuring a bright red apple as its iconic logo. By both public figures and press alike, the festival was promoted as a way to provide a much-needed boost to the citys flagging jazz economy, which Wein later referred to as at a low ebb in 1971 (Wein and Chinen 2003: 379). But as many in the city eagerly anticipated Newports arrival, the reaction among some musicians was more skeptical, especially from those who had been left out of the schedule. Rather than celebrating the festival as a rebirth, many saw it as an intrusion and an insult to their own efforts to maintain a vibrant and innovative jazz scene. The festival provided gigs for established artists, but it did little to attract attention for lesser-known players, especially younger musicians and those involved in the avant garde. As a result, many were disappointed that Newport was merely presenting, in the words of trumpeter James DuBoise, the same musicians that wed been hearing down through the years (DuBoise 1993). The racial and economic ramifications of Newports arrival also became the subject of scrutiny. Musicians accused Wein of neglecting black communities by presenting most of the performances at pricey Midtown concert halls. In an article from the New York Times, percussionist Juma Sultan states:
We tried to bring to the attention of Newport producers that they werent doing anything for Harlem and other black communities in the city We tried to point out that George Wein, the producer, wasnt hiring black musicians who are part of and represent this city in jazz today (Ledbetter 1972b).

In a fascinating reversal, what Wein had envisioned as an effort to raise the cultural status of black music was instead viewed as an attempt to move jazz away from the community that created it. Later in the same article, saxophonist Archie Shepp levels the additional criticism that despite Newports presentation of black artists, the festival included no input from black musicians at the organizational level:
We felt that if [Weins] festival was going to move from Newport to New York City then it should reflect that change from a rural to an urban setting where blacks want to control where and how their music is performed The entrepreneurs have been able too long to determine what the musicians will play, where theyll play it and when (ibid.).

Inspired by the cultural nationalist tenor of the Black Arts Movement, such calls for direct control by black musicians would become increasingly frequent in the years that followed.
Equinox Publishing Ltd 2012.

Complaining time is over

25

Such complaints soon manifested into a series of meetings at the University of the Streets, a community center on 7th Street and Avenue A. Several figures took central roles in the organizing process, including the aforementioned DuBoise and Sultan, saxophonists Sam Rivers and Noah Howard, and percussionists Rashied Ali, Milford Graves, Ali Abuwi and Eddie Heath (Ali 1973). This group possessed a wealth of organizing experience between them. DuBoise had run clubs in Pittsburgh and Cleveland before founding a non-profit organization called the Society for Universal Cultural Arts in the late 1960s. In New York he transformed his Eldridge Street loft into a gathering place, rehearsal hall and occasional concert venue called Studio We (DuBoise 2009). Sultan and Abuwi had collaborated to create a presenting organization and performance group in Woodstock called Aboriginal Music Society (Sultan 2004, 2010; Abuwi 2009). Rivers had originally sought to establish a teaching studio in Harlem, before relocating to lower Manhattan and founding his own loft Studio Rivbea (Rivers 1994). Howard started the record label Altsax in 1971 (Howard 2007), while Graves and Ali had both been involved in Bill Dixons October Revolution in Jazz in 1964 (Ali 2007; Young 1998). Thus, while the musicians were challenged with the task of organizing in a relatively short time, members of the group had already been considering strategies of self-determination through other ventures in the preceding years. The musicians compiled their complaints in a list of ten demands sent to Wein that spring. These demands can be seen in Figure 1. Taken as a whole, the list points to three central goals: (1) Providing musicians with greater control over their performances, including financial aspects, (2) Close involvement with local communities (especially in black neighborhoods) through direct outreach and ticket subsidies, and (3) Acknowledgement of the centrality of the African-American community in jazzs development. Racial critiques are especially palpable in the list, as seven of the ten items make direct reference to black artists and/or outreach efforts in Harlem. It is fair to question whether Wein was used as something of a scapegoat during the course of these critiques. In many ways, the musicians militancy seems directed less at Wein himself than at music industry practices more broadly. A solid majority of Newports lineup each year consisted of black artists, and Wein himself had long been an active supporter of civil rights causes. Even before receiving the list of demands, the producer had pledged to donate half of the festivals profits to the civil rights group the Urban League. And though it is true that the festival did not stage
Equinox Publishing Ltd 2012.

26

Jazz Research Journal

any official concerts in Harlem that year, Wein and his wife Joyceherself African Americandid arrange for singer Eddie Jefferson and saxophonist James Moody to appear as late additions to a Harlem street fair organized by activist Kimako Baraka.6

Figure 1: List of demands presented by the organizers of the New York Musicians Jazz Festival, 1972 (JSA 248.03) 6. Jefferson and Moodys appearance is noted in the New York Times, which notes that their services were donated by [Wein]. The exact details of the arrangement are not given (Ledbetter 1972a).
Equinox Publishing Ltd 2012.

Complaining time is over

27

In the heated racial atmosphere surrounding jazz during this period, it was not unusual for lines to be blurred between personal attacks and wider critiques of structural inequality. As Ingrid Monson has noted:
These debates were in some ways public rituals of racial catharsis in which the white representatives were made to stand symbolically for the whole history of white racism and the African American representatives were made to exemplify the entire history of racial injustice. During heated arguments the distinction between the personal and the sociological, the micro and the macro frequently collapsed as the structural became personal (Monson 2007: 280).

Wein, like other white producers, had undoubtedly benefited from societal inequalities that facilitated white entrepreneurship,7 yet the sweeping tenor of the musicians demands indicate that their critiques struck deeper than the producer alone. A particularly notable aspect of the list can be seen in its multiple references to the funds pledged to the Urban League, a decidedly non-militant civil rights organization (Smith 1996: 95). Although the League is not criticized directly, the presence of three demands to specifically earmark the donation suggests that the musicians were not fully satisfied with Weins gesture. Like many discourses emerging in the wave of what Eric Porter has called the periods Black Arts Imperative (2002: 192), the demands point to a greater influence from black cultural nationalism, rather than the moderate integrationism favored by the League. This stance is especially evident in the overt concern with obtaining direct control over revenue flows as a way to reclaim aesthetic and financial agency. In a broader sense, the musicians reaction to the Urban League pledge was reflective of the civil rights and black power movements of the time, which sat at a critical crossroads in 1972. In the wake of both the gains provided by 1960s civil rights legislation and the tragic assassinations of leaders like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, activists wrestled with the next steps for social reform. The first National Black Political Convention which took place that March in Gary, Indianaprovided a window into this fraught process. The event brought together leaders from many disparate ideologies, including elected officials, moderate reform organizations, cultural and revolutionary nationalists, land-based separatists and Pan Africanists. Despite an initial goal to work together under the principle of unity

7. Monson also points out the openly discriminatory practices of business lending practices in the period (2007: 269).
Equinox Publishing Ltd 2012.

28

Jazz Research Journal

without uniformity,8 the event revealed deep rifts between liberal and nationalist factions that ultimately impeded widescale action (Smith 1996: 2785). Among musicians from the period, personal accounts often reveal a similar tension. Sultan would later describe this, saying, It was an internal struggle. On one hand, you want to go peaceful with Martin [Luther King], and on the other you want to say By any means necessarybecause Im hungry! It was a dichotomy, if you can understand that (Sultan 2010). In the list of demands, it is notable how the musicians are careful not to criticize the Urban League directly, yet there is nevertheless a clear undertone of dissatisfaction. The text echoes several of the groups early documents by displaying a slightly tentative (or perhaps conflicted) brand of black cultural nationalism. Rhetoric framing jazz as the product of African-American communities is frequent, yet the group never goes so far as to restrict the participation of white artists, who were involved early on in festival activities.

The New York Musicians Jazz Festival, 1972


The list of demands was sent out that spring, but the group received no response. After further meetings, the musicians decided to stage a counterfestival in protest, calling it the New York Musicians Jazz Festival (NYMJF). The event was designed as a direct corrective to the various shortcomings they saw in Newport. In contrast to the larger festivals focus on midtown concert halls, the NYMJF staged events in all five boroughs of the city, many of which were free and open to the public. The jazz club Slugs volunteered to host some performances, but in order to keep costs low, most other concerts were held at venues obtainable for little or no cost. This included city parks, community centers and, significantly, lofts. Both Studio We and Studio Rivbea presented nightly events, with additional concerts taking place at Ornette Colemans Artists House and another early loft called Free Life Communication. An examination of documents archived by Juma Sultan9 reveals the immense level of planning that went into the festival. Within months, the group established a basic organizational structure, with a governing board
8. Also known as operational unity, this idea was borrowed from the cultural nationalist movement of Maulana Karenga (Brown 2003: 24). A major force behind the Gary convention was poet and activist Amiri Baraka, who was an adherent to Karengas model at this time (Smith 1996: 35). 9. A full list of cited documents from the Sultan archive appears in the reference list. All such documents are cited herein using their folder and item number in the collection inventory.
Equinox Publishing Ltd 2012.

Complaining time is over

29

made up DuBoise, Sultan, Rivers, Ali, Graves and Howard. Official contracts were drafted for every participating musician in highly legal language.10 Permits were obtained to perform in eight different city parks, with the festival culminating in a massive jam session in Central Park. An initial source of revenue came through dues paid by the groups performing, each of which was asked to contribute twenty-five dollars.11 Later, the group also secured two grants (one from the Parks Department) in support of their efforts, which allowed them to offer the performers guaranteed payments instead of a percentage of ticket sales. Recognizing the events historical significance, plans were made to record as many concerts as possible, with several also filmed by cinematographer McKinley Karma Stanley. The group even hired staff photographers, drawing up a contract outlining fee scales and intellectual ownership of the negatives. This documentation was ultimately geared toward creating a feature-length documentary about the event, to be titled The New Music Scene in New York City (JSA 44.03-7, V002.01). On the day the curtain rose on Newports first two concerts at Philharmonic and Carnegie Halls, the NYMJF presented eleven events all over the city. This rapid pace continued throughout the eleven days of the counterfestival, which presented over two hundred fifty performances at one hundred discrete events in twenty-two venues (JSA 70.19). By comparison, Newport staged twenty-six events at six venues over nine days, with over ninety percent taking place in Manhattan (Goldblatt 1977). Attention and enthusiasm for the NYMJF grew as the proceedings continued, with increasing coverage given to the political stance of the festival. Whereas the earliest newspaper pieces merely listed it as a second, concurrent jazz event, later reporting began to engage seriously with the complaints leveled by the musicians. The counter-festival found an ardent advocate in New York Times reporter Les Ledbetter, one of the few black writers employed by the paper during the period (Diamond 1994: 187). Though he would later write a regular music column, at the time Ledbetter wrote primarily on social justice issues for the papers metropolitan desk. His coverage of the NYMJF focused heavily on the political critiques and accusations raised by the musicians (Ledbetter 1972b, 1972c, 1972d, 1972e). His longest and most supportive piece came in a column from 6 July, which begins:
10. Drafts of the groups sample contract show extensive annotations made by saxophonist Archie Shepp. While Shepp was not a member of the central organizing committee, the group incorporated Shepps suggestions into subsequent versions (JSA 75.12). 11. Document 70.14 in the Sultan archive indicates that not every group paid the fee.
Equinox Publishing Ltd 2012.

30

Jazz Research Journal


The small studios and dimly lit bars that have sustained jazz at its most basic level have been the setting during the last five days for performances by musicians who dont like the Newport Jazz Festival or the way it has been produced (Ledbetter 1972b).

In addition to quoting extensively from NYMJF musicians, Ledbetter spoke to other members of the jazz community to get additional perspectives, especially regarding issues of race. Another piece published the following day features interviews with Ali and Shepp, as well as Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins and others on the state of the jazz economy and the treatment of black artists. The pieces central focus states that:
The primary concern of all the black musicians interviewed was that black artists take control of the promotion, production and dissemination of jazz during the coming decade if they are ever to achieve the creative freedom, financial stability and national recognition they believe is their due (Ledbetter 1972c).

Though not all of the musicians quotes speak directly to these concerns, it is striking how closely Ledbetters language echoes the rhetoric employed by the NYMJF. The coverage is especially notable in light of the newspapers other reporting on the Newport Festival, most of which was glowingly positive. The issues raised by the NYMJF were not confined only to the participants of the counter-festival; several Newport artists expressed similar sentiments. On 4 July, Miles Davis refused to perform at a scheduled Newport concert at Carnegie Hall, saying he had never agreed to the terms offered by Wein. Davis was quoted saying, George uses jazz musicians like slaves By using the same old musicians, its like theyre on a farm. They dont do anything musically, just the same things they did 30 years ago (Miles Davis Does Not Appear, 1972). Three days later, a Newport panel discussion titled Jazz and Sociology erupted into a heated debate instigated by percussionist Max Roach. During the question and answer period, Roach chastised the panel for not including any black scholars, even proposing four specific professors as possible candidates (Fraser 1972). Perhaps the most unusual story regarding a musicians treatment and control over performance conditions surrounded trumpeter Terumasa Hino, whom Wein had invited from Japan to open for Duke Ellington. Soon after his arrival, Hino heard about the counter-festival as well. He approached the organizers about performing in the NYMJF because, in Sultans words, He wanted to play with the grassroots people (Sultan 2004). Hino was
Equinox Publishing Ltd 2012.

Complaining time is over

31

promptly added as a late addition to a NYMJF concert at Slugs on 6 July. When the time arrived for Hinos Newport performance the following Saturday, a last-minute change put the trumpeter in a difficult position. That afternoon, Ellington asked Wein if his orchestra could go on first, preceding Hino in the concert. The request was granted, leaving Hino to follow the maestro for an audience that was largely unfamiliar with his work. Soon after Hinos set began, much of the audience left the hall, an event portrayed as a major disgrace in the Japanese media (Wein and Chinen 2003: 38485). Hino later aired his grievances against Wein in Japans Swing Journal through a lengthy diatribe expressing frustration at his financial dependence and vulnerability:
There was no humane consideration. I wish [Wein] would only pay the performance fee. Since we didnt have any money, we got into debt to go to this festival. George Wein was a terrible fellow. He only invests his money in things that will earn him more money. I knew he was a bad guy, but he was the worst. I think its vulgar and disgraceful for me to complain about the festival after I went there, but let me say my opinion If any other [Japanese] musicians are invited to the Newport Festival, I definitely suggest that they do not go there. Never appear there (Hino 1972).

Hino had much more positive things to say about the musicians of the NYMJF, whom he referred to as Musicians who create real music and let new music occur on the stage (ibid.). The presence and support of international as well as local publications was a significant achievement for the counter-festival. In addition to Swing Journal, the French magazine Jazz Hot ran a cover story on the NYMJF in their September issue, with extensive concert reviews and photos. Though the story discusses Newport as well, its primary focus on the NYMJF provides the most in-depth documentation from the period (Flicker and Trombert 1972).12 Such attention provided strong evidence for the musicians that independently organized ventures could attract major attention from the press. The enthusiasm from European sources would become increasingly important in the years that followed, as European festivals became crucial supporters of New York improvisers.

12. Curiously, the title of the article remained Newport Jazz Festival New York, despite the text concentrating more extensively on the NYMJF. The issues cover, which simply features the text New York Musicians Jazz Festival superimposed over a photo of the city, more accurately reflects the articles focus.
Equinox Publishing Ltd 2012.

32

Jazz Research Journal

Festival aftermathemergence of NYMO


Early NYMJF planning documents indicate that the organizers envisioned more than a one-time festival. From the outset, the groups writings reveal an intention to establish an ongoing organization devoted to self-determination for musicians. An early statement directed at potential members included the following passage:
This Festival is being put on by the Jazz Musicians themselves as a first co-orporate venture in unison. Musicians are traditionally healers and spiritual transporters and we recognize that if our tradition is to remain pure, it must remain under our own direction as before. The recognition of Black Men in charge of their own creative works is the recognition of unclouded vision into tomorrow. We have come together out of [a] long discussed need to present the vast areas of music previously ignored, that our people in the community need to hear in unison for rebuilding internationally (JA 16.10, emphasis and capitalization as in original).

The notion of a co-orporate endeavora neologism combining cooperative strategies and corporate goalsappears in several of the groups documents. An even broader, perhaps overambitious agenda, was stated in an internal document circulated around the same time:
In keeping with forward plans for our organization to be of benefit and long life to our members, a New York Musicians Fund will be established. The purpose of the fund will be to meet present and long range needs of our membership. The fund will be used to establish our own Legal Department, Managing, Booking and Producing Departments, a library for books and records, schools, workshops, Publishing Department, transcribing service, copy service, Film and Record Production Department, pressing plant, distribution and sales outlet, music stores, communication research center, scholarship foundation, Advertising Department, Real Estate Department, hostels, Theater/Concert Hall, Import/Export Department, health food co-ops, our own Bank, and a Church of African Liberation to keep the force of ourselves spiritually correct. All of these are steps toward self-sufficiency and are within our future with consistent, serious effort. Complaining time is over (JA 108.22).

While such plans can be read as vastly over-ambitious, the document demonstrates aspirations that include a wholesale involvement in all aspects of the music industry and, subsequently, the community more broadly. Regardless of feasibility, it is instructive to note the multi-faceted ways in which the musicians hoped to interface with larger social, cultural and political milieus of the early 1970s. This is especially evident in regard to

Equinox Publishing Ltd 2012.

Complaining time is over

33

the focus on community-based ownership strategies informed by cultural nationalism. In September, the organizers announced the formation of the New York Musicians Organization (NYMO), a collective designed to expand upon the gains made during the festival. Sultan was named its first president. The organizations purpose, as expressed in an early interview, was to produce, promote and distribute original works of its members through free and paid concerts, festivals and recordings (Ledbetter 1972f). The official launch came with a park concert originally slated to include one hundred and fifty musicians under the direction of Sam Rivers (Ledbetter 1972f).13 Plans were also made to establish a music school at Studio We, where a pilot program ran briefly that fall.14 But despite the wave of enthusiasm that came at the outset, NYMOs momentum proved difficult to sustain over time. While the festival had been characterized by cooperation and consensus in the face of a common foe, this unity would begin to dissolve in the year that followed. The organization began to splinter in early 1973 when an offer arrived from George Wein to join forces with Newport the following summer. Members reactions were mixed. Some, including Sultan, DuBoise and Rivers, saw it as something of an olive branch. Since a major complaint in 1972 had been a lack of recognition and respect, the offer seemed to openly acknowledge the importance of their artistic work. But for others, especially Rashied Ali, aligning with Newport was akin to giving up the larger values of self-control upon which the organization was founded. For Ali, working with the establishment would implicitly promote the very sort of economic structures that they had struggled to combat. When the group decided to go forward with the collaboration, Ali and several others left the organization. Soon after, Ali would write a scathing private essay about the episode titled Exploitation among NYC Musicians. The text, which was never published, levels complaints against Wein, club owners, record producers and other aspects of the jazz industry, and strongly criticizes NYMO for the choice to collaborate. For Ali, the central problem was larger than being neglected or accepted by a single festival. Rather, he saw Newport as symptomatic
13. Subsequent reports placed the final number of participants at about thirty (Johnson 1972). 14. Teachers in the pilot program included Rivers, Sultan and DuBoise, as well as Sonny Donaldson, Joe Chambers, Earl Cross, Frank Foster, Dave Burrell, Arthur Doyle, Beaver Harris, Phil Lasley, Robin Clark and Jimmy Garrison. Archie Shepp was also scheduled to deliver a one-time lecture titled Revolutionary Concepts in the Arts (JSA 17.02).
Equinox Publishing Ltd 2012.

34

Jazz Research Journal

of an over-arching exploitation that pervaded the industry. He stresses the musicians achievement of financial independence and their ability to selfproduce a large-scale event as the triumph of the 1972 festival and exhorts his readers to strive for similar goals:
We better start controlling our own destiny, controlling how were going to run our lives The musicians who allow themselves to be exploited, and dont drop a dime on the exploiter, should be exposed Face up to it, you who are accepting exploitation are making it bad for yourselves and your fellow musicians. For your own offspring who are interested in the music. Teach them to stand on their own two feet. If you dont have them to teach, teach each other. Stop going for the OKEYDOKE (Ali 1973, emphasis in original).

By working with Newport, Ali felt NYMO had abandoned the independence that was its greatest strength, and therefore was doomed to fail. While he remained cordial with the group, he devoted most of his subsequent energies to organizing concerts in his own Greene Street loft, later known as Alis Alley. Two other members of the board also left the group between the 1972 and 1973 festivals. On 19 March 1973, Sam Rivers sent a letter asking to resign his position on the NYMO board of directors. Though the letter is extremely reverential in praise of the group, Rivers cites other commitmentsincluding the growing operations of Studio Rivbeaas leaving him little time to devote to NYMO work (JSA 248.09). The board responded on 26 March in equally glowing fashion, granting Rivers his resignation but asking that his name be retained on a list of the groups founders (JSA 169.05). Another loss occurred when Noah Howard emigrated to Paris in late 1972. While he never officially resigned, Howard would live abroad for the rest of his life and ceased being actively involved in the New York scene. Despite these losses, the group continued to forge plans for the 1973 festival, primarily under the leadership of Sultan and DuBoise. A joint press conference at the Rainbow Grill was held on 6 February with both Newport and NYMO representatives present. Together, the two groups would jointly present a series of six concerts at Alice Tully Hall as well as a midnight jam session at Carnegie Recital Hall. Perhaps anticipating accusations of selling out, NYMOs press release includes an incendiary, page-long quote from Sultan outlining the organizations principles:
Since the emergence of the jazz music from our native African culture [t]he Black musicians, composers, and writers have been the victims of a paternalistic system of exploitation that is unequalled in human debasement and neglect Black musicians have no voice
Equinox Publishing Ltd 2012.

Complaining time is over


in their destiny. They are expected to blow, play the keys and the strings, create and originate but to shut up at this point and leave their futures to the hierarchy. These plans generally include the shabbiest of accommodations, the subminimum pay, lack of concern and protection in the most vicious and racially prejudiced environments, and no voice as to where they would perform. This is a new era for the Black Man. The hierarchy is served notice that a Black musician is a Black Man first and a Black musician second I want to make it clear that we are not just a festival organization. We are holding free music classes and workshops. We have given, and are continuing to give three-day concerts at colleges, parks and other locations in the five boroughs (JSA 22.07).

35

The statement constituted the most heightened rhetoric the organization would ever employ regarding the treatment of black artists. Other NYMO materials written around the same time emphasized that the Newport concerts would only comprise a small part of the total festival plans. To drive this home, the second year was renamed the Five Boroughs Jazz Festival, foregrounding their outreach efforts throughout the city. Outside of the co-produced concerts with Newport, the second NYMJF also presented an impressive, interracial lineup of well-known artists, including Charles Mingus, Randy Weston, Billy Taylor, Rashaan Roland Kirk, Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones, Lee Konitz, Steve Lacy, Horace Silver and Chick Corea. But though there were successes, the festivals second year lacked the unified quality that seemed to permeate the first. Whereas in 1972 the musicians had rallied around a common cause in opposition of the Newport Festival, the cooperation with Wein prevented the second year from generating the same level of enthusiasm. The departures of Ali, Rivers and Howard not only meant that NYMO had lost nearly half of its board, but also undermined any perception that the group spoke for a consensus of African-American and/or jazz artists. This would become even clearer as former NYMO members began organizing their own independent events. Rivers had increased his presentation schedule at Studio Rivbea, where he organized his own festival in direct competition with Newport and the NYMJF that summer. Down the street, vocalist Joe Lee Wilsonanother active participant in the first counter-festivalbegan presenting concerts at his Ladies Fort later that year. Rashied Alis performance space Alis Alley (originally Studio 77) was operational by summer 1974, eventually obtaining a liquor license and transforming into a full-fledged nightclub. This splintering created new competition for NYMO events, but in retrospect it also serves as testament to the groups historical importance in launching the loft era.
Equinox Publishing Ltd 2012.

36

Jazz Research Journal

By mid-decade most of NYMOs presentations were co-sponsored with DuBoises Studio We. Sultan had moved into the loft after the 1972 festival, and it soon became impossible to pinpoint where NYMOs activities ended and Studio Wes began. By 1975, the groups literally used the same mission statement on their documents, subbing in the relevant organization name as needed (JSA 07.23, 96.02). The summer festivals would continue under various names, including The Studio We Park Concert Series, Jazz In The Park and the Bicentennial Jazz Festival.15 NYMO would largely cease to function around 1976, close to the time that Sultan moved out of the loft. Studio We would continue presenting summer festivals into the 1980s.

Legacies and impact on the loft era


The stated goals of NYMO can be seen to broadly reflect those of jazz collectives emerging since the mid-1960s in the wake of the Black Arts Movement. In comparing NYMOs mission to collectives such as the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) or Black Artists Group (BAG), similar themes recur: (a) Providing employment for musicians, usually through presenting concerts, (b) Developing education programs, (c) Building a forum for interaction between artists, often in the form of a physical structure or headquarters, (d) Interfacing with other local organizations and charitable causes, and (e) Preserving the tradition and cultural heritage of African American music. While some variation can be seen regarding issues like spirituality or the contributions of white artists, the groups share a concern with developing black culture (especially through music) both as an end in itself and in support of broader movements toward racial equality. It is worth noting, however, that despite the militant tone of many early NYMO documents, the group was the only one of those named above never to restrict the participation of white musicians. But despite these similar goals, early 1970s New York presented a very different landscape in which to forge a musician-run organization. Though the city had undergone struggles common to many urban industrial centers in the post-war decades, the resulting effects were somewhat different, especially in lower Manhattan. Unlike the South Bronxwhose rapid depopulation, middle-class flight and neglect from city leadership were exacerbated by the construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway (Jonnes 2002: 11726)the de-industrialization of lower Manhattan was coupled with an
15. The latter name was used when a three-year grant was received from the New York Bicentennial Association to fund the festival from 197476.
Equinox Publishing Ltd 2012.

Complaining time is over

37

extended period of uncertainty on the part of city government, real-estate developers and local residents. The area had previously been a center for light manufacturing, but much of this industry left after World War II. The city as a whole suffered a decline of over 300,000 manufacturing jobs between 1950 and 1970 (Zukin [1982] 1989: 24), with lower Manhattan hit especially hard. Since most of the areas buildings were zoned as industrial spaces, landlords were unable to repurpose them for other uses. Over a period of three decades, various redevelopment projects were proposed, including plans for a sports stadium, the development of luxury high-rises and the construction of a massive highway to be called the Lower Manhattan Expressway. Each of these plans was blocked by a well-organized group of local residents and activists in the emerging field of historic preservation. Moving at the glacial pace of city politics, these battles persisted for years, leaving the area in limbo. Landlords were reluctant to invest in new construction or provide basic upkeep of their buildings until the fate of the area was determined. In the meantime, many spaces went unused and properties were left to deteriorate (Zukin [1982] 1989: 2357). The void would eventually be filled by artists, who began moving into the unused loft spaces en masse during the 1960s. Though zoning laws prohibited residence, a lack of viable tenants made it worthwhile for landlords to rent their spaces illegally, often for pennies on the dollar. The resulting affordability, combined with the buildings large, open floor plans, made the lofts ideal studio and living spaces for visual artists, who congregated mostly in the neighborhood of SoHo. Musicians soon followed, spreading outward into NoHo and the Lower East Side as well. Pianist Burton Greene recalled that when he moved into his loft on Eldridge Street, he paid no rent whatsoever; the landlord merely asked him to chase out the junkies that had been congregating in the buildings stairwells (Greene 2010). Jazz performances in lofts initially started as informal get-togethers and jam sessions, the early presence of which is documented in Amiri Barakas 1963 essay, New York Loft and Coffee Shop Jazz (Baraka [1963] 2010). According to several accounts, these early events were most often private and/or isolated affairs, rather than the publicly advertised loft venues that emerged after the NYMJF (Stephenson 2009; Burrell 2010; Serro 2010). Thus, while one of the main struggles faced by Midwestern organizers was to locate or create venues where they could present their work, New Yorks unique real-estate environment made finding space comparatively easy. As a result, NYMO had less need to employ the sorts of centralization strategies found in other collectives, such as a hierarchical administrative
Equinox Publishing Ltd 2012.

38

Jazz Research Journal

structure, a list of formal bylaws and membership requirements, strict collection of dues, an emphasis on organizational branding and a strict delegation of tasks among members. Instead the NYMJF was organized more as a confederation of independently-run events. The groups frequent boast of having five hundred members referred not to those who had attended meetings or paid membership dues, but merely to any musician who had participated in a NYMO concert. While the board coordinated the overall schedule and publicity for the NYMJF, much of the on-the-ground organizing was done by the musicians performing. In the end, the festival did little to spur a broad faith in NYMO as an organization capable of fighting battles on behalf of musicians, despite the organizers intention to do so. Rather, it created a recognition that small-scale, low-cost events in lofts, parks and other nontraditional spaces could act as a viable alternative to nightclub and concert performances. This recognition, ironically, may have ultimately undermined NYMOs initial collectivist vision. NYMO and the NYMJF can therefore be situated at a critical crossroads between the centralized collective approaches of the 1960s, and the decentralized network of venues and activities that characterized the loft era. This shift carried with it both advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, the immense fragmentation of the lofts meant that many performances took place in less-than-ideal circumstances. Whereas early AACM concerts were well-coordinated affairs with printed programs, advance publicity and guaranteed payments, loft gigs were often done for a percentage of the door sales, with publicity left up to the musicians themselves. Sound systems were often minimal and acoustics sometimes poor, as the performances were organized on the barest of budgets. Not surprisingly, many of these aspects would later be criticized by members of the Midwestern collectives; in light of their efforts to create suitably respectful performance opportunities by pooling their resources (both financial and otherwise), the lofts felt like a step backward (Lewis 2004: 6870). The degree to which lofts were romanticized by some commentators seemed like an additional affront to African-American music by suggesting that low-prestige presentations were somehow more fitting. Despite such criticisms, musicians from the Midwestern collectives flocked to the city in the later years of the decade, becoming an important fixture of the loft scene. But on the other hand, the flowering of loft activities by mid-decade helped foster a vibrant scene for improvised music. The openness of many lofts meant that finding places to rehearse and perform was relatively easy, even for the most unknown or abstract players. Young musicians that came
Equinox Publishing Ltd 2012.

Complaining time is over

39

up in the lofts, including figures like William Parker, Ahmed Abdullah and Billy Bang, recall the periods saturation of musical activity as key to their development (Parker 2004; Abdullah 2009; Bang 2010). Though more difficult to quantify, the spaces may even have affected the aesthetic direction of the music; the New York scenes preference toward the full-tilt, extended, free improvisational style known as energy music stood in stark contrast to the more deliberate approaches taken by musicians from Chicago, St. Louis and Los Angeles. The lofts ready availability, as well as the financial independence they afforded, was essential in fostering such a brashly uncompromising musical approach. Though NYMO was not the first group to present events in lofts, their activities acted as an important catalyst that raised the visibility and perceived viability of loft performance. By combining the revolutionary rhetoric of collectivist movements with guerilla-style presentations in alternative spaces, the group provided a critical model for the era that followed.

References
Abdullah, A. (2009) Interview by author in Brooklyn, NY, 11 November. Abuwi, A. (2009) Interview by author in Brooklyn, NY, 24 September. Ali, R. (1973) Exploitation among NYC Musicians. Original manuscript in possession of author. (2007) Interview by author via telephone in New York, 26 September. Bang, B. (2010) Interview by author in Bronx, NY, 27 July. Baraka, Imamu Amiri (2010) New York Loft and Coffee Shop Jazz. In Black Music, 107114. New York and London: Akashic. [Originally published as Loft Jazz in Down Beat, May 9, 1963] Brown, S. (2003) Fighting for US: Maulana Karenga, the US Organization, and Black Cultural Nationalism. New York: New York University Press. Burrell, D. (2010) Interview by author, digital recording from Philadelphia, PA, 29 July. Calta, L. (1972) 72 Newport Jazz Festival is Moving to New York. New York Times, 5 January. Diamond, E. (1994) Behind The Times: Inside The New New York Times. New York: Villard Books. DuBoise, J. (1993) Interview by Ben Young. WCKR-FM, New York, 6 December. (2009) Interview by author, Staten Island, New York, 21 September. Flicker, Chris and Thierry Trombert (1972) Newport Jazz Festival New York. Jazz Hot (September). Fraser, C. G. (1972) After a Sour Note, Harmony Reigns on Role of Blacks in Jazz. New York Times, 8 July. Frazier, G. (1971) Newport: (1954?). Boston Globe, 7 July. Goldblatt, B. (1977) Newport Jazz Festival: The Illustrated History. New York: Dial Press.

Equinox Publishing Ltd 2012.

40

Jazz Research Journal

Greene, B. (2009) Interview by author, Cambridge, MA, 27 February. (2010) Email message to author, 19 January. Hino, T. (1972) Never Appear at Newport from Now On, Japanese Jazz Men! Interview by Jinichi Uekusa. Swing Journal (September): 108109. [Translated in 2005 by Schuichi Hirata with minor grammatical edits by author.] Howard, N. (2007) Interview by author via telephone in Belgium, 9 July. Johnson, T. (1972) Free Jazz: A Scrawly Texture. Village Voice, 14 September. Jonnes, J. (2002) South Bronx Rising: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of an American City. New York: Fordham University Press. Latour, B. (2005) Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Ledbetter, Les (1972a) Street Fairs Wares and Music Attract Thousands in Harlem. New York Times, 3 July. (1972b) Dissonants Hear Another Jazz. New York Times, 6 July. (1972c) Jazzmen Sound off on State and Status of their Art. New York Times, 7 July. (1972d) Alls Not Harmonious. New York Times, 9 July. (1972e) 29 Jazzmen in Rousing Jam Session on Mall. New York Times, 11 July (1972f) 500 Jazz Artists Form New Group: Newport Rebels to Offer Concerts This Weekend. New York Times, 2 September. Lewis, G. (2004) Experimental Music in Black and White: The AACM in New York, 19701985. In Uptown Conversation, ed. Robert OMeally, Brent Hayes Edwards and Farah Jasmine Griffin, 50101. [Originally published in Current Musicology 7173 (Spring 2001Spring 2002): 100157.] (2008) A Power Stronger than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Looker, B. (2004) BAG: Point From Which Creation Begins: The Black Artists Group of St. Louis. St. Louis, MO: University of Missouri Press. Miles Davis Does Not Appear; Says He Never Agreed to Play (1972) New York Times, 5 July. Monson, Ingrid T. (2007) Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call Out to Jazz and Africa. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Newport Jazz Festival moves to N.Y.. 1972. New York Amsterdam News, 22 January. Parker, W. (2004) Interview by author in New York, April. Porter, E. (2002) What is This Thing Called Jazz?: African American Musicians as Artists, Critics, and Activists. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Rivers, Sam, and Bea Rivers (1994) Interview by Ben Young, Sarah Schmidt, Jennifer McNeely. WCKR-FM, New York, 9 January. Santosuosso, Ernie, and Nathan Cobb (1971) Riot Threatens Early End to Jazz Festival. Boston Globe, 4 July. Serro, D. (2010) Interview by author, digital recording from New York, 28 June. Smith, Robert Charles (1996) We Have No Leaders: African Americans in the PostCivil Rights Era. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Stephenson, S. (2009) The Jazz Loft Project: Photographs and Tapes of W. Eugene Smith from 821 Sixth Avenue, 19571965. New York: Knopf. Sultan, Juma (2004) Interview by author, tape recording via telephone from Kerhonkson, NY, 16 November. (2010) Interview by author, digital recording from Kerhonkson, NY, 26 July.
Equinox Publishing Ltd 2012.

Complaining time is over

41

Wein, George, and Nate Chinen (2003) Myself Among Others. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo. West, Hollie I. (1972) From Newport to New York. The Washington Post, 5 January. Young, B. (1998) Dixonia: A Bio-Discography of Bill Dixon. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. Zukin, S. [1982] 1989. Loft Living: Culture and Capital in Urban Change. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Archival References from the Juma Sultan Archive (JSA)


Doc 07.23 Doc 16.10 Doc 17.02 Doc 22.07 Doc 44.3-7 Doc 70.13 Doc 70.14 Doc 70.19 Doc 75.12 Doc 75.13 Doc 96.02 Doc 108.22 Doc. 169.05 Doc. 209.27 Doc. 232.01 Doc. 248.03 Doc. 248.09 Flyer for Studio Wes Pianists in Focus with Studio mission statement on back. October 1975. Press release and call for performers for the 1972 NYMJF. Document incomplete. n.d. Schedule of music classes offered at Studio We in fall of 1972. NYMO press release George Wein Announces Joint Effort. 6 February 1973. Documents regarding plans to film and produce documentary The New Music Scene in New York City. Handwritten minutes from NYMO meeting of 28 January 1973. Year-end report on NYMO activities. 22 January 1973. Schedule of events in the 1972 New York Musicians Jazz Festival. Signed NYMJF contract for performance by Archie Shepp, with handwritten annotations. 1972. Collection of musicians contracts for the 1972 NYMJF. Letter to Volunteer lawyer for the arts, includes NYMO Mission Statement. Late 1975. Info packet and budgets for the 1972 NYMJF. n.d. NYMO Boards response to letter of resignation from Sam Rivers. 26 March 1973. Staff photographers agreement for 1972 NYMJF. 1973 Mission Statement from the NYMJF Association. List of demands sent by NYMJF organizers to George Wein in 1972. Letter of resignation sent from Sam Rivers to the NYMO Board of Directors. A second copy of this letter from the collection of Rashied Ali lists the date as 19 March 1973. Film of Central Park Jam session at conclusion of 1972 NYMJF.

V002.01

Equinox Publishing Ltd 2012.