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Music and Politics
Jerome Kamal, a native of France, is an assistant professor of jazz studies, musicology, and ethnic musicology at Washington University in St. Louis. But he’s also a saxophonist who isn’t content with academic pursuits and doesn’t want a teacher to call him, but prefers to play venues, immerse himself in jam sessions and teach him how to practice the instrument. .
A stimulating character who has a section on his home page entirely devoted to analyzing the political jazz of the sixties.
Kamal’s observations are stimulating, ideologically you don’t appeal, and at the same time you manage to restore the important figures of that season, to give them the right position (it is worth all the examples of Frank Kofsky and Amir Baraka, little discussed today, the first in nature).
Kamal quotes them, criticizes them. I note that their ideas are “strong” on jazz, they keep their charm unchanged, over the years.
Learning about jazz, more and more serious and philologically correct, you get spaces that you have had before. There are authors who make innovative theses and issues out of the ordinary, such as the wise man Paul Gilroy Black Atlantic, a professor of black studies at Yale University, who offers a reading that has an air of historical-political cool. geographical.
This interview emerged from an e-mail correspondence that, in addition to musings on Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, provides the final — and anything but banal — list of musical jazz “politics.”
Frank Bergoglio: On your pages about jazz and the civil rights movement, or when you talk about the jazz of so-called “black nationalism,” the name and work of Frank Kofsky comes up a lot. What are your thoughts on his work after studying the funding? Do you think he brought too much ideology to the issues discussed, or rather a period well described in the writings of Kofsky and Amir Baraka?
Jerome Kamal: Kofsky is an interesting character. Indeed, ideology covers his writings so strongly that his reasoning is even more objectionable. An example of this attitude is his interview with Coltrane, in which he testifies that we cannot vouch for Coltrane’s political ideas.
Nevertheless, some points of his discourse are interesting and collect significant aspects: the most effective example is the description of the economic conditions in which black musicians have to work. His book Black Nationalism in Music is perhaps more profitable in the end if read as a primary source, reflecting the ideology of some of the avant-garde musicians.
FB: Amiri Baraka is more of a sociology in analysis, Kofsky is no longer a jazz “politician”… I think his intention was to study the Marxist method of analysis in practice, don’t you think?
JK: I agree, but I think we should think of both of them as two researchers driven by strong political motives. And it’s been a long time since I read Blues People, but it seems to me that Baraka was emphasizing African-American culture as a product and reaction to slavery and at the same time as a connection to Africa. . Baraka’s issues are based on a view of “class” that is probably influenced by Marxism and borders on existentialism. For him, the forms of jazz and blues that had more commercial success were corrupted by the white mainstream. Reading it gives him the impression that he thinks assimilation is a form of corruption; What bebop is is a reaffirmation of the heritage of black roots in music and a break away from the white hegemony that was consolidated during the swing era. As many of the movement’s groups and artists coalesced around African-American art, Baraka’s reasoning resonated with them. Another black songwriter, Ralph Ellison, strongly disagreed with Baraka’s theses and saw the blues as a form of celebrating the achievements of African-American art. In demonstrations like Blues, where Baraka has a tendency to see people of color as victims, Ellison emphasizes instead a strong sense of representation and belonging.
FB: What are your thoughts on the course you set for Coltrane’s work? Before quoting one of his famous interviews, and in it, as in others, the saxophonist’s timidity is always revealed in small words, which lead to humble answers, compared to the course of Coltraniano’s legacy, after all, ambiguous. .
JC: I think in Coltrane’s case we have to look at his music from two separate visual angles. Primo: What type of political message (if any) did Coltrane envision for his music? According to: which was done means that the political you were tied to his music behind, the most different listeners? In other words, I believe there is a difference between the way Coltrane conceived and saw his music and the way he prescribed and interpreted it. With that in mind, I see Coltrane “using” his music to convey a message of integration and universality. I want to draw a parallel between his interest in modal music, and especially that of Indian, and Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence brought to the attention of Martin Luther King. In the early days of the black civil rights struggle, ML King often drew parallels between the freedom struggle in the United States and the independence movement in Africa. It seems that I can prove that both men saw their work in universal terms. Still, it doesn’t seem to me that John Coltrane’s music was so welcomed, and some of the most radical parties in the civil rights movement were quick to invoke the saxophonist as a musical spokesperson. Coltrane himself does not seem enthusiastic about this idea, as his interview with Kofsky clearly shows, where he prefers to deepen his musical explanation of the human condition in a more general sense. As Craig Werner, Coltrane and Malcolm X highlight, they saw both their transformative message and used it to justify the pursuit of more radical goals within the movement, whether they wanted you to use it and interpret their work that way or not.
FB: Do you think there is a connection between New Americana and jazz? And what type?
JC: And there are too many questions for quick answers. I’ve never discussed the connection between the New Left and music, even if it’s an interesting development.
FB: Would you like to make a short list of political passages that you consider fundamental in the history of jazz and give us a brief comment?
JC: My first choice is pretty obvious: we insist! Freedom now Suite (Candid 1961). This record shows many different aspects as music that you can use politically. First of all, it’s an example of artists of color that you use their art to reclaim authority and control over its history and its historiography. Roach’s suite follows the story of people of color of African descent in the United States, who, after the experience of slavery in Africa, will continue with the Emancipation Proclamation and will end with the struggle for the right peers in America. in Africa. Facing the issue in this light stimulates observation, as they force Scott Saul and Ingrid Monson that the sequence of the suite sections, including the separate ones, has changed compared to the ideas of Roach and Go. Oscar Brown Jr. originally envisioned the suite traveling through the African division before moving on to the experience of slavery and moving on to emancipation. Placing slavery as the beginning serves to place African-American history’s strong roots in the experience of slavery. Going with Africa emphasized the African heritage of African-American culture. In second place, the Freedom now Suite is also a good representation of what Gilroy defines as the “Black Atlantic”. All Africa combines American jazz with Cuban music and African drums and percussions: it deals with an excellent example of the continuous cultural exchange that takes place between Africans, the peoples of the Caribbean, as well as Europe and, of course, the United States. . Finally, we must remember that the Suite is, after all, a great moment in music in which you/they can see advanced compositional techniques. Max Roach uses 5/4, perhaps an answer to the success of Take Five, but moodier and bolder than Brubeck. Breathing tone, perfectly “fourth” Driva in men is interesting and waits for times. The cover photo, which depicts some students sitting at a cafeteria counter, is provocative, and Nat Hentoff’s cover notes are also honest and clean for real reading. The second example is really less well known. In fact, if you’ve written a lot about Sonny Rollins’ Freedom Suite, I’d turn your attention to the 1956 recording, The house The live in, which was done for Prestige. It’s about heavy enough regular bop, but it’s also a great beautiful example of meaning in music. At the end of the piece, Rollins puts the theme in the form of a tail: lift every voice and sing. This spiritual later became a sort of unofficial anthem for the colored population. On the cover of the Prestige CD-Playpen, everything recorded in the container, he explains that the saxophonist appreciated the social significance of the lyrics written by Robinson and wanted to amplify his words and complete the song with an elevator with every note. and sing. He probably wanted to respond to the last recording of this song by Frank Sinatra. In any case, it’s interesting that this is the only song from that session that Prestige didn’t do immediately after recording. I haven’t done much research on this disc, but I think both are too often overlooked today. If we want a complete list of passages, we should include at least the Haitian battle song and the tale of Faubus on Mingus and Freedom Riders Art Blakey, John Coltrane Alabama, Archie Shepp’s entire appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival and Appointment. Jackie McLean’s Ghana. Then there’s Billie Holiday’s Weird Fruit, but the list would be too long…
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