Wynton Marsalis Discussion Forum

   

Race and Jazz

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Okay the devil is in the details of what I am trying to say about jazz music, race and culture.

These issues are very complex and I think of them on a very deep intellectual level that few can understand, simply because that has been the focus of my studies for 30 years. In order to fully appreciate what I am saying you need proper context or you will simply get confused or angry.

 

However, at the end of the day when you are actually performing it is all about the music and who really cares, just play your horn and shut up.  Hence, why I wanted to originally be a musician because I get tired of debating crap that it is too hard to explain if you haven’t studied it as deeply as I have. It is like when people try to explain jazz theory to me right now. I just can’t grasp it like some musicians can. I can hear it but I just can’t see it, because I wasn’t trained in it.

 

However, I can talk about race intelligently since I wrote about a billion papers on it, lead discussion groups on it and given a lecture.

 

1) RACE: In truth there is no such thing as a race in terms of skin color. There is only one race of people and that is the human race. Yet because of history and ignorance people created superficial lines of demarcations in society.  There is a strict dichotomy between race or skin color as it relates to biology and race as it relates to social culture.

 

a)  biology: the melanin in our skin is what gives us color. It was given to us by God simply to protect us from the harmful affects of the sun. Melanin has no affect on a person’s intellectual, emotional or physical ability whatso ever.

 

b) Cuture: race is a social construct. A social construct “is any phenomenon “invented” or “constructed” by participants in a particular culture or society, existing because people agree to behave as if it exists or follow certain conventional rules. ” (wikipedia)

 

2) Race in America Historically: According to the slave codes of the 18th century skin color is what separated slave from free. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slave_codes

Today this line of demarcation still prevails in America society because frankly it is only been 44 years since black people were even allowed to be full citizens of the United States.  My parents and I am sure Wynton’s father still bear the scars from a time where they were not considered men, but boys. Just because someone smiles in your face doesn’t mean they like or fully accept you, they are just trying to make some money (i.e. Louie Armstrong). In truth each black person has to pick and choose their battles. We are living in a system that wasn’t designed for us to succeed unless we are twice as good as white people.

 

You have to be totally delusional to think that just because Barack got voted all of a sudden the affects of 400 years of racism are going to be over turned. In fact today we still have HBCU Historically Black Colleges and Universities that are still pretty much in the “separate but equal” phase. Have any of you seen “Higher Learning” ?  A lot of you seem to have a head knowledge about black culture but not any subjugated or experiential knowledge about it.

 

 

3) Race in a Global context: Skin color is largely irrelevant outside of a European Western context, mostly only skin tone becomes an issue.  My view is we are separate but equal because that is the way God made us to be.  I have no problem going to a Puerto Rican Pride Parade or a Irish Pride Parade.  However, since most of us grew up in America we see the world in black and white and fail to understand the nuances of socioeconomic status, gender, religion, and nationality.  I know this folly more than most because I was a black American married to an African. In my American mind I am thinking we should be cool, but in truth though we look a like he doesn’t think or act like I do. In truth he doesn’t even think of himself as African, because he grew up thinking he was a particular ethnic tribe and his family wanted him to marry someone from his country not a “dirty black American.”

 

4) Why jazz should be identified as African-American or Black Music: As a black american I have traveled outside of this country and realize that our image is very distorted. Most Carribbean and Africans look down on black americans because they do not think we have contributed anything to this great country called America. You have to understand that to the rest of the world an American is George W. Bush. Even worst to the rest of the world a black American is Tu Pac Shakur or Biggie Smalls. However, most Americans are so isolationist in their thinking that can’t grasp that we are just a small blip in a larger global community. This folly is why our foreign policy is crap right now. When heads of state talk to President Obama they need to respect him as an African-American man, because that is who is.  Accept it or not if they look at him as simply a “token nigger” not much stuff is going to get done.  The world needs to know that jazz is responsible for creating this great man and that jazz is interwoven into his struggle.  Jazz was created in a time when black people could never envision of being president. It came from the struggles of slaves and second class citizens.  The roots of jazz are negro spirituals, gospel music, that became the blues, that turned into jazz. Just as Jews are responsible for creating the motion picture industry, the sons of slaves created the American music industry.  The Doors, the Beatles, Bob Dillion all listened to and borrowed from black jazz musicians.

 

 

So to me it is not about black VERSUS white, but white accepting black.

     

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Charmaine Nokuri

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Here are some resources about my views on race.

Only one race - why the differences? : http://www.answersingenesis.org/media/audio/answers-daily/volume-053/only-one-race-differences

 

The Scientific and Biblical Case Against Racism: http://www.answersingenesis.org/PublicStore/product/Only-One-Race,4776,229.aspx

 

If African-Americans are not to be judged by the color of our skin but the content of our character, jazz is the fruit of our character and should be recognized as such.

     

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Charmaine Nokuri

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“The roots of jazz are negro spirituals, gospel music, that became the blues, that turned into jazz.”

That is bit simplistic for a Dr. don’t you think? The “Praise Houses” where ‘ol Massa allowed his slaves to actually participate in music (as long as there were no drums…) birthed 3 types of indigenous music, gospel, blues, and jazz. All three developed almost simultaneously and had separate and distinct branches from a common trunk. If you read the writings of early New Orleans musicians, they speak about the mixing of European classically trained Creole clarinetists with blues musicians and military bands and the impact on early jazz. In no way did “blues turn into jazz”...it didn’t happen that way and is unfair to both types of music…

     
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Quoting Wynton (since this is his site…) from a 1987 GQ interview:

“Jazz is a portrait of America at its highest idealized level. Music should not have a racial title. This is American music, but in this country, music can only be white. You understand?”

 

“The Wright brothers invented the airplane. Is that a white invention? They weren’t thinking white when they did that, they were thinking airplane. Louis Armstrong never thought black when he was playing trumpet, but you can bet that Bix Beiderbecke thought white because he was listening to a black man and trying to sound like him.”

 

“Do I have a problem saying there are no white players in the pantheon of jazz? No. There’s Bird, Louis, Trane, Duke, Monk, and Miles. Now let’s look at classical composers-Beethoven, Brahms, Bartok, Mozart. I can name all of them and never name a Negro. Is that a problem? No.”

     
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Juanmustard Wrote:

———————————————————————————-

> Quoting Wynton (since this is his site…) from a

> 1987 GQ interview:

>

> This is American music…

 

See, I told you Wynton is a white guy :)

     
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Juanmustard Wrote:

———————————————————————————-

> Quoting Wynton (since this is his site…) from a

> 1987 GQ interview:

>

> “Jazz is a portrait of America at its highest

> idealized level. Music should not have a racial

> title. This is American music, but in this

> country, music can only be white. You understand?”

>

>

> “The Wright brothers invented the airplane. Is

> that a white invention? They weren’t thinking

> white when they did that, they were thinking

> airplane. Louis Armstrong never thought black when

> he was playing trumpet, but you can bet that Bix

> Beiderbecke thought white because he was listening

> to a black man and trying to sound like him.”

>

> “Do I have a problem saying there are no white

> players in the pantheon of jazz? No. There’s Bird,

> Louis, Trane, Duke, Monk, and Miles. Now let’s

> look at classical composers-Beethoven, Brahms,

> Bartok, Mozart. I can name all of them and never

> name a Negro. Is that a problem? No.”

First, I don’t know the context of what Wynton was saying, especially when he said in America music can only be white ? And why would he use the word Negro in 1987 ? That is a little peculiar to me.

 

 

I do think that we agree on some level about who started jazz, its just he is not a highly trained social scientist or historian. The honor of a great leader is to know their own limitations. And the honor of a free-thinker and those that wish to transcend human frailty is to recognize the weaknesses of those who they follow and not turn into spoon-fed sheep.

 

While I respect Wynton as a musician that doesn’t mean I will allow him to impose his hegemony over the jazz world. He is simply a contributor to a large theoretical and musical framework.

 

 

Juan are you latino by the way ? I have been wanting to ask you that because I have a thing for intelligent latinos, espcially if they can salsa lol ;) But I digress….

 

Jazz, blues and gospel DID NOT develop simultaneously watch this Whitley Phipps discuss Amazing Grace written in 1779 off of the “slave scale”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HfGytXRpfho

     

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Charmaine Nokuri

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Wynton wrote a song about Juan. You should check it out.

     
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What is the song loweredsixth ? You are such a jokester I am afraid to ask :)

     

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Charmaine Nokuri

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“Whitley Phipps discuss Amazing Grace written in 1779 off of the “slave scale” 

Oh come on, do know the REAL story of this…you didn’t get sucked in by that did you? Wow I am really surprised since you profess to be an intellectual…John Newton probably didn’t even hear the melody that we know as “Amazing Grace”...

 

 

http://www.markrhoads.com/amazingsite/index.htm

 

http://www.everydaycitizen.com/2007/08/the_myth_of_amazing_grace.html

 

And yes, I am of a somewhat mixed ethnic background that includes a few relatives from south of the border..and I can Salsa.

     
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I love passionate Latino men, that know how to put a strong black woman in her place,lol.

Anywhoo, I am very much an intellectual that will bow down to truth when it is presented. I don’t claim to know everything and I appreciate new information. So thank you Juan for those websites.

 

However, again poor histography is at the root of our problem. As you know as well as I that history is usually written by the victors. What is even more challenging for African history, is that it is oral not written; therefore, evidence of our culture prior to colonialism is very sparse. 

 

The history of Africa is very complex and hard to study. African culture is so ancient very rarely can people even grasp all of its contribution to the rest of the world. Also because of the distraction of skin color, people fail to see how we are all connected unless they learn to balance intellectualism with spirituality. For example, Nokuri is the last name of a Cameroonian family. However, I found out Nokuri is also the Japanese name for fish. So how is that people thousands of miles apart use the same word ? My belief is that sound is color blind and that in fact what we hear is the spiritual world talking to us. How we interpret those sounds is based on the topography and our environment.

 

If you believe in Biblical stories, we were all one people that at one time together build the tower of Babel but God dispersed us by confusing our language. To me that is why you have so many similar stories in different religions. For example: The Epic of Gilgamesh is similar to the story of Noah and the Flood. Eye for an Eye in the Hebrew Torah is the same as Hammarubi’s code.

 

That being said do we really know for sure the legend behind Amazing Grace ? Is it possible prejudice could distort reality ? Sort of like pictures of a Patene Pro-V Jesus with soft lilly white skin. Common sense and science would tell you that there is no way on God’s green earth that Jesus would look like that as a carpenter working in the hot Middle Eastern sun.

 

Using that same common sense slavery began in 1619 and the slave trade ended in 1809, with the abolishment of slavery in America in 1865.  Jazz began in the early 20th century. So according to your logic Juan, black people didn’t sing or make any musical contributions to America for oh about 300 years.“Go Down Moses” and “Steal Away” are negro spirituals that were sung long before jazz was created.

 

We cannot confuse the codification and identification of these genres with their actual beginnings.  Jazz in fact is just a made up word for a mixture of a lot of different types of music that were being played in New Orleans, a hot bed for culture diversity. History has proven time and time again, whenever you have a crossroad for major industry that is where innovation occurs, because that is where cross cultural exchange happens.

The Beatles are great because they are probably some of the first British people to really open their minds to so many types of cultures and then incorporate them in their music. The original Jazz innovators are great because they weren’t afraid of “white people music” like classical, but instead incorporated those styles into their music.

 

True innovators see no colors. HOWEVER, again non-innovators like technicians need labels and an organized system in order to full understand and execute the vision of the innovators. Shostakovich really is poorly played by people who do not understand Russian culture. People don’t understand the passion and his struggle against the Bolsheviks that went into his music. Likewise, how can you fully hear and emulate certain jazz greats if you don’t understand the segregation and racism that created their music. Music in my opinion makes to sense with out context.  I can play the heck out of blues, not because I sit around all day and listen to BB King, but because the chord progressions and harmonies are the same as the gospel I grew up listening to.

 

If you want to dig what I am saying listen to Sean Jones Roots CD.http://www.amazon.com/Roots-Sean-Jones/dp/B000H9I10K

     

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Charmaine Nokuri

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DrWahoo Wrote:

———————————————————————————-

> What is the song loweredsixth ? You are such a

> jokester I am afraid to ask :)

 

No joke. It’s called “Juan” and you can find it on Wynton’s “Live at Blues Alley” recording. Actually, I’m not entirely positive that Wynton wrote it…maybe Kenny Kirkland.

 

Our very own Juanmustard is proud of that composition and all that it entails! Way to go, Juan!

     
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Is it really about him ?

     

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Charmaine Nokuri

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“So according to your logic Juan, black people didn’t sing or make any musical contributions to America for oh about 300 years” Uh…what? You are so crazy Dr. Wahoo, you should write for FOX news!! (Hell, that made me laugh…) So….let’s see, I’m not even sure what our discussion is about after that diatribe…Umm Wynton as an innovator? You haven’t addressed his trumpet vocabulary so, no, that’s not it…Amazing Grace? It was published with numerous different melodies prior to the 20th century, that is a historical fact. The “slave scale”? Uh, you know about the world-wide nature of pentatonics right? The far east, Scottish bagpipes, Scilian folk music, ...The Beatles? They were a ‘Skiffle” band like many others in England at the time…I personally don’t think they were that great, just lucky and cute (except for that drummer…not cute at all!) AND, they turned their backs on black music after their first tour, to make more money…now the Stones, they at least attempted to tour with Muddy Waters (and did for awhile) until the record comapny stepped in and said..“Oh no you don’t, here is a pile of money…ignore those darkies…” My simplification of the beginnings of jazz was just that, a simplification of a complicated and organic process, my main point was this: there is no emperical evidence that jazz “grew out of blues” or “grew out of gospel” as you stated…. negro spirituals and field hollers, marketplace hollers, as well as more Euro-influenced precedents such as ragtime and marching band music, waltzes and quadrilles, also had an influence…no America, no Jazz. And I do agree with you in regards to some other ideas about race and music…

“Shostakovich really is poorly played by people who do not understand Russian culture. People don’t understand the passion and his struggle against the Bolsheviks that went into his music.” ...that is complete bullshit…classical music (meaning European orchestral music….) can be played by almost anyone (with the talent) willing to put in the time and effort…I personally know a world renowned soloist (and I MEAN one of the cats you read about…) who has recorded ridiculous versions of concertos and he barely reads anything…he isn’t an idiot, but his lack of intellectual curiosity would shock you. ( I won’t brag and reveal his name here..maybe privately sometime…) Not to mention Wynton’s versions of various pieces, he studied the style of the music,and the composer’s other works… not the sociological constructs of the history of each composer..although, I will say, that doesn’t hurt, however…all the history in the world, just like all the “street cred” in the world, won’t help an artist without the soul challenging amount of individual practice time and the development of the technical facility to express their musical ideas. I mean, come on, one of the most respected versions of Shostakovich’s 5th is the Chicago Symphony conducted by a Hungarian Jew, Fritz Reiner. You have that? Tell me that recording doesn’t express all the feeling and emotion of the Russian people…

     
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DrWahoo Wrote:

———————————————————————————-

> Is it really about him ?

 

Yep.

     
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Yeah, sure Loweredsixth, Wynton’s a white guy and I’m a black girl, according to Dr. Wahoo.  Ha ha.

     
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I am going to defend the Beatles and I love jazz music. They went way beyond their origins. Chuck Berry and Elvis was unable to create a “Strwaberry Fields” or “Day In the Life” They didn’t have the musical inspiration to break beyond the melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, lyrical and aural/sonic patterns that he created. The Beatles are likely the most influential pop and rock musicians of the last 50 years.

 

 

I have to admit the Beatles for a mainstream band they were really progressive and even jazz music were not doing some of the things they were doing like backward guitar, drum looping to name a few. Some of their rhythms on “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” for example include a Balkan rhythm and a polyrhythm in different sections. Were they influenced by jazz?

 

“A Day in the Life”, “I am the Walrus”, “Within You, Without You”, Strawberry Fields”... not really blues tunes, They were able to draw from diverse sources, like Indian classical music “Within You” uses a raga-like form that contains both major and minor thirds in different octaves, kind of a combination of mixolydian and Dorian modalities. Lennon used forms similar to Tibetan chants. McCartney and Lennon were both versed in the same types of cadential cycles that had evolved from Dixieland and Tin Pan Alley, the pop music of the previous era (and also a primary underpinning for jazz).

 

 

“Tomorrow Never Knows” is a very early Art-Rock song that was recorded even before the Velvet Underground. The song is influenced by Avant music and its weird sounds are produced by tape loops/samples with looped effects. The song uses an upfront drum ‘n’ bass sound with the looped effects not unlike many forms of Modern Music.

 

“Love You To” is a true use of Classical Indian Music in instrumentation, style and rhythm. There is nothing like it in rock music before this. 

 

I considered “Strawberry Fields Forever” true progressive rock songs. With its use of mellotron, Indian scales and two separate versions of one song into one.  Strawberry Fields Forever” uses diminished chords that are common with jazz music. Then are changes time signatures often 4/4, 6/8, 3/4, 2/4. Hardly simple stuff. It helped invent Progressive Rock.

 

“Blue Jay Way” song based on some ancient Indian raga that uses the diminished 7th scale.