These survivors, though devoid of their native cultural expressions, yet developed spirituals, work songs and, later, gospel music and the blues, all of which begot so-called jazz. The quintessential American musical art form known as jazz is recognized all over the planet Earth. However, almost imperceptibly, the art form is being bulldozed into oblivion in the United States of America.
Remnants of this great music can be found in a few small clubs, mainly in New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, St. Louis, New Orleans, and Memphis and on the West Coast. Suburban clubs especially prefer white musicians who can at least play the genre. Renowned black jazz musicians mostly work abroad, in Europe and the Far East. Many who stay in the U. S. A. have to swallow their pride and play the desired fusion, elevator music and rhythm and blues, in order to eat regularly.
And female jazz musicians fare even worse. Back in the day, the music of women, including singer/pianist Nellie Lutcher, song stylist Savannah Churchill, Mary Lou Williams, Hazel Scott and Dorothy Donegan, was the rage before Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Carmen McRae took the music to a new level.
They prepared the way for Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln much like Bird, Dizzy and Monk begot Miles, ’Trane and Cecil Taylor. And there’s a new cadre of great female jazz musicians whose voices we cannot allow to be ignored, sisters such as Esperanza Spalding, the Grammy winning jazz bassist/singer who performed for President Obama at the White House. There’s pianist Geri Allen, drummer Teri Lynn Carrington, violinists Karen Briggs and Regina Carter, guitarist Monette Sudler and on and on.
The countervailing forces against African-American accomplishments, including jazz, are historical, political, cultural and market-driven, all by a white nationalist mindset. Africans were brought to the Western Hemisphere to serve white people as slaves and servants. A huge percentage of Eurocentric minds can conceive of waging war to preserve that – which, for them, is an historical reality. (Never mind the immoral legacy of that historical act.)
Across the board politically, whether liberal, independent or conservative, in the main, white nationalism is the sine qua non through which and whereby America is to be run, perpetually. Therefore, the cultural appurtenances that accompany being white inexorably include defining anything “African American” or black as debased.
Finally, through the market economy, political and cultural control is meted out.
Promote tattooed, bling-bling-wearing blacks with pants on the ground, spewing anger, threats and malice with prostitute-looking females and sell it everywhere as music and style; make billions of dollars while reinforcing negative stereotypes of black people.
One last thing, lest we forget. In the final analysis, we, the African people throughout the Diaspora, are responsible for that which is ours. American classical music, so-called jazz, is our gift to the world. Therefore, we must protect and perpetuate that which is ours. We must even protest loudly when and wherever the name “jazz” is used to promote a venue that is actually a rhythm and blues or reggae concert.
Let us also remember that cultural means the following: “of or relating to the cultivation of the mind or manners, esp. through artistic or intellectual activity.” (from the Oxford American Dictionary)
South Florida residents, visitors and friends have a rare opportunity to support “Women in Jazz South Florida” on Saturday evening, May 14, at Art Serve, 1350 East Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Go to www.wijsf.com for more information.
Al Calloway is a long-time journalist who began his career with the Atlanta Inquirer during the 1960s civil rights struggle. He may be reached at Al_Calloway@Verizon.net.