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Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 131 no. 2 331–349
Avant-Gardism, the ‘Long 1960s’ and Jazz Historiography
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 Ain’t: 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 Locke’s 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 everyone’s, America’s and the world’s; 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 Porter’s 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 Ain’t, 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), 216–24 (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
Though the responses and answers to the question change over time. Jr. Charles Mingus. but Porter suggests that this orientation has its limitations: even astute. ‘creative musicians’ of the 1960s and 70s avant-garde. both look closely at avant-garde music and arts collectives. While older approaches to jazz have tended to focus exclusively on either musical form or biography. a vehicle for individual and communal identity formation. it remains a centrepiece for both. jazz musicians seem to be constantly engaged in a struggle between the polar attractions of celebrating black accomplishment and avoiding the minstrel mask. even when analyzing the meaning and significance of their music (p. a focal point for political and social debate. Henry Louis Gates. On the subject of race. Following this. and. Porter shows how in each instance musicians build similar relationships with the compelling intellectual issues of their times. by the 1920s the music had already become ‘a business enterprise. but who listens to it? Additionally. and a set of institutional relationships. an idea’ (p. The four books also offer perspectives on the jazz avant-garde of the 1960s and 70s that raise interesting questions about that music’s place in jazz more generally. African-American jazz musicians have repeatedly been in danger of having 2 Henry Louis Gates. Looker and Isoardi deal only tangentially with other aspects of the jazz world. What is remarkable is that.332 review article Looker. building on a number of significant predecessors. Jr’s 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. and finally Wynton Marsalis). Porter begins in the 1920s. Interestingly. 1988). xvii). The Signifyin(g) Monkey: A Theory of African American Literary Criticism (New York. . while jazz emerged only in the first two decades of the twentieth century. 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. 6). 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 music’s place in people’s listening habits (then and now) and the place the music has in the historical literature? We love to write about it. Abbey Lincoln and jazz singers in the 1960s. by Steven Isoardi. seldom devote much attention to musicians’ ideas. looks at how musicians themselves addressed these other aspects of what jazz was and is. Porter.2 Gates’s ideas have been so thoroughly integrated into the discourse on jazz as to have become an orthodoxy. one has to ask: did or does avant-garde jazz have some other kind of broad or even narrow impact on jazz at large. Though both Saul and Porter address things besides the 60s and 70s avant-garde. some of whom describe black music as an intellectual activity. but as commentators and theorists about music and its place in social life. politically committed scholars working in African American or black intellectual and cultural history. in a series of cases (beboppers. considering how jazz musicians placed themselves with regard to the ‘New Negro’ intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance. and The Dark Tree. the basic fault lines remain similar throughout the various times. Porter makes an interesting intervention here. eventually. which complicates studies of jazz that take ‘signifyin(g)’ as its primary metacommunicative mode.
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. Musicians from James Reese Europe and W. For Europe. though in different ways. largely because jazz was barely commodified during his lifetime. p. For Ellington. For Armstrong. English. and ‘Swing’ ‘represented both the artistic possibilities of jazz and the contributions of African American musicians’ (p. The writers of the Harlem Renaissance were largely. To him ‘Jazz’ represented the co-opted. New York. the distinction was between ‘trashy. p. These problems were compounded by the culture industry and the addition of questions about artists’ agency (pp. ‘racial’ genius and individual. there is an aesthetic and historiographical tradition that lauds the supposedly universal and denigrates as ‘lesser’ the particular in music. 43). no opportunity to perform live outside their immediate communities. where race (and racism) is ever-present. writing in his magnum opus. As Porter points out. On the one hand. 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. popular jazz [and] fine swing music’ (p. Handy to Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington all addressed this set of issues. though in apparently contradictory ways. not so much because of the perception of it as vernacular (most black intellectuals at the time were influenced by Franz Boas’s theory of cultural relativism). so that the German tradition of roughly 1750–1900 could be ‘music’ and anything else from the time – Czech. C. 43). 24). commodification was relatively insignificant. In a remarkable bit of prescience. 1956). though not uniformly. Interestingly. the answer was to celebrate jazz as a product at once of black collective. watered-down commodity. Armstrong and Ellington. Blues: An Anthology. suspicious of jazz. but which introduces an endless series of constraints.gabriel solis 333 expressions of pride in the achievements of the race read as limiting the universality of their work. in contrast.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. misrepresentations and misrecognitions. to the perfection of the Teutonic race (see Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. but because it was a commodity. Philosophy of History (1899). ‘Jazz’ was ‘an original and authentic form’. 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. by the 30s. One might celebrate black cultural distinctiveness as a means of subverting segregation or biologically based ideas of black inferiority. 13–14). would use the recording industry’s own marketing labels to assert some form of agency in their own self-presentation. trans. John Sibree. fundamentally. and ‘Swing’ was the banal product of a culture industry in which ‘genuine values became distorted and false ones set up in their places’ 3 A number of issues underlie this aesthetic problem. ‘Oriental’. In America. This eerily echoes Hegel’s description of the progression of human history from savagery to civilization shown in the ranking of societies from Native American through African. . Roman and French. French and so forth – could be ‘national traditions’. the dialectic between universal and particular is often driven by racist assumptions when it comes to black artists. two outspoken musicians. no network for their distribution. For Handy. 12). ‘self-conscious artistic exploration’ (Porter. no income). In the 1920s the problems of race and economics intertwined in anxieties over the commodification of jazz as ‘swing’.
Lincoln and Mingus make a particularly interesting pair (in comparison with other outspoken. While they shared a commitment to a racialized liberation politics. 51–2). is the connection between Bop and socio-political activism around issues of race. his band’s aim ‘has always been the development of an authentic Negro music .5 As Langston Hughes put it. and their conflicted relationship with the music’s past (both swing-era jazz and blues) can be understood by noting the musicians’ intellectual backgrounds. ‘Rising black awareness and militancy. . 1961). 50). Eric Lott. most notably in Scott DeVeaux’s The Birth of Bebop. Bop marks the beginnings of a truly avant-garde consciousness among jazz musicians. CA. 117. That’s what Bop is. BE-BOP! . Krin Gabbard (Durham. from its practitioners’ use of a wide array of musical influences – high and low. 1997). Them young colored kids who started it. they know what bop is. There is relatively little in this portion of Porter’s book that will come as a surprise to readers versed in recent jazz historical literature. 90. producers. ‘Double V. Porter brings his analysis of jazz musicians’ intellectual activity into the long 1960s. fostered a certain kind of oppositional consciousness among African Americans from different social backgrounds. an internationalist perspective. “BOP!BOP! . 61). this led to ‘maintaining a strong sense of identity as African Americans while embracing a cosmopolitan approach to life and art’. As a major historical juncture (DeVeaux describes it as a fulcrum or balance point in the music’s history).4 The most important narrative for understanding the emergence of this avant-garde orientation. ‘Every time a cop hits a Negro with his Billy club. . BOP”. MOP! . The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History (Berkeley. sacred and profane – to their ambivalent relationship to politics in a material or ideological sense. Quoted in Porter. Jazz among the Discourses. and to ‘the rejection of cultural boundaries. and as much an attempt to respond creatively to particular market pressures as it was anti-establishment manifesto. Double Time: Bebop’s Politics of Style’. . . These same concerns characterize modern jazz musicians’ ideas about Bebop in the 1940s. roughly the period between 1958 and 1970. and a dissatisfaction with the limitations of racial identities. The Best of Simple (New York. Ellington ultimately opted out. Porter sets out to expand on the framework for understanding Bop by noting that everything about modern jazz in the 1940s. summed up neatly in Eric Lott’s article ‘Double V. 1. 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. NC. .334 review article (p. . What is this Thing Called Jazz?. a genuine contribution from our race’ (pp. arguing that Bop was as much a reasonable outgrowth of swingera jazz as it was musical revolution. .’6 DeVeaux’s analysis considers in more detail what the musicians who created Bop were actually doing and demythologizes a number of cherished stories. 1995). In two chapters dedicated to Charles Mingus and Abbey Lincoln. This period has been written about extensively. .’ Most notably. 243–55. that old club says. combined with shifting class relations. their experiences with the jazz industry – record companies. before DeVeaux’s work at least. . arguing that beyond such terminological considerations. but the value of it lies principally in the ways Porter is able to bridge musicians’ ideas from the period 1920–45 with those from the 50s and later by focusing attention on his particular interpretation of Bebop. tout court’ (p. Double Time: Bebop’s Politics of Style’. ed. fellow musicians and critics – and their engagement 4 5 Scott DeVeaux. 6 Langston Hughes. In any case.
but she was also inescapably . that Porter never discusses Mingus’s particular position as a person of racially mixed background. lends political and spiritual purpose to African American music. Mingus’s music and words were part of ‘a continual struggle to reconcile his music. Porter’s 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. from their different genders. Becoming a ‘jazz’ singer. not surprisingly. but ultimately found not just the term ‘jazz’. In the process. As Porter so clearly demonstrates. articulates militant and universalist philosophies. Mingus’s most important legacy for the jazz world – aside. because it required Lincoln to reconcile with Billie Holiday’s legacy. he was proud of the accomplishments of his musical forebears. be understood as another of Mingus’s interventions in the jazz discourse . because he was prolific as a composer. however. Like many African-American musicians before him. . Mingus makes an ideal sort of subject for a study like Porter’s. from his music – is an open. and depths of angry. 139). philosopher and memoirist. which stemmed at least in part. . recording artist. paranoid vitriol. spiritual purpose. but the genre-circumscribed creativity it describes. For Lincoln the label ‘jazz’ was important because it carried explicit connections to a world of great black artistry. . criticizes music industry practices. however. and at the same time articulating a womanist vision was inherently problematic.gabriel solis 335 with the idea of the jazz tradition were different in important ways. and ponders the parameters of race in American society. Elsewhere Porter’s 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. Beneath the Underdog. [He] considers the place of jazz in American society. obviously. and artistry’ (p. and because he was haunted by demons that drove him to heights of artistic innovation and selfdetermination. Mingus was spectacular in every aspect of his public persona. While gender can serve as a useful critical lens for understanding the social meanings of the whole history of jazz with which he engages. 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. and a musician of arguably unequalled accomplishment (even today). 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. class. Connecting what otherwise seems little more than an over-the-top fantasy of sex and violence to Mingus’s larger struggle towards fulfilment and self-determination as an artist is admirable. Porter says: Beneath the Underdog can . Holiday was clearly the most important model of a jazz singer at the time. albeit one dominated by androcentric rhetoric and practices. Porter deals well with the sensational and easily sensationalized self-presentation that Mingus crafted in his 1971 autobiography. Porter notes that the book ‘is crucial for demonstrating how Mingus’s aesthetic sensibility. It is surprising. given the extended meditation on Mingus and the question of race. . his identity. and his position in the society in which he lived’. as limitations. as opposed to a ‘pop’ singer. cutting critique of the racist practices of the music industry. . and critical perspective were channeled through codes of masculinity as well as through race.
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. See. canonical masters. Documents like Anthony Braxton’s Tri-axium Writings and Albert Ayler’s Ghosts remain challenging. 1970). He does an exemplary job of showing not only that connection. of course. It has been generally understood that such was the case for the avant-garde since the late 60s (indeed. in songs like My Man. fittingly enough. Far from the lone voices howling in the wilderness that they might appear at first glance to be. following Antonio Gramsci. Jazz Cultures (Berkeley. it is quite another fully to understand the often scattered statements that make up that intellectual activity. 146–76. Porter’s 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. deal with similar issues with regard to the 1960s and 70s jazz avant-garde. 334–8 and 339–50. such as those by Frank Kofsky or Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones). Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music (New York. 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. canon-builders and avantgardists. we see that issues relating to musicians’ roles as intellectuals.336 review article tied to the poetics of feminine subjugation and suffering. 1963). The greatest strength of Porter’s 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. Happiness is a Thing Called Joe. ‘What Jazz Is – and Isn’t’ and ‘Wynton vs. It is one thing to assert rather vaguely that jazz musicians are vanguard figures. CA. for instance. class and gender (in discourse and practice) are consistent over the years. or even ‘organic intellectuals’. Again. Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones). 2002). notably David Ake in his consideration of the two meanings of the word ‘standards’ for the musician. Robert Walser (New York. 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. 7 8 9 Frank Kofsky. but they make more sense in light of Porter’s work here than they might otherwise. their ambivalent relationship to the word ‘jazz’ and to genre circumscription. Porgy.9 Porter’s 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 Marsalis’s own aesthetic philosophy) than has any single source so far. Blues People: Negro Music in White America (New York. 1999). even to the point of caricature in contemporary accounts. ed. and so on. The two chapters that are the heart of Porter’s book. 289). Herbie: The Purist and the Crossbreeder Duke it Out’. 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. and complex thinking about their music’s relationship to the politics of race. Porter’s study ends.8 Others have tried to contextualize Marsalis’s work before. with a look at Wynton Marsalis.7 That said. both reprinted in Keeping Time: Readings in Jazz History. ‘Practicing Creative Music’ and ‘Writing Creative Music’. . David Ake.
xiii). following Ellison. perhaps the central facet. the connections Saul proposes are all documented. rather than suggest that there is a solution to this paradox. noted by Ellison: ‘racial identity is irreducibly felt’. black ain’t’ sermon in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. and its chimerical position in American cultural politics in the late 50s and 60s. the cool. Ultimately.or herself’. Like Porter. class and gender. He builds on the basic paradox of race in American culture. With the historian’s eye for verifiability. the hipster. itself a lingering presence from the 1950s. a cover for power plays and an excuse for complacency . Saul explains this central focus on race. Parts I and II deal with ‘hipsterism’. as Saul calls it. Charles Mingus and John Coltrane. In a refreshing change from much socially orientated musicological writing. and the deep investigation of a single decade on the other) – they are more companions than redundant. Saul suggests that Freedom Is. Saul resists the urge to see jazz as a metaphor for the larger culture or some such other structuralist explanation. . strung-out purveyor of hip. and are all the more compelling for it. but ‘racial identity is the thinnest of fictions. takes (and holds through the book’s many case studies) the position that one should not try to resolve the tension of race’s being and seeming. but by the middle of the decade appears to have become spent and little more than self-caricature. On the one hand. there is a roughly chronological organization. particularly in the chapters dealing with Charles Mingus. but that ‘living with its complexity involve[s] both an act of virtuosity and a commitment to one’s community’ (p. in the explicit aim of understanding jazz musicians’ work as intellectuals per se. the other with the larger culture’s role in the careers of two exemplary figures. Scott Saul connects jazz history to the broad intellectual culture of the 1960s in the United States. of the hipster’s world view – could be seen as a ‘new form of political dissent’. Saul sees this play out across basically racial lines – black . artists and so forth in the culture at large. As the title suggests. explored and meditated on the meaning and practices of liberation. though there is ultimately more consideration of racial discourses than either of the other two. enters the decade poised – at least possibly – to become a powerful oppositional force in the political landscape. 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. and one that stems from his position as a cultural historian rather than a ‘cultural theorist’. irony – which was a central facet. 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. a socially invented check on an individual’s ability to invent him. On the large scale. he focuses on the connections between jazz musicians and other intellectuals. Saul sets up one of the fundamental cultural fault lines of the book. Saul. Freedom Ain’t is basically two books combined: one dealing with jazz’s place in the larger culture.gabriel solis 337 In Freedom Is. the primary thread throughout the book is an exploration of how jazz and jazz musicians suggested. bringing the reader from the early-60s hipster culture. Saul finds a deep mine in the consideration of how this material relates to current questions about race. 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. In addition. There is a good deal of overlap with the intentions of Porter’s work here. 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. . Freedom Ain’t. enshrined in the title’s nodding reference to the ‘Black is. Instead. xiii–xiv). a ‘New Intellectual Vernacular’. In tracing this history.
it became the target of not one. were nearly as short-lived as the Newport riot. Max Roach and Charles Mingus (with the financial support of Elaine Lorrilard. pointing out the basically racist nature of both the Newport riots and the Newport Festival in toto (p. moving. a remarkable (and over time remarkably successful) attempt to reconfigure jazz’s image and economic structure. To this end. moving it to a wealthy. which deals with the Newport Jazz Festival. 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’. a turning away from radical politics. tend to use irony to political ends. 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. RI. predominantly white. Max Roach or Langston Hughes. 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. Newport. 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. this dualism is at its most convincing in Part II. because at the same time as the riot was happening and Mingus was screaming through town in support of his festival.338 review article hipsters. ‘from dialect to dialectics’. 125). garden-party entertainment. was the mother of all jazz festivals. Langston Hughes – long one of America’s most important black literary provocateurs – was in Newport drafting his poem ‘Ask Your Mama’. like Jack Kerouac or Norman Mailer. Hughes works with an African-American vernacular here. The counter-festival and its offspring. The ‘Newport Rebels’ festival. 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. if down-at-heel. in his words. but it was also born in a spirit of hipsterism. however. 1960 must have been a remarkable moment to be in Newport. which George Wein had established in 1954. beyond an unbridled consumerism and sense of entitlement on the part of white college kids. The first of the two was a mass protest by more than 10. resort town. Though undoubtedly too simple to account for many cases. and white hipsters. intimate music’. Wein laid the groundwork for selling jazz to a well-heeled clientele as a sophisticated. like Oscar Brown. As Saul notes. a hip classical music. tend to use it largely as a cop-out. Mingus simply roared through town in a convertible. ‘rather than promote the counterfestival with paid advertising. 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. standing on the seat and shouting “Come to my festival!” (Someone else drove the car)’ (p. it was ‘almost willfully under-capitalized’ and ‘hoped to deliver on the cult promise of jazz as serious. most of them college students. at the same time.000 young. In 1960. 136). the Jazz Artists Guild. By contrast. By taking jazz out of the city. To call this a political event in any sense is generous: the story of the Newport riot – in essence. as the event came to be known. but both counter-cultural. grievances with the festival and its organizers. people. Jr. 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. but two mass protests on the part of hipsters who had rather different. Hughes saw .
racist inequities and constraints on musicians’ expressive palette did not mean that he was always better than the white industry executives he demonized. and were all linked to a larger political programme of combating abuses of a racist society. Still. Debut Records was intent on providing opportunities to experimental young musicians and Mingus’s various projects. Saul is at pains to demonstrate that all of the various interventions in the business side of his career – the Newport counter-festival. it would be a mistake to see Mingus’s various projects as misguided or wholly unsuccessful. and Coltrane strode there with a quiet but overpowering intensity. which use music. The Jazz Workshop was perhaps the most ironic of all of Mingus’s ventures. but ultimately both were the absolute centre of any music with which they were involved. and in Coltrane’s intensely spiritual seeking after transcendence. Musicians took from the till what they felt they were owed. ironic sensibility to assimilate virtually all that was around him. Fables of Faubus and Pithecanthropus erectus. and without a manager overseeing things there was quickly nothing left to cover expenses. 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. thoroughgoing critique of power and the status quo. the money disappeared in a bottom-up. because while it was founded on the premiss of artistic ‘freedom’. Saul focuses on musical works like The Clown. managing Debut Records and so on – were part and parcel of interventions on the artistic side. poetry and on-stage theatrics to drive home a point – each suggesting an artist’s responsibility to speak with an authentic emotional voice. but rather the cutting edge of a serious. Some. That Mingus was critical of unfair business practices. as Saul argues. Mingus berated. running his own publishing company. The Newport counter-festival dissolved largely because no one minded the books carefully. In the end each of them provided an important model for the burgeoning 1960s and 70s avant-garde scene. threatening and at times assaulting them into playing with the specific freedom he prescribed. in Hughes’s work.gabriel solis 339 that the story of the riots was not simply kids running amok. it was also founded on the enormous ego of its leader. berating. ‘but extended to those mature citizens who barred blacks from voting booths. so in place of a top-down model of greed. respectively. For Mingus. Saul is at his best when dealing with the ironies underlying Mingus’s work. like . Interestingly. belittled and blustered his way there. As with the counter-festival. browbeating. Following the theme of freedom that characterizes the book. Saul considers the place of liberation in the work of both musicians – in Mingus’s very politicized pursuit of autonomy in every aspect of his music and career. 142). the former using an eclectic. the constriction of an artist’s emotional and expressive autonomy was intricately linked to the mass-media entertainment industry. decent schools. not so much to create a synthesis as to revel in the power of juxtaposition. Parts III and IV present Charles Mingus and John Coltrane. Mingus himself. much less provide a fair wage to every musician involved (p. hip irony is not an ethical capitulation. Saul notes a commonality between these two musicians that might go unnoticed: both were ultimately musicians whose personal energy totally drove their music. Mingus was notoriously domineering in his dealings with side-men. or perhaps simply anarchic fashion. as paradigms of black expressivity in the 1960s. and Northern suburban neighborhoods’ (p. 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. 126). but to beware of pride and the ultimate downfall it presages.
black audiences to relate to in avant-garde jazz. were also icons of hope to their communities. but this is in spite of – or even predicated on the outright rejection of – his truly ‘out there’ last few recordings. Double quartets. . hip.coltranechurch. to illustrate the virtuosity of Coltrane and Charlie Parker as definitive expressions of their moments. If Mingus’s model of freedom was entirely of this world. Coltrane’s music seems to be entirely consumed with an interior struggle. Liberia from 1960’s Coltrane’s Sound. ironic detachment. While Saul is certainly right to dedicate the time and space to A Love Supreme he does here. was metaphysical. because his vibratoless tone gives us few signals about his interiority. not only for the avant-garde. 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. or the bombings of an Alabama church – one feels one is not hearing about the thing itself. Both. ultimately.saintjohncoltrane. his analysis of Coltrane is made significantly easier by his choosing not to discuss in detail later works – Ascension and Interstellar Space. Mingus appeared to be waging a kind of battle with his enemies. open tonality and atonality. California. in order to maintain the purity of A Love Supreme. but for jazz musicians of all stripes. meandering. noting that both A Love Supreme and the Autobiography of Malcolm X are important new interventions in the history of black autobiographical conversion narratives. sounds amateurish because he is willing to try anything – screeches. long. and the connection with Malcolm X is compelling. Jazz (Burbank. emotional experience of it. <www. to explore the overwhelming virtuosity. meandering runs – that might add to his powers of testimony (p. Parker sometimes sounds ‘amateurish’. Of all the avant-gardists of the 1960s Coltrane is undoubtedly now the most widely known and the most adored (worshipped. Liberia is nicely compared with Dizzy Gillespie’s A Night in Tunisia. but the prevailing mainstream (the intellectual circles around Wynton Marsalis and Stanley Crouch. and the 1964 masterwork A Love Supreme. even). 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. have become absolutely commonplace. Even when he is dealing with external topoi – the connection with newly postcolonial Africa. because he withholds so much. for instance. but not necessarily how he felt. but about Coltrane’s personal. with theatrics of a decidedly exterior sort.340 review article establishing the model of self-publishing. by contrast. the reader is directed to the St John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco. Coltrane’s.com> and <www. extended free jams. ungainly blurts. Parker personifies cool. CA. Coltrane. and Coltrane is his perfect opposite. 2000). noisy. we know through his music what he was thinking at a particular moment.10 He proposes a compelling argument that connects this beatification with that of Malcolm X. by contrast. soul searching and intimacy of Coltrane’s work as a band leader. Saul takes two examples from Coltrane’s work. groove-less performances. codified in Ken Burns’s documentary Jazz) feel the need explicitly to repudiate this work. and so forth are precisely the sorts of musical materials that have been difficult at best for working-class.11 10 For a glimpse of Coltrane’s literal beatification. perhaps because of rather than in spite of their untimely deaths. in Ralph Ellison’s words. episode 10. 11 See Ken Burns. crafting musical expression of almost pure feeling. Coltrane can be excused these sorts of experiments largely because people do not listen to his late albums.org>.
bodies. and all had to relocate at some point in order to fulfil their artistic visions. Kofsky. and in the visual arts Emilio Cruz and Oliver Jackson. more obscure artists (Saul. simile 12 Ekkehard Jost. 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. p. but its members have gone on significantly to impact their respective arts: Oliver Lake. 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. total freedom looks like an adolescent fantasy (‘free food. the history of the BAG per se is largely unknown. It might be equally reasonable. . Julius Hemphill. Ben Looker and Steven Isoardi have taken up that challenge. even to many other avant-gardists. 1974). 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. Missouri. In fact. but gets at the basic shift. If there is a consistent shortcoming with Porter’s and Saul’s work.12 In Point from which Creation Begins Ben Looker traces the brief but storied history of the Black Artists Group. Ajulé Rutlin and Shirley LeFlore. Marsalis – and significantly less to less wellknown figures. which was turning to rock. except for those musicians like Cannonball Adderley who were able to craft a compelling message within the language of ‘Soul Jazz’. As Looker says. For the Black Liberation movement jazz became too abstract and too distant from the vernacular. Coltrane. if there is one significant shortcoming of this book. and so on). 70s and beyond – the BAG in St Louis and the UGMAA in Los Angeles. 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. like a tree. and more charitable. Mingus. music. Funk and Soul. community activity (some of which was explicitly political) and musicians’ intellectual activity. Looker might suggest that. the arts scene in St Louis had eventually to merge with the ocean. Exemplified in the manifesto of John Sinclair’s White Panther party. Baikida Carroll and Hamiet Bluiett in music. hippie culture. from 1968 to 1972. and the increasingly militant black liberation movement. Gillespie. The two books chronicle the histories of two of the most important and significantly under-appreciated avant-garde jazz collectives of the 1960s. 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. For the hippies. it is the author’s maddening determination to use every hackneyed metaphor. housing. note 7).gabriel solis 341 In the final section. dope. Saul considers the waning importance of jazz to America’s counter-cultures – both the white. it is that in both cases a great deal of time and space is dedicated to ‘the usual suspects’ – Ellington. an avant-garde multimedia artists’ collective active in and around St Louis. Each moves beyond music-theoretical or sociological explanations characteristic of older analyses of the avant-garde (such as Ekkehard Jost’s Free Jazz or Frank Kofsky’s Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music). writers Malinké Elliott. like a train. or perhaps. Georgia Collins and Katherine Dunham in dance. clothes. which turned to R&B. For a variety of reasons all of these artists found St Louis a copacetic setting for a brief time. an arm of the Yippies. Free Jazz (Graz. Black Nationalism (see above. medical care – everything free for everybody’. or perhaps. to tie together analyses of musical style. like a river. it had to send its seeds off on the wind to fertilize distant lands. 300). 336).
creating a sense of community that would be fundamental to the BAG’s artistic and social vision. American Music. fragile. in 1969. The BAG originated in a city riven by the clashes of the Black Power era. Chapters 3–5 chronicle the heady first two years of the BAG’s existence. $100. . as Looker puts it. The BAG developed in the midst of a surprising overlap of ideas: the Black Arts movement. and their game attempt to create an avant-garde base of expression 13 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.and late 1960s converged with money available through the federal government’s War on Poverty. As such.13 Ultimately. similar organizations. 131–67. 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. 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. during the day and informally. the artists associated with it. 20 (2002). a mixed-income housing project in the heart of the city that drew together many of the city’s artists and bohemians. 1965–1980’. This meant that aspiring young musicians had the resources to learn and practise their craft formally. it had an easier path to formal incorporation than did many other. however. as a decisive moment. and a legacy of top-quality music education in the public schools. which organized and carried out acts of civil disobedience and occasionally advocated outright revolution. on the bandstand. which advocated an Afrocentric. Looker sees the construction of Laclede Town. grass-roots model for the creation of alternative arts in both form and socio-economic structure. 36). 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. Though the BAG was not itself politically affiliated (a theme of sorts for avant-garde arts organizations). officially. Looker notes in particular that the combination of a thriving live-music scene focused primarily on Rhythm and Blues and jazz.000 grant and the commitment of a number of full-time artists-in-residence. or private foundations and corporations’ (p. at night. the city was the home of Scott Joplin. it generally supported precisely the sorts of activities that funding agencies hoped it would obviate and supplant. emerged at essentially the same time as governmental bodies started to see the arts as a tool to encourage black assimilation. St Louis had been important in African-American music for some decades by the time the BAG emerged. city agencies. Its members drew artistic energy from their participation in the struggle for black liberation. Finally. with a substantial. often through organizations such as the Zulu 1200s and the Black Liberators. community. Chuck Berry. in the classroom. this symbiosis was. Looker describes these apparently conflicting ideologies as surprisingly symbiotic: ‘The proliferation of community arts organizations in the mid. Not quite Southern and not quite Midwestern.342 review article and figure of speech that comes to mind. typified St Louis’s black neighbourhoods. At points a more straightforward narration would be welcome. BAG came into being. Miles Davis and many others over the years.
R&B and classical music neatly. or the Jazz Workshop and Sun Ra’s Arkestra). Darst-Webbe and Pruitt-Igoe. maintained equal constituent wings for music. It is hard now to know exactly what was happening musically in the BAG. for a time. an aesthetics of action and the moment. The collective had a regular rehearsal big band that was dedicated to reading the compositions of its members. ‘[its] music would always be its most striking calling card to the outside world’ (p. The BAG. such as Poem for a Revolutionary Night. The BAG was. but organizations usually kept the other arts on the sidelines. critics and so forth – as well as speaking to and for the working-class black community living in the city’s core housing projects. Performance pieces. surprisingly successful at navigating this double life. 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. ad hoc collections of instruments. UGMAA in Los Angeles. Indeed. writing and visual art. a play criticizing the black church’s equivocal voice on civil rights issues. as Looker says. but particularly in dance and drama one is left only with tantalizing stills. into a crazy-quilt pastiche. Perhaps even more importantly. emphasizing disjuncture at times for dramatic effect. and near the city’s major public housing projects. which focused on the creative energies of saxophonists . their music played up the seams. but never seamlessly. scripts (which are not terribly useful.gabriel solis 343 that would be at one and the same time tied to the city’s high-art world – universities. integrating their backgrounds in jazz. 110). Unlike many jazz organizations (Tribe in Detroit. BAG musicians developed a distinctive sound. Looker regularly has recourse to the caveat that much of the material was compelling at the time. It seems that the BAG advocated. the BAG managed to be fairly evenly multimedia. were significantly connected to large-scale social justice actions. drama. but may seem dated now. but also near the Powell Symphony Hall and St Louis University. like the public housing rent strike at Pruitt-Igoe. the BAG building became a community hub. during its height. discussing Prayer Meeting. by and large. and they were often successful in creating that impact. Performing without a rhythm section in particular became a signature of sorts for the group. the JAG and CAB in New York. Most avantgarde jazz musicians had at least some interest in other arts – theatre and poetry especially – and an interest generally in mixed-media performances. so that weathering the passage of time was insignificant in comparison with impacting the present. one of two major universities anchoring the arts in the city. 142). offering. the AACM in Chicago. given the importance of improvisation in the BAG’s theatre pieces) and descriptions by various performers and witnesses. but in performance they were much more likely to make use of odd. arts classes open to the surrounding community. for the most part. in addition to performances. self-reliance and ultimately self-sufficiency in young black St Louisans. because so little of their music is available in commercial or even bootleg recordings. Its directors set up a base of operations in a building near the Laclede Town development that nurtured it in its early phase. dance. The BAG may have been distinguished by the importance of other arts to its mission but. he says: Although outside the context of contemporary events Caldwell’s play loses much of the power it might once have had. For instance. 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. with the explicit goal of instilling a sense of self-confidence.
Looker dedicates relatively little space to close analysis of musical works. found European audiences thirsty for their music. Julius Hemphill and Hamiet Bluiett. Looker offers a nuanced discussion of the reception. surely others offer lasting musical pleasures. totalling only four and a half pages for a roughly 300-page book. black avant-gardists in Europe in the early 1970s. in some cases perhaps for the first time. Returning from Europe. as Looker puts it. the BAG’s brief stay in Paris and Sweden in 1972 and 73 served as a useful transition out of St Louis. where they took up an important role in rejuvenating that city’s avant-garde jazz scene. had an atmosphere that was growing ‘increasingly toxic’ (p. The BAG itself had acted as venue and promoter. the BAG got less-than-spectacular reception at first in Paris. The version of Collected Poem recorded as a duet by K. which. taking note of the arc of waxing and waning shock value the music carried at one time and place or another. whose musicians.D. one is particularly vexed at how hard it can be to get a sense of what the music itself sounded like. many of them not yet reissued on CD. good and bad. no recording studios or labels willing. to document the burgeoning scene and distribute recordings to consumers outside the immediate area). Looker’s book would benefit tremendously from the inclusion of a companion recording making some of this material available. given the book’s focus on the organization per se. abstract yet always groovy). no radio stations willing to programme work that pushed the envelope. and trombonist Joseph Bowie (whose brother Lester was a founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago). but even these can be tricky to find. In a future edition. Europe seems. the BAG had done these things themselves. gradually. of Midwestern. 189). 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 York’s scene. first to Europe (mainly Paris). still less able. Unlike the AACM. in the wake of internal disputes over politics and the organization’s mission. the impact of slowing economies in both Europe and the US. no promoters interested in developing an audience for edgy material. and then to their seminal role in helping create the ‘loft jazz’ scene in Downtown Manhattan in the mid 1970s. but the tantalizing few glimpses of pieces like Dogon A. which was no longer economically or politically conducive to the BAG. which is reasonable. to be an ‘interlude’ for the BAG musicians. to lower Manhattan. and out of the BAG itself. trumpeters Baikida Carroll and Floyd LeFlore.344 review article Oliver Lake. . In the section dealing with music. particularly in their incarnation as the World Sax Quartet.. especially the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Anthony Braxton. 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. differences between European and American race relations.14 The final two chapters follow the BAG musicians out of St Louis. most of the BAG’s musicians relocated. In St Louis. which had no infrastructure for supporting avant-garde jazz (no nightclubs that catered to a bohemian clientele. In any case. with varied levels of success. and the history of primitivism as an artistic orientation in Paris particularly. Later recordings by the group’s members. Julius Hemphill had created Mbari Records to produce and 14 The book would also benefit from a useful index. 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. are among the most interesting avant-garde jazz performances (challenging yet accessible. The index as it stands is woefully inadequate.
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. In particular. as well. or the Union of God’s Musicians and Artists Ascension (first UGMA. working-class community audience in South Central Los Angeles. for instance. UGMAA. 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. The story of the BAG is a cautionary tale. Steven Isoardi’s lovingly detailed history of the UGMAA in Los Angeles offers even more. social struggles. to such transcendent values as unity and artistry). 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. and back into West and West Central African social ethics. eschewing the industry recording model. through organizations like the Clef Club in early twentieth-century New York. its experience tells us about the potential links between the arts and individual neighborhoods. For instance. and later UGMAA. Stanley Crouch. on up through UGMAA and its contemporaries. the Pan Afrikan People’s Arkestra (PAPA). to John Coltrane. 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. In Looker’s words.gabriel solis 345 distribute his own music. and could draw the linkage even more firmly from those. If this is true of the BAG. 248). a name that is dense with reference and association – to the divine. despite the fact that a number of its members and adjuncts have gone on to significance in jazz more broadly – Arthur Blythe. mind molders. in part. Isoardi mentions the importance of fraternal (and sororal) organizations and benevolent societies for emerging African-American civic life during the period of reconstruction. 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. While the section on the place of music in African social life is slim and disappointingly general. or Underground Musicians Association. but it is precisely because it has so doggedly maintained its community orientation – playing generally for free. while developing and retaining a devoted. This. In New York this sort of experience translated into an energy for establishing performance venues. and its performing group. grass-roots. but it is a hopeful tale. and drummer Charles ‘Bobo’ Shaw had established Universal Justice Records along with Jim and Carol Marshall in order to ‘bypass the gangsters. 163). the linkage between avant-garde jazz collectivization and a history of communal self-help in AfricanAmerican society is an important issue. . The [BAG’s] history suggests ways that a collaborative and community-based approach to creativity can energize both artist and audience. overseeing recordings and generally bypassing the industry status quo in order to ensure opportunities for musical expression. necessarily outside the industry’s economic 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. and efforts at particular kinds of institution-building (p. and even more notably. of the difficulty of maintaining an avant-garde arts organization dedicated to community arts with a radical political orientation. promoting concerts and festivals.
working entirely within the white-owned and -managed recording industry and network of performance venues. But this movement also sacrificed the cultural and social centers that the black Locals offered without providing a replacement (p. Through all of this Tapscott remained committed to being the musical voice of his community. 239). 198–9. 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. provided the backdrop of a thriving black-music scene. dedicated supporters took up the slack. had been hired to play with Lionel Hampton’s band. Tapscott built grass-roots support for equally avant-garde music. The PAPA was not always able to find adequate funding. as a young man. . In fact. finally. 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.and upper-class residents were able to move to newer neighbourhoods (the corollary of White Flight). like Harlem and Chicago’s South Side. given that it generally played for free. middle. creating a highly developed criminal industry and leaving a vast lumpenproletariat or underclass.346 review article the movement to eliminate segregated Locals within the American Federation of Musicians . . sympathetic working-class audience. centred on Central Avenue. Instead. including the township of Watts. the basic point of this book must be that deeply challenging music can have a large. The impression one gets from the history narrated here (by Isoardi. Los Angeles. provided more opportunities to a few black musicians and offered expanded union benefits for all. The organization was not without its setbacks over the years. In 1961 Tapscott. an important mixed-income black community. literally sitting on the bus. walked home. and a public education system that trained generations of young black musicians. until the second half of the twentieth century. at the same time the industrial economy began to unravel slowly. 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. decimating the working class. siphoning off high-paying labour jobs. The story of the UGMAA should be inspiring to anyone with a belief in community arts and concern for the ongoing problems of the West’s underclasses. was. . and set in motion the beginnings of an alternative. unlike St Louis. South Central. preparing to go on tour. shopping there and so on. the influx of drugs that began in the 1960s intensified in the 1970s and 80s. and one morning. Having had that awakening. offering money and help in kind at crucial moments. like St Louis. but each was somehow overcome or simply outlasted. in part driven by CIA activity in Latin America. eating there. but. 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. 12). Tapscott simply got off the bus. mutual respect and so on. with substantial middle and working classes. he had an epiphany that the whole structure of the commercial music industry was fundamentally in opposition to his personal values – community. who lamented the loss of black audiences while living in the Village instead of Harlem. In the late 50s life began to change dramatically. and the challenges of simply being heard could be overwhelming. massive violence and a police-state-like relationship between residents and authorities. living there. home. The group was supported at times by local funding agencies. Unlike New York avant-gardists. From the very beginning the story of the UGMAA is remarkable. particularly in the Watts Township. its scale was enormous.
who supplied the first communal house that served as rehearsal space and crash pad for the early incarnation of the UGMAA. Perhaps it felt this way to the musicians – a shock wave from out of the blue that remains a little mysterious. Nigeria. or even with specialized record labels. because the UGMAA took it upon itself to document many of their performances and when possible produced its own studio recordings. Isoardi describes it as a ‘rupture’ in ‘UGMAA’s expansive days of the mid1970s’. For all the pathos and portent of this one big disappointment. has been an important supporter since the 1970s. Ultimately the group recovered. In 1977 the Arkestra was to attend and perform at the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) in Lagos. At an important juncture Gibbs helped the group gain non-profit status. Tapscott relied heavily on women like Gibbs and Linda Hill. but was apparently devastating. He quotes long-time member Michael Dett: ‘It crushed us so bad that many people got disillusioned and disappointed from that. and bought a building and printing business that allowed UGMAA to flourish. a remarkable body of music exists today to demonstrate the successes and failures of the group. the actress who had been successful as Florence on the television show The Jeffersons. other approaches. translate less sympathetically from live performance to recorded document. it comes almost out of nowhere in the book’s narrative and remains barely explained. Nonetheless. The group almost never found enthusiastic support for recording in the mainstream industry. The description of flautist Adele Sebastian hints at this: . 184–5). At its best. it is that Isoardi has so much material. that big threads occasionally get lost. and nearly ended the group as a whole. Isoardi occasionally misses opportunities to level a critical eye at its discourse. Marla Gibbs. especially the work of the Voice of UGMAA choir. but still one wants to know more about why one event could have such a major impact. A parallel potential problem is that. Tapscott’s Arkestra also seems to have been more genderintegrated than most other avant-garde (or mainstream. The answer would almost certainly be nuanced. This is most strongly felt in the comparison with books like Porter’s and Saul’s. the PAPA provides extended grooveand vamp-based jams that showcase the collective and solo improvisations of its members. such detailed oral histories and archival documents. because we really built ourselves up for this’ (p. If there is one shortcoming of the book. 175). However. It sounds disappointing. women seem to have been integrated as nurturing. as an obvious fan of the UGMAA as an organization and the PAPA’s music. which so carefully dissect the political and social construction of jazz intellectuals’ thinking. a nurse and musician/arranger for the PAPA. nearly leading to its total dissolution. Isoardi and the University of California Press have done a great service by including a CD of representative recordings with the book.gabriel solis 347 Most notably. He appears to have given back in equal measure support and respect. This is most obvious in the discussion of what was apparently the most significant setback of the group’s tenure. 182. caretaking figures as much as for their musical contributions. and notes that ‘the disappointment and anger’ over missing FESTAC led to the break-up of UGMAA’s communal residence at the time. a feminist-inspired reading of the UGMAA’s history might ask what the position of women in the group was. but for unknown and mysterious reasons members were not given travel visas and at the last minute the group had to cancel the trip. For instance. offering classes to the community in addition to supporting PAPA performances (pp. for that matter) jazz groups at the time.
delving into both how and why the band made the music it did. In a sense. but here it works nicely. she stood out not only for her artistic merits but perhaps more importantly for her qualities of character. note 9). and instead expand our understanding of the field of jazz and art in America more generally by the detailed investigation of local. it remained limited in scope almost of necessity. this is the best reason to do small-scale. including the unedited (or apparently unedited) voice of a study’s subject. local history: it affords the opportunity to know intimately the subject matter and to tell a history that would otherwise go entirely unnoticed. I do not intend to suggest that the organization was sexist. and on that basis has told a compelling story. as undertaken in Porter’s and Saul’s work. contemporaneous works. . and ability to inspire (p.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. who describes himself as ‘a bassist/composer/love-to-be-conguero. Looker. It is not always successful. That said. In an organization of unique individuals. Looker and Isoardi are less theoretically focused. would be welcome at least in some small measure here. What these four books show together is that jazz historiography is maturing. Saul and Porter follow out two equally important. but both expand the range of ideas and approaches applied to the music. 2003). It showed a pronounced tilt towards hagiographical. note 5). NC. Jr. provides a welcome counterpoint. Sherrie Tucker. her benevolence. 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. 293). perhaps the most treasured was flutist and vocalist Adele Sebastian. CA. on balance. Building on that work. as a practitioner of the music. but Miranda. Gabbard (see above. to his credit rather than his detriment. but is found less in historical writing. Jazz Cultures (see above. While much of this work was valuable in collecting data and documenting the tradition. In both books the subject is radically transformed from hero-worship to the consideration of music’s meaning to the larger culture as a result of the work of these major (and minor) figures. or otherwise anti-feminist. who played music with Horace Tapscott for more than thirty years’ (p. Guthrie Ramsey. small-scale histories of music and musicians who have otherwise 15 Ake. only that an examination of the ways underlying. Jazz among the Discourses.348 review article of the hundreds of individuals who passed through UGMAA. complementary historiographical threads. Race Music (Berkeley. 2000). ed. New Criticism-inspired musical analysis and discography. community-wide discourses may have structured or been resisted in (or both) the social life of the UGMAA and PAPA. Isoardi chooses to give the final word in his book to a member of the UGMAA. Swing Shift: ‘All-Girl’ Bands of the 1940s (Durham. for instance). Roberto Miranda. is not uncommon in contemporary anthropology. This sort of move. and the flowering of jazz historical writing since then (David Ake’s Jazz Cultures. Isoardi does not always deal in a satisfying way with questions of musical form and aesthetics. for instance). Isoardi’s commitment to Tapscott’s work is. The field of study began in earnest in the US as the work of amateur jazz aficionados. 150). Krin Gabbard’s seminal Jazz among the Discourses. unsupportive of women. Jr. most of whom were also writers of liner notes and often connected in some way with the recording industry. recruited at sixteen. ‘great man’ themes. sincerity. compassion. Isoardi. Sherrie Tucker’s Swing Shift and Guthrie Ramsey’s Race Music.
more discussion of music would be a worthwhile goal. These authors’ is not the only historical work being conducted on this music – Iain Anderson’s article in American Music in 2002 (see above. but in many avenues of inquiry in American academia. among others. 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. the ‘neo-classical’ movement of the 80s and 90s. but their full significance appears when read together: the theories amplify the micro-histories. Each of these approaches is important. small-group jazz was part of the vernacular for a large number of Americans. Still. and as such should be required reading for anyone interested in jazz. in Porter) to integrate musical analysis – a welcome sign of détente between historical/ theoretical and music-analytical approaches to musicology. and changes that happened over the course of those 20 years seem to have set the stage for Fusion. 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. On the one hand. This accounts for the period’s importance not only in jazz historiography. despite their importance to the tradition.gabriel solis 349 been almost totally ignored by earlier writers. and jazz’s movement into the upper echelons of American art music. and probably works best. and Ingrid Monson’s forthcoming history of jazz in the 60s will deal with the avant-garde in some detail. but we are just getting enough historical distance to try to understand it with some measure of objectivity. one might say). On the other hand. 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. and the new historical knowledge allows a more sophisticated reading of the theory. . These four books go a long way towards explaining that. note 13) detailed funding models in the avant-garde since the 60s. Somehow it seems important that this development is taking place with a particular focus on the avant-garde in the long 1960s. it is a compelling moment for jazz in particular: at least in the US. it is the last time that acoustic. There is also an attempt in each book (though it is most pronounced.
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