Music and Politics
French-born Jerome Camal is an assistant at Washington University in Saint Louis in studies of jazz, logic of music, and logic of ethnic music. But he is also a saxophonist who is not satisfied with living on academic pursuits and does not […]
French-born Jerome Camal is an assistant at Washington University in Saint Louis in studies of jazz, logic of music, and logic of ethnic music. But he is also a saxophonist who is not satisfied with living on academic pursuits and does not want to be called by the teacher, but prefers to play in places, immerse himself in jam sessions and teach the practice of the tool. .
A stimulating character, who hosts on his home page a section dedicated entirely to the analysis of political jazz of the sixties.
Camal’s observations are stimulating, ideologically non-direct, also managing at the same time to recover important figures of that season, giving them a correct position (worth all the examples of Frank Kofsky and Amiri Baraka, today a little considered, in kind the first) .
Camal quotes them, criticizes them. I emphasize that his “strong” ideas about jazz keep his charm intact, at a distance of years.
Studies on jazz, increasingly serious and philologically correct, are receiving spaces never before had. There are authors who provide innovative theses and different readings than usual, for example the wise Paul’s Gilroy Black Atlantic, professor of black studies at Yale University, who offers a reading that has the breath of historical-political-geographical freshness.
From the e-mail correspondence this interview was born, which in addition to undiscarded opinions on Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, provides a list at the end -also everything else that is not banal- of the “politics” of jazz music.
Frank Bergoglio: In your pages about jazz and the civil rights movement, or when you talk about the jazz of the so-called “black nationalism”, it is common to find the name and work of Frank Kofsky. What opinion has matured of his work after having studied it thoroughly? Do you think that he introduced too much ideology in relation to the issues discussed or, on the contrary, the period both well described in the writings of Kofsky and Amiri Baraka?
Jerome Camal: Kofsky is an interesting character. In fact, the ideology envelops his writings in a powerful way to make more objections to his reasoning. An example of this attitude is his interview with Coltrane in which he puts him to the test, without making us endorse Coltrane’s political ideas.
However, some points of his speech are approached in an interesting way and pick up significant aspects: the most effective example is the description of the economic conditions in which black musicians must work. His book, Black Nationalism in Music, is probably ultimately more helpful if read as a primary source, reflecting the ideology that informs a section of avant-garde musicians.
FB: Amiri Baraka is more of a sociologist in his analyses, Kofsky is a more “political” researcher of jazz… I think his intention was to put the Marxist method of analysis into practice in his studies, don’t you think?
JC: Okay, but I think we should think of both of them as two researchers driven by strong political motivations. And it’s been a good bit of time since I read “Blues People”, but, as I remember, Baraka seems to me to have emphasized African-American culture as the product of and reaction to slavery and at the same time as a connection to African affairs. of Baraka are based on a “class” vision, probably influenced by Marxism and even bordering on existentialism. For him, the most commercially successful forms of jazz and blues have been corrupted by the white mainstream. Reading it makes her think that he thinks assimilation is a form of corruption; what the bebop is a reaffirmation of the heritage of black roots in music and a departure from the white hegemony that was consolidated during the Swing Era. Many groups and artists in the movement coagulated it around African-American arts, Baraka’s reasoning resonated. In another song, black writer Ralph Ellison strongly disagreed with Baraka’s theses and viewed the blues as a form of celebration of the achievements of African-American art. In rallies like the blues, where Baraka has a tendency to see people of color as victims, Ellison underscores the strong sense of representation and affiliation instead.
FB: What opinion have you formed in the course of assigning to Coltrane’s work? Before, he quoted a famous interview of his, and in that as in others, the shyness of the saxophonist emerges, always of few words, which leads to reserved, humble and ultimately ambiguous answers compared to the course of the Coltranian legacy. .
JC: I think that in the Coltrane case at hand we need to consider his music from two separate visual angles. Primo: What kind of political message (if one) did Coltrane envision for his music? According to: What political media have been linked to his music behind the back, of the most different listeners? In other words, I think there is a difference between how Coltrane conceived and viewed his music and the way it has been received and performed. Starting from this, I see a Coltrane who “uses” his music to communicate a message of integration and universality. I like to draw a parallel between his interest in modal music, and particularly Indian music, and Martin Luther King’s attention to the philosophy of non-violence advanced by Gandhi. In the early days of the black civil rights struggle, ML King often drew a parallel between the struggle for freedom in the United States and the movement for independence in Africa. I think I can say that both men saw his work in universal terms. However, it does not seem to me that the music of John Coltrane has been received in this way and some of the more radical parties in the Civil Rights Movement were quick to summon the saxophonist as musical spokesman. Coltrane himself is not enthusiastic about the idea, as his interview with Kofsky shows quite clearly, where he prefers to deepen his musical explanations with a more general meaning about the human condition. As Craig Werner stresses, Coltrane and Malcolm X saw their message transformed and used to justify the pursuit of more radical goals within the Movement, whether or not they wanted his work to be used and interpreted in such a way.
FB: Do you think there is a connection between New York and jazz? And what kind?
JC: And’ too broad a question for a quick answer. I have never reasoned about the connection between the New Left and music, although it seems an interesting topic to develop.
FB: Do you want to make a short list of political passages that you consider fundamental in the history of jazz and give us a brief comment on each one?
JC: You are my obvious first choice: We insist! Freedom Now Suite (Candid 1961). This recording exemplifies in many different ways how music can be used politically. First, it is an example of artists of color using their art to regain authority and control over their own history and over their storiographic narrative. The Roach Suite follows the history of the Afro-descendant population of color in the United States than in Africa, starting from the experience of slavery, continuing with the declaration of emancipation, to end the struggle for equal rights in America as in Africa. Approaching the matter from this point of view, it is refreshing to observe, as Scott Saul and Ingrid Monson do, that the order of the sections of the Suite, separated from each other, has been changed in comparison with the original ideas of Roach and Ingrid Monson. Oscar Brown Jr. The suite originally envisioned going out with the African section before moving on to the experience of slavery and moving on to emancipation. Putting slavery at the beginning serves to strongly root African-American history in the experience of slavery. Parting with Africa would have emphasized the African heritage of African-American culture. In the background, the Freedom now Suite also represents well what Gilroy defines “black Atlantic”. All of Africa fuses American jazz with Cuban music and African percussion: it is an excellent example of the continuous cultural exchange that takes place between Africans, Caribbean people, also widely in Europe and, naturally, even the United States. . Finally, it is necessary to remember that the Suite is, after all, a great moment of music, in which advanced composition techniques can be seen used. Max Roach uses a 5/4, perhaps a response to the success of Take Five, but with more disposition and bravery than Brubeck. The tone of the breaths, perfectly in the “fourth” in Driva men is interesting and anticipates the times. The cover photo showing students during a sit-in at a cafeteria counter is provocative, and Nat Hentoff’s cover notes are also candid and fresh to today’s reading. The second example is surely less well known. In fact, if much has been written about Sonny Rollins’ Freedom Suite, I’d like to draw attention to a 1956 recording, The House The Live In, performed for the Prestige. It’s a pretty hard conventional bop passage, but it’s also a great beautiful example of meaning in music. At the end of the piece, Rollins inserts the theme of Raise all the voices and sing as a tail. That spiritual has subsequently become a kind of unofficial anthem for the colored population. In the cover notes of the Prestige cd-parquecito, container of everything recorded, he explains that the saxophonist appreciated the social meaning of the text written by Robinson and wanted to strengthen his words by ending the song with Lift every voice. and sing Perhaps he also wanted to respond to the recent recording of that song performed by Frank Sinatra. In all cases it is interesting to note that this is the only song from that session that has not been performed immediately by the Prestige, immediately after recording. I haven’t done much searching on this drive, but I think both are too often ignored nowadays. If then we want a complete list of excerpts we should at least include Mingus’s Haitian Fight Song and Fable from Faubus and Art Blakey’s Freedom Rider, John’s Coltrane Alabama, Archie Shepp’s entire Newport Jazz Festival appearance and Appointment in Ghana. by Jackie McLean. Then there is Strange Fruit of Billie Holiday, but the list would be very long…