You are on page 1of 20

Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 131 no.

2 331349

Review Article
Avant-Gardism, the Long 1960s and Jazz Historiography

gabriel solis
Eric Porter, What is this Thing Called Jazz? African American Musicians as Artists, Critics, and Activists. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. xxi + 404 pp. ISBN 0 520 23296 8. Scott Saul, Freedom Is, Freedom Aint: Jazz and the Making of the Sixties. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2003. xiv + 394 pp. ISBN 0 674 01148 1. Benjamin Looker, Point from which Creation Begins: The Black Artists Group of St Louis. St Louis: Missouri Historical Society Press, 2004. xxvii + 316 pp. ISBN 1 883 98251 0. Steven Isoardi, The Dark Tree: Jazz and Community Arts in Los Angeles. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006. xxi + 356 pp. ISBN 0 520 24591 1. JAZZ is a marvel of paradox, wrote Joel A. Rogers in an article in Alain Lockes 1925 collection The New Negro.1 Jazz was perhaps 20 years old at that point, and on recordings a mere eight years old. In the 80 years since Rogers offered his assessment of the music, jazz has continued to be an unusually broad, responsive idiom, seemingly on both sides of virtually every fault line in American cultural history and beyond. For Rogers the paradox was that jazz was at once universal and particular it was a negro music and everyones, Americas and the worlds; one can add to this the paradoxes of its being a popular, dance-orientated music as well as an abstract (at times abstruse) high art, and of its being a music fundamentally tied to mass mediation, though live performance remains its paradigm. Another way to think about it is that jazz has been consistently one thing and another in American culture since its inception. Four recent books shine a light on this paradox and in the process show quite nicely how the breadth of historiographical approaches to jazz might offer a composite picture that is more than the sum of the parts. Eric Porters What is this Thing Called Jazz? examines selected moments in the history of jazz to look at the activities of jazz musicians as intellectuals engaging with the larger political and aesthetic debates of their times; Freedom Is, Freedom Aint, by Scott Saul, focuses on the 1960s to consider the many ways jazz reacted to and was taken up or rejected by the culture at large in America; Point from which Creation Begins, by Benjamin

Joel A. Rogers, Jazz at Home, The New Negro, ed. Alain Locke (New York, 1925; repr. 1977, 1999), 21624 (p. 216). Quoted in Porter, What is this Thing Called Jazz?, 2.

The Author 2006. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Royal Musical Association. All rights reserved. doi:10.1093/jrma/fkl016 Advance Access Published on 23 October 2006


review article

Looker, and The Dark Tree, by Steven Isoardi, both look closely at avant-garde music and arts collectives. The four books also offer perspectives on the jazz avant-garde of the 1960s and 70s that raise interesting questions about that musics place in jazz more generally. Though both Saul and Porter address things besides the 60s and 70s avant-garde, it remains a centrepiece for both; Looker and Isoardi deal only tangentially with other aspects of the jazz world. The big question about the 60s and 70s avant-garde is clearly: what was the impact of this music? One is justified in asking: is there a disconnection between the musics place in peoples listening habits (then and now) and the place the music has in the historical literature? We love to write about it, but who listens to it? Additionally, one has to ask: did or does avant-garde jazz have some other kind of broad or even narrow impact on jazz at large, beyond the cultivation of a mass audience? What is this Thing Called Jazz? offers the position that jazz musicians have been important not only as producers of music, but as commentators and theorists about music and its place in social life. Porter makes an interesting intervention here, which complicates studies of jazz that take signifyin(g) as its primary metacommunicative mode. Henry Louis Gates, Jrs ground-breaking work in The Signifyin(g) Monkey offered up the possibility of considering African-American artistic production as art and metacommentary at once in his case both literature and literary criticism in a single package.2 Gatess ideas have been so thoroughly integrated into the discourse on jazz as to have become an orthodoxy, but Porter suggests that this orientation has its limitations:
even astute, politically committed scholars working in African American or black intellectual and cultural history, some of whom describe black music as an intellectual activity, seldom devote much attention to musicians ideas, even when analyzing the meaning and significance of their music (p. xvii).

Porter begins in the 1920s, considering how jazz musicians placed themselves with regard to the New Negro intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance. Following this, in a series of cases (beboppers, Charles Mingus, Abbey Lincoln and jazz singers in the 1960s, creative musicians of the 1960s and 70s avant-garde, and finally Wynton Marsalis), Porter shows how in each instance musicians build similar relationships with the compelling intellectual issues of their times. What is remarkable is that, while jazz emerged only in the first two decades of the twentieth century, by the 1920s the music had already become a business enterprise, and a set of institutional relationships, a focal point for political and social debate, a vehicle for individual and communal identity formation, and, eventually, an idea (p. 6). While older approaches to jazz have tended to focus exclusively on either musical form or biography, Porter, building on a number of significant predecessors, looks at how musicians themselves addressed these other aspects of what jazz was and is. Interestingly, the basic fault lines remain similar throughout the various times. On the subject of race, jazz musicians seem to be constantly engaged in a struggle between the polar attractions of celebrating black accomplishment and avoiding the minstrel mask. Though the responses and answers to the question change over time, African-American jazz musicians have repeatedly been in danger of having

Henry Louis Gates, Jr, The Signifyin(g) Monkey: A Theory of African American Literary Criticism (New York, 1988).

gabriel solis


expressions of pride in the achievements of the race read as limiting the universality of their work.3 At the same time musicians are shown repeatedly to be in a struggle to carve out a position that will allow them some agency within an industry which is obviously beneficial (without it there would literally be no jazz no recordings; no network for their distribution; no opportunity to perform live outside their immediate communities; fundamentally, no income), but which introduces an endless series of constraints, misrepresentations and misrecognitions. In the 1920s the problems of race and economics intertwined in anxieties over the commodification of jazz as swing. The writers of the Harlem Renaissance were largely, though not uniformly, suspicious of jazz, not so much because of the perception of it as vernacular (most black intellectuals at the time were influenced by Franz Boass theory of cultural relativism), but because it was a commodity. These writers were aware that the culture industry tended to erase the accomplishments of black musicians or to reproduce racist stereotypes when marketing their work (Porter, p. 12). In a remarkable bit of prescience, black intellectuals of the 1920s were well aware of the problems inherent when racial identities become marketing categories a conundrum that cultural studies scholars still struggle fully to come to terms with. As Porter points out,
One might celebrate black cultural distinctiveness as a means of subverting segregation or biologically based ideas of black inferiority, but one still faced a situation in which the idea of distinct black characteristics (whether biological or cultural) was central to the logic of early-century racist propaganda directed against African Americans.

These problems were compounded by the culture industry and the addition of questions about artists agency (pp. 1314). Musicians from James Reese Europe and W. C. Handy to Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington all addressed this set of issues, though in different ways. For Europe, commodification was relatively insignificant, largely because jazz was barely commodified during his lifetime. For Handy, writing in his magnum opus, Blues: An Anthology, the answer was to celebrate jazz as a product at once of black collective, racial genius and individual, self-conscious artistic exploration (Porter, p. 24). Interestingly, by the 30s, two outspoken musicians, Armstrong and Ellington, would use the recording industrys own marketing labels to assert some form of agency in their own self-presentation, though in apparently contradictory ways. For Armstrong, the distinction was between trashy, popular jazz [and] fine swing music (p. 43). To him Jazz represented the co-opted, watered-down commodity, and Swing represented both the artistic possibilities of jazz and the contributions of African American musicians (p. 43). For Ellington, in contrast, Jazz was an original and authentic form, and Swing was the banal product of a culture industry in which genuine values became distorted and false ones set up in their places

A number of issues underlie this aesthetic problem. On the one hand, there is an aesthetic and historiographical tradition that lauds the supposedly universal and denigrates as lesser the particular in music, so that the German tradition of roughly 17501900 could be music and anything else from the time Czech, English, French and so forth could be national traditions. This eerily echoes Hegels description of the progression of human history from savagery to civilization shown in the ranking of societies from Native American through African, Oriental, Roman and French, to the perfection of the Teutonic race (see Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Philosophy of History (1899), trans. John Sibree, New York, 1956). In America, where race (and racism) is ever-present, the dialectic between universal and particular is often driven by racist assumptions when it comes to black artists.


review article

(p. 50). In any case, Ellington ultimately opted out, arguing that beyond such terminological considerations, his bands aim has always been the development of an authentic Negro music . . . a genuine contribution from our race (pp. 512). These same concerns characterize modern jazz musicians ideas about Bebop in the 1940s. This period has been written about extensively, most notably in Scott DeVeauxs The Birth of Bebop. As a major historical juncture (DeVeaux describes it as a fulcrum or balance point in the musics history), Bop marks the beginnings of a truly avant-garde consciousness among jazz musicians.4 The most important narrative for understanding the emergence of this avant-garde orientation, before DeVeauxs work at least, is the connection between Bop and socio-political activism around issues of race, summed up neatly in Eric Lotts article Double V, Double Time: Bebops Politics of Style.5 As Langston Hughes put it, Every time a cop hits a Negro with his Billy club, that old club says, BOP!BOP! . . . BE-BOP! . . . MOP! . . . BOP. Thats what Bop is. Them young colored kids who started it, they know what bop is.6 DeVeauxs analysis considers in more detail what the musicians who created Bop were actually doing and demythologizes a number of cherished stories, arguing that Bop was as much a reasonable outgrowth of swingera jazz as it was musical revolution, and as much an attempt to respond creatively to particular market pressures as it was anti-establishment manifesto. Porter sets out to expand on the framework for understanding Bop by noting that everything about modern jazz in the 1940s, from its practitioners use of a wide array of musical influences high and low, sacred and profane to their ambivalent relationship to politics in a material or ideological sense, and their conflicted relationship with the musics past (both swing-era jazz and blues) can be understood by noting the musicians intellectual backgrounds. Rising black awareness and militancy, combined with shifting class relations, an internationalist perspective, and a dissatisfaction with the limitations of racial identities, fostered a certain kind of oppositional consciousness among African Americans from different social backgrounds. Most notably, this led to maintaining a strong sense of identity as African Americans while embracing a cosmopolitan approach to life and art, and to the rejection of cultural boundaries, tout court (p. 61). There is relatively little in this portion of Porters book that will come as a surprise to readers versed in recent jazz historical literature, but the value of it lies principally in the ways Porter is able to bridge musicians ideas from the period 192045 with those from the 50s and later by focusing attention on his particular interpretation of Bebop. In two chapters dedicated to Charles Mingus and Abbey Lincoln, Porter brings his analysis of jazz musicians intellectual activity into the long 1960s, roughly the period between 1958 and 1970. Lincoln and Mingus make a particularly interesting pair (in comparison with other outspoken, progressive musicians from the time) because of the topography of their similarities and differences with regard to the general themes Porter addresses throughout the book. While they shared a commitment to a racialized liberation politics, their experiences with the jazz industry record companies, producers, fellow musicians and critics and their engagement
4 5

Scott DeVeaux, The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History (Berkeley, CA, 1997), 1.

Eric Lott, Double V, Double Time: Bebops Politics of Style, Jazz among the Discourses, ed. Krin Gabbard (Durham, NC, 1995), 24355. 6 Langston Hughes, The Best of Simple (New York, 1961), 117. Quoted in Porter, What is this Thing Called Jazz?, 90.

gabriel solis


with the idea of the jazz tradition were different in important ways, which stemmed at least in part, not surprisingly, from their different genders. While gender can serve as a useful critical lens for understanding the social meanings of the whole history of jazz with which he engages, Porter is at his best in dealing with gender issues in these two chapters because Mingus and Lincoln spoke so significantly about gender and sexuality. Elsewhere Porters attempt to understand the politics of gender in jazz is hampered by the somewhat limited extent to which the musicians themselves addressed the topic critically. Mingus makes an ideal sort of subject for a study like Porters, because he was prolific as a composer, recording artist, philosopher and memoirist, and because he was haunted by demons that drove him to heights of artistic innovation and selfdetermination, and depths of angry, paranoid vitriol. Mingus was spectacular in every aspect of his public persona. As Porter so clearly demonstrates, Minguss music and words were part of a continual struggle to reconcile his music, his identity, and his position in the society in which he lived. Minguss most important legacy for the jazz world aside, obviously, from his music is an open, cutting critique of the racist practices of the music industry. Like many African-American musicians before him, he was proud of the accomplishments of his musical forebears, but ultimately found not just the term jazz, but the genre-circumscribed creativity it describes, as limitations. Porter deals well with the sensational and easily sensationalized self-presentation that Mingus crafted in his 1971 autobiography, Beneath the Underdog. Connecting what otherwise seems little more than an over-the-top fantasy of sex and violence to Minguss larger struggle towards fulfilment and self-determination as an artist is admirable. Porter says:
Beneath the Underdog can . . . be understood as another of Minguss interventions in the jazz discourse . . . . [He] considers the place of jazz in American society, criticizes music industry practices, lends political and spiritual purpose to African American music, articulates militant and universalist philosophies, and ponders the parameters of race in American society.

In the process, Porter notes that the book is crucial for demonstrating how Minguss aesthetic sensibility, spiritual purpose, and critical perspective were channeled through codes of masculinity as well as through race, class, and artistry (p. 139). It is surprising, however, given the extended meditation on Mingus and the question of race, that Porter never discusses Minguss particular position as a person of racially mixed background. Porters discussion of Abbey Lincoln delves into the ways in which her movement as an artist from supper club singer to jazz singer was accompanied by and expressed a political awakening in the 1950s, and the ways in which her position as an outspoken intellectual with a commitment to both the black liberation movement and a womanist perspective were ultimately polarizing to many in the jazz world. For Lincoln the label jazz was important because it carried explicit connections to a world of great black artistry, albeit one dominated by androcentric rhetoric and practices. Becoming a jazz singer, as opposed to a pop singer, and at the same time articulating a womanist vision was inherently problematic, however, because it required Lincoln to reconcile with Billie Holidays legacy. Holiday was clearly the most important model of a jazz singer at the time, and a musician of arguably unequalled accomplishment (even today), but she was also inescapably


review article

tied to the poetics of feminine subjugation and suffering, in songs like My Man, Happiness is a Thing Called Joe, Porgy, and so on. The two chapters that are the heart of Porters book, Practicing Creative Music and Writing Creative Music, deal with similar issues with regard to the 1960s and 70s jazz avant-garde. Again, we see that issues relating to musicians roles as intellectuals, their ambivalent relationship to the word jazz and to genre circumscription, and complex thinking about their musics relationship to the politics of race, class and gender (in discourse and practice) are consistent over the years. It has been generally understood that such was the case for the avant-garde since the late 60s (indeed, even to the point of caricature in contemporary accounts, such as those by Frank Kofsky or Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones).7 That said, Porters analysis of both the music of the avant-garde and the writing of its practitioners takes on more profound resonance when viewed in the light of the preceding chapters. Far from the lone voices howling in the wilderness that they might appear at first glance to be, many 60s outsider musicians critiques of jazz from the call for freedom to the outright rejection of the term jazz and the limitations it implied were prefigured in the intellectual activity of previous generations. Documents like Anthony Braxtons Tri-axium Writings and Albert Aylers Ghosts remain challenging, of course; but they make more sense in light of Porters work here than they might otherwise. Porters study ends, fittingly enough, with a look at Wynton Marsalis. Marsalis makes an easy target for critique his well-publicized statements on the various moral scourges of fusion and the avant-garde bear with them so much undigested baggage they can hardly be taken as anything but caricature.8 Others have tried to contextualize Marsaliss work before, notably David Ake in his consideration of the two meanings of the word standards for the musician.9 Porters work here is important because it presents a much more complete and coherent analysis of the philosophical writing by Albert Murray and its interpretation and extension by Stanley Crouch (the basis of Marsaliss own aesthetic philosophy) than has any single source so far. He does an exemplary job of showing not only that connection, but also why Marsalis has moored his projects so tightly to the creation of a jazz canon and to the litmus test of the extent to which [jazz artistry] conforms to certain values inscribed in musical standards as well as its ability to perform an effective ritualistic function (p. 289). The greatest strength of Porters work is in its ability to draw so brightly the lines that connect what otherwise appears to be a diverse collection of the very wellknown and more unusual figures, canonical masters, canon-builders and avantgardists. It is particularly impressive that he follows through so meticulously on the basic premiss of the book: that the musicians work as intellectuals deserves attention in and of itself. It is one thing to assert rather vaguely that jazz musicians are vanguard figures, or even organic intellectuals, following Antonio Gramsci; it is quite another fully to understand the often scattered statements that make up that intellectual activity.
7 8

Frank Kofsky, Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music (New York, 1970); Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Blues People: Negro Music in White America (New York, 1963). See, for instance, What Jazz Is and Isnt and Wynton vs. Herbie: The Purist and the Crossbreeder Duke it Out, both reprinted in Keeping Time: Readings in Jazz History, ed. Robert Walser (New York, 1999), 3348 and 33950. David Ake, Jazz Cultures (Berkeley, CA, 2002), 14676.

gabriel solis


In Freedom Is, Freedom Aint, Scott Saul connects jazz history to the broad intellectual culture of the 1960s in the United States. In a refreshing change from much socially orientated musicological writing, and one that stems from his position as a cultural historian rather than a cultural theorist, Saul resists the urge to see jazz as a metaphor for the larger culture or some such other structuralist explanation. Instead, he focuses on the connections between jazz musicians and other intellectuals, artists and so forth in the culture at large. With the historians eye for verifiability, the connections Saul proposes are all documented, and are all the more compelling for it. There is a good deal of overlap with the intentions of Porters work here, in the explicit aim of understanding jazz musicians work as intellectuals per se, particularly in the chapters dealing with Charles Mingus, but given the very different focuses of the two books (a broad overview of jazz history from the teens to the present on the one hand, and the deep investigation of a single decade on the other) they are more companions than redundant. Saul suggests that Freedom Is, Freedom Aint is basically two books combined: one dealing with jazzs place in the larger culture, the other with the larger cultures role in the careers of two exemplary figures, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane. In addition, there is a roughly chronological organization, bringing the reader from the early-60s hipster culture, itself a lingering presence from the 1950s, to the late60s hippie counter-culture and the displacement of jazz from the centre of intellectual culture (if not really popular culture) to its margins. As the title suggests, the primary thread throughout the book is an exploration of how jazz and jazz musicians suggested, explored and meditated on the meaning and practices of liberation. Like Porter, Saul finds a deep mine in the consideration of how this material relates to current questions about race, class and gender, though there is ultimately more consideration of racial discourses than either of the other two. Saul explains this central focus on race, enshrined in the titles nodding reference to the Black is, black aint sermon in Ralph Ellisons Invisible Man, thus: jazz of the 1950s and 1960s was marked by an Ellisonian recognition of both the strength of AfricanAmerican culture and the futility of race-hardened thinking (pp. xiiixiv). He builds on the basic paradox of race in American culture, noted by Ellison: racial identity is irreducibly felt, but racial identity is the thinnest of fictions, a cover for power plays and an excuse for complacency . . . a socially invented check on an individuals ability to invent him- or herself. Ultimately, rather than suggest that there is a solution to this paradox, Saul, following Ellison, takes (and holds through the books many case studies) the position that one should not try to resolve the tension of races being and seeming, but that living with its complexity involve[s] both an act of virtuosity and a commitment to ones community (p. xiii). Parts I and II deal with hipsterism, a New Intellectual Vernacular, as Saul calls it, and its chimerical position in American cultural politics in the late 50s and 60s. On the large scale, the hipster, the cool, strung-out purveyor of hip, enters the decade poised at least possibly to become a powerful oppositional force in the political landscape, but by the middle of the decade appears to have become spent and little more than self-caricature. In tracing this history, Saul sets up one of the fundamental cultural fault lines of the book. On the one hand, irony which was a central facet, perhaps the central facet, of the hipsters world view could be seen as a new form of political dissent, but on the other hand it could be seen as a disengagement that would ultimately seem frivolous in the face of the cultural battles over freedom in the 1960s. Saul sees this play out across basically racial lines black


review article

hipsters, like Oscar Brown, Jr, Max Roach or Langston Hughes, tend to use irony to political ends, and white hipsters, like Jack Kerouac or Norman Mailer, tend to use it largely as a cop-out, a turning away from radical politics. Though undoubtedly too simple to account for many cases, this dualism is at its most convincing in Part II, which deals with the Newport Jazz Festival. Newport, which George Wein had established in 1954, was the mother of all jazz festivals, a remarkable (and over time remarkably successful) attempt to reconfigure jazzs image and economic structure. By taking jazz out of the city, moving it to a wealthy, if down-at-heel, resort town, Wein laid the groundwork for selling jazz to a well-heeled clientele as a sophisticated, garden-party entertainment, a hip classical music. In 1960, it became the target of not one, but two mass protests on the part of hipsters who had rather different, but both counter-cultural, grievances with the festival and its organizers. The first of the two was a mass protest by more than 10,000 young, predominantly white, people, most of them college students. To call this a political event in any sense is generous: the story of the Newport riot in essence, a confrontation over limited seating for the concerts which erupted and quickly morphed into a bacchanal of alcohol and violence that appears to have been a nihilistic expression of chaos for its own sake is remarkable for its lack of any recognizable meaning, beyond an unbridled consumerism and sense of entitlement on the part of white college kids. By contrast, at the same time, Max Roach and Charles Mingus (with the financial support of Elaine Lorrilard, a co-founder of the NJF who was nursing a grudge) managed to stage a counter-festival in protest against economic inequity at the festival and all-round bad treatment by festival organizers. The Newport Rebels festival, as the event came to be known, was born in a spirit of protest and liberation musicians taking the reins of power in their own lives and work from at times unscrupulous business people; but it was also born in a spirit of hipsterism. As Saul notes, it was almost willfully under-capitalized and hoped to deliver on the cult promise of jazz as serious, intimate music. To this end, rather than promote the counterfestival with paid advertising, Mingus simply roared through town in a convertible, standing on the seat and shouting Come to my festival! (Someone else drove the car) (p. 125). The counter-festival and its offspring, the Jazz Artists Guild, were nearly as short-lived as the Newport riot, lasting only long enough for the utopian vision of artist-run jazz business to tarnish under the pressure of inept organization and petty greed. It differs markedly from the riot, however, inasmuch as it suggested a deep-seated and ultimately long-lasting desire on the part of musicians to address very real inequities at the heart of jazz economics. 1960 must have been a remarkable moment to be in Newport, RI, because at the same time as the riot was happening and Mingus was screaming through town in support of his festival, Langston Hughes long one of Americas most important black literary provocateurs was in Newport drafting his poem Ask Your Mama. This broadsheet takes the bluesy form of post-bop jazz improvisation and sensibility of The Dozens an African-American oral literary contest of traded insults to try to make sense of the riot and the racial politics behind it. Hughes works with an African-American vernacular here, moving, in his words, from dialect to dialectics, pointing out the basically racist nature of both the Newport riots and the Newport Festival in toto (p. 136). As Saul says, Hughes could not explain the insult of the riot without drawing Newport into the meshes of the entire civil rights scene North and South and the liberation struggles of the developing world; Hughes saw

gabriel solis


that the story of the riots was not simply kids running amok, but extended to those mature citizens who barred blacks from voting booths, decent schools, and Northern suburban neighborhoods (p. 142). As with the counter-festival, in Hughess work, hip irony is not an ethical capitulation, but rather the cutting edge of a serious, thoroughgoing critique of power and the status quo. Parts III and IV present Charles Mingus and John Coltrane, respectively, as paradigms of black expressivity in the 1960s, the former using an eclectic, ironic sensibility to assimilate virtually all that was around him, not so much to create a synthesis as to revel in the power of juxtaposition, and the latter creating a sense of engagement so total as to be able to assimilate everything with which he came into contact with no sense of irony. Following the theme of freedom that characterizes the book, Saul considers the place of liberation in the work of both musicians in Minguss very politicized pursuit of autonomy in every aspect of his music and career, and in Coltranes intensely spiritual seeking after transcendence. Interestingly, Saul notes a commonality between these two musicians that might go unnoticed: both were ultimately musicians whose personal energy totally drove their music. Mingus berated, belittled and blustered his way there, and Coltrane strode there with a quiet but overpowering intensity, but ultimately both were the absolute centre of any music with which they were involved. For Mingus, the constriction of an artists emotional and expressive autonomy was intricately linked to the mass-media entertainment industry. Saul is at pains to demonstrate that all of the various interventions in the business side of his career the Newport counter-festival, running his own publishing company, managing Debut Records and so on were part and parcel of interventions on the artistic side, and were all linked to a larger political programme of combating abuses of a racist society. Saul focuses on musical works like The Clown, Fables of Faubus and Pithecanthropus erectus, which use music, poetry and on-stage theatrics to drive home a point each suggesting an artists responsibility to speak with an authentic emotional voice, but to beware of pride and the ultimate downfall it presages. Saul is at his best when dealing with the ironies underlying Minguss work. That Mingus was critical of unfair business practices, racist inequities and constraints on musicians expressive palette did not mean that he was always better than the white industry executives he demonized. The Newport counter-festival dissolved largely because no one minded the books carefully, so in place of a top-down model of greed, the money disappeared in a bottom-up, or perhaps simply anarchic fashion. Musicians took from the till what they felt they were owed, and without a manager overseeing things there was quickly nothing left to cover expenses, much less provide a fair wage to every musician involved (p. 126). Debut Records was intent on providing opportunities to experimental young musicians and Minguss various projects, but it quickly went out of business because of the enormous energy and capital required to compete successfully for even a small audience in the recording industry of the time. The Jazz Workshop was perhaps the most ironic of all of Minguss ventures, because while it was founded on the premiss of artistic freedom, it was also founded on the enormous ego of its leader, Mingus himself. Mingus was notoriously domineering in his dealings with side-men, browbeating, berating, threatening and at times assaulting them into playing with the specific freedom he prescribed. Still, as Saul argues, it would be a mistake to see Minguss various projects as misguided or wholly unsuccessful. In the end each of them provided an important model for the burgeoning 1960s and 70s avant-garde scene. Some, like


review article

establishing the model of self-publishing, have become absolutely commonplace, not only for the avant-garde, but for jazz musicians of all stripes. If Minguss model of freedom was entirely of this world, Coltranes, by contrast, was metaphysical. Mingus appeared to be waging a kind of battle with his enemies, with theatrics of a decidedly exterior sort; we know through his music what he was thinking at a particular moment, but not necessarily how he felt. Coltranes music seems to be entirely consumed with an interior struggle, crafting musical expression of almost pure feeling. Even when he is dealing with external topoi the connection with newly postcolonial Africa, for instance, or the bombings of an Alabama church one feels one is not hearing about the thing itself, but about Coltranes personal, emotional experience of it. Saul takes two examples from Coltranes work, Liberia from 1960s Coltranes Sound, and the 1964 masterwork A Love Supreme, to explore the overwhelming virtuosity, soul searching and intimacy of Coltranes work as a band leader. Liberia is nicely compared with Dizzy Gillespies A Night in Tunisia, to illustrate the virtuosity of Coltrane and Charlie Parker as definitive expressions of their moments. Parker personifies cool, hip, ironic detachment, and Coltrane is his perfect opposite.
Parker sometimes sounds amateurish, in Ralph Ellisons words, because he withholds so much, because his vibratoless tone gives us few signals about his interiority; Coltrane, by contrast, sounds amateurish because he is willing to try anything screeches, ungainly blurts, meandering runs that might add to his powers of testimony (p. 222)

Saul looks at A Love Supreme to understand the transformation of Coltrane from jazz great to deity (figurative and literal) of the Black Arts movement and beyond.10 He proposes a compelling argument that connects this beatification with that of Malcolm X, noting that both A Love Supreme and the Autobiography of Malcolm X are important new interventions in the history of black autobiographical conversion narratives. Both propose the possibility of a working-class black hero who transforms himself yet chooses not to alienate himself from his community or to lift himself up out of it. Both, ultimately, perhaps because of rather than in spite of their untimely deaths, were also icons of hope to their communities. While Saul is certainly right to dedicate the time and space to A Love Supreme he does here, and the connection with Malcolm X is compelling, his analysis of Coltrane is made significantly easier by his choosing not to discuss in detail later works Ascension and Interstellar Space. Of all the avant-gardists of the 1960s Coltrane is undoubtedly now the most widely known and the most adored (worshipped, even); but this is in spite of or even predicated on the outright rejection of his truly out there last few recordings. Double quartets, noisy, extended free jams, long, meandering, groove-less performances, open tonality and atonality, and so forth are precisely the sorts of musical materials that have been difficult at best for working-class, black audiences to relate to in avant-garde jazz. Coltrane can be excused these sorts of experiments largely because people do not listen to his late albums, but the prevailing mainstream (the intellectual circles around Wynton Marsalis and Stanley Crouch, codified in Ken Burnss documentary Jazz) feel the need explicitly to repudiate this work, in order to maintain the purity of A Love Supreme.11

For a glimpse of Coltranes literal beatification, the reader is directed to the St John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco, California, <> and <>. 11 See Ken Burns, Jazz (Burbank, CA, 2000), episode 10.

gabriel solis


In the final section, Saul considers the waning importance of jazz to Americas counter-cultures both the white, hippie culture, which was turning to rock, and the increasingly militant black liberation movement, which turned to R&B, Funk and Soul. For the hippies, freedom came to have different resonances from those it had had at the beginning of the 60s freedom to rather than freedom from is perhaps too simplistic, but gets at the basic shift. Exemplified in the manifesto of John Sinclairs White Panther party, an arm of the Yippies, total freedom looks like an adolescent fantasy (free food, clothes, housing, dope, music, bodies, medical care everything free for everybody, and so on), rather than the more mature community freedom through discipline and hard work in the philosophies and dreams of Martin Luther King or even Charles Mingus (p. 300). For the Black Liberation movement jazz became too abstract and too distant from the vernacular, except for those musicians like Cannonball Adderley who were able to craft a compelling message within the language of Soul Jazz. If there is a consistent shortcoming with Porters and Sauls work, it is that in both cases a great deal of time and space is dedicated to the usual suspects Ellington, Gillespie, Mingus, Coltrane, Marsalis and significantly less to less wellknown figures. It might be equally reasonable, and more charitable, to say that the two books create a compelling framework that cries out for more detailed study to round out the picture of jazz history and particularly the history of jazz musicians as thinkers in their own right with studies of other, more obscure artists (Saul, p. 336). Ben Looker and Steven Isoardi have taken up that challenge, in Point from which Creation Begins: The Black Artists Group of St Louis and The Dark Tree: Jazz and the Community in Los Angeles respectively. The two books chronicle the histories of two of the most important and significantly under-appreciated avant-garde jazz collectives of the 1960s, 70s and beyond the BAG in St Louis and the UGMAA in Los Angeles. Each moves beyond music-theoretical or sociological explanations characteristic of older analyses of the avant-garde (such as Ekkehard Josts Free Jazz or Frank Kofskys Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music), to tie together analyses of musical style, community activity (some of which was explicitly political) and musicians intellectual activity.12 In Point from which Creation Begins Ben Looker traces the brief but storied history of the Black Artists Group, an avant-garde multimedia artists collective active in and around St Louis, Missouri, from 1968 to 1972. As Looker says, the history of the BAG per se is largely unknown, even to many other avant-gardists, but its members have gone on significantly to impact their respective arts: Oliver Lake, Julius Hemphill, Baikida Carroll and Hamiet Bluiett in music; writers Malink Elliott, Ajul Rutlin and Shirley LeFlore; Georgia Collins and Katherine Dunham in dance; and in the visual arts Emilio Cruz and Oliver Jackson. For a variety of reasons all of these artists found St Louis a copacetic setting for a brief time, and all had to relocate at some point in order to fulfil their artistic visions. Looker might suggest that, like a river, the arts scene in St Louis had eventually to merge with the ocean; or perhaps, like a tree, it had to send its seeds off on the wind to fertilize distant lands; or perhaps, like a train, the arts scene chugged inexorably towards switching stations on the East Coast where its cars would be uncoupled and sent off on other branch lines. In fact, if there is one significant shortcoming of this book, it is the authors maddening determination to use every hackneyed metaphor, simile

Ekkehard Jost, Free Jazz (Graz, 1974); Kofsky, Black Nationalism (see above, note 7).


review article

and figure of speech that comes to mind. At points a more straightforward narration would be welcome. In Chapters 1 and 2 Looker presents a pair of backdrops that together help explain the emergence of this music in this place at this time: the musically challenging but nurturing environment of St Louis, and the confluence of arts and politics that was the late-60s Black Power and Black Arts movements and federal and local governmental urban renewal projects. St Louis had been important in African-American music for some decades by the time the BAG emerged. Not quite Southern and not quite Midwestern, the city was the home of Scott Joplin, Chuck Berry, Miles Davis and many others over the years, demonstrating that it could produce and to some extent support musicians with a special talent for pushing genre boundaries in the attempt to reach audiences with serious music. Looker notes in particular that the combination of a thriving live-music scene focused primarily on Rhythm and Blues and jazz, and a legacy of top-quality music education in the public schools, typified St Louiss black neighbourhoods. This meant that aspiring young musicians had the resources to learn and practise their craft formally, in the classroom, during the day and informally, on the bandstand, at night. It also meant that the musicians who would go on to form the BAG had backgrounds in and appreciation of both vernacular and classical music. Finally, Looker sees the construction of Laclede Town, a mixed-income housing project in the heart of the city that drew together many of the citys artists and bohemians, as a decisive moment, creating a sense of community that would be fundamental to the BAGs artistic and social vision. The BAG developed in the midst of a surprising overlap of ideas: the Black Arts movement, which advocated an Afrocentric, community, grass-roots model for the creation of alternative arts in both form and socio-economic structure, emerged at essentially the same time as governmental bodies started to see the arts as a tool to encourage black assimilation. Looker describes these apparently conflicting ideologies as surprisingly symbiotic: The proliferation of community arts organizations in the mid- and late 1960s converged with money available through the federal governments War on Poverty, city agencies, or private foundations and corporations (p. 36).13 Ultimately, however, this symbiosis was, as Looker puts it, fragile. The BAG originated in a city riven by the clashes of the Black Power era. Its members drew artistic energy from their participation in the struggle for black liberation, often through organizations such as the Zulu 1200s and the Black Liberators, which organized and carried out acts of civil disobedience and occasionally advocated outright revolution. Though the BAG was not itself politically affiliated (a theme of sorts for avant-garde arts organizations), it generally supported precisely the sorts of activities that funding agencies hoped it would obviate and supplant. BAG came into being, officially, in 1969, with a substantial, $100,000 grant and the commitment of a number of full-time artists-in-residence. As such, it had an easier path to formal incorporation than did many other, similar organizations. Chapters 35 chronicle the heady first two years of the BAGs existence, the artists associated with it, and their game attempt to create an avant-garde base of expression

Iain Anderson provides a broader discussion of avant-garde jazz musicians and the development of nonprofit funding models in Jazz Outside the Marketplace: Free Improvisation and Nonprofit Sponsorship of the Arts, 19651980, American Music, 20 (2002), 13167.

gabriel solis


that would be at one and the same time tied to the citys high-art world universities, critics and so forth as well as speaking to and for the working-class black community living in the citys core housing projects. The BAG was, for a time, surprisingly successful at navigating this double life. Its directors set up a base of operations in a building near the Laclede Town development that nurtured it in its early phase, and near the citys major public housing projects, Darst-Webbe and Pruitt-Igoe, but also near the Powell Symphony Hall and St Louis University, one of two major universities anchoring the arts in the city. Unlike many jazz organizations (Tribe in Detroit, UGMAA in Los Angeles, the AACM in Chicago, the JAG and CAB in New York, or the Jazz Workshop and Sun Ras Arkestra), the BAG managed to be fairly evenly multimedia. Most avantgarde jazz musicians had at least some interest in other arts theatre and poetry especially and an interest generally in mixed-media performances; but organizations usually kept the other arts on the sidelines, for the most part. The BAG, during its height, maintained equal constituent wings for music, dance, drama, writing and visual art. It is hard now to know exactly what was happening musically in the BAG, because so little of their music is available in commercial or even bootleg recordings, and this problem is that much more significant for the other arts. Chapbooks of poetry and reproductions of art give some impression of those works, but particularly in dance and drama one is left only with tantalizing stills, scripts (which are not terribly useful, given the importance of improvisation in the BAGs theatre pieces) and descriptions by various performers and witnesses. Looker regularly has recourse to the caveat that much of the material was compelling at the time, but may seem dated now. For instance, discussing Prayer Meeting, a play criticizing the black churchs equivocal voice on civil rights issues, he says:
Although outside the context of contemporary events Caldwells play loses much of the power it might once have had, when the small BAG contingent produced the work during a July 1969 worship service at Berea Presbyterian Church it spoke directly to the issues of the moment (p. 110).

It seems that the BAG advocated, by and large, an aesthetics of action and the moment, so that weathering the passage of time was insignificant in comparison with impacting the present; and they were often successful in creating that impact. Performance pieces, such as Poem for a Revolutionary Night, were significantly connected to large-scale social justice actions, like the public housing rent strike at Pruitt-Igoe. Perhaps even more importantly, the BAG building became a community hub, offering, in addition to performances, arts classes open to the surrounding community, with the explicit goal of instilling a sense of self-confidence, self-reliance and ultimately self-sufficiency in young black St Louisans. The BAG may have been distinguished by the importance of other arts to its mission but, as Looker says, [its] music would always be its most striking calling card to the outside world (p. 142). BAG musicians developed a distinctive sound, integrating their backgrounds in jazz, R&B and classical music neatly, but never seamlessly, into a crazy-quilt pastiche. Indeed, their music played up the seams, emphasizing disjuncture at times for dramatic effect. The collective had a regular rehearsal big band that was dedicated to reading the compositions of its members, but in performance they were much more likely to make use of odd, ad hoc collections of instruments. Performing without a rhythm section in particular became a signature of sorts for the group, which focused on the creative energies of saxophonists


review article

Oliver Lake, Julius Hemphill and Hamiet Bluiett, trumpeters Baikida Carroll and Floyd LeFlore, and trombonist Joseph Bowie (whose brother Lester was a founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago). In the section dealing with music, one is particularly vexed at how hard it can be to get a sense of what the music itself sounded like. Looker dedicates relatively little space to close analysis of musical works, which is reasonable, given the books focus on the organization per se; but the tantalizing few glimpses of pieces like Dogon A.D., Collected Poem for Blind Lemon Jefferson or The Orientation of Sweet Willie Rollbar make one long to hear the pieces in one or another version. The version of Collected Poem recorded as a duet by K. Curtis Lyle and Julius Hemphill in 1971 is remarkable for the intensity and sense of compelling form created by nothing but a poet and flute/sax combination; surely others offer lasting musical pleasures. Later recordings by the groups members, particularly in their incarnation as the World Sax Quartet, are among the most interesting avant-garde jazz performances (challenging yet accessible, abstract yet always groovy), but even these can be tricky to find, many of them not yet reissued on CD. In a future edition, Lookers book would benefit tremendously from the inclusion of a companion recording making some of this material available, in some cases perhaps for the first time.14 The final two chapters follow the BAG musicians out of St Louis, first to Europe (mainly Paris), and then to their seminal role in helping create the loft jazz scene in Downtown Manhattan in the mid 1970s. Europe seems, as Looker puts it, to be an interlude for the BAG musicians. Unlike the AACM, whose musicians, especially the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Anthony Braxton, found European audiences thirsty for their music, the BAG got less-than-spectacular reception at first in Paris. Looker offers a nuanced discussion of the reception, good and bad, of Midwestern, black avant-gardists in Europe in the early 1970s, taking note of the arc of waxing and waning shock value the music carried at one time and place or another, differences between European and American race relations, the impact of slowing economies in both Europe and the US, and the history of primitivism as an artistic orientation in Paris particularly. In any case, the BAGs brief stay in Paris and Sweden in 1972 and 73 served as a useful transition out of St Louis, which was no longer economically or politically conducive to the BAG, and out of the BAG itself, which, in the wake of internal disputes over politics and the organizations mission, had an atmosphere that was growing increasingly toxic (p. 189). Returning from Europe, most of the BAGs musicians relocated, gradually, to lower Manhattan, where they took up an important role in rejuvenating that citys avant-garde jazz scene. Looker makes the case that precisely the skills and approaches that St Louis had forced the BAG to hone allowed them to take on roles at the forefront of New Yorks scene. In St Louis, which had no infrastructure for supporting avant-garde jazz (no nightclubs that catered to a bohemian clientele, no promoters interested in developing an audience for edgy material, no radio stations willing to programme work that pushed the envelope, no recording studios or labels willing, still less able, to document the burgeoning scene and distribute recordings to consumers outside the immediate area), the BAG had done these things themselves, with varied levels of success. The BAG itself had acted as venue and promoter, Julius Hemphill had created Mbari Records to produce and

The book would also benefit from a useful index. The index as it stands is woefully inadequate, totalling only four and a half pages for a roughly 300-page book.

gabriel solis


distribute his own music, and drummer Charles Bobo Shaw had established Universal Justice Records along with Jim and Carol Marshall in order to bypass the gangsters, mind molders, and soul destroyers in the main offices of New York and to get around interfering obstacles between the source of sound and the ear that hears it (p. 163). In New York this sort of experience translated into an energy for establishing performance venues, promoting concerts and festivals, overseeing recordings and generally bypassing the industry status quo in order to ensure opportunities for musical expression. The story of the BAG is a cautionary tale, in part, of the difficulty of maintaining an avant-garde arts organization dedicated to community arts with a radical political orientation, necessarily outside the industrys economic model; but it is a hopeful tale, as well. In Lookers words,
The [BAGs] history suggests ways that a collaborative and community-based approach to creativity can energize both artist and audience. In particular, its experience tells us about the potential links between the arts and individual neighborhoods, social struggles, and efforts at particular kinds of institution-building (p. 248).

If this is true of the BAG, Steven Isoardis lovingly detailed history of the UGMAA in Los Angeles offers even more. UGMAA, or the Union of Gods Musicians and Artists Ascension (first UGMA, or Underground Musicians Association, and later UGMAA, a name that is dense with reference and association to the divine, to John Coltrane, to such transcendent values as unity and artistry), and its performing group, the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra (PAPA), are in some ways the most successful and the least well-known of all the 1960s and 70s Black Arts-orientated avant-garde jazz collectives. UGMAA was and is successful inasmuch as it has been able to create a space and opportunities for musicians to explore and create jazz at the cutting edge for more than four decades, while developing and retaining a devoted, grass-roots, working-class community audience in South Central Los Angeles; but it is precisely because it has so doggedly maintained its community orientation playing generally for free, eschewing the industry recording model, and promoting itself first and foremost within the South Central community that the collective has had virtually no profile on a national or international scale. This, despite the fact that a number of its members and adjuncts have gone on to significance in jazz more broadly Arthur Blythe, for instance, and even more notably, Stanley Crouch. Isoardi begins by situating the UGMAA within the social context of Los Angeles in the twentieth century, and more broadly in a tradition of communitarianism that stretches back through antebellum America and the slave era, and back into West and West Central African social ethics. While the section on the place of music in African social life is slim and disappointingly general, the linkage between avant-garde jazz collectivization and a history of communal self-help in AfricanAmerican society is an important issue. Isoardi mentions the importance of fraternal (and sororal) organizations and benevolent societies for emerging African-American civic life during the period of reconstruction, and could draw the linkage even more firmly from those, through organizations like the Clef Club in early twentieth-century New York, on up through UGMAA and its contemporaries. Also of note here: Isoardi quite nicely points out the ways in which changes to the social structure were not always in the interests of the black community. For instance,


review article

the movement to eliminate segregated Locals within the American Federation of Musicians . . . provided more opportunities to a few black musicians and offered expanded union benefits for all. But this movement also sacrificed the cultural and social centers that the black Locals offered without providing a replacement (p. 12).

Los Angeles, like St Louis, provided the backdrop of a thriving black-music scene, centred on Central Avenue, particularly in the Watts Township, and a public education system that trained generations of young black musicians; but, unlike St Louis, its scale was enormous, and the challenges of simply being heard could be overwhelming. The impression one gets from the history narrated here (by Isoardi, but also by the dozens of musicians he interviewed) is that out of this mix of opportunity and challenge Horace Tapscott moulded a lasting organization through sheer charisma and vision. From the very beginning the story of the UGMAA is remarkable. In 1961 Tapscott, as a young man, had been hired to play with Lionel Hamptons band, and one morning, preparing to go on tour, literally sitting on the bus, he had an epiphany that the whole structure of the commercial music industry was fundamentally in opposition to his personal values community, home, mutual respect and so on. Having had that awakening, Tapscott simply got off the bus, walked home, and set in motion the beginnings of an alternative. The story of the UGMAA should be inspiring to anyone with a belief in community arts and concern for the ongoing problems of the Wests underclasses. South Central, including the township of Watts, was, like Harlem and Chicagos South Side, an important mixed-income black community, with substantial middle and working classes, until the second half of the twentieth century. In the late 50s life began to change dramatically, with a perfect storm of urban decay: with the massive development of suburbia after the Second World War and the rise of the service-sector economy, middle- and upper-class residents were able to move to newer neighbourhoods (the corollary of White Flight); at the same time the industrial economy began to unravel slowly, siphoning off high-paying labour jobs, decimating the working class; finally, the influx of drugs that began in the 1960s intensified in the 1970s and 80s, in part driven by CIA activity in Latin America, creating a highly developed criminal industry and leaving a vast lumpenproletariat or underclass, massive violence and a police-state-like relationship between residents and authorities. Through all of this Tapscott remained committed to being the musical voice of his community, living there, eating there, shopping there and so on. In fact, the basic point of this book must be that deeply challenging music can have a large, sympathetic working-class audience, if the members of that audience do not feel condescended to if they feel that the music comes out of their experience and serves their needs. Unlike New York avant-gardists, who lamented the loss of black audiences while living in the Village instead of Harlem, working entirely within the white-owned and -managed recording industry and network of performance venues, Tapscott built grass-roots support for equally avant-garde music. The organization was not without its setbacks over the years, but each was somehow overcome or simply outlasted. The PAPA was not always able to find adequate funding, given that it generally played for free. The group was supported at times by local funding agencies, but was repeatedly frustrated in its attempts to secure a sustaining grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (the agency that provided necessary funds for the BAG) (pp. 1989, 239). Instead, dedicated supporters took up the slack, offering money and help in kind at crucial moments.

gabriel solis


Most notably, Marla Gibbs, the actress who had been successful as Florence on the television show The Jeffersons, has been an important supporter since the 1970s. At an important juncture Gibbs helped the group gain non-profit status, and bought a building and printing business that allowed UGMAA to flourish, offering classes to the community in addition to supporting PAPA performances (pp. 182, 1845). The group almost never found enthusiastic support for recording in the mainstream industry, or even with specialized record labels. However, because the UGMAA took it upon itself to document many of their performances and when possible produced its own studio recordings, a remarkable body of music exists today to demonstrate the successes and failures of the group. Isoardi and the University of California Press have done a great service by including a CD of representative recordings with the book. At its best, the PAPA provides extended grooveand vamp-based jams that showcase the collective and solo improvisations of its members; other approaches, especially the work of the Voice of UGMAA choir, translate less sympathetically from live performance to recorded document. If there is one shortcoming of the book, it is that Isoardi has so much material, such detailed oral histories and archival documents, that big threads occasionally get lost. This is most obvious in the discussion of what was apparently the most significant setback of the groups tenure, nearly leading to its total dissolution. In 1977 the Arkestra was to attend and perform at the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) in Lagos, Nigeria, but for unknown and mysterious reasons members were not given travel visas and at the last minute the group had to cancel the trip. It sounds disappointing, but was apparently devastating. Isoardi describes it as a rupture in UGMAAs expansive days of the mid1970s, and notes that the disappointment and anger over missing FESTAC led to the break-up of UGMAAs communal residence at the time, and nearly ended the group as a whole. He quotes long-time member Michael Dett: It crushed us so bad that many people got disillusioned and disappointed from that, because we really built ourselves up for this (p. 175). For all the pathos and portent of this one big disappointment, it comes almost out of nowhere in the books narrative and remains barely explained. Perhaps it felt this way to the musicians a shock wave from out of the blue that remains a little mysterious. Ultimately the group recovered, but still one wants to know more about why one event could have such a major impact. A parallel potential problem is that, as an obvious fan of the UGMAA as an organization and the PAPAs music, Isoardi occasionally misses opportunities to level a critical eye at its discourse. This is most strongly felt in the comparison with books like Porters and Sauls, which so carefully dissect the political and social construction of jazz intellectuals thinking. For instance, a feminist-inspired reading of the UGMAAs history might ask what the position of women in the group was. The answer would almost certainly be nuanced. Tapscott relied heavily on women like Gibbs and Linda Hill, a nurse and musician/arranger for the PAPA, who supplied the first communal house that served as rehearsal space and crash pad for the early incarnation of the UGMAA. He appears to have given back in equal measure support and respect. Tapscotts Arkestra also seems to have been more genderintegrated than most other avant-garde (or mainstream, for that matter) jazz groups at the time. Nonetheless, women seem to have been integrated as nurturing, caretaking figures as much as for their musical contributions. The description of flautist Adele Sebastian hints at this:


review article

of the hundreds of individuals who passed through UGMAA, perhaps the most treasured was flutist and vocalist Adele Sebastian, recruited at sixteen. In an organization of unique individuals, she stood out not only for her artistic merits but perhaps more importantly for her qualities of character, her benevolence, sincerity, compassion, and ability to inspire (p. 150).

I do not intend to suggest that the organization was sexist, unsupportive of women, or otherwise anti-feminist; only that an examination of the ways underlying, community-wide discourses may have structured or been resisted in (or both) the social life of the UGMAA and PAPA, as undertaken in Porters and Sauls work, would be welcome at least in some small measure here. That said, Isoardis commitment to Tapscotts work is, on balance, to his credit rather than his detriment. He has been able to get more deeply and broadly into the life of the UGMAA than many writers dealing with better-known subjects do, and on that basis has told a compelling story. In a sense, this is the best reason to do small-scale, local history: it affords the opportunity to know intimately the subject matter and to tell a history that would otherwise go entirely unnoticed. Isoardi chooses to give the final word in his book to a member of the UGMAA, Roberto Miranda, who describes himself as a bassist/composer/love-to-be-conguero, who played music with Horace Tapscott for more than thirty years (p. 293). This sort of move, including the unedited (or apparently unedited) voice of a studys subject, is not uncommon in contemporary anthropology, but is found less in historical writing. It is not always successful, but here it works nicely. Isoardi does not always deal in a satisfying way with questions of musical form and aesthetics, but Miranda, as a practitioner of the music, provides a welcome counterpoint, delving into both how and why the band made the music it did. What these four books show together is that jazz historiography is maturing. The field of study began in earnest in the US as the work of amateur jazz aficionados, most of whom were also writers of liner notes and often connected in some way with the recording industry. It showed a pronounced tilt towards hagiographical, great man themes, New Criticism-inspired musical analysis and discography. While much of this work was valuable in collecting data and documenting the tradition, it remained limited in scope almost of necessity. Building on that work, Krin Gabbards seminal Jazz among the Discourses, contemporaneous works, and the flowering of jazz historical writing since then (David Akes Jazz Cultures, Sherrie Tuckers Swing Shift and Guthrie Ramseys Race Music, for instance), Isoardi, Looker, Saul and Porter follow out two equally important, complementary historiographical threads.15 Porter and Saul tend to focus principally on the same great figures that older writers have considered (though both make significant space for others Abbey Lincoln and Oscar Brown, Jr, for instance), but both expand the range of ideas and approaches applied to the music. In both books the subject is radically transformed from hero-worship to the consideration of musics meaning to the larger culture as a result of the work of these major (and minor) figures. Looker and Isoardi are less theoretically focused, and instead expand our understanding of the field of jazz and art in America more generally by the detailed investigation of local, small-scale histories of music and musicians who have otherwise

Ake, Jazz Cultures (see above, note 9); Sherrie Tucker, Swing Shift: All-Girl Bands of the 1940s (Durham, NC, 2000); Guthrie Ramsey, Jr, Race Music (Berkeley, CA, 2003); Jazz among the Discourses, ed. Gabbard (see above, note 5).

gabriel solis


been almost totally ignored by earlier writers, despite their importance to the tradition. Each of these approaches is important, but their full significance appears when read together: the theories amplify the micro-histories, and the new historical knowledge allows a more sophisticated reading of the theory. There is also an attempt in each book (though it is most pronounced, and probably works best, in Porter) to integrate musical analysis a welcome sign of dtente between historical/ theoretical and music-analytical approaches to musicology. Still, more discussion of music would be a worthwhile goal. Somehow it seems important that this development is taking place with a particular focus on the avant-garde in the long 1960s. These authors is not the only historical work being conducted on this music Iain Andersons article in American Music in 2002 (see above, note 13) detailed funding models in the avant-garde since the 60s, and Ingrid Monsons forthcoming history of jazz in the 60s will deal with the avant-garde in some detail, among others. It seems significant that so much interesting work should be given over to understanding cutting-edge music in the US between 1955 and 1975 (a very long 1960s, one might say). On the one hand, it is close enough and yet not too close: American culture is still more deeply coloured by the events of this period than any other, but we are just getting enough historical distance to try to understand it with some measure of objectivity. This accounts for the periods importance not only in jazz historiography, but in many avenues of inquiry in American academia. On the other hand, it is a compelling moment for jazz in particular: at least in the US, it is the last time that acoustic, small-group jazz was part of the vernacular for a large number of Americans, and changes that happened over the course of those 20 years seem to have set the stage for Fusion, the neo-classical movement of the 80s and 90s, and jazzs movement into the upper echelons of American art music. The avant-garde may never have had a massive audience, but its impact on jazz and its image in American culture was dramatic and long-lasting. These four books go a long way towards explaining that, and as such should be required reading for anyone interested in jazz.