No Black, No Jazz
Someone once said that “jazz was born in the American South, in the collision of Black, European, and Indigenous cultures.” Of those three, I believe that jazz most firmly belongs to Black America. And even though jazz is subsequently being embraced by all cultures around the world, it is done so with the clear, if implicit, understanding that jazz is a fundamental expression of Black culture, Black experience, Black lives.
What is most disturbing about the opening quote is that the referenced “collision” is still unfolding at the intersecting soul of American life, in the dark and in the light, without regard to any stop sign or mile post.
We’d like to believe that we’ve come a long way down the road, and that, automatically, progress means enlightenment. We practice hard, and we get better. Our chances for wreckage should be diminished, right? I guess not. Some of us would also be inclined to lay recent racial collisions at the feet of our idiot/maniac bus driver, but that would be short-sighted.
Donald Trump is a symptom. To be sure, he’s a big one—an ugly and festering sore on the American body, apparently happy to spread the infection and jack up the fever. But racial problems are at the core of the American experiment. Biographies of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and others are very clear about conscious decisions to set the issue of slavery aside, in order to see a clearer (read: easier) path to a “more perfect union.” And still, here we are. We have a lot of work to do, and clearly, we can’t just bring this thing in to the dealer for repair.
If I was as hip as I’d like to be, this is the part where I’d drop in the answers. I don’t have them. But I’ll work harder on myself. At some points, jazz has been an equalizer—integrating bandstands and broadcasts for the sake of the music, and, by the way, to show the rest of the country that it was the right thing to do. Lionel Hampton talked about the piano, and how you had to have the black keys and the white keys to make music. That’s all nice, but that’s not going to do it. We all have to get in there and do the work.
Black Lives Matter.
And, we’ve got a jazz festival coming up. Stay tuned for details.
–John Gilbreath, Executive Director