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The Revolution will not be Transcribed: Black Political Praxis as Jazz innovation in the 1960s

A Division III Paper Written by Ben Barson Hampshire College, Amherst, MA Spring 2010

Introduction: The Scream of the Struggle

The specter of a storm is haunting the Western worldThe Great Storm, the coming Black Revolution, is rolling like a tornado; roaring from the East; shaking the moorings of the earth as it passes through countries ruled by oppressive regimes; toppling the walls of mighty institutions; filling the well paved, colonial streets with crimson rivers of blood. Yes, all over this sullen planet, the multi-colored hordes of undernourished millions are on the move like never before in human history. They are moving to the rhythms of a New Song, a New Sound; dancing in the streets to a Universal Dream that haunts their wretched nights: they dream of Freedom! Their minds are fueled and refuled by the fires of that dream. Rolland Snellings (Asika Muhammad Toure), Afro American Youth and the Bandung World, 1965 But the black musician, he picks up his horn and starts blowing some sounds that he never thought of before. He improvises, he creates, it comes form within. Its his soul, its that soul music.Well, likewise, he can do the same thing if given intellectual independenceHe can invent a society, a social system, an economic system, a political system that is different from anything that exists on this earth. He will improvise, he will bring it from within himself. And this what you and I want. -Malcolm X Watts,1965. Martial law is declared as the ephemeral rhythms of the New Song and their freedom dreams groove from Ghana and Cuba into Los Angeles, sparking the brewing furies of America's own wretched of the Earth in the black slums of the metropolis. Malcolm X had long warned that Black America, under the colonial yoke of the United States government, was a time bomb waiting to erupt, and erupt it did. The scene, though certainly less protracted, was not dissimilar to the colonial war in Algeria: 2,000 national guardsmen and 9,000 armed police enforced an eight o'clock curfew. The deployment was meant to retake the streets from some 35 thousand Watts residents and over 70 thousand spectators. Horace Tapscott and his Pan Afrikan People's Arkestra were not involved in the battle on the streets, and instead the ensemble decided to take up arms for African2

American liberation and revolution through the developing of an autonomous musical aesthetic rooted in a decolonized Black consciousness. The danger of these sounds must have been felt by the passing forces of law and order, who earlier this week forced Tapscott to stop playing at 103rd st and Central, exclaiming "This is inciting the riot. This is why the riot is happening!" Today, the police break into the Watts Happening Coffee House, the community-oriented Black arts space, and order the music to cease. Tapscott stares the "pig" down, and perhaps senses the power that the music he and his band are conjuring are more powerful than a thousand tanks or three hundred nukes, let alone a single police contingent. He orders the Arkestra to continue playing and his militant musicians determinedly abide by the decision of the cultural revolutionary. The defied top cop aims his gun at Tapscott and screams, "I said stop the goddamn music!" Meanwhile, in retaliation, other police officers are lining up women, some of whom are pregnant, from one of the center's workshops; Tapscott, entrapped, orders the band to stop. The victorious police leave the center, confident that the musical transgression has abided.1 On their way out the door, one of the Arkestra's bassists, David Bryant, delves into the ominous brood-groove of "The Dark Tree." It is a song that references Black struggle in the diaspora and all over the world, and the irreducible power of Black culture and music while under the oppressor's thumb.2 According to jazz historian Scott Saul, "driven by an Afro-Cuban rhythm taken from Desi Arnaz's "Bablau," the piece is a parable about the resilience of black culture, the story of a tree of life that survives even

See Tapscott, Horace, Song of the Unsung: The Musical and Social Journey of Horace Tapscott, ed. Steven Isadori (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001) p. 105-112 2 Tapscott, Songs of The Unsung, p, 110-111 3

though it is always "passed over and left in the dark."3 After the song, organically and autonomously played by the whole group without any voiced direction to play it by either Tapscott or his Bryant, it seems that the Arkestra decided it was time to take their music to the streets. Eric Porter writes that the Pan Afrikan Arkestra "attempted to bring peace to their community" during the Watts rebellion by playing their compositions and improvisations on a flatbed truck driving around to the sites of struggle. One wonders if it was peace, or more specifically, Black pacification, that Tapscott's revolutionaries were attempting to ignite in their spiritually and historically charged musical manifestos that evoked the centuries long Black struggle, through culture and other means. Perhaps it was something much different. 4 It would seem that the Tapscott/Watts historical conjuncture was little more than an interesting and even somewhat humorous coincidence. After all, what real physical force could music hope to deploy--especially music with no lyrics or explicitly verbalized content, one whose dark and sometimes esoteric tone poems could convey little more than either aural confusion, or at best, a somewhat tranquilized meditation, but never a Black militant uprising. But consider, then, another interesting "coincidence:" five years earlier, some thousand miles East, in the revolutionary island of Cuba, itself defying the most powerful Empire in human history like a splinter in the heel of Achilles, lived an exiled Robert Williams. Williams was the author of the influential Negroes with Guns and the former president of the NCAAP chapter in Monroe, where he was one of the first advocates for Black armed self-defense. It seems the strategy worked too well, and his

Saul, Scott. Freedom Is, Freedom Aint: Jazz and the Meaning of the Sixties. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003.) p. 302. 4 Porter, Eric. What is This Thing Called Jazz? African-American Musicians as Artists, Critics, and Activists. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.) p. 210. 4

leadership within the Black community could not to be tolerated any longer: In 1960, Williams fled FBI persecution to live in exile in Cuba. He continued to support Black revolution from Cuba through his radio show, Radio Free Dixie, which dubbed news of the struggle in Monroe and the south more generally with the bright but furious sound of Ornette Coleman and the tender fury of Coltrane's self-discovery in his late work. One Conrad Lynn wrote to Robert Williams wife, Mabel, that the music was remarkable. Mainstream stations do not care or dare to broadcast the new music our musicians are really playing today and our peoples hearts are beating to, because the new music is for freedom.5 The music, then, was not simply a background to the newsthe new music Williams blared was at least half the story. In his words, the avant-garde jazz he picked was the type of music people could feel, that would motivate them. How did Williams have access to these albums? They were sent to him by none other than Amiri Baraka from his base in Harlem, the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School, promoting cultural and political revolution through a decolonized Black music and literary style that embodied the attitude and worldview of what Baraka called Afro-American's "autonomous blues form." "Keep the jazz and blues flying and dig RFD," Williams wrote in a note to Baraka. Indeed, it is likely that the artists and organizers of BARTS were listening to his broadcasts documenting the struggle of their brothers of sisters in the south--and the musical soundtrack that ran parallel to it, that delineated the energies of the historical movements note for inspirational note. Timothy Tyson notes that these broadcasts' range were not limited to the South or the Northeast--it

For a discussion of the aforementioned Radio Free Dixie, see Tyson, Timothy B. Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 1999) p. 288-295. 5

was taped and sent to Black urban communities all over America, reaching as far West as Watts. Every time I play my copy," explained one Watts listener in 62, I let someone else make another recording. That way more people will hear the story of Monroe.6 It can be safely ascertained that Tapscott and his Arkestra were likely one of the many who heard Monroes story, spliced with the radically open improvisations of Ornette and Coltrane. The two anecdotes above are both powerful examples of interlinakges between the Black Power movement and the emergence of the New Thing in jazz. But they go well beyond that when we consider the development of Tapscott and Barakas community and artistic organizationsthe UGMAA and BARTS, respectivelyand what they reveal about the transformations of the decade. The UGMAA, for instance, strikingly resembles a revolutionary community organization in its praxis and orientation towards its community. Started in the early 60s by Tapscott and other Black musicians in the L.A. area, it was a self-conscious attempt on the part of Tapscott to revive both the Watts community and Black cultural consciousness. Wattss Black community were manifesting changes that in many ways were indicative of the limitations of a Civil Rights movement that did not address economic inequality and uncritically sought assimilation into American society, as opposed to structural changes in power relations between white and black communities and within Capitalism itself. These limitations would serve as the catalyst for Tapscotts commitment to rebuilding Black community and culture. In his memoir, Songs of the Unsung, he recalls During the 1950s, there wasnt much cultural activity going on in the African American community of Los Angeles. Segregation had ended, and people were

Ibid. 6

getting better jobs and moving away from the Central Avenue area. They were now concerned with issues like where their kids would go to school. Communication was missing; the social contact that people used to have on Central Avenue was gone. So there was a sense of searching for something better, resetting things now that segregation was over. Tapscott believed his Arkestra could all the creativity in the community to come together, would allow people to recognize each other and ask, Now what can we do to make this community better? What can we do for this community together? He thus conceived his music as a way for social uplift and Black underclass self-determination because unlike those who had better jobs and moved away, the remaining Watts community needed to resist the social fragmentation that the end of apartheid implied. To do so, Tapscott had to build his Arkestra into a community organization and made organic linkages with the communitynot an easy or natural task. They didnt walk in a straight line, as he described the process of him and his band members learning to relate to and provide for the community. They learned as they walked.7 Tapscott directly connected the task of social uplift with reclaiming and rebuilding an autonomous Black musical tradition. That was the concept behind naming his group the Arkestra: [Thats how] the Arkbegan, with the knowledge that we wanted to preserve the black arts in the community.I wanted to say, This is your music.8 The Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra were among the first in the neighborhood to start wearing dashikis; they also were one of the first voices, by their account, to voice concern about police brutality. They also brought newspapers and revolutionaries from a revolutionary Africa to speak, and saw the issue of colonialism as profoundly interlinked with their own oppression.
7 8

Tapscott, Songs of the Unsung, p. 90. Ibid, p. 83 7

Our concern was with our particular area and Black people, but we sympathized with peoples struggles around the world. And wed have visitors from many of these places, people who were under the gun, and they would inform us about what was going on. We had to bring all these other things to light, because at first a lot of our listeners were saying, You guys are talking all that hate talk. I told them, I never talk hate. Were talking about love of yourself. This has to do with you loving who you are. And how you do that is to be involved, to be a part of it.9 The pedagogical function of showing solidarity to third-world revolutionaries here is critical, and sheds light on the connection between decolonization abroad and Black oppression in the United States. Not only was the metaphor of the internal colony so common to this period a show of political support to those oppressed by the same racist United States empireit was a profound way to raise consciousness about the systemic and historical oppression of Black America and a way to rethink the connections between Imperialism abroad and apartheid at home. It was, as Tapscott says, a way to open the door to loving yourselfto be a part of it, part of the revolutions worldwide that sought to overthrow racist colonialism and Imperialism. As the UGMAA progressed and its links the community deepened, in 1964 Tapscott set up the Watts Happening Coffee House on 103rd street.10 The space was an arts and community center that ran many community programs, including starting a breakfast program that the Black Panther Party would later begin to administer, giving reading and writing classes, lectures and discussions of police brutality and other community issues, and of course, an arts space that included poets, actors, singers, and of course, the avant-garde jazz musicians of the Arkestra. Among the singers and poets were Elaine Brown, future Black Panther Party leader, and Stanley Crouch, then a prominent


Ibid, p. 90. Ibid, p. 103. 8

poet and writer of the Black Arts Movements. The space gave people who had a lot to say and didnt have a place to say it a place to speak their voice and be heard. Its inclusion of all sorts of intellectuals and artists from the Black community not only anchored avant-garde artists in the Black community in Wattsits performances created a democratic and multi-media space that would serve as a sort of vanguard for future cultural articulations of the Black Arts movement across of Africa America. In many respects, notes James Smethurst, the early performances and programs of UGMA, the Arkestra, and Studio Watts anticipated the sorts of multimedia, multigenre events and programs that BARTS would later stage in Harlem.11 To claim that Tapscott deserves credit for initiating this project in Watts is not overstatement or speculation. The Watts Happening Coffee House was one of many Black Arts institutions and community spaces that began sprouting all over Watts, including the Mafundi Institute and the Studio Watts. These institutions were interdependent and supported each other financially, artistically, and of course, politically. Tapscotts vision of a Watts community coming together and conscious of itself through cultural and institutional revolution began to come to fruition. He recalls the kids were always outside, listening to the Ark, going down the street and dancing to the Dark Tree, that the people were quicker to recognize each other. Communication was back, that the community started functioning as food was shared through their concerts and programs.12 I highlighted these specific examples of the UGMAA to advance a bold thesis: Avant-garde jazz musicians, far from being esoteric anomalies in the 1960s, were


Smethurst, James Edward. the black arts movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s. (The University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, 2005.) p 299. 12 Tapscott, Songs of the Unsung, p. 107. 9

organically linked in every conceivable aspect to the aesthetic and social valences of the Black Power and Black Arts Movements in creating a revolutionary musical formation that spoke to the needs of Black self-determination and liberation of the time. Specifically, they pioneered a decolonized Black aesthetic in music through a complex negotiation of Black folk materials as well as African, Indian, and Chinese sonorities, thereby linking themselves and their musics to a veritable decolonization of sound. They pioneered new musical divisions of labor that recreated the distinction between soloist and band, as well as between audience and performer. They actively sought to control the means of cultural representation and production through the formation of autonomous collectives, and they aligned their musical work with grassroots organizations aimed at Black empowerment and sometimes engaged in the building of community-oriented grassroots institutions themselves. Finally, their work took on directly political issues that confronted African-Americans, ranging from the violence attended to them by white reactionaries and the American state to the struggles of liberating nations in the Third World. But perhaps in addition to stating this thesis, it may be equally useful to ask why it has not been stated before, as its embarrassing omission by scholars of AfricanAmerican studies and social movements reveals as much as it obscures. To be fair, part of the reason for scholars omission of the role or importance of Black musical production in narrative and historiographies of Black Power and Third-World decolonization is because there are relatively few full-fledged studies of the Black Power or Black Arts movement in the United States, let alone studies that connects the two. For instance, despite their enormous influence in the 1960s and 70s on Black politics and America at


large, there is yet no serious academic history of the Black Panther Partythough several autobiographies and biographies such as Elaine Browns A Taste of Power (1992) and Hugh Pearsons The Shadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and the Price of Black Power in America (1994). Perhaps some of this is due to contemporary dismissals of the Black Power movement as essentialist or even racist, as Giltin and a contemporary Crouch contend. Recent scholarship helps address this void, such as Komozi Woodards Nation Within a Nation (1999), which, like much of the existing scholarship of the Black Arts or Black Power movements (see Sollors [1978], Watts [2001], or Harris [1985]), focuses its scope around the prolific Amiri Baraka as the gauge and somehow one-man mover of the Black Arts Movement. Recent scholarship have helped detail the topologies of the Black Power movement, such as Kwame Turs (Stokely Carmichael) new autobiography, Ready for Revolution (2003), and Scot Browns account of the Us organization, Fighting for Us. (2003). There is only one study to date that historically maps the Black Arts movement as the cultural wing of the Black Power movement and dialectic relationship between the twoJames Edward Smethursts the black arts movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s. And while the book does a fine job differentiating regional articulations of the Black Arts movement and effectively shows the self-conscious attempts of African-American writers, poets, artists, thespians, and even musicians to create decolonized and communal Black Art Forms and institutions, the title of the book gives away its area of interest and Smethursts implicit hierarchy of relevant cultural production in the Black artistic community: it is literary nationalism, not musical innovation and practice, that underscores the manifestations of the Black Arts movement;


it is once again the text that is the repository of history and culture. Smethurst at times acknowledges this limitation, as when he explains after exclusively listing Black poets and playwrights in New York City in the 1960s, such a roll of poets and playwrights fails to delineate the full dimensions of the black avant-garde in New York during this period because it leaves our such musicians as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Marion Brown, Sam Rivers, Cecil Taylor, [and] Sun Ra and his Arkestra.13 Yet he then qualifies this seeming nod to the musicians with noting that many were [also] serious writers or dramatists. Of course, I am not doing complete justice to Smethursts work and his deep historical documentation of Black musicians cooperatives and institutions alongside their collaboration with other artists. Yet I felt that the passage quoted above and is relative relegation of the new music is indicative of a wider trend in scholarship on social movements and Black political and cultural formations, and we find similar omissions from other cultural historians of the 1960s. Cynthia Young, for instance, has a different analysis than Smethursts as she locates the Black Power movement as part of the emergence of a boarder Third World Left that included activists of color from a myriad ensemble of nationalities and identities that far transcended Blackness. According to Young, the Third World Left identified politically with global decolonization movements and, in the process, located minority populations into a deeper analysis of Empire that considered Black, Latin@, Asian, and indigenous American populations as internally colonized. This Third World Left was distinctive with the creation of cultural, material, and ideological links to the Third World as a way to potentially contest U.S. economic,


Smethurst, James. The black arts movement. p. 113. 12

racial, and cultural arrangements. It was a political formation that was committed to both transitional political resistance and cultural innovation and saw cultural production as a site of struggle that could ideologically and materially support Third World countries against American and European Imperialism and neo-colonialism. 14 Young convincingly develops this argument by noting the centrality of revolutionary movements in the Third World for the political goals and analyses of activists of color in the United States, such as Cubas importance for the radicalization of Amiri Baraka and the coalitional pan-racial formations that characterized the development of radical cultural production such as the Third World Newsreel. This essay will agree that activists of color conceptualized themselves as internally colonized and actively created cultural connections based on this analysis. However, her analysis of cultural production is limited to literature and filmomitting almost entirely even the existence of a revolutionary avant-garde jazz, which I argue was central to the movements underway at this time. The privileged position of textuality in each of these otherwise outstanding works is surprising, as many of the activists and writers Smethurst and Young devote considerable time to, such as Spellman and Baraka, explicitly based their cultural projects to advance African-American cultural revolution to the historical role of Black musical forms as transmitter of an irreducible historical experience. Spellman considered the new music of the 1960s as the esthetic vanguard of the struggle15 that was required to be rooted in Black communities if the struggle were to be advanced; Baraka wrote


Young, Cynthia. Soul Power: Culture, Radicalism, and the Making of a U.S. Third World Left. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.) p. 3-4. 15 Quoted from Smethurst, p. 117. 13

extensively on Black music, perhaps more than any other subject. He saw Black music as the purest form of an autonomous African-American consciousness and being, and wrote that the Blues was a direct transmission of an African-American impulse: Bluesits song quality is, it seems, the deepest expression of memory. Experience re/feeling. It is the racial memory.16 Baraka extended this analysis to the avant-garde jazz of the 1960s, which he called the New Black music, emphasizing its pedagogical and transformative potential: But at its best and its most expressive, the New Black music is expression, and expression of reflection as well. What is presented is a consciously proposed learning experience.17 The experience to be learned was a new freedom and distance form white America, one that disdained integration and control by white institutions and aesthetic standards. He lauds the new music for resisting enlightenment aesthetic hegemony over black creativity and implies it is an attack on Western concepts of reason and rationalityno matter the precision the Europeans claim with their reasonable scale which will get only the sounds of an order and reason that patently deny most colored peoples the right to exist.18 Baraka thus privileges Black musicians, and particularly its avant-garde, as deconstructing Western reason and its interdependency with racial terror and white supremacy. He locates Coltrane as the avatar of a revitalized Black consciousness through a decolonized musicColtrane directly assaulted the rationalist approach to music that denied Black autonomous musical forms and, in other words, the freedom to

16 17

Baraka, Amiri (LeRoi Jones). Black Music. (New York: Quill, 1967). p. 183. Ibid, p. 188. 18 Ibid, p. 193. 14

dream and discover. [Coltrane] showed us how to murder the popular song. To do away with weak Western forms. He is a beautiful philosopher.19 Barakas reading of Coltrane and his effect on Black consciousness takes on Fanonian proportions, in the sense that it is in the act of murder, both ritual and symbolic, of the weak Western forms that Black autonomy is declared from physical and libidinal imprisonment. New Black Music is this: Find the self, then kill it. As Saul contends, Baraka heard something earthshaking: a black consciousness so in touch with itself that it could begin to transcend its past.20 One cannot overstate the effect Coltrane and the New Music had for Baraka and his project of cultural revolution: except for his visit to Cuba in 1959, it may have been the single most important influence of his trajectory as a political activist and self-styled cultural revolutionary. It was not only poets and artists who were affected by Black music and the New Thing. A paper written by Revolutionary Action Movement (a revolutionary nationalist organization who preceded the Black Panther Party) read The Task of the Revolutionary Action Movement is to express via political action the dynamism embodied in AfroAmerican music. Musician/scholar and activist Fred Ho has commented that a dynamic and dialectical interplay existed between both political and artistic energies in the 1960s African American community and, comparing the vanguard positions of Malcolm X and Coltrane in politics and culture, respectively, argues that it is clear that both enormously affected and were effected by the weltanschauung of the era and considerably contributed to and were shaped by the zeitgeist of the 1960sboth personified and embodied the apex of black American political and artistic creativity and commitment: gloriously un-

19 20

Ibid, p. 229. Saul, Scott. Freedom Is, Freedom Aint. p. 229. 15

coptable and unquenchable.21 Rereading the Malcolm X quote which prefaced this piece, in which he cites Black musical improvisation as the basis of an autonomous and improvised Black politics and political system, Hos point is not simple speculation. The music has continued to be an inspiration and a philosophical and cultural resource to activists and political leaders ranging from Jesse Jackson (who employed Cannonball Adderlys quintet while raising funds for Operation Breadbasket22) to the Elaine Brown in the Black Panther Party, who in 1969 released an album of political songs designed to give a new avenue of communication to the people.23 Of course, Elaine Brown had already spent considerable time working with the most historically explicit example of Black avant-garde jazz musicians creating grassroots institutions and self-consciously engaging the development of a popular and revolutionary avant-gardeHorace Tapscott. Not only did Tapscott and his Arkestra succeed in doing this, they laid the institutional infrastructure for the Black Power movement to really expand and flourish in the Los Angeles area, with the notable example of the Black Panthers eventually taking over the breakfast program that Tapscott started. The Tapscott example was perhaps the most explicit of a Black Power and avantgarde nexus, and my citing it begs an obvious question: what constitutes revolutionary music? A commitment or presence in the community? Alliances with the Black Panther Party? The support of a polemic Black nationalist poet? A defiant statement by the artist


Ho, Fred. Tribute to the Black Arts Movement. Wicked Theory, Naked Pracitce: A Fred Ho Reader. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.) p. 165. 22 Saul, Scott. Freedom Is, Freedom Aint: Jazz and the Meaning of the Sixties. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003.) 23 Interview with Elaine Brown in Rolling Stone. October 4, 1969. 16

against white supremacy and Euro-American Imperialism? The latter qualification would outright disqualify Coltrane, who explicitly rebuked Frank Kofskys attempt to locate Coltranes improvisations as the direct expression of the political energies represented by Malcolm X and Black Nationalism.24 To ask what defines revolutionary music, or what its relationship to AfricanAmerican cultural and political formations, is full of potential pitfalls and excesses. Yet it is this very question whose comprehension is critically lacking amongst cultural and social historians of Black American populations, and at a terrible price for a understanding of the critical role music plays in the cultural and epistemological formation in Black American (and diapsoric) communitiesof the centrality of Black music to African-American structures of feeling, of emergent vocabularies and discourses, and of their visions of freedom and justice. So while you may ask what I consider revolutionary music, and question whether can I truly delineate this tension between my citation of revolutionary Black music as incubator of grassroots politics and Black music as merely a source of inspiration for politicized Black poets, I have a question to ask to you: Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary and the attempts by so many in the Black Arts Movement to highlight its unparalleled cultural importance, why has music been omitted for so long, so long resisted critical and historical appreciation? I think these two questions can, and must, be answered together, and require a deconstruction of how we understand music and modernity in general, and the place of African-descended peoples in, but not of, modernity Theories of Black Atlantic Music

See Kofsky, Frank. Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music. (Pathfinder Press: 1971) 17

The role of the Black musician in Black diapsoric communities has been noted and celebrated by an array of Black intellectuals of various stripes and times. C.L.R. James in his 1961 essay The Mighty Sparrow discusses the calypso-master Sparrow and credits him the lone distinction of a genuinely West Indian artist, the first and only one I know. He is living proof that there is West Indian nation. Jamess fascination and admiration of the musician stems not only from his sophisticated political commentary which reflects and captures the sentiments of the West Indian masses, but also because his creation of a national-popular art out of folk musical forms. We are Western, yet have to separate ours from what is Western, a very difficult task. Sparrow in the popular sphere is doing that with a dedication, even an obstinacy which is exciting to see. He found a medium already established. But he is making it a genuinely national expressions and possession.25 The tension James identifiesthe ambiguity of authentic cultural material, the tension between inheriting a colonizers language and culture and yet having to invent one own---is completely and gracefully transcended by Sparrow, the musician: rather than the cricketers or the novelist, James notes, as these belong to international and European-dominated institutions and forms, but the autonomous popular music advanced to aesthetically and politically represent a West Indian nation. Calypso, James later asserts, will become as wide-ranging a phenomenon as the Negritude movement and will lay the basis of a distinct West Indian culture and people. The contradiction between Black diasporic cultural production and inheritance the double-consciousness inherent in struggling to ascertain what is authentically Black and what is diluted through the cultural imposition of the colonizer is also at the center

James, C.L.R. The Mighty Sparrow. from The Future in the Present: Selected Writings. (London: Alison & Busby, 1980.) P. 199. 18

of Ben Sidran book Black Talk (1971). Sidran traces the importance and dynamism of Black music from the plantation to urban African-American life, from slave to citizen, in a similar manner to Amiri Barakas pioneering work Blues People (1963). Drawing from then-contemporary linguistic, psychoanalytic, and cultural theory, Sidran argues that structures of orality that defined slave and post-slave communicative patterns and social formations, and that Black music thus has a privileged role as a repository of Black cultural and expressive meaning. A telling quote from Julius Lester, compares the function of Black music to the weltanschauung offered by non-English languages of oppressed populations in the United States: Of the minority groups in this country, blacks are the only one having no language of their own. Language serves to insulate a group and protect it from outsiders..[The Negro] has another language, and that language is rhythm. This has been recognized by Black people for some time, and they call it soul.26 Certainly there is a continuity between this function of Black musicas the primary repository of Black diasporic expressive culturewith C.L.R. Jamess glowing appraisal of the Mighty Sparrow as doing what neither West Indian novelist nor cricketers were capable of. Sidran makes an important theoretical contribution in his suggestion that the orality of Black musical culture provided a radical alternative to the literary culture of the West, and its tendency to marginalize and repress subversive historiographies. The selective tradition of Western literary disciplines.is the survival of a culture at the same time that it omits considerable areas of what once was a living culture.27 In opposition to this violent process of selection and repression, African American orality has been a dynamic, reciprocal, and living process whose articulation is most discernable in music,

26 27

Sidran, Ben. Black Talk. (New York: De Capo Press, 1971.) P. xx. Sidran, Ben. Black Talk. New York: De Capo Press, 1971. P. xxii. 19

and thus serves as a living counter-narrative to the ethos and letter of modernity. Perhaps no one better than Paul Gilroy, in his seminal work The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1994), extensively theorizes on the relationship between Black vernacular cultures and the resistance to discourses and projects of Western modernity in the rhizmoatic diasporic world he terms the Black Atlantic. Gilroy argues that Black American and European intellectuals had a deep distance of critique of modernity rooted in the alliance of racial terror and reason during indescribable horror of Slavery. Gilroy notes that although they were unspeakable, these terrors were not inexpressible, and they find their expression not in language but in ritualized social forms, most explicitly music and its attendant social relations.28 His reasoning stems from two main arguments: one, mentioned above, that the topos of unsayability that characterized slavery was so ineffable that it required phatic and kinetic gestures to fully express and document the experience; and secondly, that slaves were in any event denied literacy and language and thus, the power and significance of music in the Black Atlantic have grown in inverse proportion to the limited expressive power of language.29 The oral and antiphonal traditions that arose out of the brutal historical subjugation of the slaves meant a special relationship to the body in which it was not contrasted with expressiveness or meaning but was rather a source of it. As Glissant observes, It is nothing new to declare that for us music, gesture, dance are forms of communication, just as important as the gift of speech. This is how we first manage to emerge from the plantation: aesthetic form in our cultures must be shaped from these oral structures.30

28 29

Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993.) p. 73. Ibid, p. 74. 30 Ibid, p. 75. 20

The implications of this claim are devastating for a Euro-centric account of modernity. If we follow Gilroys claim that Black expressive musical cultures were born in intense proximity to the ineffable experiences of racial slavery, they can without hyperbole be understood as the living, breathing, crying, dynamic, transform(ing/ative), and subversive repository of the repressed and defining violence of Western modernitys unbridled domination and brutalization of Africans in the Americas. In Gilroys reading, transatlantic Black musics hold the hermeneutic keys to the most historically pregnant textsor rather, vesselsof modernitys subjugated historiographies, and in doing so not only subvert Western accounts of modernitys genteel nature and its emphasis on reason, efficiency, and freedom, but also revolutionize the role and function of music as an expressive modality that acts as a transmitter of historical consciousness and constitutive element in the structures of feeling in Black Atlantic populations, different as they may be. In the American context, this would be what Amiri Baraka earlier called the autonomous Blues form in reference to the core attitude that informed Black distance and cultural autonomy from dominant Euro-American society. Not only is it subversive to the accounts of peace and progress endemic to colonial power, Gilroy notes that this account of Black musics also radically question Hegels understanding of art as opposed to philosophy and merely sensuous form of reconciliation between nature and finite reality. In fact, the doubleness of these musical formsborn in modern historical conditions yet always critical and subversive to the dominant project of modernityand the double gesture of reliving the brutal trauma of slavery but transcending it into a potent and expressive musical form without parallel (Black expressive cultures affirm while the protest) indicate that music is in fact the


most expressive modality of the double-consciousness characteristic of post-slave populations living in modernity and thus is much more than mere sensuousness. One could claim, for instance, that music should be placed higher in the ontological hierarchy because it directly expresses the slaves will. However, this is not the move Gilroy makes. He contends that Black Music in fact resists and destabilizes any and all distinctions between art and life, a dichotomy that later would be an integral ideological component of a white American politicaleconomical regime of appropriation and commodification of Black musical forms. As Gilroy eloquently puts it, The anti-modernity of these forms, like their anteriority, appears in the (dis)guise of a premodernity that is both actively reiminagined in the present and transmitted in eloquent impulses from the past. It seeks not simply to change the relationship forms to newly autonomous philosophy and science but to refuse the categories on which the relative evaluation of these separate domains is based and thereby to transform the relationship between the production and use of art, the everyday world, and the project of racial emancipation.31 Music comes into the world, it seeks remembrance and justice, it affirms while it protests. It is not an abstraction, it is lived. (The song and the people are the same.) And Black musicians would be the carrier of this historic task, of eloquently transmitting pulses from the past, sometimes imagined, sometimes felt. In this reading, Black musicians are the carriers of modernitys sins, of the birth wound of the Americas and the Africans in it, carrying the torch that cries the ineffable, the unspeakable, and yet transcends it in a stroke of superhuman creativity that demonstrates the condition of human beings in modernity.


Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993. p. 74. 22

This reading of Black musical forms strongly resonates with Albert Murrays arguments in Stomping the Blues wherein he invokes Ellisons famous formulation that the blues have manifested an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in ones aching consciousness. Far from being simply a song of victimhood, however, the musicians transcend this experience not by the consolidation of philosophy, but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism.32 By overcoming the horror and absurdities of racial oppression and improvising, the jazz musician is creating a heroic response to the situation in which he lives. Murray sees quality inherent in blues and jazz as a fundamental marker of humanity in the modern age: Thus does man the player become man the stylizer and by the same token the humanizer of chaos; and thus does play become ritual, ceremony, and art; and thus also does the dance-beat improvisation of experience in the blues idiom become survival technique, aesthetic equipment for living, and a central element in the dynamics of U.S. Negro life style.33 Jazz cannot be understood as outside of its context as a survival technique and a humanizer of chaos, its tensions, melodies, and internal development can only be understood correlated to this reality principle. Thus Black music can be seen as a continuum, one which does not only serve as a the historical expression for the African experience in the Americas, all its contradictions and brutalities included, but also as a repository of the past that Black artists and individuals of many stripes canand mustreach into. Toni Morrison explains the centrality of Black musical forms to music for her writing approach as she writes:

32 33

Murray, Albert. Stomping the Blues. (New York: De Capo, 1989.) p. 78. Ibid, p. 80-81. 23

Black Americans were sustained and healed and nurtured by the translation of their experience into art above all in the music.The literature ought to do the same thing. Ive been very deliberate about that. The power of the word is not music, but in terms of aesthetics, the music is the mirror that gives me the necessary clarity.34 The mirror of the continuum. The living, breathing, dialectical story being negotiated, transformed, and lived, but with the irreducible core oppressiveness of the system of slavery and the search for justice that would negate it. The mirror of Africans in modernity, not of it, but constituted through it and by it, and in tern, constituting themselves in resistance or negotiation with it. Ralph Ellison also demonstrates the centrality of Black musical production, and specifically jazz improvisation, to Black identity and historical memory: There is in this a cruel contradiction implicit in the art form itself. For true jazz is an art of individual assertion within and against the group. Each true jazz momentsprings from a content in which the artist challenges all the rest; each solo flight, or improvisation, represents (like the canvasses of a painter) a definition of his [sic] identity: as individual, as member of the collectivity

and as a link in the chain of tradition. Thus because jazz finds its very life in improvisation upon traditional material, the jazz man must lose his identity even as he finds it35
Such a reading transforms the concept of what social role the musician plays and politics of identity and cultural construction within the Black community. It also transforms the notion of intellectual and particularly Antonio Gramscis notion of the organic intellectual, a useful concept for our purposes but one that needs to be reinterpreted, transformed, improvised, to make room for the musician as conduit and reshaper of the common sense and folk material of a subaltern class. Gilroy contends that Black musical traditions have supported the formation of a distinct, often priestly

Gilroy, Paul. Living Memory: An Interview with Toni Morrison, in Small Acts. (London: Serpents Tail, 1993), p, 175-182. 35 Ralph Ellison, Shadow and Act (New York: Random House, 1964), p. 234. 24

caste of organic intellectuals who represent a different kind of intellectual not least because their self-identity and their practice of cultural politics remain outside the dialectics of pity and guilt which, especially amongst oppressed people, has so often governed the relationship between the writing elite and the masses of people who exist outside of literacy.36 Freed from the internalized priorities of the enlightenment and modernist political forms, Black musicians have redefined, through practice, traditional notions of the organic intellectual and not suffered from the same intellectual anxiety and patronizing that would lead great African-American intellectuals such as DuBois to postulate the need for a Talented Tenth that would contribute to racial uplift of the Black masses. The revolutionary nature of the musicits musiciansand the attendant social relations cannot be overstated. But they can certainly be misunderstood. Gilroy suggests as much as he notes that the history and practice of Black music requires new historiographies, ones that do not view the emergence of the public sphere in bourgeois democracies as the de facto and ideal political formation. They must also be resistant to the invocation of an allencompassing textuality. In a blistering critique of this fatal flaw in dominant strands of cultural studies, Gilroy writes, The discrete notion of the aestheticis constructed by the idea and the ideology of the text and of textuality as a mode of communicative practice which provides a model for all other forms of cognitive exchange and social interaction.paying careful attention to the structures of feeling which underpin black expressive cultures can show how this critique is incomplete. It gets blocked by this allencompassing textuality. Textuality becomes a means to evacuate the problem of human agency, a means to specify the death (by fragmentation) of the subject and, in the same manoeuvre, to enthrone the literary critic as mistress or master of the domain of creative human communication. [emphasis added]37
36 37

Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993.) p. 77. Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993.) p. 77. 25

Thus, appeals to textuality as the primary historical document are not as innocent as a choice in scholastic methodology. They resemble, rather, the unconscious internalization of the enlightenments emphasis on literature as a higher ontological sphere than merely sensuous art, and take the brutality European historical development and nation-state formation, with all its attendant cultural production, to be the only viable path to the establishment of independent and consistent national/political bodies . At its worst, historians who inherit this embrace of an ethnically and geographically constructed notion of reason become the colonizers of a peoples meaning and expression, rewriting history that privileges privilege and overlooks the way culture is lived and felt by the people who breath it. For a history of the Black power movement, it could not be a more oblique approach to understanding the cultural flows that put this historical moment into motion. To reiterate, I was responding to a question on what defines revolutionary music, especially music without textuality, as jazz so defiantly celebrates. The real story, in my view, is that the nature of African-American improvised music, transmitted through orality, produced and reproduced generation after generation, continuing the chain of being that serves as an antithesis to euro-centric and eruo-aesthetic-centric accounts of modernity and modernist artist hierarchies; is that this music is so inherently revolutionary in its utopian and poetic expressions that simultaneously remember but envision a world beyond racial terror and bondageso inherently revolutionary that it passed right through the radar of cultural historians (supposedly of leftist persuasions) who unwittingly would rather write a peoples history than listen to the rhythms of


freedom that ring like muted but infinite echoes through the annals of history to bring the possibility of justice and a life after modernism, not post, but past, to our anticipating ears. The New Jazz Scholarship One might wonder why I chose to so slander these cultural historians who surely did not want much to do with music and why not look to work within the everproliferating literature in jazz studies. Admittedly, there is an emerging body of scholarship on jazz that takes seriously topics that dominate cultural studies, including the way systems of racial, gendered, and class oppression structure identities, cultural production, and artistic meaning. I am not even going to address another strand of jazz scholarship, one that has its roots in the very forces that musicians such as Abbey Lincoln and critics such Amiri Baraka were consciously attempting to subvert the hegemony of: the jazz scholarship and criticism that sees music as a universal language above and beyond the dreariness of politics, or sees jazz as an American art form no race could lay claim to despite the fact that the overwhelming number of its practitioners, innovators, and cultural materials came from African-America. I am only going to waste two sentences addressing this position, and henceforth will cite it as a hegemonic force that was being actively contested by the revolutionary Black music of the 1960s: If Black Music is universal, it is because it stands in defiance of the aesthetic and social priorities of a political and economic modality that is universally oppressive. It defies a modernist project that universalizes, individualizes, alienates and colonizes, while Black music has always celebrated, and developed, through subaltern communicative flows that emphasize radical communitarian and democratic forms of


communication, trajectories that celebrate plurality and open signifiers, and has always retained a quintessential, and ever humanizing, groove. In light of the politic-neutral position, the new jazz scholarship is a breath of fresh air. Uptown Conversation (2004), an anthology that most exemplifies this emerging body of work, writes in its introduction, emerging the recent shift, Uptown Conversation asserts that jazz is not only a music to define, it is a culture. The anthology seeks to answer What would cultural historianswith their insistent drive to questions of nationality, race, sexuality, gender, economics, and politicssay about the extraordinarily complex terrains of the new Orleans of Bunk Johnson, the North Carolina and West Side Manhattan of Thelonious Monk?38 Uptown Conversation and authors of this new school of jazz cultural criticism offer much valuable insights as cultural historians follow their insistent drive and delve into the complexities and contradictions that characterize jazz musicians life and cultural production, the way the music is seen or interpreted by white or transnational audiences, and way gendered identities merge with, or respond to, racial and class constraints to articulate masculinist assertions of identity. Four of the best books in this tradition, in my mind, are Eric Porters What is This Thing Called Jazz?: African-American Musicians as Artists, Critics, and Activists (2002), Scott Sauls Freedom is, Freedom Aint: Jazz and the Meaning of the Sixties (2003), Ingrid Monsons Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call Out to Jazz and Africa (2007), and John Gennaris Blowin Hot and Cool: Jazz and Its Critics (2006). These books are each wonderful in their own right, with detailed analyses of jazz musicians and their social relations that provide important insight into the way


Uptown Conversation. Ed. by Robert G. OMeally, Brent Hayes Edwards, and Farah Jasmine Griffin. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004). p. iv. 28

the big three (race gender class) are pivotal for understanding jazz as culture. Their insistent drive to discuss these issues, as OMeally would say, is certainly there. There is, of course, a reservation I hold; otherwise I would dive forthright into stating confidently that these are my pillars for which I will construct my own big three analysis of the 1960s avant-garde jazz world. One may call it a problem of periodization. I see it as deeper than that, as endemic to the entire institutionalized and increasingly formulaic approach cultural studies has fashioned itself. I will give some examples to illustrate this point. Scott Sauls work demonstrates perhaps the most telling limitations of this model. Though he does much to elucidate the dialectical relationship between politics and performers of jazz music, the overarching thesis of his book seems to be that the politics and jazz were indeed intertwined, or this music did indeed have social implications. For instance, Saul sees Jesse Jacksons Operation Breadbasket, at which Cannonball Adderlys quintet played, as somehow linked or part of the same historical formation as Tapscotts coupling, at one point, with the Black Panther Party. Of course these are both linked to Black politics, but they are very different manifestations, musically and politically, and Sauls work suffers from neither mentioning nor contextualizing this distinction. There are certainly themes he tracessay, rising Black militancy in jazz, or the way Black music contributed to an American counterculturebut it seems casually or secondarily connected to other formations in the Black community such as the Black Arts Movement, anti-Imperialist solidarity, and the Black Power movement as a whole. I could continue: Ingrid Monson reads white critical backlash against Abbey Lincoln as accusations of Crow Jim and as anticipating discourses of reverse racism to


follow in the 80s to today. (To paraphrase the story: Ira Gilter attacks Abbey Licolns album Straight Ahead! for its Black power and feminist content, accusing her of exploited this image and calling her a professional Negro, and practicing Crow Jim in music. Lincoln and many enraged readers attacked downbeat until Lincoln and Max Roach were given an audience to speak their views with the critical establishment.) While the struggle over racial representation is integral to the political development of the 1960s, there is little or no mention of parallel developments within the Black community that would not only contextualize this confrontation, but demonstrate the historic arc of this struggle occurring in jazz years before its materialization in other cultural spheres. Indeed, I see the Lincoln event as a profound moment in jazz history when Black artists both exposed and actively challenged the always present racism and paternalistic control of the critical establishmentand this went hand-in-hand with the upsurge of Black critics writing on, and redefined the meaning of, jazz. As Amiri Baraka recently wrote, The 60s upsurge of Black writers on jazz was a the same time a reflection of the Black masses cry for self-determination (at its most practical, beginning with selfdefinition).39 This style of scholarship was foreseen byand worrisome tosome of the most innovative thinkers who give flesh to its methodology. Stuart Hall, for instance, warned about an institutionalized cultural studies that reduced power to something so ubiquitous and undifferentiated that it would lose the ability to grasp more historical readings of power and political formations: My fear at that moment was that if cultural studies gained an equivalent

Baraka, Amiri. Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.) p. 46. 30

institutionalization in the American context, if would, in rather the same way, formalize out of existence the critical questions of power, history, and politicsThere is no moment now, in American cultural studies, where we are not able, extensively and without end, to theorize powerpolitics, race, class and gender, subjugation, domination, exclusion, marginality, Otherness, etc. There is hardly anything in cultural studies which isnt so theorized. And yet, there is the nagging doubt that this overwhelming textualization of cultural studies own discourses somehow constitutes power and politics as exclusively matters of language and textuality itself.40 The quest for self-determination influenced each of these Black Artists and Activists mentioned above, as collectively they became consolidated into a militant and revolutionary historical bloc that comprised of Black artists of many stripes, grassroots activists of color promoting autonomy and creating institutions for the people, antiImperialists activists in the United States and anti-Imperialist states such as Cuba and China, and, of course, the delegates of the Bandung Conference and the promise of a worldwide revolution of the lower classes spearheaded by Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans. I am afraid it is the unwillingness of these authors to read provocative yet essential threads into this vignettes which otherwise become interesting anecdotes or isolated instances of a power/resistance matrix yet do not help us understand the profound ways these incidents reflect and shape powerful historical forces reshaping populations, and being reshaped by them, in a particular period. I think, it other words, that it is the emptying of Stuart Halls Gramscian influence, and therefore his Marxism, that makes such a historicity impossible or seemingly irrelevant. Yet without understanding the moment of decolonization, the powerful ways that imaginations of African decolonization created new sites symbolic capital from which Black artists and

Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies. ed. Kuan-Hsing Chen & David Morley. (Routledge: 1996). p. 341. 31

activists could draw from to articulate a new language and project of freedom that transcended civil rights without a restructuring of power and social relations and Capitalism itself, we are only looking at a resemblance of a VH1 show that may be titled I love sociological analyses of jazz in the 60s splattered with 30 second shots and punchy stories. Indeed, without looking at the way social movements shape not only the consciousness of those swept up in their winds, but what knowledge and theories they articulate, we may lose the greater part of their whole legacy. As Robin Kelley writes in Freedom Dreams, Progressive social movements do not simply produce statistics and narratives of oppression; rather, the best ones do what great poetry always does: transport us to another place, compel us to relive horrors and, more importantly, enable us to imagine a new society. We must remember that the conditions and the very existence of social movements enable participants to imagine something different, to realize that things need not always be this way. It is that imagination, that effort to see the future in the present, that I shall call poetry or poetic knowledge.41 I believe that avant-garde Black musicians most powerfully articulated this poetic knowledge, anticipating political and artistic developments to follow them. John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy had long been experimenting with scales and sounds from India and Africa, Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach in 1960 released Tears for Johannesburg in the Freedom Now! suite, and Randy Weston released Uruhu Afrika! In 1961all powerfully figuring Bandung in music, all powerfully articulating a new Black aesthetic and consciousness which identified with Africa and self-consciously built a political and historical subjectivity which aligned not with the burning house of the United States but the possibility of a democratic postcolonial politics. Simultaneously, Horace Tapscott


Kelley, Robin. Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination. (Boston: Beacon Press, 2003.) p. 9. 32

was in Watts building grassroots institutions, Williams was using Ornette and Coltrane as a consciousness-raising soundtrack for Radio Free Dixie!, and the Black Arts Movement began to kick into full gear with the decolonized music as their point of departure. The new music was powerfully Afro-centric and reached into the past and future at once, drawing on continuum of black diaspora musical tradition and articulating a vision of freedom for the future. As Njoroge Njoroge suggests in his discussion of Songs for Johannesburg in Freedom Now!, The rhythmic conversation between Roach, DuVall, Mantilla, an Olatunji speak to the polyrhythmic unity of the diaspora. All in all, the mood of the album is one of righteous indignation and revolutionary change; it is in direct communication with the battles of the emerging Third World, at home and abroad, and presents a musical portrait of the past, present, and future of Black liberation.42 Indeed, Njoroge finds the invocation of polyrhythm and third world imaginations so compelling that he suggests that the new music provides a model for theorizing the Third World as a political and ideological entity.43 In this way, he suggests that it is the music that anticipates and in some ways, fundamentally constructs historical transformations, especially when what is at stake is the formation of a new political subjectivity. Black creative music truly was a site of the creation of new diasporic public spheres in the sense of Ajun Appadurais discussion on the creation of new ethnic and political subjectivities.44 Using Raymond Williams understanding of hegemony and cultural practice vis-vis Gramsci, I will argue that African-American creative practice and innovation in the

Njoroge, Njoroge. Dedicated to Struggle: Black Music, Transculturation, and the Aural Making and Unmaking of the Third World. Black Music Research Journal. (Vol. 21, No. 2, Fall 2008,) p. 99. 43 Ibid, p. 90. 44 Appadurai, Ajun. Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Political economy. Public Culture. (1990) 33

jazz tradition, and specifically the move towards both the artistic autonomy of Black musicians and a reclaiming of an African identification, was a fundamental catalyst for an emergent revolutionary consciousness that purported Black self-determination and antiImperialism. Williams notes that for Gramsci, rationales for class domination are not simply heavy ideologies that the subaltern classes have been blindly led to believe; rather, it is a much more dynamic and, in some ways, reciprocal process in which ideologies are not only thought but lived and internalized by oppressed classes, transforming the question of class rule and revolutionary activity in opposition to it. This is one way of thinking about Gramscis innovative (and to this day not fully utilized) concept of hegemony. The attempt to create an alternative hegemony by connecting, intellectually and practically, different forms of struggle, thus takes many forms that encompass the whole of lived experience, not only pure political struggle, in which faint ideas of a strike or a march play as images behind this oblique and insidiously narrow understanding of political activity. In this more expansive understanding of class rule and resistance to it, cultural work is both tradition and practice45 and creative practice is thus of many kinds. Williams powerfully writes, at the end of Marxism and Literature, It is already, and actively our practical consciousness. When it becomes strugglethe active struggle for new consciousness through new relationships that is the ineradicable emphasis of the Marxist sense of self-creationit can take many forms. It can be the long and difficult remaking of an inherited (determined) practical consciousness: a process often described as developmental but in practice a struggle at the roots of the mindnot casting off an ideology, or learning phrases about it, but confronting a hegemony in the fibers of the self and in the hard practical substance of effective and continuing relationships[it is] the embodiment and performance of known but excluded and subordinated experiences and relationships, the articulations and formation of latent,


Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.) p. 111. 34

momentary, and newly possible consciousness.46 Such a paragraph could not better delineate the meaning of African-American creative practice in the jazz idiom. The collective musical currents of the 1950s and 1960s were the musical manifestations of an increasingly militant and defiant Black consciousness to white supremacist and Euro-centric aesthetic and intellectual standards for art, and the movements toward greater self-expression and artistic autonomy in jazz and self-discoveryis implicit and lived in the experience of the musical performance of the avant-garde, in which improvisational soloing was less and less subservient to either a preconceived harmonic and rhythmic framework, or white critical standards. Thus, the longer and more cataclysmic screaming of tenor saxophonist John Coltrane in his late work resembles (or makes audible) the long search of African-American selfdiscovery and self-determination. Coltrane confronted old musical forms that had been reified or entrapped African-American musical and practical consciousness, confronted a hegemony in the fibers of himself to begin articulating a new musical vernacular that called for African-American liberation from white supremacy, both on the streets and in the soul. Given the power of this creative destruction, and resurrection, this could not be otherwise. This is certainly the phenomenology Baraka describes while discussing Coltranes work. For Baraka, Coltranes work takes on Fanonian proportions in its murder of white, weaker musical forms: he wrote that Coltrane showed us how to murder the popular song. To do away with weak Western forms. He is a beautiful philosopher. The popular song he murdered, My Favorite Things, sounds utterly transformed with Coltranes


ibid, p. 212. 35

rendering, which turns its quaint melody into an epic, turbulent sea of soprano sax notes spanning the depth of human emotion and potentialities of consciousness, with a booming Elvin Jones transforming the drums from a timekeeper to central source of texture and emotional meaning. As Saul writes, Coltrane was an avatar of black vernacular modernism, a hero who confronted older forms in order to dispose of them and, in the process, made himself unrecognizable to his previous selves.47 It is Fanons understanding of the self-constitutive, therapeutic, and phenomenological effects of revolutionary violence directed towards white colonial settlers for the colonized population: one must literally kill the white man in order to become a human themselves. Similarly, Baraka says, New Black Music is this: Find the self, then kill it.48 --the self here being these white, weaker forms that the Black musician has had culturally imposed on him through centuries of white oppression, internalized racism, and the demands of a primarily white-controlled market and critical establishment. What was underway is what I would like to call the decolonization of music in the Black creative imagination, one inherently radical and radicalizing in its position to Black intellectuals, the Black community at large, and in its challenge to the mainstream and white controlled jazz institutions that both defined and maintained a hegemony over the jazz world. This went hand-in-hand with the emergence of an independent or decolonizing Third World which itself was finding its own voice and whose energies would be transmitted to the jazz avant-garde in a variety of ways, both in its implicit historic or symbolic energies and the invocation of South Asian, Indian, and African scales and aesthetics by John Coltrane, Max Roach, Sun Ra, and countless others.
47 48

Saul, Freedom Is, Freedom Aint. p. 214. Baraka, Black Music. p. 227. 36

This music would serve as the basis of a powerful and internally divided revolutionary movement in Africa America that extolled different visions of empowerment, third-world solidarity, and revolutionary change. Yet it was all connected to a deep identification with the poetic knowledge offered by the musicians whose powerful invocation of Africa and spiritual and artistic autonomy and freedom inspired a possibility of struggle and a future which transcended the economic, racial, and rationalist logic of capitalist modernity and the racial stratification that went hand-in-hand with it. This thesis will trace the centrality of the avant-garde jazz as a bridge conduit between African decolonization, the liberatory traditions of Black musical forms, and Black popular consciousness. Chapter 1 will look at the ways in which musicians such as Abbey Lincoln, Max Roach, and Charles Mingus not only engaged in anticolonial politics, but also actively created independent jazz collectives, festivals, and contested the means of cultural production and representation, years before such activism was deemed necessary by the Black intelligentsia in arts and letters. Chapter 2 will look at a more broad-based scale of the intersection between American neo-colonialism, Black radicalism, and their articulation in the enigmatic Sun Ra, whose cosmic mythology and deconstruction of Western musical tradition deeply influenced Black Arts Movement activists. The paper will conclude with a reconsideration of the contours of Black Atlantic musical traditions and what they can tell us, not only about jazz and Black America, but about the decolonization of modernity itself.


The Newport Rebels and the Sound of Liberation
It was not everyday that one saw an upright Charles Mingus, plucking his equally upright bass with both vitriolic and virtuostic intensity, in an automobile denouncing the exploitative and demeaning conditions of the jazz industry and their incarnate Newport Jazz Festival. It was certainly not everyday that jazz musicians organized to create a counter festival, as they did at Cliff Walk Manor on the weekend of July 4th, 1960. But Charles Mingus was not your everyday bassist, and neither were the musicians who participated the Newport Rebels Festival your everyday musicians. They were defiant African-Americans fed up with the exploitative and debasing conditions of the jazz industry, and were prepared to take the streets to make their voicesand their music heard. Autonomous and collectivist African-American jazz institutions proliferated in the 1960s, modeled around overlapping ideologies of Black self-determination, artistic integrity, anti-capitalist ethos, the development of the Black consciousness movement, and a determination to create art that reflected and spoke to Black working-class communities. Such establishments not only paralleled the militant activities of Civil Rights and Black Power activists and institutions; in many cases, they interacted with and preceded them. This is most evident, perhaps, in the aforementioned case of the UGMAAs creation of a Watts breakfast program which later would come under the auspices of the Black Panther Party; but it was not alone by any means, especially if we


consider less direct correspondences and opt for an analysis of analogous formations between the street and the bandstand. One such challenge to white cultural and economic power can be found at George Weins Newport Jazz Festival in 1960, then a seven-year old staple in the promotion of a hegemonic, American exceptionalist narrative of jazz as a multicultural and pluralistic achievement. Or rather, the challenge was not found at the Newport Jazz Festival itself, but rather, beside itat the Newport Rebels festival, held down the street at Cliff Walk manor, organized by Charles Mingus, Max Roach, and a disaffected divorcee of the Newport elite, Elaine Lorillard. The Newport Rebels festival was a protest of the exploitative and degrading policies of George Wein, who, despite his favorable treatment in Ken Burns Jazz, infamously favored white mainstream jazz artists in his hiring policies and notoriously underpaid well-respected but less commercially viable musicians such as Mingus and Roach.49 Given the hyper-profitability of the Newport festival, the poor pay for these African-American artists were not only in bad ethical judgment but laid bare the exploitive social relations of the entire jazz industry at large. The festival is a telling flashpoint and precursor of the struggles to unravel in the meaning and location of jazz in the 1960s Black Liberation movement, as well as the struggle of cutting-edge AfricanAmerican jazz musicians to define the social valences and aesthetic accents of the music


See, for instance, Nat Hentoff, Requiem for a Festival, Commonweal, August 5, 1960, pp. 394-395. His comments that the Newport festival had developed a cavalier financial attitude toward jazzmen who lacked mass name appeal but who were recognized by their colleagues as among the most important of current contributors to the music. A Louis Armstrong or a Benny Goodman had the box office appeal and a tough booking office to get top fees from the N.J.F., but the less widely renowned jazzmen were often pressured into coming to Newport for smaller sums than they deserved. 39

in opposition to the powerful colonizing apparatus of the various institutional formations of a white-controlled cultural industry. The Newport Jazz Festival had been in existence for some six years and stood not only as a living embodiment of the dominant encryption of jazz, but also a telling example of its hyper-profitable aspects to mainstream music corporations. In 1958, for instance, the Newport Jazz Festival raked in $500,000 for Newports local economy aloneand the following year, Down Beat estimated the figure was close to $1 million.50 The attendance of the festival reached 50,000 in 1957 and increased thereafter, and the patronage was predominantly white youth, with few African-Americansin 1960, they made up only 10 percent of the audience.51 Henry Luces Life magazine played up its overwhelming white patronage, in a clear distancing of jazz from its African-American roots and cultural connotations, describing the festival-goers as a healthy group of youngsters, under a photo of seven fit, happy and thoroughly WASP-y teens having fun on the beach. Life, as with Luces Time magazine, had long been in the business of inscribing hegemonic meanings to American cultural and musical forms, and absorbing what it could into legitimating and whitening narratives from the jazz art world. The latter, Time, had in 1954 notoriously placed white pianist Dave Brubeck as the first jazz artist to be donned the honor of Person of the Year, the first to be awarded to a jazz musicians, and well before any African American jazz musicians far more significant and deserving of the award, including Brubecks own overwhelming influence, Duke Ellington. The article
50 51

Saul, Scott. Freedom Is, Freedom Aint. p. 104. Anthony J. Agostinelli, The Newport Jazz Festival; Rhode Island1954-1971: A Significant Era in the Development of Jazz (Providence, R.I.L Anthony J, Agostinelli, 1981)., p. 48. 40

commemorating him is more a celebration of jazzs appropriation by white artists and cultural meanings than Brubecks artistry itself. Referring to Brubeck and other white, West-coast style musicians as modernists, the article is full of racially tinged euphemisms describing jazzs legitimization as a modern art form. Jazz as played by Brubeck and other modernists (Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Stan Getz, Shorty Rogers) is neither chaotic nor abandoned. It evokes neither swinging hips nor hip flasks.52 Time explains this definition of modern, which not only is devoid of swinging hips but also dismisses any historical relationship to African-American protest and jazzs social memory of racial slavery and its powerful and radical call for human freedom: What Is "Modern"? By now, the birth and growth of jazz have become American folklore. The critics like to call it "music of protest": it started with slave chants, work songs, blues, gaudy Negro funeral parades in New Orleansthose noisy expressions of bravado in the face of death by such greats-to-be as King Oliver, Sidney Bechet and Louis Armstrong who blatted their way from the cemetery playing High Society or Didn't He Ramble The jazz style called modern does not protest against anything very much except dullness. At its best, it swings as vigorously as any of its predecessors, but once it starts swinging, it seems to move on to more interesting matters, such as tinkering up a little canon la Bach or some dissonant counterpoint la Bartok or even a thrashing crisis la Beethoven.53 In one move, jazz is not only robbed of its relationship to Black Freedom Dreamsthe longing for justice and a humanity that transcends the alienated subjectivity of modernityit is also has ignored such the banal concerns of African-American aesthetic traditions to move on to more interesting matters, that is, the styles of European classical music. Modern here means white, civil, intellectually sophisticatedwhile black certainly connotes the opposite.

Music: The Man on Cloud No. 7. Time. Monday, Nov. 08, 1954. p.2 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,857657-2,00.html. Accessed March 10, 2010. 53 Ibid, p. 3. 41

Beyond an intuitive ethical outrage that Time generates, it represents a larger, powerful cultural force taking place at this time vis--vis the meaning and legacy of jazz in the American narrative. Jazz had always been under assault by white appropriation and re-definition, but its inflection in late 1950s America had particular connotations and dimensions in the context of its rising popularity among white youths across a larger spectrum than disaffected hipsters. Recognizing its popularity and profitability, institutions such as Time, Life, and the Newport Jazz Festival were renaming its social valences away from protest to good health, discipline, and drug-free fun. As white youths increasingly inhabited the Newport festival, it drew the attention of the mainstream media. As jazz historian Scott Saul notes, Life magazines first coverage of the festival featured not a single African-American face or body; instead, the photo essay followed Long Islands Farmingdale High School Jazz band as these healthy young tyros scored a jazz hit with the festival audience.54 According to Life, The jazz prodigies who had rivaled the pros were no hipsters but a healthy group of youngsters who prefer to tranquilize their preshow jitters on the beach. Their solid musicianship is largely the work of Bandmaster Marshall Brown, who trains his team with the devotion of a football coach. The reworking of jazz from Time and Lifes previous portrayal of the music and its attendant subculture as one of drugs, perversion, and unwanted miscegenation to an all-white, wholesome and disciplined popular form was part of a larger positional shift of jazz. Jazz music, writes Saul, like rock n roll, was being retooled aggressivelyto be made safe.55 Thus, Newport benefited economically and jazz promoters and industry men such as George Wein profited handsomely by jazzs reinscription into the American
54 55

Saul, Scott. Freedom Is, Freedom Aint. p. 111. Ibid, p. 112. 42

narrative. A deal was struck, notes Saul: The festival would help jazz purge itself of the taint of nightclubs, while the music would help furbish Newports antiquated image and pump money into its local economy.56 This exchange of cultural capital would help Time, and other hegemonic cultural institutions, dislocate the protest and Black militancy associated with the powerful and powerfully appealing music jazz was, while George Wein could now rely on favorable press and compelling profits for his endeavors.

Culture and Art Belong to the People

The process by which Black cultural and folk forms became appropriated, canonized and exploited by white artists with institutional support had been underway decades before the 1950s. Its ideological underpinnings were made explicit in white American cultural critic Glibert Seldess The Seven Lively Arts, written in 1924, a cultural analysis of American popular art forms. In a somewhat anxious response to Broadway folk-operas that clearly fashioned stereotyped African-American folk forms as their raw materials, Seldes asserted, The one claim never made for the Negro shows is that they are artistic.57 Artistry, for Seldes, was only to be found in the hands of white cultural producers, who could appropriate and re-package Black folk forms into high art. He continues with an analysis of jazz that strongly resonates with the characterization given by Time some 30 years later: Nowhere is the failure of the Negro to exploit his gifts more obvious than in the use he had made of the jazz orchestra: for although nearly every Negro jazz band is better than nearly every white band, no Negro band has yet come up to the level of the best white ones, and the leader of the best of all, by a little joke is called [Paul] Whiteman.58
56 57

Ibid, p. 108. Seldes, Gilbert. The Seven Lively Arts. (Dover Publications: 2001.) p. 147. 58 Ibid, p. 109. 43

Seldes mention of the high art that Whiteman was able to exploit in his use of the orchestrated jazz materials speaks both to the cultural debasement forced upon AfricanAmericans by white critical authorities and the profound anxiety that American popular cultural forms would inevitably have as their raw material Black folk forms. Indeed, that Seldes had to include a discussion of Black folk materials in his discussion of American art, only to dismiss the artistic worth of Black Americans, is telling. He could not ignore African-American influence on American art altogether, no matter how much he would have liked. Harold Crusess Crisis of the Negro Intellectual was based in the study and examination of this contradiction in American cultural identity and its implications for the cultural theft and debasement suffered by Black Americans at the hands of whites. In his words, Seldes mixed feelings and critical ambivalence concerning Negro music stemmed from his awareness that jazz would have to become Americas national music, or at least form its basic ingredients. This grievously worried many white critics then, and it explains why they still maintain the artistic superiority of the European symphonic music tradition, refuting that jazz is the basis of the American classical music tradition.59 In Cruises view, it was inevitable that African-Americans would form the basis of popular American culture, due to several factors, one of which was the Black Americans held a decidedly anti-capitalist critique inherent in their work that functioned as the core of its appeal to an unequivocally materialist American culture. This ambivalence regarding the African-American materials of white popular culture, most evident in its musical traditions, from Blues to Bluegrass to Big-Band Swing to Gershwins Porgy and


Cruse, Harold. Crisis of the Negro Intellectual. (Quill: 1984), p. 105. 44

Bess, are what produced the whitening and legitimating processes that Seldes, Time, Life, and Newport Jazz festival all had to constantly undertake in order to prevent American national identity form crumbling under the wake of its internal contradictionsthe contradictions inherent in an imperial societys celebration (a decidedly unconscious celebration) of an enslaved populations culture as the cornerstone of its own. It was this twist of fate in the history of American modernityand the source of its greatest internal crisisthat led to the basis of Ralph Ellisons sense of excitement and surprise of men living in the worldof enslaved and politically weak men imposing their values upon a powerful society through song and dance.60 Yet, another reason for the hegemony of Black musical forms in Jim Crow America, in addition to its anti-capitalist resonanceand perhaps, the source of itis, I would argue, due to the ineffable historical and spiritual energy in Black music described earlier through the words of Paul Gilroy. The musics powerful reclaiming of a social memory of slavery that had been systemically repressed, though not forgotten, by American ideological and discursive institutions, as well as its dynamically antiphonal structure, fostered in the spaces outside of official modernity and enfranchised national citizenry in the America, forged from resistance and compassionate solidarity, inherently lead to a radical critique of an individuated and alienated subject and its corresponding ethnically homogenous nation-state. It is this location, inside and outside of modernity, that is the essence of those that are canonized in the jazz tradition nowthose that could play inside and outside the changes, free and disciplined. It embodied the most insightful cultural schizophrenia, one that maintained the folk while entering the modern.

Quoted in Genarri, John. Blowin Hot and Cool: Jazz and its Critics. (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2006.) p. 279. 45

The music laid bare the power within an embrace of difference, and ridiculed the obstinately superficial and shallow artistic forms that such an obsession with cultural homogeneity (and its attendant racialized violence) would inevitably produce. It ridiculed them, not only in its performance but its signifyin of American popular forms, such as Charlie Parkers appropriation of All the Things You Are and Coltranes famous rendition of My Favorite Things. In the wake of the musical destruction of the mythical pure and homogenously Anglo-Saxon nation, through the interplay of one racially fractured self and other that not only jazz but the whole continuum of African-American music held at its core, a radical cosmopolitanism was born that celebrated the sonic frequencies, painful cries and transcendent furious love of all in its community. Salim Washington describes this cosmopolitanism in his essay Mbaqanga: The Social Valences of Jazz in Post-Apartheid South Africa, born from a racially fractured self, in his discussion of the relationship between South African and African American musical communities, Both groups were recipients of a condescending paternalistic culture leading to a type of cultural schizophrenia at its worst, but more usually a complex cosmopolitanism that has roots stretching back into the antiquities of Africa and Europe, but mostly formed in the messy crucible of modernity with all of its vicious and promising characteristics.61 For Salim, it was this cosmopolitanism that made the musical language of jazz traverse from African American to South Africa so powerfully and infectiously; and, I will argue, it also serves the basis of the globalist perspective African American artists began to don in full force during this decade, as will be demonstrated later with Max Roach and Abbey Lincolns Tears for Johannesburg and Charles Minguss Haitian Fight Song. Both of

Washington, Salim. Mbaqanga: The Social Valences of Jazz in Post-Apartheid South Africa. Unpublished Manuscript. p. 5. 46

these songs were anti-colonial and internationalist in nature, and as with artists and activists to follow, used the symbol and reality of Third World liberation struggles to fuel the anti-racist and anti-imperialist character of their work. Simultaneously, these pieces were in tandem with the project of reclaiming jazz during this decade that these artists anticipated and ushered in at the showdown at Newport, where white cultural colonization and the struggle Black artistic autonomy met. As we will see, this project was a thoroughly masculinist undertaking whose connotations did not challenge traditional gender roles and did not extend the struggle for Black liberation to a challenge of the patriarchal social relations in the music industry, a shortcoming that was evident in the entirety of the Black Arts Movement.

The Birth of a Sound

The powerful economic and cultural forces that Newport represented meant that resistance was necessary if the African-American artist were to retain music as the privileged site of cultural autonomy and Black identity. Harold Cruses The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, published in 1967, articulated the need for such an organized resistance, and a powerful process of self-theorizing, and artistic production born out of this process, that could overcome a rampant colonizing cultural appropriation. In his words, This uniqueness results historically from the manner in which American cultural developments have been influenced but the Negro presence. Since a cultural philosophy has been cultivated to deny this truth, it remains for the Negro intellectual to create his own philosophy and to bring the facts of cultural history in focus with the cultural practices of the present. in advanced societies the cultural front is a special one that requires techniques not at all perceived, understood, or appreciated by political philistines. There are those among the latter who give lip service to the idea that Culture and Art belong to the People, but what they actually give to the peopleis not worthy


of examination. It is the Negro creative intellectual who must take seriously the idea that culture and art belong to the peoplewith all the revolutionary implications of that idea. Cruses words offer a powerful rallying call for Black creative intellectuals to undergo the process of creating a cultural philosophy that not only diagnosed the mulatto character of American popular forms, but also critically theorized the role of the AfricanAmerican artists in relationship to the Black community. Implicit in this argument is a calling into question what Culture and Art that belong to the People actually constitutes. What constitutes autonomous Black art, or Black artistic production that belongs to, and speaks with, for, and through, Black communities? Cruses polemical work was a fiery inspiration to a whole generation of Black Arts activists and artists but, I will argue, a startling observation is made when one notes that the work he describes as essential and revolutionary was already underway seven years before Crisiss publication, at Newport, 1960. The only difference was that it was not in the pen of the writer, but in the plucked string of the upright bass, was this volcanic autonomy emerging from the ashes of white cultural colonization. Charles Mingus and Max Roachs polemical anti-festival came about from a deep aversion to what they perceived as the truly offensive and exploitative conditions handed out to African-American musicians. The anti-festival was put together in the few weeks before, when Charles Mingus denied George Weins offer for $700 and demanded $5,000, noting that white clarinetist and swing-icon Benny Goodman was being paid a hefty $7,500.62 When Wein predictably refused, Mingus and Roach put together the Newport Rebels festival at Cliff Walk Manor Hotel nearby, with the support of Elaine


Priestly, Brian. Mingus: A Critical Biography. (1982) P. 115. 48

Lorillard, whose divorce from a prominent Newport elite left her barred from the Newport Jazz Festivals board of trustees. This alliance itself is noteworthy, for its implications in an unrealized alliance between feminist and Black Power positionalities. The full list of performers spanned several generations of jazz musicians, from swing-era trumpeter Roy Eldridge to the avant tonalities of Eric Dolphy, from elder statesman tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins to the bombastic improvisations of Ornette Coleman, signaling broad discontent from the offensive appropriation and exploitation of jazz from a wide cross-section of African-American jazz musicians. 63 The festival did not proceed without challenges from a variety of institutional barriers and challenges from the commercial jazz apparatus. Mingus was prevented from staying at his motel room he had reserved on the phone because his phenotype was not what the manager had expected; the festival was almost not given a permit to open by the City Council, which Mingus accused George Wein of operating (to which Mingus reportedly called Wein and threatened to kill him in front of 10,000 people and throw acid at Elaines ex-husband, Louis Lorillard); and a prominent critic threatening to ruin Minguss career.64 In the words of Mingus, [I was] putting up tents.[and] walking around with a sledgehammer [while] a while known criticwas asking me questions and I was trying to answer himDont you know I could break youdestroy your whole professional life.


The full list of musicians included Minguss quartet with Booker Little; Roach with Walter Benton, Julian Priester, Ahmed Abdul-Malik and Abbey Lincoln; Kenny Dorham with Allen Eager, Kennry Frew, Wilber Ware, Art Taylor and Teddy Charles; Cecil Payne, Duke Jordan, Nico Bunink, Baby Laurence, and vocalists Hendricks and Marilyn Moore; the representatives of the new free jazz, Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell; and three elders, Jo Jones, Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge. 64 Priestly, Brian. Mingus: A Critical Biography. (Da Capo: 1982) P. 115. 49

Youre supposed to give me some respect. Kiss my ass, m.r, I said. [Dots appear in text.]65 Given his antipathy to the upsurge of Black consciousness in the jazz world in the 1960s, and his highly offensive review of Abbey Lincolns Straight Ahead, discussed below, one can only wonder if this reviewer was Mr. Gilter, Ira Gilter of Downbeat. In any event, it is clear that the festival was seen as a threat to a variety of overlapping sourcesthe jazz critical establishment, the Newport Jazz Festival, the city of Newport, and anyone who feared an African-American running and curating an independent show. In contrast to the Newport Jazz Festival, the Newport Rebel Festival had a very different system of social relationsmusicians kept all of the entrance fees and were given complete artistic control.66 Another discrepancy between the two was the level and style of advertisinginstead of having massive media outlets producing reviews and advertising for millions of viewers nationwide, as the Newport Jazz Festival did, Mingus was described as standing on the seat of a convertible, his bass in hand, appealing to one and all Come to my festival!67 The reclaiming of the streets through mobile musicking would be one of the strategies Black Arts activists would use later in the 1960s, a way of powerfully redefining the public sphere and structure of feeling felt and perceived by those caught in the sonic forays speaking Black liberation. The Newport Rebel Festival started with only fifty people in attendance, yet by the end the weekend they had garnered crowds of up to 500. The fate of the Newport Jazz Festival was quite the oppositeit was tarnished and cancelled by a drunken riot of white

65 66

Interview with Stanley Dance, Jazz, November/December 1963. Monson, Ingrid. Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Calls Out to Jazz and Africa. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.) 67 Quoted by Burt Goldblatt, Newport Jazz Festival, Dial Press, 1977, p. 72. 50

youth, twelve thousand of who were barred from attending the sold out festival and turned their denial into wanton destruction of the aristocratic town. Police used tear gas and high pressure hoses on the crowd to prevent them from reaching the vulnerable property of the upper classed Newport residentsthe festival was only a quarter mile from Millionaires Row, the regal estates along the picturesque cliffs. Rioters, meanwhile, responded with fusillades of beer cans. 68 The rioters had the affect of shutting down the Newport Jazz Festival two days early, as well as the damaging of Newport property. For many commentators, the rioters were the inevitable consequence of the vapid commercialization of the jazz festival. For many years the festivals board of directors had promoted garnering a target audience of general, not too hip, jazz fans who were described as vacationers; college crowd; people seeking entertainment; curious first-timers. Charles Mingus rebuked any sympathy for the festivals organizers when he put forward simply that the festival deserve[d] [the riot] because they confused rock n roll with jazz. They lost their identity with jazz. Jazz critic and fellow Rebel Festival organizer Net Hentoff agreed: In grabbing for more and more business each year, [the festival] had encouraged the conviction among thousands of teenagers that Newport had become a carniavl town over the July 4th weekend. Neither the beer-drinkers nor the musicians had any illusions left that the N.J.F. had anything basically to do with art.69 If the contradictions between an economic project of producing and expanding a consumerist ethos and a cultural project of legitimatization and whitenening came crashing down in the youth riot at Newport proper, the Rebels Festival suffered neither
68 69

Saul, Scott. Freedom Is, Freedom Aint. p. 100 Saul. FI, FA. p. 102-103. 51

such qualifier. The shows at Cliff Manor were reported to have been dynamic and diversified between the pan-stylistic presence and unconditional artistic autonomy: among the notable performances were a nearly vicious rendition of Better Git It in your Soul, a twenty-minute duet between Mingus and Roach, and a collective improvisation between Mingus and Roach plus Kenny Dorham, Julian Priester and Ornette Coleman which provoked Mingus into one of the best solos he ever played.70 Collective improvisation was a signal of the moves jazzs politicized avant-garde were to make in the coming years, and Minguss amazing solo on this style was due not only to its unconditional embrace of antiphony away from all pre-meditated structural devices, but must also be linked to the defiant and militant nature of the festival at large. The concept of a collectively improvised space surely would have been utterly rejected by George Wein and the Newport Jazz Festivals board of trustees.71 On the Monday, July 4th, after the festival, Mingus, Roach, and Jo Jones announced the formation of the Jazz Artists Guild, a collective that attempted to institutionalize the dynamic and autonomous creative space that the Rebel Festival was able to create. According to Saul, the collective had a fighting mission: to keep artistic control in the hands of jazz musicians, to distribute industry profits more equitably, and to stage performances in venues benefiting the honor of the jazz music itself. 72The collective took up residence at East 74th street on the East side of New York City, in a building that had once been home to the Bavarian Music Hall. Alcohol sale was not
70 71

New Yorker, 16 July 1960. Unfortunately, these performances were not recorded, but the Jazz Artists Guild which formed in the Rebels Festivals wake did record two albums, one of which is still in print from Candid, titled Newport Rebels. The tracks are most noted for their overwhelming variety 72 Saul, p. 126. 52

permitted and musical integrity was prioritized above any commercial concern. Commentators drew direct analogies with Civil Rights activism in articles such as Jazz Leaves the Plantation, where George Hoefer wrote, the new Jazz Artists Guildrepresents the first clear-cut mass break by Negro jazz-men from their former economic strangleholds. Journalist Maley Dufty, meanwhile, made a bold comparison between Alabama sit-ins and the collective: The difference between that East 74th Street Theater and the province is merely a longitude and latitude of geography. The issue is the same: Liberation.73 Duftys point is a telling window into the structure of feeling in Black aesthetic and political currents in the early 1960sand demonstrates the continuity between the liberatory instance of collective improvisation, freed from the trappings of Western harmonic and rhythmic structure, and the struggle to end racial apartheid in the Southern United States by exposing the political violence that structured the entirety of social life in the south. In both instances, African-Americans were defiantly rejected the institutional, aesthetic and psychological conditions of white supremacy. What was underway was no less than a decolonization of space, place, and timea liberation of the body and the mind, through sound and struggle. The Jazz Artists Guild also experienced its share of political violence. Max Roachs manager was kidnapped and driven to New Jersey by unknown thugs who demanded to know who operated the JAG and its organizational practices. Its crumbling would result less from state or paramilitary repression, however, and more from internal contradictions: a lack of consistent patronage for an autonomous Black musical space, which may be unsurprising given its location on the Lower East Side. The Guild would

Hoefer, George. Jazz Laeves the Plantation, Maley D. Dufty, The Sound of Truth. In Jazz Artists Guild Folder, Institute of Jazz Studies,, Newark, N.J. 53

figure as the first of failed attempts for consistent artistic autonomy in New York City, and its economic un-viability may have been preceded by the sloppy and heavy-handed distribution of money that followed the Newport Rebels festival, in which musicians seemed to take earnings in a free-for-all that culminated in Kenny Dorham walking off with the remainder. The failure to transcend capitalist social relations in meant that dissolution was inevitable. However, it would be wrong to write the guild off as a failure. It anticipated similar collectivist autonomous spaces created by African-American artists by years, and it opened space for collaboration between Abbey Lincoln, Max Roach and the veteran Coleman Hawkins, and the record they would produce together, The Freedom Now! Suite, was a milestone of jazz activism in the decade and will be discussed below. Both the Rebel Festival and the reclaiming of the Lower East Sides Barvain Music Hall were symbolic and material instances of African-American attempts to reclaim artistic and geographical space to advance an autonomous Black aesthetic. The attempt to shutdown both by different state-linked forces evokes Jacques Attalis observation that systems of power prioritize the monopolization of sound as way to situate and produce docile subjects: All music, any organization of sounds is then a tool for the creation or consolidation of a community, of a totality. It is what links a power center to its subjects, and thus, more generally, it is an attribute of power in all of its forms.[therefore,] since noise is the source of power, power has always listened to it with satisfactionwho among us is free of the feeling that this process, taken to an extreme, is turning the modern State into a gigantic, monopolizing noise emitter, and at the same time, a generalized eavesdropping device.74 The reclaiming of subjectivity and space that the defiant sounds present were a threat to several sources of power. Mingus and Roach effectively were in the process of creating

Attali, Jacques. Noise: The Political Economy of Sound. P. 5-6. 54

an autonomous public sphere from which self and community could be redefined, and realigned, from the mode of subjectivization the state and its corresponding hegemonic cultural institutionsLife, the Newport Jazz Festivalthat threatened the state at its most egregious, yet most incomplete, source of hegemony: the monopolization of the meaning of Black music for a white nationalist project. Perhaps one of the contradictions, and a source of failure, for this particular reclamation of sonic and material space was that it did not actually attempt to work within Black communities, opting instead to challenge the political economy of jazz in an already extracted environment. This project would continue with increased intensity and implications for Black consciousness as a whole as the attempt to create an autonomous black aesthetic in jazz began reaching and growing deep into working-class Black communities themselveswhen jazz musicians began to, as Amilcar Cabral put it, Return to the Source. However, the Guild, and Rebel Festival that birthed it, were important in a number of respects. They offered a powerful model of Black artistic and creative autonomy, and preceded Black Arts institutions of a similar nature by many years, as well as the analogous October Revolution in jazz organized some five years later with prominent members of New York Citys avant-garde. It created links between the old guard and the avant-garde, demonstrating the deep interplay between members of jazz community that make it impossible to write off the New Thing as a historical aberration divorced from the jazz tradition.75 It also demonstrates that the history of jazz


As Roy Eldridge said at the conclusion of his collaborations with Mingus and Dolphy, I wanted to find out what bag youre in. Now I know youre in the right bag. Im not naming names, but a lot of them are so busy being busy on their horns that hey forget the basics. They dont get all the way down into the music. You did, baby. (Quoted by Nat Hentoff, notes to Candid CJS 9022.) 55

musicians cannot be reduced to series of recordings and aesthetic moves, and shows bare the complex struggle that Black musicians had to undertake to innovate and develop a music under the powerful ausicipies of white and corporate domination of the parameters of Black artistic self-definition. And finally, the creative solidarity born out of these two institutions created the basis for some of the decades most vital and vivacious jazz collaborations. Of these, Max Roachs Freedom Now Suite, recorded with Abbey Lincoln and veteran Coleman Hawkins, holds a special location in our discussion, for its move away from Western aesthetics, its political invocation of the Third World, and the for specter of Abbey Lincoln, shredding her industry-constructed Marilyn Monroe-esque womanhood, while embracing a Black feminist and militant aesthetic and consciousness in both sound and sight.

Bandung, Haiti, and the Ed Sullivan Show

It is in the discontinuities of history that people whose culture has been strained to the breaking point give expression to a humanity that goes beyond cultural limits. And it is in our empathic identification with this raw, free, and vulnerable state, that we have a chance of understanding what they say. -Susan Buck Morss, Haiti, Hegel, and Universal History. We were all aware. The black community was aware of what was going on in Africa because we were looking around for some help. -Max Roach The date is February 15th, 1961. The United States is in diplomatic turmoil as news breaks two days earlier that Patrice Lumumba, Prime Minister of the newly independent Congo and who Malcolm X called the greatest Black man who ever walked the African continent, was executed by Belgian forces with the help of the CIA. Adlai E.


Stevenson Jr., Kennedys ambassador to the United Nations, rose in a dramatic session to defend U.S. handling of the crisis. Outside, some sixty African Americans, dressed in all black, stood in the gallery in silence. When the security attempted to remove them, the protestors resisted, culminating in the most violent demonstration in U.N. history.76 They succeeded in not only disrupting Stevensons defense of the extrajudicial killing, but exposed the considerable dissent in the United States among its Black population, and the international solidarity the latter held to be a core political value. The protest at the U.N. is significant as a demonstration of the both the internationalization of the Black Power movement and its growing militancy; two analogous motions that undergirded Black political and cultural activism in the 1960s. The negroes who rioted in the United Nations are but a very small echo of the black discontent now abroad in the world, penned James Baldwin, while John Henry Clark wrote, Lumumba became Emmit TillThe plight of the Africans still fighting to throw off the yoke of colonialism and the plight of the Afro-Americans, still waiting for a rich, strong and boastful nation to redeem the promise of freedom and citizenship became one and the same.77 Almost as significant as the historic show of solidarity by the Black protesters were the high makeup of artists and musicians in its roster: Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou, Rosa Guy of the Harlem Writers Guild, Liberator publisher Daniel Watts. Also at the


Walker, Robert, and Gosset, Carl. Riot in gallery halts U.N. debate. New York Times. February 16, 1961, 1: 10. 77 Baldwin, James. A Negro assays the Negro mood. New York Times. March 3, 1961, 25:103-104; and Clark, John Henrik. The new Afro-American nationalism. Freedomways. 1961. 1, no. 4: 285-295. 57

protest were musicians Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, two Newport Rebels alumni.78 In fact, Abbey Lincoln was one of the main organizers of the protest. Not only had two leading members of the jazz community put their support behind Lumumba and the international Black freedom strugglethey had already, exactly a month earlier on January 15th, played the world premiere performance of the Freedom Now Suite in a benefit concert for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) at New Yorks Village Gate.79 The event was significant not only for its alignment of civil rights struggles with the cultural activism of jazz musiciansbut that two movements of the suite, All Africa and Tears for Johannesburg, were direct invocations of a Third-World internationalism that connected a militant Black aesthetic in music to the musical and political prerogatives of decolonizing nations.

78 79

Njoroge, Njoroge. P. 2. Monson, Ingrid. Freedom Sounds. p. 152. 58

The political connections Black Americans made with Third World liberated nations and liberation movements was directly related to the success of revolutionary movements that brought the classical Age of Imperialism to a bloody and grinding halt. Ghana became independent in 1957, and the Cuban Revolution brought the Cold War to the Caribbean and Latin America in 1959. Between 1945 and 1960, forty nations achieved independence; seventeen nations (twelve of them African) won independence in 1960 alone, and the political as well as epidermal complexion of the UN general


Assembly appeared permanently altered.80 In addition, the Bandung Conference of 1955, which 28 newly independent nations attended, including China, India, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Indonesia, placed the Third World on the map as a political and geographical entity. Interestingly, Charles Minguss Haitian Fight Song was performed for the first time on year later, at New Yorks Caf Bohemiaperhaps the first anticolonial statement made by a prominent African-American artist.81 Discussion of politics in jazz has often prompted dismissive or vitriolic responses at what is a reductionist approach. What is not being suggested in this discussion is that the music of the 1960s can be reduced to either Black liberation in the United States, on the one hand, or nascent Third-Worldism or Black internationalism on the other. In fact, no music can ever be reduced to any one or two defining factors, especially a music as nomadic and perpetually transforming as jazz. As Clark Terry said of Duke Ellingtons composition process, "Duke wants life and music to be always in a state of becoming. He doesn't even like to write definitive endings of a piece. He always likes to make the end of a song sound like it's still going somewhere.82 Simply observing the polyphonic and polyrhythmic nature of African-American music in the United States necessitates that we adapt our concept of an African-American musical tradition to not a static set of aesthetic qualities, ideological fixities, and sonic signifiers; rather, we must begin to see tradition as a perpetually transitive and creative and self-constitutive response to the multiple


Plummer, Brenda Gayle. Rising Wind: Black Americans and U.S. Foreign Affairs, 1935-1960. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.) p. 289. 81 Porter, Eric. What is This Thing Called Jazz? African American Musicians as Artists, Critics, and Activists. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002). P. 128. 82 Hentoff, Nat. How Jazz Helped Hasten the Civil-Rights Movement. The Wall Street Journal. January 15, 2009. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123197292128083217.html. (Accessed April 28th, 2010). 60

historical conditions of diaspora, social fragmentation, political oppression, and the human need for community. As Njoroge observes, this continuous musical dialogue plays at the interstices, at the margins, where ideological debates, historical vectors, demographic shifts, material conditions, and theories of identity, difference, and diaspora overlap, intersect, coalesce, and come into conflict and temporary resolution.83 Such a reading of jazza permanently contested terrain, a constant dialogue, struggle, and antiphonal processsounds very similar to the process of jazz improvisation itself. Furthermore, it helps us locate the process we want to underline here: in the context of this shifting and ever-becoming cultural cosmology, how, in the age of Bandung, on the eve of decolonization, did the Third World speak to jazz musicians, in both the aesthetic and topical content of their cultural work and personal developmentand how did jazz musicians, in turn, articulate what came to be later called a Black arts imperative to the very poets, artists, and activists who would flow under the banner of the posthumously named movement, through the sound and reality of Third World autonomy? In what ways does the intersection of an internationalist aesthetic in jazz and a politicized content in the music itself intersect? This section will explore the work of Abbey Lincoln, Max Roach and Charles Mingus and see the ways that the Third World became a sonic and material signifier for their own struggles to define a militant Black aesthetic that spoke to the historic and political prerogatives of African Americans in the 1960s.


Njoroge Njoroge, Dedicated to the Struggle: Black Music, Transculturation, and the Aural Making and Unmaking of the Third World. Black Music Research Journal. Vol. 21, No. 2, Fall 2008. P. 7. 61

Abbey Lincoln and Max Roachs Freedom Now Suite,84 recorded in 1960, is composed of five sections speaking to different aspects of the international Black freedom struggle. Its personnel emerged directly out of the Newport Rebels Festival, with Coleman Hawkins lending his support on tenor saxophone, along with trumpeter Booker Little, tenor saxophonist Walter Benton, and trombonist Julian Priester. The album opens with Driva Man, a song depicting with poetic detail the daily terror of plantation slavery. The piece opens relentlessly with Max Roach rattling on tambourine following the whip of the snare drum, and Abbey Lincoln begins, in a tone that is both melancholy and irate, describing the rape of the plantation master---the Driva manof a female slave: Driva Man, he made a life But the mammy aint his wife. (Snare Whip) Choppin cotton, dont be slow Better finish out your row. (Snare Whip) Keep on movin with that plow Driva man will show you how. (Snare Whip) Get to work and root that stump Driva man will make you jump. (Snare Whip) Better make your hammer riiiingg Driva man will start to swing. (Snare Whip) Aint but two things on mind Driva man and quttin time. After this ominous and militant verse, Coleman Hawkins lends his expressive tone that at one point defined jazz tenor saxophone with toiling, horn voicings based off the wholetone scale underneath. Despite his old-school sound, he sounds decidedly contemporary

Roach, Max. We Insist! The Freedom Now Suite,1960. Candid 90002. 62

in the context of this searching and brooding piece, making melodic risks and jumps that are outside of his usual repertoire, picking up intensity around 2:50, and opting to play dark, motific figures with a subdued, yet a very present, intensity. When Lincoln comes back in, it is this time accompanied by a bass and is in time, ending with a dramatic rubato with the lines, Aint but two things on mindDriva man and quttin time. Lincolns voice, like Hawkins, has taken a considerable turn from her previous work, which will be discussed in more laterher timbre deeper, more intense, more searching, more pronounced with meaning and weight.

The piece is a blues, yet it is in 5/4 and is a six-measure form. Its critique of hegemonic phrasing based on Western musical traditions is telling for the political 63

valences of the song. In 1960, not only jazz but also popular and even classical songs were constructed with sequences of four measure phrases, an AABA song format, and rarely departed a 4/4 time signature. If they did, it was usually the more familiar time signature such as 6/8 or 3/4 that was opted for. The choice of 5/4 and the complete restructuring of the blues, accompanied with the songs depiction of the ineffable brutalities of slavery, can be read as a deep-seated critique of the structure of enlightenment reason and its complicity in racialized terror and violence. Freedom Day, the next piece, begins with blaring horns, meant to signify the day of emancipation. It is a faster, more upbeat song, and is followed by Triptych (Prayer, Protest, Peace). The latter is a free improvisation between her and Roach with aesthetic and emotional ranges differentiating the three sections. Lincoln sings no words on this piece, opting instead to sing rhythms and pitches with Roach, until the Protest section, in which all hell breaks loose: Abbey opens up a scream meant to signify the burning energies of the United States own Wretched of the Earth, and Roach responds with thundering and bombastic drum hits. According to Nat Hentoffs linear notes, Lincolns screams are a release of rage and anger that demands catharsis and represents all forms of protest, certainly including violence.85 The scream Lincoln exhibits is not only a deeply jolting and electrifying moment in the suiteit also begs the question, what is the aesthetic of a protest, of a rebellion, of militant self-defense? The scream would become a reoccurring trope during this decade in African American musical activism, from Archie Shepp to Eric Dolphyand, of course, in the avatar of John Coltrane. Significantly, however, it seems that Abbey


Nat Hentoff, linear notes for We Insist! The Freedom Now Suite, Candid 90002. 64

Lincoln may have been the first to master and deliver it in this particular recording, and anticipated the vernacular shift that was to come. In her words, the scream had a profound significance for her as an artist and individual. The primal scream, she said, freed me up. It deepened my voice and made it more melodious.86 Here, one gets a sense of the self-constitutive effects that participating in this sonic search for liberation had on Abbey Lincoln, analogous to the affects the Black Power movement had to a whole generation of artists and activists. The first recorded scream is a clarion cal to the New Thing, and anticipates and heralds the screams of horns to come. Indeed, Abbey Lincoln had gone through a significant musical journey to the point of contributing to the Freedom Now Suite. As Eric Porter documents in detail, Lincolns career in the late 50s had been characterized by overlapping movements towards artistic autonomy, political integrity, and an aesthetic remodeling that eviscerated her pervious construction as a fetishized African-American Marilyn Monroe. Even her adopted name, Abbey Lincoln, was derived from Abraham Lincoln in 1956, at a time when Abbey was a singer on the supper-club circuit. Her previous identity as a supperclub singer was one she would critique and eventually regret as her politicization and investment in self-determination increased in the subsequent years, and its limitations increasingly contradicted her growing political awareness and desire for dignity. It was the early days of the civil rights movement, and we are were all asking the same questions. But they were questions that glamour girls werent supposed to ask. As I


Wlison. John S. Miss Lincoln Sizes Up Womens Place in Jazz, New York Times, June 17, 1983. 65

toured the country, I noticed that black people everywhere were living in slums, in abject poverty. I wanted to know why.87 Indeed, Abbeys previous artistic and professional identity was almost entirely constructed by a white-dominated culture industry that cast Abbey as a hyper-feminized, fetishized sex object for white symbolic consumption. The owners of Moulin Rouge nightclub in Los Angeles, for instance, persuaded her to change her name to Gaby Wooldrige, and later Gaby Lee, because a French sounding name would be more refined and sexier. In 1954, she appeared as a centerfold image in Jet, wearing a bikini.88 Despite her name change to Abbey Lincoln 1956, which she described a stemming from a crystallizing political consciousness that the burgeoning Civil Rights movement, she was unable to redefine the way she was packaged by the jazz industry. The cover of an album she recorded that year, Affair: A Story of a Girl in Love, positioned her as a seductress. Even her name-change, intended as a declaration of her racial politics, was offensively appropriated: Lincoln recalled that a publicity flyer from this period featured a photo of me dressed in one of the those Marilyn Monroe-type skin-tight dresses and superimposed over President Lincolns face on a penny.89 She appeared in a Marilyn dress repeatedly during this time, submitting to a sexist marketing strategy rooted in white standards of female beauty. Reviews of her performances were more focused on her sex-appeal than her actual musical content, with Lifes cousin, Time, observing that through her pouting lips floats out her sad, sexy

Bourne, Michael. For the Love of Abbey, Downbeat, February 1992, p. 20-21; John S. Wilson, Miss Lincoln Sizes Up Womens Place in Jazz, New York Times, June 17, 1983, C20; Jet, November 11, 1954, 34-35 Affair: A Story of A Girl in Love, Liberty 3025; Francis Davis, Leading Lady, High Fidelity, May 1986, 66. 88 Porter, What is This Thing Called Jazz? p. 151. 89 Bourne, Michael. For the Love of Abbey, Downbeat, February 1992, p. 20-21. 66

lyrics in a voice smoky with longing, while Variety called her a sultry dish with a lissome figure.90 As Lincoln was increasingly embracing a Black feminist consciousness, rejecting the aesthetic standards and Marilyn-derived image that the white cultural institutions had imposed on her, she began taking steps towards emancipating herself from these externalized and internalized racist impositions. She stopped working with her vocal instructor who had helped train her to remove her Negro intonation from her voice, and stopped straightening her hair, rejected what she correctly called white beauty standards.91 As Eric Porter summarizes, Lincolns recuperation of dignity was a transformative processes that was not only self-constitutive but also aimed to separate herself from the demeaning and sexist supper club circuit: Lincoln invoked dignity as she extricated herself form the linked systems of representation and economics that constituted the world o supper club singing, which, she suggested, had turned her voice and body in to a sexualized commodity for the pleasure of men (and particularly white men.)92 Interestingly, it was through Max Roach that her feminist consciousness crystallized and blossomed into some of the most powerful and influential musical work of the 1960s. Lincoln said it was Roach who convinced her to wear her hair in natural and get rid of the Marilyn Monroe dress. In the linear notes to her 1961 album Straight Ahead, she wrote that it was through Roach that she discovered how wonderful it is to be a black womanI learned from Max that I should always sound how I feel and that

Music, Time, July 14, 1956, p. 45; Nightclub Reviews: Black Orchid, Chi, Variety, August 21, 1957, p. 55. 91 Curelli, Dom. The Arrival of Abbey. Down Beat, June 12, 1958, p. 19. 92 Porter, What is This Thing Called Jazz? p. 152. 67

whatever I do, I should do it definitely. 93 Porter discusses the contradictions of finding feminist empowerment through Black male artistry: As Lincoln tried to extradite herself from the artistic impasse she faced as a supper club singer, along with the accompanying system of stereotypes about black womens sexuality, she faced a variety of racial and gendered meanings associated with jazz at a politically charged moment. According to her comments, when Lincoln remade herself as a vocalist and sought to become a dignified Negro woman, she did so in conversation with politicized male jazz instrumentalists, including her future husband Max Roach.94 Lincolns contradictory process, and perhaps incomplete emancipation from the economic and representational systems of patriarchy that required her to go through male artistry to establish herself as a dignified jazz singer, point to larger contradictions and limitations within the Black Power and Black Arts Movement that often downplayed the significance of female liberation and criticized whites in heterosexist and homophobic terminology. And more recently, Lincoln has been adamant to emphasize how sexist Black men were to her during these years and how offensive a reading of her career is when it is reduced to a creation of her ex-husband, Max Roach. As she says, Dont treat me like Im already dead. Talk about what Im doing today!95 I would like to offer an alternative reading, however, that does not reduce Abbey Lincolns musical trajectory as a result of a proximity to Black male artistic genius, but rather, of an analysis of the creative process that was underway in Freedom Now Suite, and particularly the significance of Abbeys scream for her own artistic autonomy and reclamation of an autonomous African-American identityin short, the role the


G. Vercelli, Profile: Aminate Moseka/Abbey Lincoln, Down Beat, September 1, 1979, p. 42; Hentoff, linear notes for Straight Ahead. 94 Porter, What is This Thing Called Jazz? p. 152. 95 Monson, Ingrid. Freedom Sounds. p. 257-258; Lincoln, telephone conversation with Monson, Dec, 4, 2001. 68

scream in the decolonization of aesthetics. As Abbey said, the scream freed her up. Considering the political content of the album, and its proximity to African-American self-determination in its (discursive) message and (musical) aesthetics, the scream also marked a final destruction of her sexualized and fetishized imaginary that is so central to colonial discourses representation of the racial Other. It is a powerful example of Raymond Williams understanding of creative practice as an active struggle for new consciousnesses. In his words, When it [creative practice] becomes struggle-the active struggle for new consciousness through new relationships that is the ineradicable emphasis of the Marxist sense of self-creationit can take many forms. It can be the long and difficult remaking of an inherited (determined) practical consciousness: a process often described as developmental but in practice a struggle at the roots of the mindnot casting off an ideology, or learning phrases about it, but confronting a hegemony in the fibers of the self and in the hard practical substance of effective and continuing relationships [it is] the embodiment and performance of known but excluded and subordinated experiences and relationships, the articulations and formation of latent, momentary, and newly possible consciousness.96 This seems to be exactly the process that Freedom Now Suite demonstrated. Not only a powerful and polemical contribution to the activist-jazz movement of the 1960s, it was also a transformative process for all the artists involvedAbbey Lincoln, Max Roach, Coleman Hawkins, and the rest of the musicians associated with the project. This reading of creative practice, self, and hegemony challenges the concept of a contingent, fully formed self, and opens the door to considering not only the possibility of identity fragmentation but of consciousness and identity as sites of struggle, and the possibly of self-constitution through collective creative practice that challenges vapid hegemonies woven in the fibers of the selfthe soft fibers of the brainand articulate known but excluded knowledge and consciousness. It signaled a larger shift in the African96

Williams, Marxism and Literature, p. 212. 69

American musicians community to reclaim aesthetics and internalized hegemonic systems of the oppressor. The albums incorporation of a 5/4 blues, a free-jazz section, long improvised solos over modal-based changes, all signaled the difficult struggle not only with hegemonic musical and representational systems, but also how such systems become internalized and habitual. It was the long struggle for a decolonization of the musical self. Significantly, the second two songs of the album point not to African-American history and struggle as an ontologically closed and coherent totality, but rather invoke Africa and Third-Worldism to continue this project of self-determination in music. In fact, arguably, it is through the invocation of anticolonial struggles that the album as a whole achieves its powerful reclamation of an independent Black consciousness and musical aesthetic. All Africa begins with Lincoln narrating a long descriptor of the history and phenomenology of The Beat, as a repository of transatlantic Black history. The Beat, she declares, has a rich and magnificent history. Full of adventure Excitement And mystery. Some of it bitter And some of it sweet-But all of it part of The Beat The Beat The Beat


They say It began With a chant And a hum And black hand laid On a Native drum. From here, a polyrhythmic groove is initiated, while Lincoln cites the names of different African ethnic groups with Nigerian percussionist Olatunji answering her with different phrases in Yoruba pertaining to the freedom struggles particular to each specific group. The antiphonal moment between Lincoln and Olatunji not only signifies a cross-continent conversation between Africans and African-Americans concerning the global nature of the freedom struggleso, too, does the rhythm section. Olatunji and Afro-Cuban percussionists Ray Mantialla and Tomas du Vall creates the complex poly-rhythms evocative of an entire continuum of the African diaspora, a musical and symbolic expression of pan-Africanism.97 The invocation of the Beat here constitutes, for Porter, a signifier of the continuity of Black history and culture throughout the diaspora.98 Njoroges offers a similar assessment of the rhythmic choices made in the song: The rhythmic conversation between Roach, du Vall, Mantilla, an Olatunji speak to the polyrhythmic unity of the diaspora. All in all, the mood of the album is one of righteous indignation and revolutionary change; it is in direct communication with the battles of the emerging Third World, at home and abroad, and presents a musical portrait of the past, present, and future of Black liberation.99

97 98

Porter, What is This Thing Called Jazz?, p. 169. Ibid. 99 Njoroge, Njoroge. Dedicated to Struggle. P. 99. 71

The Beat invoked here is one that holds history pregnant in her pulsing, hybrid and intercultural rhythmic formations. Its activation by Lincoln in this decidedly political context only affirms the trans-Atlantic links that the Beat had retained in its social memory. It is a history that is lived, danced, and screamedand it is a history that is open to the Other and its own internal multiplicity. As James Baldwin writes, The beat is the confession which recognises, changes and conquers time. Then, history becomes a garment we can wear and share, and not a cloak in which to hide; and time becomes a friend.100 Truly, the album most directly connects its historical situation of AfricanAmerican freedom struggles within a broader anticolonial formation within the last song, Tears for Johannesburg, a song eulogizing those killed in the massacre at Sharpeville, South Africa, committed by the South African apartheid government against non-violent demonstrators on March 21st, 1960. Demonstrators organized by the Pan Africanist Congress converged on Sharpeville Police Station without carrying their pass books, documents required for Black South Africans under the apartheid system for mobility and movement through the different provinces of the State. Some 5,000 to 7,000 gathered in the morning, and that afternoon a contingent of South African police fired on the crowd, killing at least 69 people and continuing to fire even as the crowd tried to disperse. It was an atrocity committed by the South African apartheid state that is largely considered to have begun its international isolation.101


James Baldwin, Of the Sorrow Songs: The Cross of Redemption, Views on Black American Music, no. 2 (1984-1985): 12. 101 The Sharpeville Massacre". Time Magazine. 4 April 1960. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,869441-1,00.html. Retrieved 15 March 2010; Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa Report, Volume 3, 72

It is significant that Max Roach made this massacre one of the five song topics. For one, there were significant overlaps between the system of Apartheid in South Africa and the legal and political framework of Jim Crow in the Southern United States. In addition, the brutality experienced by African-Americans activists in the Southern United States protesting a similar system of forced segregation likely found deep international parallel in the Sharpeville killings. Also important is that Sharpeville marked a turning point in the anti-Apartheid struggle towards armed resistance. The formation of Poqo and Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wings of the PAC and the African Nation Congress (ANC), respectively, occurred shortly afterwards. The invocation of the struggle of South Africa Blacks as analogous to African-Americans is significant as it reflects both an increasingly internationalist consciousness and a call for militant self-defense on the part of African-Americans.

Chapter 6. 28 October 1998. pp. 531537. http://www.doj.gov.za/trc/report/finalreport/TRC%20VOLUME%203.pdf. Retrieved 15 March 2010. 73

Tears for Johannesburg, like All Africa before it, uses a percussion ensemble and modal harmonic frameworks to differentiate itself from standard jazz composition. Lincoln begins by singing wordless, elongated notes that are part mourning and part defiant cry. The solos by Booker Little, Walter Benton, and Julian Priester are long and


engaged over a 5/4 bass vamp that is both grooving and meditative considering its odd time signature and complex solos. It occasionally moves up a half-step, from B flat to A, offering a dissonant dislocation that adds intensity. This particular half-step tonal change anticipates John Coltranes Impressions and Miles Daviss So What, in addition to its vanguardist use of modal-based frameworks. The fact that a pioneering use of modality was explicitly linked to an anticolonial vision signaled a movement away from a Western harmonic structure and an increasingly internationalist African-American political consciousness. As Ingrid Monson argues, Open-ended modal frameworks in the late fifties and early sixties often expressed a non-Western aesthetic interest. This is apparent in John Coltranes improvisations on Africa and India recorded in the year following the freedom Now Suite. Although the Coltrane recordings are often cited as examples of a free-blowing modal approach, Max Roachs Freedom Now Suite (recorded before Coltranes classic modal works) is not often credited wit contributing to this emerging aesthetic. Indeed, one product of a close look at the Freedom Now Suite is the realization that Max Roachs contributions as a composer deserve much greater attention.102 Indeed, Roach and Lincolns marginalization from the official history of jazz is undoubtedly due to the inconvenient truth that the modal-based frameworks that dominated the next decade of jazz were born of out political and aesthetic struggle to define a new Black subjectivity linked to a newly liberated and liberating Third World whose symbolic capital was not lost on African-Americans. As Frantz Fanon wrote, Decolonization never takes place unnoticed for it transforms individuals and modifies them fundamentally. It transforms spectators crushed with their inessentiality into privileges actors with the grandiose glare of historys floodlights upon them.103 Roach and Lincoln, likewise, suddenly shared that glare and relished in it, creating one of the
102 103

Monson, Freedom Sounds, p. 181. Fanon, Frantz. Wretched of the Earth. (Grove Press: 1961) p. 36. 75

most powerful albums of the decade and anticipating movements in both AfricanAmerican cultural life, political subjectivity, and a new militancy in jazz. The message and power of the album was not lost on the South African government, who banned it in 1962; when Max Roach was informed of the news, he replied with a smile, Its good to hear Im not accepted by the South African government. Thats the best news Ive heard all week.104 One can assume that the album did reach both white and Black South African audiences prior to its ban, and thus forged a connection through music across the Black Atlantic. Indeed, the album is significant as well for its diasporic evocations. The Beat as the carrier of the ineffable, extra-discursive and liberatory musical community of African diasporic history is also resonates with Gilroys reading of the music of the Black Atlantic as the repository of a unique cultural consciousness, a direct expression of the Slaves will.105 In it, in its communal formation, outside of the centralizing apparatus of the state and its discursive lexicon, in its intersubjective formation and antiphonal localization, lies the heart of Black Atlantic history and identity, and provides a model for thinking about a subjectivity that lies outside the Cartesian split between mind and body, or Western modernitys privileged ego dissociated and disintegrated with the identities and identifications of the Other. Gilroy himself, however, may take issue with an essentialized pan-Africa subject that a reading of this song may generatebut its rhythmic differentiation in itself provides a deeply conscious nuance that could not be discerned from a symbolic or textual reading of its composition. In addition, Gilroys own weaknesses in ignoring the
104 105

No Freedom Now in South Africa. Down Beat. June 21, 1962. p. 11 Gilroy, The Black Atlantic, p. 104. 76

conversation between Africa and African-Americans in his discussions in the Black Atlantic is a serious critique that cannot be developed here106but it is worth mentioning that his aversion to any invocation of a pan-African subject, perhaps most notably formulated in his work Against Race, reflects a larger antipathy to an imagined interdiasporic Black subject that cultural theorists of the postmodern bent who are distinguished by an endless celebration of nuance and differentiation that needs to be questioned when actually considering this history of Black Atlantic cultral production and the location of Africa within it, real or imagined. Gilroy goes as far as to claim that the formations of the 1960s and their pan-Africanist or separatist content is laden with a similar political logic to European fascism and white supremacy. In his words, I am asking you to venture into the unstable location where white supremacists and black nationalists, [and] Klansmen...have been able to encounter each other as potential allies rather than sworn foes...107 The revolutionary rhetoric sometimes employed in interaction between black nationalists and separatists and their white-supremacist associates is misleading. To be conservative is to be engaged in a politics of cultural conservation. It is to subscribe to a doggedly positive and always over-integrated sense of culture and/or biology as the essential reified substances of racial, national, and ethnic differences...108 The resurgence of the fraternalistic Nation of Islam has been central to notable changes in the black political imaginary, but the quest for a mechanical, premodern form of racialized solidarity that underpins its popularity takes a number of other forms, some of which manage to be much less forbidding and obviously fascistic.109 Given the severity of this critique and its departures and continuities from Gilroys The Black Atlantic, I feel this is an argument that deserves attention and anticipation. Unlike Gilroy, I do not feel that invocations of a trans-historical African subject are as

See Ntongela Masilela, The" Black Atlantic" and African Modernity in South Africa, Research in African Literatures, 1996. 107 Gilory, Paul. Against Race, (Belknap Press, 2000), p. 217. 108 Ibid, p. 221. 109 Ibid., p. 224. 77

reductionist, biologist, or essentialist as he implies, though they certainly carry that danger. Indeed, Baraka even took this position at a symposium discussing the relationship between jazz and revolutionary black nationalism in 1965, breaking with the nuanced materialist perspective he adopted in Blues People and arguing that there was a distinct black understanding of the world that goes back to the body, your organs hanging in that black space have a life of their own, and they predict your attitudes and predict your life.110 However, Barakas shifting position on the matter, and the overlap between Black nationalist, internationalist and revolutionaries alike in this decade reflect that a political and cultural invocation of Africa did and does not contain a fixed or necessarily reactionary meaning. Indeed, Felix Guttaris words would do well to guide as past this particular impasse: If there is a revival of archaic traits, such as traits of African religions that existed hundreds of years ago, it is not as archaisms that they acquire a subjective impact, but in their articulation with a process of creation. This is the case with what is most lively in jazz. It incorporates certain traits of singularity from black spirituals to make an authentic form of music that corresponds to our sensibility, our instruments, and our modes of distribution, until this music, too, runs into the wall of the state111 What is being spoken to here is not an essentialized and untenable political subject, but rather the invocation of Africa and its nascent liberation movements in a ways to demarcate a new Black subjectivity, in their articulation with a process of creation. This is similar to self-constitutive process in which one casts of a laden hegemony within


Jazz and Revolutionary Black Nationalism, Jazz, June 1966, 28-29; and April 1966,


Guattari, Felix, and Suely, Rolnik. (2008) Molecular Revolution in Brazil. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e). p. 102. 78

the fibers of the self. It is a creative invocation of Africa, one that can potentially have both constitutive and opening affects. Mingus, meanwhile, had charted an anticolonial course some six years prior to Freedom Now Suite. In 1955, a little less than a year following the Bandung Conerence, and likely partially composed during its tenure, Mingus played Haitian Fight Song at a date at Caf Bohemia, perhaps the first anti-colonial statement made by a prominent African-American jazz musician. 112 It is a bombastic explosion of virtuosic anger, a celebration of human ingenuity and determination in the face of the monstrous violence contained in the specter of French colonialism and its attendant plantation system. For Saul, Haitian Fight Song is a performance that aims to bury the world of convention, or at least force it into obsolescence.113 Not recorded until 1957 on his record The Clown, the piece is a tribute to the historic victory of Touissant LOverture against Napoleon, an honor that no European army at that time could speak of. The piece begins with Mingus, undoubtedly playing Toussaint himself, opening with a blues-inflected and groovily ominous bass improvisation. It is not yet a rallying cry but a period of contemplation of the suffering and toil that racism and cultural domination had produced. He is directly channeling the oppression of the African diasporic peoples and affirms as such in the albums linear notes: My solo in it is a deeply concentrated one. I cant play right unless Im thinking about prejudice and hate and persecutions, and how unfair it is. Theres a sadness and cries in it, but also determination.114 Indeed, from the long exploration of the painful and deep-seated memories and
112 113

Porter, Eric. What is This Thing Called Jazz? P. 128. Saul, FI, FA. p. 1. 114 Quoted by Nat Hentoff, liner notes, Charles Mingus: The Clown, Atlantic Records, 901422, 1957. 79

lived fibers of Minguss experience of American racism and Jim Crow, comes a determined bass vamp, transcending the fracturing experienced of racism to begin creating a musical collective that would overthrow their oppressors and redefine what it meant to be grooveand to be human. Starting softly, the vamp gains momentum and confidence until the drums, captained by Dannie Richmond, accompany it with a flickering intensity. Slowly, instrumentalists begin to add to Minguss rallying cry with a two alternating melodies, becoming more and more vocal, the piano adding dark and propelling chords. Trumpets and brass suddenly begin to litter the top ranges in semi-improvised lines, and soon after the trombonistJulian Priester, who played at both the Newport Rebels festival and with Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln on the Freedom Now Suiteemerges as the privileged actor/improviser and erupts into a solo that features dramatic double time sections, a militaristic breakdown on the snare drum at 3:15, and finally culminates with sounds as though the trombone is shooting cannons down at French troops. Indeed, according to Maurice Jackson, Mingus changed some of the phrases in order to make the horn sound like a cannon.115 The piece continues with a brilliant and propulsive solo by the alto saxophonist, Shafi Hadi, and then Mingus himself takes a solo. It begins with accompaniment, with the pianist quoting the call and response piano vamp from another piece by Mingus, Work Song, but eventually it is only Mingus, face to face with Napoleon and the system of Imperial domination, as well as J. Edgar Hoover and the specter of contemporary

Maurice Jackson. Friends of the Negro! Fly with me, The path is open to the sea: Remembering the Haitian Revolution in the History, Music, and Culture of the African American People. Early American Studies (Spring 2008). p. 100. 80

American neocolonialism, and then relocates himself in the groove, but not before powerfully quoting and altering the melody. The piece extends the two counterposed melodies until ending with a dramatic rubato and an arco bass note that perhaps signifies that the battle may be won but the struggle continues. The pieces contemplation of oppression and suffering while transcending it speak to Cornel Wests comment that the rich tradition of black music is not only an artistic response to the psychic wounds and social scars of a despised people; more importantly, it enact in dramatic forms the creativity, dignity, grace and elegance of African-Americans without wallowing in selfpity or wadding in white put-down.116 Haitian Fight Song is not only a piece of resistanceit is a piece of liberation. The pieces liberatory invocations were so powerful that they would be reinvoked over a decade later, in 1971, when Mingus lent his support to the Jazz and Peoples Movement (JPM). The JPM was a brainchild of saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk and protested the racist policies of mass media institutions and specifically of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Together with Mingus, the JPM was able to pressure the producers of the Ed Sullivan Show to allow Mingus, Kirk, and activist-saxophonist Archie Sheppwhere they played a rendition of Haitian Fight Song. It was perhaps the only revolutionary anthem to find its way on the show.117 There is another source to the piece other than a burgeoning third world consciousness, and that is the direct state repression handed out to African-American

West, Cornel. Prophetic Reflections: Notes on Race and Power in America (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1993.) 117 Saul, FI, FA, p. 157. 81

activists. One day in 1953, the jazz saxophonist and classical music teacher Buddy Collette told Charles Mingus about playing in a quartet accompanying polemical AfricanAmerican Paul Robeson, who openly lent his support to Third World revolution and met with many leaders from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Robeson had told Collette about his persecution before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which Collette reiterated to Mingus. The specter of HUAC and American silencing of militant African-Americans stayed with Mingus for some time afterhe could not forget it, and one day, while at home, he began to hum Black spirituals. According to Gene Santoro, Mingus thought about Bartok and the gypsy tunes hed adapted. He thought about Weston and Roach. He got stuck on one spiritual, humming it, singing it,and went to the piano. It became Haitian Fight Song, a tribute to the islands slave revolt of 1801.118 The intersections of these two tropes and historical inspiration is very significant and in need of analysis. Though he was responding to a direct confrontation a colleague of his had with the repressive and censoring power of the American state, Mingus used the Haitian Revolution, and not African-American history, as a way to express a militant and radical defiance to HUAC and American internal colonialism. He did this not only to draw analogies between the contemporary liberation movement of African-Americans and the historic revolution of the Americas first black republic, which Susan BuckMorss referred to as not a modern phenomenon too, but [the] first,119 in her bold relocation of Haiti as the center of modernity (a spirit this paper carries with it); it was

Santoro, Gene. Myself When I Am Real. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.) p. 116. 119 Buck-Morss, Susan. Haiti, Hegel, and Universal History. (Pittsburg: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009.) p. 138. 82

also through the Third World that an autonomous Black aesthetic and consciousness was articulated and constructed, not through an idealized diasporic undifferentiated subject, but in an active process of self-creation of an autonomous African-American subjectivity. It was through the incorporation of forgotten histories of the Third World nations, whose emergence in the global politic in 1954 challenged the entire historiography of modernity and white-defined humanity itself, that such a subjectivity, and art form, were defined. Indeed, Mingus himself said that Haitian Fight Song could just as well be called AfroAmerican Fight Song. This reading would rebuke Sauls rather shallow comment that Mingus acted as if there wasnt much of a historic leap from the revolutionary Haiti of the 1790s, in the midst of its slave revolt, to the United States of the mid-1950s.120 Minguss invocation of Haiti is linked to the long anticolonial tradition of African-American political and cultural life that finds expression in as early as DuBoiss 1928 novel Dark Princess, whose African-American male protagonist, Matthew, who plans with leaders the worlds darker races to help overthrow white Imperialism from within. As Gilroy states, This link between anti-colonial politics and the development of African-American political culture is an important one that stretches back into the early years of the 20th century when Du Bois and Ghandi (at that time a lawyer in South Africa) took their places alongside Annie Besant, Georg Simmel, Werner Somabr, and Ferdinand Thonnies at the 1911 Universal Races Congress in London. 121 Certainly, I agree that Mingus connected to an anticolonial intellectual tradition that Du Bois poeticized. In fact, the African-American jazz tradition is itself home to a predecessor to Minguss homage to the Haitian Revolution, written by one of the bassists primary compositional influences: Duke Ellington. The latter wrote the Black,
120 121

Saul, FI, FA, p. 4. Gilroy, The Black Atlantic, p. 144. 83

Brown, & Beige suite in 1943, for his first concert at Carnegie Hall, a magisterial longform work which explicitly honored the Haitian Revolution. The point, worth reiterating, is not that Mingus saw the two as one historically undifferentiated struggle, but that the history and ethos of African-American music did not aspire primarily for political enfranchisement into a newly-dominant American empire and were rather were linked to the long and unrealized struggle against colonial and neo-colonial domination of the darker races, and, in the process, to redefine the spiritual and political ethos of modernity itself. The latter point is supplemented by his autobiography Beneath the Underdog, in which he writes to a fictionalized Fats Navarro, Someday one of us put-down, out-cast makers of jazz music should show those churchgoing clock-punchers that people like Monk and Bird are dying for what they believe.122 In his unfinished manuscript, Mingus also asserts that I believe I could be of great help for us of the unconscious worlds of GodIm as old as time an express an Edison, Buddha, Christ, or Bird, etcetera. We have likeness in opposite spirit form that produce a Hitler, Meophsitopheles, Bilbo, etceteraGod Soul is slowly winning the battle of proper balance throughout the universe, beauty, love, the arts of creation and good and evil. The mission of his book and music, he tells us later, is to teach people throughout the world that they can have this earth governed just about perfect to the universal truth the way they see it together in Gods mind in perfect harmony.123 Deep resonances of Eastern mysticism in Minguss thought and music point towards and African-American musical subject whose aesthetic and philosophical center


Mingus, Charles. Beneath the Underdog: His World as Composed by Mingus, (Vintage: 1991), p. 85. 123 Ibid, p. 115. 84

that is decidedly non-Westernyet still sees itself as central to the rehabilitation of the Western modernity. This is a trope that will reoccur throughout several other avant of the jazz community in the era, including Archie Sheep and Anthony Braxton, among others. Indeed, for Ingrid Monson, the invocation of pan-spiritual traditions is of deep significance for the thrust and historic mission of African-American music: The belief of many musicians in the ethical, spiritual, and moral qualities of music (its deeper level) and simultaneously in modernitys values of progress, individual rights, and self-determination seem to be particularly tied to black musics view of what it means to be human.if reason alone could not produce a humane social order, it suggests that perhaps combing reason with an African diasporic or pan-spiritual vision (that draws from the religious experience of all the formerly colonized) can.124 The intersection of non-Western spirituality, the openness to Third World peoples and struggles, and the retention of the social memory of slavery, transmitted in eloquent pulses from the past, all are what give African-American creative music a special cosmopolitanism and liberatory aesthetic. But it is also what served a fundamental purpose in articulating and defining an autonomous African-American musical voice in a time of global and domestic repression and liberation, and bridged diasporic communities on both sides of the Atlantic. And, perhaps more consistently and before any other sector of African-American cultural and political life, and seven years before Cruses The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, these musicians articulated a sophisticated critique not only of capitalist Americas capacity to absorb and neutralize oppositional cultural forms, but also actively fought it, creating counter-festivals, collectives, and decidedly counterhegemonic music. And, predictably, the dominant definers of jazz meaning did not take a liking to it.

Monson, Ingrid. Freedom Sounds. P. 305. 85

The Jazz Press

While Charles Mingus, Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach were by no means the first African-American musicians to stake at music as a cite of Black autonomy and an internationalist consciousnessthe bebop movement, for instance, has been cited as a musical manifestation of Black militancy in music that was both an aesthetic battle against the powerful verisimilitude of a white-appropriated swing-style jazz, as well a reflection of African-American draft resisting zoot-suiters125the moves made in this decade were on a different scale. For one, they challenged the economic and power structure of the jazz industry, both in the creation of a counter-festival and independent collective; but equally important, the aesthetic and content of these artists was decidedly political. It was political both in the explicit invocations made by the artists in their songs, while its aesthetics were moving in a direction that was less and less indebted to European harmonic and aesthetic forms and invoked both African and diasporic musical traditions. As such, it was a serious affront to a jazz industry that was structured around white dominance in not only matters financial, but also in jazzs meaning and aesthetic content. Roach, Lincoln and Mingus challenged all threeand the jazz industry would respond in force. In October of 1960, down beat critic Gene Lees composed a passionate diatribe against prejudiced Negroes with whom Lees had lost patience. Lees was furious at the burgeoning Black consciousness in the jazz community, writing several articles attacking outspoken African-American musicians. He claimed he was particularity hurt by the implication made my some Black musicians that whites could not swing, writing


See Lott, Eric: Double-V, Double-Time: Bebops Politics of Style. The Jazz Cadence of American Culture. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.) 86

no matter how you slice it, thats racism. But a focal point of his anger was the suggestion that American culture was somehow indebted to African-American music and art forms. In his words: Im getting tired of hearing certain Negro musicians, obviously paranoiac, claim that white musicians have stolen from the Negro and given nothingalmost as tired as I am of the views of Herman Talmadge and his ilk. The playing of some of the cruder funk-merchants show the impoverishment that can occur when separatism is sought.126 In affect, Lees raised the question of reverse racism in jazz as a way to ridicule and obscure the questions and conditions of exploitation of African-American artists in the jazz industry. His accusations would be echoed in a variety of magazines that covered jazz, including Henry Luces Time magazine. An article titled Crow Jim described a growing trend, a regrettable kind of reverse segregation known as Crow Jima feeling that the white man has no civil rights when it comes to jazz.127 Lees had articulated a sentiment held by white critics and industry participators the Black demands for economic justice and artistic autonomy in the music industry were illegitimateand it was not the first time he had performed such a function. Lees had previously written a critical and dismissive review of the Newport Rebels Festival, using his ink to single out Charles Mingus for his obstinacy. He attacked the virtuosic bassist for his association of the Newport Jazz Festival with white exploitation of Black music: Somehow, Mingus saw in the festival all those forces opposing him, keeping him from his rightful recognitionSomehow, Mingus seemed to think, Newport was to blame for

126 127

Gene Lees, Afterthoughts, down beat, (October 13, 1960.) p. 53. Crow Jim. Time, (October 19. 1962.) 58-60. 87

all his troubles [so] he decided to start his own Newport festival. 128 For Lees, Minguss demand for artistic autonomy and an equal wage to Benny Goodman and other betterpaid white performances was nothing more than a narcissistic and petty demand that simply ignored the reality of the market: Mingus apparently does not understand that the law of supply and demand, as deplorable as it may be, operates an inexorably in art as it does in business. A writer who is in demand can command excellent deals; one who is not is forced to take what he can getThe same is true in paintingand in jazz.129 That Lees would write off Minguss poor treatment and pay, and other African-American artists, as a law of the market demonstrates Lees own defending of the dominant capitalist relations of the jazz industry, regardless of its obviously racialized and exploitative form. For Lees and most other full-time jazz critics of the time, neither Black political subjectivity nor a racialized power structure would not function seriously in their analysisand they would attempt to repress any articulation of either in the domain of jazz. Leess and down beats antipathy to the counter-festival, however, was deeper than simply Leess diagnosis of reverse racism that he argued lay as its ideological impetus. Rather, down beat and other jazz periodicals shared a close economic relationship with these festivals and the jazz industry at large. Frank Kofksy, an outspoken Marxist jazz critic and infrequent down beat contributor of the decade, made this polemical argument: The link between the magazine and the larger U.S. jazz festivals, booking agents, and so on, is more subtle but no less real. Senior editors, for instance, regularly sit on the boards of directors of these festivals, serve as masters of ceremonies at them, and receive fees for essays that appear in their printed programs. Not
128 129

Gene Less, Newport: The Trouble. down beat, August 18, 1960, p 21. Ibid. 88

infrequently, a down beat representative will take the opportunity at a festival stage provides to present an award from the magazine to one or more of the musicians performing there. Nor is out of the ordinary for the festivals management to pay for all or part of the expenses for food and lodging for a down beat staff member in one of these resort-and-vacation areas. In innumerable ways great and small, then, the editors of this periodical come to look of the festival executives, concert promoters, booking agents, and others of that ilk. An attack on oneis invariably an attack on all.130 Kofskys argument that these critics, festival promoters and industry giants all belong to a similar class within the jazz community is compelling as one observes the intensities and shared ideologies between the different sectors of the musical economy. It also sheds light on the decidedly hegemonic role periodicals such as down beat played, and continue to play, as mediators and definers of jazzs meaning in these years. Leess view represented that of a large cross section of jazz critics, many of whom would take it upon themselves to write similar-styled articles and arguments against jazz musicians with expressed Black nationalist sentiments. Leonard Feather was one such critic, also for down beat, who wrote in his article Racial Undercurrents in Jazz that The Negro musicians increased sensitivity [to racism] has led to his finding refuge at times in less desirable solutions. In the last year or two, as Gene Lees reported in a down beat editorial October 13, 1960, there has been an alarming upsurge of anti-white prejudice It seems to me that what jazz, and society in general, could use at this critical point in history is less black nationalism.The nationalistic movement has in it too much that is reminiscent of Marcus Garveys back-to-Africa campaign of the 1920s, a form of voluntary self-Jim-Crowing that accomplished nothing but a widening of the breaches.131 As Kofsky has pointed out, Like Lees, Feather put much greater effort into advocating


Kofsky, Frank. John Coltrane and the Jazz Revolution of the 1960s. (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1998,) p. 111. 131 The Racial Undercurrent, down beat Music 61, ed. Gene Lees (Chicago: Maher Publications, 1961), p. 44-46. 89

less black nationalism than into calling for less white racism.132 His double antipathy to both the political incantations of the music, and the social movement that the music reflected and anticipated, also lay bare the ideological character of Feathers critique. But it is his comment of a voluntary self-Jim-Crowing, so common in white public discourse regarding the Black nationalist movement, that reveals that the autonomy these artists sought out was threatening to a similar way that the calls for African-American self-determination were in the public sphere. The jazz press inadvertently demonstrated that these were analogous formations that were both destabilizing to white American hegemony in these years, and while in different sectors, they each held profoundly similar reactions by their white counterparts. Indeed, as James Baldwin noted during this years in The Fire Next Time, The black man has functioned in the white mans world as a fixed star, as an unmovable pillar; and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundationsby a terrible law, a terrible paradox, those innocents who believe that your imprisonment made them safe are losing their grip of reality.133 Indeed, it seems that those white critics, for whom their entire life had been based on writing and representing jazz music and musicians in a certain way with little input form the musicians themselves, were struck with anger and terror at the prospect of these musicians challenging their cultural power. As the Black world shook internationally, African-American jazz musicians reflected and responded to it; yet, as demonstrated with Freedom Now Suites ban from South Africa, jazz also spoke back to this world. Jazzs increasing international stature in the context of the Cold War meant that maintaining jazzs icon as an American music,
132 133

Kofsky, Frank. John Coltrane and the Jazz Revolution of the 1960s. p. 133. Baldwin, James. The Fire Next Time. (Dial Press: 1963.) p. 17. 90

and not a site of Black self-determination, was of a critical nature. As down beat itself wrote in its article Jazz Internationalism, The growing international acceptance of jazz is one of the most important developments to affect the music in recent years.The expansion of the jazz audience can be seen in Down Beats readership: the issue you are holding will be read in 91 countriesincluding British Honduras and Pakistan. We state this with pride, not only because few U.S. magazine have such a wide readership, but because we believe in the rightness and truth of jazz and Down Beats place in spreading the jazz word. 134 Thus, the rightness and truth of jazz could not evoke anti-imperialist sentiments and Black powerespecially those directed at the United Statesand as jazzs international popularity increased, such sentiments were of a serious threat to Americas international stature and its ability to present itself as a multiracial, egalitarian model for the purposes of spreading and developing international capitalism. This critical, and contradictory, role of jazz played in the Cold War will be discussed at length later. For now, it is important to demonstrate the significance that down beats held in defining its meaning and repressing counter-hegemonic expressions, for both domestic and international audiences. One of the most intense rebukes of such expressions came in Ira Gilters review of Abbey Lincolns self-composed album Straight Ahead. Gilter begins with an acknowledgement that Lincoln has dropped her supper-club attitudes but has merely replaced them with a set from a different bag. The notes state that part of her liberation as a signer has come from a renewed and urgent pride in herself as a Negro.135 The only problem, Gilter continues, is that she has become a professional Negro. Gilter took serious offense to the idea that Lincoln could infuse her music with an

Jazz Internationalism. Down beat. September 27th, 1962. 135 Ira Gilter, Abbey Lincoln. down beat, November 9th, 1961. 91

expression of Black autonomy, or any reference to African-American exploitation and oppression. He is affronted that her song In the Red is about the trial of poverty [but] you get an impression it is only about Negro poverty. Later he calls her nave, explaining for instance, according to the notes, she is president of the Cultural Association of Women of African Heritage and attends other meetings to hear African nationalists speak. The fact that she heads a Black womans association is indeed problematic to Gilter. The association he is referencing actually one of the first of its kind: an autonomous collective for Black women to discuss ways to forward to project of cultural and political autonomy. According to Lincoln, the group was an organization I formed, and one of the stipulations was that women would wear African hairstyles and we would explore our culture, our African ancestors.136 The organization was also fundamental is organizing the sit-in at the U.N. protesting Patricie Lumumbas execution. In addition to his opposition of Lincolns political work, Gitler is also threatened by the cultural and political linkages that African-Americans were making with Africa at this time. He writes: She is involved in African nationalism without realizing that the African Negro doesnt give a fig for the American Negro, especially if they are not blackly authenticwe dont need that Elijah Muhammad thing in jazz. It is certainly telling that Gilter devotes a whole page to an ideological critique of Abbey Lincolns album without mentioning a single word of her musicianship. When he does, Gilters comments are equally piercing: On African Lady, Miss Lincoln is particularly out of tune, and it is almost a blessing that the ensemble is sort of loud. Retribution contains a banal set of lyrics topped by a seemingly endless repetition


Interview with Ingrid Monson, quoted from Freedom Sounds. p. 245. 92

of the let the retribution match the contribution line. The lyrics of the song in reference tell the story of Abbey Lincolns life, growing up in poverty, beginning with the powerful statement, Never was a child. The song deconstructs the American dream from the point of view of Abbey Lincoln and Black women more generally, declaring heard every story told/been everywhere but in. Her pitches modulate in a dramatic fashion, jumping to unpredictable registers for adding effect in each of the two versions. At the conclusion of the first, Abbey declares she does not want charitya silver spoononly that the retribution match the contribution. Over dissonant and sardonic horn lines, particularly marked by Eric Dolphys idiosyncratic bass clarinet tone and voicings, she sings: Never was a child living life since I was ten heard every story told been everywhere but in But I aint disillusioned Always new confusion Story---Dont want know silver spoon Aint askin for the moon Give me.nothing Dont want no favors done Just let the retribution Match the contribution


This last line is a compelling call for white America to receive long-overdue justice at the hands of an undesignated retribution. One can speculate, however, that such a retribution would be linked to Black militancy that was increasingly calling for the right to selfdetermination by any means necessary. Trombonist Julian Priester, now a familiar face in the politicized music of the decade, proceeds to take a solo over a blues form. It is not, however, a traditional blues: its time signature is in 5/4, the last chord of each chorus is built of the dominant seventh of the key signature, and the piano voicings frequently contain altered extensions that clearly send the signal something is amiss. Priester ends by quoting the distinctive melody of the signature lines of the piece that Gilter disdained. Afterwards, Abbey sings the original verse again, and then further attacks the American Dream and proceeds to call for Black revolution, singing: No streets thats paved with gold Dont need no handouts Hand me Nothing Dont want no sad songs sung Just let the retribution Match the contribution Just let the retribution Match the contribution Just let the retribution Match the contribution Babyyyy----


For many, including this author, the pieces lyrics are hardly banal, and Abbeys altered intonation on it is a quite deliberate effect that is meant to evoke a sense of anger and irony at empty promises and a call for karmic justice. Another song on the album, African Lady, adapted from a Langston Hughes poem, speaks brazenly about the awakening and incipient decolonization of the African continentfurther continuing the linking of the two struggles, and revealing the importance of decolonization for the musical decisions made by Lincoln, as discussed earlier. The fact that Gitler negates the pieces political and social connotations in such a disdainful fashion demonstrates the antipathy jazz writers has towards expressions of Black struggle during this time. However, as Ingrid Monson points out, Abbeys position as a Black woman made her exceptionally vulnerable and fueled Gitlers critique: It is not accidental that Ira Gitler found himself unloading his anxiety about black militancy in jazz on this album. As a singer and a woman, Lincoln was a far more vulnerable target for musical and political criticism than Max Roach or Charles Mingus, whose politically outspoken work he did not demean.137 However, she was not so vulnerable as to take such criticism sitting down, even from the powerful down beat magazine. Lincoln, Roach, and many others mobilized artists and members of the African-American community to write letters denouncing the review as an act of blatant racism. One letter to down beat ascertained that the several nasty little remarks.seemed to seep up from a consciousness indelibly tinged with white supremacist convictions.138 The Afro-American Musician Society mobilized behind her and wrote to down beat calling for Ira Gilters firing, and accusing the
137 138

Monson, Freedom Dreams, p. 247. Clyde Taylor, Chords and Discords. down beat. January 4, 1962. 95

reviewer of white supremacist under-(and over) tones. wrote letters to down beat accusing it of blatant racism.139 The pressure was so intense that the magazine had to hold a panel discussion with the parties involved to maintain its legitimacy. The offices of down beat thus became another front in the jazz revolution.

The Musicians Strike Back

The ensuing discussion, titled Race and Prejudice in Jazz, was printed in down beat on March 15, 1962, and was perhaps the first time in the jazz industry that an ostracized African-American musician was able to take their critic to task. The panel was hardly in Lincolns favor, however: the only other Black participant was Max Roach, while Ira Gitler, Don Ellis, Lalo Schifrin, Nat Hentoff, Bill Cross and Don DeMichael, all white, also were on the panel. Abbey Lincoln was the only woman present. While the arguments made cannot be reduced to the racial identities of the participantsHentoff, who helped organize the Newport Rebels festival, frequently rebutted Gitlerthe racial makeup of the room made clear that this discussion was less oriented towards airing Lincoln and Roachs grievances than it was to discredit them. In the context of Abbey Lincolns previous commodification as a icon of whitebased femininity, derived from Marilyn Monroe, it is clear that the jazz cultural apparatus, including not only the supper club circuit but also magazines such as down beat and Time, were actively employing a certain type of hegemony to define and commodify Black identity, both to create an image of African-American femininity that was indebted to whiteness, as well as to profit from racial marketability. Theorist Antonio Gramsci defines hegemony as a cultural and ideological means whereby the dominant

Strictly Ad Lib. Ibid. 96

groups in society maintain their dominance by securing the consent of subordinate groups.140 This consent is achieved by negotiating the construction of a political and ideological consensus which incorporates all groups. Gramsci states that hegemony assimilated the world-view of the dominant group; an assimilation which allows the group to extend its cultural norms over those of other groups and even assimilate marginalized groups in an effort to remain principal. As homogenization and assimilation lead the media to state that differences no longer exist, the commodification of Black transgresses cultural taboos surrounding race and identity. The commodification of difference promotes paradigms of consumption wherein difference is eradicated, via exchange, by a consumer who not only displaces the Other but also denies the significance of that Others life-story by decontextualization. Such decontextualization was forcibly destroyed by Abbey Lincolns album Straight Ahead, as well as her pervious work with Max Roach. However, it was also a decontextualization that was being challenged by the increasing political militancy of the African-American jazz community at this time, and that was really the impetus not only for Gitlers review but the upsurge of anti-Black nationalist commentary made by the magazine as a whole. This exchange has been discussed and analyzed by both Ingrid Monson and Eric Porter.141 Their discussions are sophisticated, engaging, and break down the ways gender and race were constructed and represented by the different participants, as well as notions of African-American artistry and the contradictions of cultural commodification. What their observations lack, however, is a historical sense of the gendered and racial identities


Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. (International Publishers Co., 1971). p. vi. 141 See Freedom Sounds and What is This Thing Called Jazz? 97

and ideologies being advanced by Lincoln, Roach, and the corresponding hegemonic ideological counter-responses. In a sense, they lack a sense of struggle that are in these vignettes, of not only conflicting notions of race and gender but an active and selfconscious ideological struggle being brought to the very door of the ideological apparatus itself. Not to mention, most fundamentally, that these identities did not appear without struggle either: African-American identityor an African-American female perspectiveis not a prioi guaranteed or ontological. There is no essential and given Black perspective or an undifferentiated Black ontologythese identities are relational and are actively created, in a creative, discursive, extra-discursive, material, and social processand, in the context of this discussion and the flashpoint in represents in AfricanAmerican jazz in this decade, this identity is something that was struggled for, as the hegemony of whiteness was are lodged in the consciousness of the African-American artists. (As Abbey Lincoln explained why she stopped performing on the supper club circuit, I discovered you become what you sing.). Significantly, in both political as well as musical activism, it is clear that the struggles of Third World revolutionaries were profoundly influential for Lincoln, in both demonstrating the moral ineptitude and political weakness of white supremacy. What was underway was a decolonization of the Black artistic subject. These struggles were significant, not only for their relationship to the mass political and social movements, domestic and abroad, in this decade; but ironically, because these struggles are what opened the analytical door for race, gender, and class to be taken seriously in hegemonic academic institutions (such as Harvard University) in the first place.


Thus, I question the utility of invoking Patricia Hills Collins to differentiate, as Eric Porter does, whether Abbey Lincoln was employing either a Black womanist or feminist perspective, which distinguish between different commitments to articulating the political concerns of Black woman. While these strains certainly exist, to locate Lincoln within these reified epistemic categories is a little bit like differentiating music, posthumously, into ontologically distinct categories of Blues, Jazz, or Free Jazz, when the reality as that these genres of music were part of a larger cultural continuum that bled and breathed into an through each other. What is really at stake, I think, is how we understand Abbey Lincoln articulating a gendered analysis in a thoroughly powerful institution as down beat within the jazz cultural industries, the historical currents that ran analogous to such an invocation, and the role this had in countering the hegemony of the American state and civil society vis--vis African-American artists, musicians, and people. How do we understand the forces threatened by Abbey Lincoln and Max Roachs work, and what did that say of the nature of white cultural power at large? How did such forces react, and how did Lincoln and Roach begin to understand these institutions as part of the struggle for autonomy and dignity? Such will be the framework guiding this analysis. The discussion began with Lincoln immediately calling into question Gitlers credentials to review her work detailing African-American social struggle. Gitler responds that he was accusing her of using the fact that you [Lincoln] was a negro to exploit a career, to which Lincoln asks how it might be possible to effectively separate her identity as a Black woman from her art and musical content. How can I sing as a


black woman, as a Negro, if I dont exploit the fact that Im a Negro? Max Roach then offered this analysis: Well, heres on thing. Who knows more about the Negro than the Negro? If anybody has the right to exploit the Negro, its the Negro. Everybody else up until this point has been exploiting the Negro. And the minute the Negro begins to exploit himself, even if this was so, here comes somebody who says they shouldnt exploit the Negro. But who should exploit the Negro?142 This quote from Roach offers a polemic and clear message: by inverting Gitlers phrase, he effectively calls into question the representational power within the jazz industry to define Black music, identity, and subjectivity. Clearly, his implication is that the issue is not whether or not Lincolns blackness is being exploited by herthe issue is that Lincoln is, for the first time, defining her self and resisting the acceptable identities imposed upon her by white society. Previously, it had been everyone else, that is, the hegemonic jazz and media institutions, from down beat to Time, who had been definingexploitingnot only Lincolns Black identity, but the representation of the Black population of the United States at large. The issue is the decolonization of Black consciousnessand Roach asserts that is certainly a Black womans right. Indeed, he ends by declaring, Heres the point: she has a perfect right to exploit the Negro. Lincoln, Roach, and Hentoff proceed to go on the offensive over Gitlers use of phrase professional Negro. Gitler defends the comment, insisting that the use of this term was derived from the fact that she was relying too much on her Negritude on this album.143 Lincoln responded with a sophisticated critique at what a professional Negro, in capitalist America, really entailed:

142 143

Racial Prejudice in Jazz. down beat. March 15, 1962. p. 21. ibid, p. 23. 100

You know when I was a professional Negro nobody seemed to mindThere was a time when I was really a professional Negro. I was capitalizing on the fact that I was a Negro, and I looked the way Western people expect you to look. I wore ridiculous dresses, and sang the songs that were expected. I was a professional Negro. I was not an artist. I had nothing to say. I used inane, stupid material on the stage. And as soon as I said, I dont want to do this anymore, I want to give the best I have to the public, they came down on me with all four feet.144 Here Lincoln inverts the argument again by demonstrating that it was her break with a fetishized, Westernized and hyper-sexualized Black womanhood, rooted in the dictates of the market as well as the linked cultural apparatus which had all but held a monopoly on the violence of representational power, that was the real crime to Gitler and down beat editors. Her powerful redefinition of what being a professional Negro really entailed, as opposed to a self-defining Black woman, and the power relations that surrounding this industry, was left unacknowledged and unmentioned by the personnel of down beat in the conversation. Since down beat was an important part of this representational architecture, its evasion on this particular subject is consistent with its own position in marinating its own cultural power. But, as an essence of a radical and systemic critique of the power relations that Gitlers review epitomized, Lincoln and Roach would not leave it to the dustbin. When down beat head editor Dan DeMichael invokes a previous point that Lincoln madethat all art is propagandaand disagrees with her claim, Roach replies that it is down beat that is as much propaganda as the art in question: You guys are propaganda organs. And an artist is the same thin, even if he is just trying to spread propagandas about himself.145 Lincoln then offers another assessment, affirming: Ira, your article was the epitome of propaganda because you said to the general publicto
144 145

Ibid, p. 24. Ibid. 101

the people who read this magazinewatch out for Abbey Lincoln because, first, she doesnt like white people. She believes in separate states. Instead of discussing down beats ability to influence the commercial viability and public perception of artists, editor Bill Cross replies, Do you, Abbey?a question that has utterly nothing to do the point at hand. Abbey responds eloquently: First Id like to qualify this by saying, Bill, that this is a very personal thing whether I do or whether I dontits like your religion. Its not anything I need talk about, but I Would like to say it just does not happen to be true. Im not that idiotic that Id dislike people because of the color of their skin. I dislike what white people have done to my people. Intensely.146 Here again, historical oppression, domination and power relations are invoked as opposed to the misleading questions intended to trap Abbey into a statement from which she could be perceived as a fanatic Black nationalist. Instead of responding to this, down beat editor DeMichael again obscures her argument: This brings up a point that that has bothered me some time. We might was well use the term Crow Jim. To me, a lot of the Negro jazzmen have limited the people they saw swingthe people they will hireto Negroes. They will say white guys dont swing, dont play jazz, and they have stolen our music. Abbey responds in force: They have. DeMichael answers: They havent. Max Roach proceeds to delineate the relationship of jazz to the specific historical and social circumstances of African-Americans in explicating this claim. DeMichaels move to invoke the debate over appropriation and Crow Jim, however, is a way to silence the histories of oppression of power relations vis--vis the Black community Lincoln is invoking, much as Gene Lees reduced Minguss qualms about exploitation earlier with the same phrase. After white trumpeter Don Ellis and Max Roach debate


ibid. 102

whether or not a white musician can effectively learn jazz, Lincoln again brings it back to the point at stake: Don, I dont believe theres such a thing as Crow Jim. You know what Jim Crow is? Jim Crow makes it impossible for the black man to function in this country to the capacity that he should Lincoln then points out the ways Jim Crow effectively functions in the jazz industry itself: A white musician can always get a job.147 Ellis rebuttals with further accusations of anti-white chauvinism, insisting that you are giving ammunition to the whole thing of racial prejudice. Significantly and hardly ironically, Ellis himself had a large advertisement appearing directly next to the original demeaning review Gitler wrote of Lincoln. Roach and Lincoln did not yield on the insistence that the behavior of AfricanAmerican musicians hiring and performing with African-Americans cannot be understood outside of the Jim Crow system from which jazz and a racialized market, the sociological structures within which jazz was born as an African-American expression. Later, Max Roach says it bluntly: I thin all of it is [economical]Do you know what the social system is? The black man is here, and the white man is there.148 Lincoln also articulates a gendered position, albeit less frequently than on the need of down beat to take race seriously. Arguing that people of different social positionalities indeed experience and create music differently, she invokes Billie Holiday: I always go back to Billie Holiday, because shes an example of a lot of things to me. Billie Holiday sang to womenmore than to mena woman who is in her same circumstance, who had a man and she was frustrated. It was more profound to that woman than it would be to anybody elseNegro women are in a class to themselves, too. Women really have a problem. But the black women had another problem because her man has another problem. Shes a part of her man. I dont

147 148

ibid. ibid, p. 26. 103

understand this theory that ever Boyd is the same. Thats corny. Because everybody is not the same.149 Lincons analysis of Black woman as a class of their own, oppressed not only by racial and economic forces but also by Black and white sexism, is an analysis that follows the description that Black Marxist Claudia Jones offers of the triple oppression Black women, and anticipates Angela Daviss similar analysis. But her invocation of historical and epistemological difference, and the refutation of it, is a decidedly militant gesture that attempted to destabilize the universalistic assumptions and assimilative prerogatives of down beat and its linked institutions. The inability of the white panelists, save Hentoff, to acknowledge the racialized capitalist power structure in either American society or its codification in the jazz world vis--vis down beat, continues as the discussion continues to gravitate towards Black exclusion of white musicians. Roach explains passionately that it cannot be separated from the process of historical catharsis underway and the upsurge of Black autonomy that must direct anger at the white population for its historical and ongoing violence, oppression, and terror. Discussing Ira Sullivans inability to get work with Black musicians in Chicago, Roach says: Now, this is the time for Ira to get all white musicians, because now there is just too much hostility over there for him to enjoy himself, not against him personally, but against the white settlement now. Thats whats happening in Chicago. Dont you know the ferment of the people? Do you feel it? The black people of this country have taken on a different role as far as the social scene is concerned. Every black area you go in you hear this talk which Nat has explained.Its just a natural thing. Hentoff: What youve got now is the harvest of 300 years.150

149 150

Racial Prejudice in Jazz. down beat. March 29, 1962. p. 22 Racial Prejudice in Jazz. down beat. March 29, 1962. p. 21 104

The structure of feeling could not be separated from the politics of autonomous Black music groups and collectives in the onset of the 1960s. The editors and staff of down beats inability to discuss history, race, and power in a meaningful way led to an impasse and only fed the fire of the discussion. Ellis continues to rebuke this focus on historical difference, insisting to emphasize difference is only going to make the schism worse. Now as I understand it, the Negro positionand Im in full agreement, of courseits that everybody should have equal rightsthe best way, I think, for all of us that are concerned about this problem is to ignore the difference as much as possible.151 Don Elliss insistence here on purely legislative equality is missing the essence of what was underway in the Black community, both musical and political: a process of self-differentiation and self-creation, a declaration of autonomy, a recovering of suppressed and forgotten history, and the will to achieve this by any means necessary. The defining of an autonomous political subjectivity was both a means and an ends, and increasingly, this political epistemology viewed American capitalist society not as something that required integration but something to be challenged in and of itself. The links made with Third World internationalism in this decade, in both music and political activity, lends credibility to this point. Roach repudiates Elliss liberal reading of American societys ability to absorb and negate difference with a much more radical position: Look, the revolution starts between black and white, say if it got that bad.Weve all got guns against each other.


ibid, p. 24-25. 105

No matter how I feel about you, Im going to have to shoot because white guns over there are going to shoot everything black.152 This comment caused the discussion to essentially dissolve. In print, it ended on a cheeky note on paper, but according to Hentoff, the atmosphere was tense, tense, tense.153 The discussion at down beat and the musicians ability to reverse the one-way discourse concerning Crow Jim and the fallacies of Black Nationalism in jazz was a significant battle that ruptured the legitimacy of down beats analysis of jazz in the context of American society. Before millions of readers, Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach articulated sophisticated critiques of the links between down beat, white cultural appropriation and commercial profit, African-American exploitation and musical debasement, and racialized capitalism. In doing so, they exposed the incompetence of down beats editorial staff to respond or understand these issues in a meaningful way, who took defensive positions in frequently changing the subject to the problem of African-American artists hiring predominantly whites. Roach and Lincoln were uncompromising jazz artists who were not afraid to put their career on the lines to challenge what they discerned as an essential part of maintaining the power of cultural definition over African-Americans. Their careers, not coincidently, were affected. As Monson dryly states, the careers of both Abbey Lincoln and Ma Roach suffered in the aftermath of the Racial Prejudice in Jazz panel discussion. Lincoln did not record another album under her leadership until 1973, and Roach, who had recorded twenty-one albums under his own
152 153

Ibid, p. 25. Interview with Ingrid Monson. Quoted from Freedom Sounds, p. 247. 106

name between 1953 and 1960, recorded only eleven between 1961 and 1971. While they were punished for their outspokenness about white cultural colonization of AfricanAmerican music, they laid bare the power relations of the jazz industry and inspired many other artists to take similar lines. As Amiri Baraka would write after this incident took place, undoubtedly himself galvanized by the militancy displayed by Roach and Lincoln, later penned an essay titled Jazz and the White Critic. The essay begins with the direct and naked dynamic that the critical institution that jazz has always represented. Most jazz critics have been white Americans, pens Baraka, but most important jazz musicians have not been. Baraka, and other Black Arts Movement poets such as A.B. Spellman and Sonia Sanchez, saw the importance of wrestling the vitality of jazz away from the white marketplace and in the context of Black political and social communities. All these authors saw such an understanding of jazz was essential to African-American cultural and political autonomy, suggesting links deep and irreducible links between Black American cultural identity, social memory, and the living tradition of Black music. These will be the subjects of the next chapter.


Grooving to Anti-Imperialism, from Harlem to Watts
It was summer in Harlem, the year 1964. The streets were sweating with assassinations, rebellions, police brutality, and Black population demanding justice. In July, 4,000 people in Harlem and another 4,000 in Bedford-Stuyvesant of Brooklyn took to the streets in a six-day protest when Police Lt. Thomas G. Gilligan fatally shot fifteen-year old James Powell, a summer school student at Robert F. Wagner High School. Powell was engaging in horseplay with a superintendent Patrick Lynch, and the latter retaliated by spraying Powell with a garden hose. When Powell ran into another building, Gilligan intervened and shot the boy in cold blood. (The officer, predictably, was later found innocent of charge.) The rebellion resulted in 1 death, 118 injured, and 465 men and women arrested. It was a decidedly different sort of race struggle than ones in Harlem that preceded it, one in which African-American communities were not targeted by white mobs, but rather, doing the targeting. Symbolically, writes Shatema Threadcraft, the riots of the 1960s marked a change in the demographics of the rioting mob. Before Harlem, mob scenes involved whites attempting to keep blacks from joining American society; afterward, they become the symbol of blacks fighting for their right to be let in.154 Threadcrafts assertion that the militants were seeking assimilation to the burning house of American Empire is debatablebut the rebellion did signal a shift in


Threadcraft, Shatema. New York City Riot of 1964. Encyclopedia of American Race Riots. (Greenwood: 2006,) p. 478. 108

Black American politics. Civil-rights activists such as members of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) doing much of the organizing for the protest, and were not afraid to engage in more militant activity in the streets. It seemed that Malcolm Xs call for militant self-defense was beginning to be heeded, not only by activists and organizers, but by entire communities. Malcolm X would not be spared for his spreading influence. After a long power struggle, members of the Nation of Islam in the Audubon ballroom dramatically assassinated Malcolm X on the February 21st after the rebellion. Years later, the American public learned what many in the movement had already known: COINELPRO, the FBIs secret organization designed to infiltrate, disrupt, and destroy the social movements of the day, was directly involved in the assassination.155 John Ali, the national secretary of the Nation of Islam, also an undercover FBI agent, had met with Malcolm assassin Talmage Hayer the night before.156 The American state had a number of rationales for executing the avatar of Black Power. His call for Black empowerment by any means necessary was certainly a threatening ethos that was reaching a critical mass. But I may have been Malcolms analysis that led to his endorsement of armed selfdefense that constituted the real crime: that Black Americans were an internally colonized people whose struggle lay not for the betterment of American society, but with their colored brothers and sisters all victims to the same white Imperialism and neocolonialism.


Kondo, Zak A. Conspiracys: Unraveling the Assassination of Malcolm X. (Washington, D.C.: Nubia Press, 1993,) p. 739. 156 Lomax, Louis E. To Kill a Black Man. (Los Angeles: Holloway House, 1987,) p. 198, and Evanzz, Karl. The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X. (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1992,) p. 294 109

Malcolm had perhaps learned the lesson of the Cold War too well: that re-aligned American Black political identifications away from the American nation-state and toward the international anti-colonial movement would most effectively precipitate large-scale Black mobilization and connect the African-American community to a historic struggle against worldwide white supremacy. Such a movement would not only allow AfricanAmericans to heroically enter the overall international struggleit also meant that American Blacks would receive political and cultural support from Third World nations and revolutionaries.157 Indeed, the importance of this militant identification to the Third World was not lost on either American national security establishment or newly independent Third World nations. After his assassination, newspapers from China to Ghana praised the internationalism of Malcolm X and mourned his death. The Daily Times of Nigeria wrote that Malcolm X "will have a place in the palace of martyrs."158 The Ghanaian Times likened him to John Brown and Patrice Lumumba among "a host of Africans and Americans who were martyred in freedom's cause".159 Guangming Daily, published in Beijing, stated that "Malcolm was murdered because he fought for freedom and equal rights."160 In Cuba, El Mundo described the assassination as "another racist crime to


Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (New York: Ballantine, 1965); and Singh, Nikhil Pal, Black is a Country (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004), p.188. 158 Evanzz, p. 305. 159 Kenworthy, E. W. (February 26, 1965). "Malcolm Called a Martyr Abroad". The New York Times. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20D15F73F5812738DDDAF0A94DA4 05B858AF1D3. Retrieved August 2, 2008. 160 Evanzz, p. 306. 110

eradicate by violence the struggle against discrimination.161 On the other side of the river, Daniel Moynihan, a strategist State Department, was alarmed that the black movement had as surprising resonance abroad as had at home,162 and continued in quasiapocalyptic terms for the fate of worldwide U.S. hegemony in a post-imperial163 world: It was not just a matter of change that the Negro movement caught fire in American at just that movement when the nations of Africa were gaining their freedom. Nor is it merely incidental that the world should have fastened its attention on events in the United States at a time when the possibility that the nations of the world will divide along color lines seems suddenly not only possible, but even imminentIt is clear that what happens in America is being taken as sign of what can, or must, happen in the world at large. The course of world evens will be profoundly affected by the success or failure of the Negro American Revolution in seeking the peaceful assimilation of races in the United States.164 Moynihans comments indicate that subduing Black radicalism and ensuring assimilation does, or appears to, succeed was quintessential for maintaining American hegemony in the world at large. Conversely, white hegemony in the United States over its Black population would be contingent on the ability of the United States to contain oppositional governments without appearing to use violence or state repression. Thus, a dialectical relationship emerged between Third World revolutionary movements, and Black radical movements in the United States that sought to expose the inability of the U.S. nationstates ability to incorporate people of color into its body politics, and refashion themselves as internally colonized subjects.


Rickford, Russell J. Betty Shabazz: A Remarkable Story of Survival and Faith Before and After Malcolm X. (Naperville, Ill.: Sourcebooks, .2003.) p. 248. 162 Daniel Patrick Moynihan, from Sheila Collins, The Rainbow Challenge (Boston: South End Press, 1986), p. 57. 163 In relation to the Old Imperialism. The authors frame of reference is not an end to Empire per se, but rather a changing of its guard and methods. 164 The Moynihan Report, quoted from Njoroge, Njoroge, Black Music, Transculturation, and the Aural Making and Unmaking of the Third World. p. 87. 111

The United States failed, and failed miserably, at curtailing either its use of political violence in international affairs or the linkages made between Third-World governments and peoples with domestic Black radicals. CIA assistance in the execution of Congo Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, for instance, had a radicalizing affect on African-American artists and activists, dramatically demonstrated at the United Nations protest described above. This was the context of Malcolm Xs assertion that thenPresident John F. Kennedys assassination was simply the prize for the violence it had gambled in the Congoor, in the words of X, that the chickens were coming home to roost. In a later speech, he would directly connect the struggles of the two people were directly connected, writing, When I speak of the Congo, I also mean Congo, Mississippipointing to an analysis of Empire that transcended national boundaries and recreated colonial oppression of peoples of color on both sides of the Atlantic and Pacific.165 International political violence precipitated by the American state against populations of color only reinforced a reading of Black Americans as an internally colonized people, brutalized in a similar fashion by police forces that the French colonials practiced against indigenous Algerian populations, and located in an unstable and fundamentally alien location to white American civil society. It is significant that, across the Atlantic, in Algeria itself, Frantz Fanon was making the same claimor, rather, penning in ink an emergent global-historical process. Fanons classic published in 1961, fittingly titled Wretched of the Earth, is an eloquent phenomenology of decolonization that argues that colonized peoples would have to overcome fragmentation by asserting


Singh, p. 146. 112

existential claims through violence against the colonizer. Simultaneously, a struggle would have to be waged against the international system of racial capitalism itself since colonialism and imperialism have not paid their score when they withdraw their flags and police forces from our territory.166 In other words, Fanon astutely perceived am emergent world-system in which nations were given formal political sovereignty, but it was a sovereignty that was mediated by international commodity relations dominated by the United Statesa role which the United States had every intention of maintaining. Conveniently, Fanons observation were confirmed by the spokesperson for the American state itself. John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State, said in 1956: We are in a contest of economic development of underdeveloped countries which is bitterly competitive. Defeat in this context could be as disastrous as defeat in the arms race.167 Indeed, liberated countries had every need and right to try to develop out of economic underdevelopment, the latter precipitated by economic restructuring under formal colonialism that recast historically complex and economic diverse countries into peripheral and often monoculture economies dominated by the needs of their colonizers markets. Ghana stands as a fine example of this phenomenonthe dominance of cocoa in its colonial economy cannot be overstated. By 1910 it was 41% of the colonys exports; by 1929, 78%. By 1934, the small Gold Coast country produced a staggering 40% of total world output.168 To think that one nation would produce almost half of the entire worlds output of this crop puts this dynamic in perspective. In addition to these grossly malformed economies, the means of production were frequently maintained by Western
166 167

Frantz Fanon, Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 1961), p. 101. Quoted from Coe, Sue, X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, (1986), p. 8. 168 M.H. Kaniki. (1985) The Colonial Economy in the Former British Zones General History of Africa, Vol VII. p. 394. 113

nations, owning resources or huge plots of land in politically liberated nations. When leaders of these countries tried to assume economic autonomy and reverse underdevelopment, they were met with CIA-backed coup detats and other destabilizing measures. Ghanas Kwame Nkrumah attempted to reverse Ghanaian hyper-dependence on Cocoa production, importing machinery from the Soviet Union and received American investment for the failed Akosomba Dam. The failures from this process and the intransigence of the American backer, the Kaiser Aluminum Company, who obstinately refused to use Ghanaian bauxite for the project (using its reserves in Jamaica instead),169 led him to pen the influential book Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism, in 1966. The central and well-developed argument was Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of imperialism, wrote that, The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.170 As if to validate his point, a CIA-backed military coup ensured he was overthrown in 1966.171 Ghana was not without its predecessors. Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala was overthrown in a CIA-backed coup 1954 at the behest of the Aeircan-based United Fruit Company (UFC). In 1945, it was estimated that 2.2% of the country's population

169 170

Dzorgbo. Ghana in Search of Development. p. 152. http://www.marxists.org/subject/africa/nkrumah/neo-colonialism/introduction.htm. 171 Botwe-Asamoah, Kwame. Kwame Nkrumah's Politico-Cultural Thought and Politics: An African-centered Paradigm for the Second Phase of the African Revolution. Page 16; Carl Oglesby and Richard Shaull. Containment and Change. Page 105; Interview with John Stockwell in Pandora's Box: Black Power (Adam Curtis, BBC Two, 22 June 1992) 114

controlled 70% of all arable land, but with only 12% of it being utilized,172 and when a land reform program intended to be implemented by the Arbenez threatened UFCs investments, it successfully lobbied for American intervention. In Iran the previous year, Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh was overthrown and replaced by the U.S.-backed Mohammad-Rez Shh Pahlav under operation Ajax, in what was orally authorized by President Eisenhower after Iran intended to nationalize its Oil reserves. A repressive shah replaced the democratically elected prime minister and Iran would serve as a cornerstone of United States Foreign Policy until the Iranian Revolution in 1976.173 And, of course, Patrice Lumumba had been executed under the auspices of the same intelligence apparatus years earlier. In lieu of these events, one cannot help come to the conclusion that Fanon reaches, namely, that international political life had transformed into a kind of universal violence under the sponsorship of the United States, who had systemically countered liberated nations challenging the commodity relations of the international economic system, that is, their own underdevelopment, and economic dependence, relative to Western economies. Fanon, however, took this analysis a step further: in the context of an internationalized power structure, local conflicts inevitably took on global proportionsand vice versa. Fanon noted that the American Negroes new emphasis on violence and the rising radicalism of minorities meant that the ramifications of neocolonialism in the periphery would have strong resonance in the center. It is not by chance, that in consequence Negro extremists in the United States organize a militia and

Stanley, Diane (1994). For the Record: United Fruit Company's Sixty-Six Years in Guatemala. Centro Impresor Piedra Santa. pp. 179 173 Ambrose, Stephen E. Eisenhower, vol.2, The President. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984), p. 111. 115

arm themselves. As Singhs analysis of Fanon puts it, The fact that minority groups living within the borders of the worlds superpower no longer hesitated to preach violent methods for resolving their problems suggested that the global conflicts peripheralized by the Cold War had reemerged at the Center. The chickens had indeed come home to roost.174 The specific nature of the revolutions and counter-revolutions in the Third World would have very different inflections for African-Americans. However, it is clear that the rising agency of people of color in the context of decolonization had always been a primary influence for Civil Rights activism. As early as 1959, Martin Luther King Jr. himself asserted that the strongest bond of fraternity was the common cause of minority and colonial peoples in America, Africa and Asia struggling to throw off racism and imperialism, in a speech wherein he linked his own philosophy of non-violent activism to expose structure of racial violence to Ghandis own militant pacifism.175 If Indias Gandhi was a relatively unproblematic symbol of anticolonialism to the American state, the political metaphor of internationalism was about to change dramatically with the 1959 Cuban Revolution. In particular, the explicitly anti-capitalist and anti-Imperialist tenor the latter meant that its affect on African-Americans in the United States would be decidedly different than identification with militant pacifism. Fidel Castros first visit to the United States is a telling example of the relationship between what militant Black activist Robert Williams would call the liberated territory of the Americas and the African-American people. When Castro

174 175

Singh, p. 189; Fanon, p. 80, 101, 75. Martin Luther King Jr, My Trip to the Land of Ghandi, in Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King Jr. (New York: Harper and Row, 1986), p. 24. 116

visited the United States in 1960 to address the United Nations, he immediately generated a crisis meant to expose the racialized power structure inherent in both the American public and private spheres. While visiting the elite Shelburne Hotel, reserved for U.N. delegations, he accused the staff of racial profiling and moved uptown, to Harlems Hotel Theresa. The move not only intended to de-legitimate U.S. as a worldwide arbitrator among nations of color and question its intended hegemonic status, but also identified the Cuban revolution with Black Americans and threw its political weight behind them. The gesture was not lost on peoples of color in the United States, who by the thousands surrounded hotel Theresa with signs such as U.S. Jim Crows Fidel just like U.S. Jim Crows Us Negroes.176 The move succeeded, then, in both putting Cuba at the forefront of anti-imperialism, and encouraging Black Americans to see their struggle in the context of a worldwide struggle against the same Imperialism, contradictions aside. As Cynthia Ann Young writes, No matter that Castro and the white Cuban middle class had defeated the mulatto Fulgencio Batista, racial origin was not the overriding means of identification with the Cuban Revolution. Rather, identification with Cuba marked and facilitated a growing internationalism among peoples of color in the United States.177 The identification with Cuba by African-Americans was not limited to political theatre and included formative instances of cultural exchange. In 1960, the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, a New Left solidarity organization for Cuba, organized a trip of African-American intellectuals and artists to visit the revolutionary state. Attendants included Harold Cruse, self-defense advocate and activist Robert Williams, poet and

Young, Soul Power: Culture, Radicalism, and the Making of U.S. Third World Left. p. 20. (Duke University Press: 2006), p. 20. 177 Young, Soul Power: Culture, Radicalism, and the Making of U.S. Third World Left. p. 21. 117

CORE member Sonya Sanchez, and a bohemian Leroi Jones, later known as Amiri Baraka. The trip was galvanizing for many of the attendees, and Amiri Baraka wrote later in his autobiography that the Cuban trip was a turning point in my life.178 In a passage wherein he details meeting intellectuals from all over Latin America, including Rubi Bentacourt from Yuctan and Jaime Shelly of Mexico, he recalls: It was the first time Id been taken on so thoroughly and forcefully and by people my own age, my contemporaries. I was not Eisenhower or Nixon or Faubus, I protested, I was a poet. And so you want to write your poetry and that alone [they responded], while most of the world is suffering, your own people included. It is bourgeois individualism, they screamedFor twelve or fourteen hours on the train I was assailed for my bourgeois individualism. And I could see, had seen, people my own age involved in actual change, revolution. In my American cynicism, my inherited arrogant assumption of theoretical know-it-all-ism, I was little better than my friend whod said, I hate guys in uniforms [in reference to Fidel Castro]. In fact, I was the same.179 This passage is revealing about he cultural and epistemological transformation that these international exchanges had for African-Americans in this decade. Here, Baraka is torn out of his complacent, complicit position and forced to confront his own political inactivity and acquiescence to the ideology of bourgeois individualism. His encounter with artists influencing their respective nations with politically mobilizing and radical art that related to their peoples and communities, profoundly changed Baraka and his understanding of his art in relation to social change and Black self-determination. Seeing youth not just turning on and dropping out, reflected Baraka, not just hiply cynical or cynically hip, but using their strength and energy to change the worldthat was just too much.180


Baraka, Amiri. The Autobiography of Amiri Baraka.(Lawrence Hill Books: 1997.) p. 163. 179 Baraka, ibid. 180 Baraka, p. 166. 118

In addition to providing a unique model of cultural revolution, Cuba also presented Baraka with a model of Black masculinity charged with revolutionary libido. Young has suggested that Castros powerful assertion of masculinity also was a deciding factor in Barakas enthrallment with communist Cuba. As she writes, the profound shift in Joness worldview was facilitated an already nascent identification with both a real and an imagined Third World characterized by two elements: Joness reliance on an ultramasculinist ideology and his belief in the central importance of culture in precipitating revolution. Castros appearance at a movement during which codes of masculinity were undergoing an intense transformation might not only explain his attractiveness to Jones but also the authors persistent intertwining of masculine identity and violent rebellion. The literal blueprint for the Jones hero might very well be Castro, as well as Robert Williams, whom he met for the first time on the Cuba trip. If the militant overthrown of a United States-backed dictator and a repudiation of the international capitalist relations precipitated by the same hegemon was a radicalizing and inspiring force for Amiri Baraka and other Black activists, Malcolm Xs stood as another symbolic pillar. His assassination was a defining moment in Black cultural and political life in the decade, prompting increased consciousness of the necessity of Black cultural revolution. Malcolm Xs internationalism was undoubtedly an inspiration to Baraka and his inspiration by Cuba and Third-World revolutionaries, and his assassination was a major impetus for Baraka to move to Harlem, leaving his white wife, Hettie Jones, and his children in the East Village. Malcolms death vindicated his analysis of a colonialism that transcended national boundaries and called for Black Americans to form alliances with darker nations.


Singhs explanation of this identification in political, and not cultural, terms, as the primary motivation. In his words, While Malcolm certainly gave a nod to the spiritual, cultural, and psychic unity of black and Africans extending back in time, this was not what galvanized him. Rather, Malcolms sensibility combined political and religious universalism within a thoroughly contemporary geopolitical imagination linking U.S. blacks and Africans, as well as peoples of the Islamic world, in what he called the overall international struggle.181 Singhs argument is persuasive when evaluated next to Fanons analysis of Third-World revolution and neocolonial violence inevitably having domestic blowback among peoples of color and specifically African-Americans. However, his dismissal of the importance of redefining cultural identifications and values in asserting a dissident political subjectivity is a serious omission in his illuminating study on the contours of Black internationalism. Not only does it marginalize the ways that domination is experienced at cultural and epistemic as well as political-economic levels; not only does it marginalize the importance of the cultural front in advanced capitalist societies; but it also contradicts Malcolm Xs own endorsement of Black cultural revolution as central to the process of any large-scale African-American to political revolution that could successfully challenge domestic and international colonialism. At a speech at the Audubon Ballroom, X declared, Our culture and our history are as old as man himself and yet we know almost nothing of it. We must recapture our heritage and our identity if we are to liberate ourselves from the bonds of white supremacy. We must launch a cultural revolution to unbrainwash our people. Our cultural revolution must be the means of bringing us closer to our African brothers and sisters. It must begin in the community and be based on community participation. Afro-Americans will be free to create only when they can depend on the Afro-American community for


Singh, p. 188. 120

support and Afro-American artists must realize that they depend on the AfroAmerican community for participation.182 Here, Malcolm makes clear that he did not see cultural revolution, the struggle to unbrainwash our people, as distinct from making political and symbolic alliances with Third-World nations experiencing decolonization struggles, or waging against U.S. capital and neocolonialism. He sees them as an integrated and intertwined in an single revolutionary process by which cultural and political autonomy are asserted by and through each other. Truly, it lies at the veritable heart of the struggle, as X says himself. Indeed, Malcolms influence on Black politics was not confined to a purely ideological sphere, (if such a sphere, divorced from matters cultural and epistemic, even exists) but had profound impact on the poets of the Black Arts Movement. Larry Neal, poet, writer, and prominent theorist of the Black Arts Movement, made the connection between Malcolms death, internationalism, and the need for a cultural revolution fluently in an essay quoted below: But even though Malcolms deaththe manner of itemotionally fractured young black radicals, there were two central facts that all factions of the movement came to understand. And they are: that the struggle for black selfdetermination had entered a serious, more profound stage; and that for most of us, nonviolence as a viable technique of social change had died with Malcolm on the stage of the AudubonMalcolms ideas had touched all aspects of contemporary black nationalism: the relationship between black America and the Third World; the development a black cultural thrust; the right of oppressed peoples to selfdefense and armed struggle; the necessity of maintaining a strong moral force in the black community; the building of autonomous black institutions; and finally, the need for a black theory of social change.183


Malcolm X, Statement of Basic Aims and Objectives of the Organization of AfroAmerican Unity, in New Black Voices: An Anthology of Contemporary Afro-American Literature, ed. Abraham Chapman (New York: Penguin, 1972), 563. 183 Larry Neal, New Space/The Growth of Black Consciousness in the Sixties, in The Black Seventies, ed. Floyd B. Barbour (Boston: Porer Sargent, 1970), 27. 121

Malcolms thought was the theoretical cornerstone for both Baraka and Neal in their formulations of an art that spoke to the needs and aesthetic history and orientations of Black working-class communities. It also directly bore down on African-American musicians who, like Roach, were conceptualizing their work in increasingly political terms. Saxophonist Archie Shepp and pianist Don Pullen both recorded songs for the deceased leader, with many other musicians following his words and spirit in creating a music that not only spoke to, but was literally located, in Black communities. The latter would be demonstrated in force when Baraka began working with musicians in Harlem under the patronage of the Black Arts Repertory School/Theatre, an autonomous cultural institution that reflected Malcolms call for autonomous cultural institutions built around Black community participation and needs. Indeed, Amiri Baraka appears as the prolific flashpoint between Malcolm Xs cultural thrust, his radical internationalism, and a large scale movement of AfricanAmerican artists from m idle class cultural producers to revolutionary cultural activists. Following Malcolms death, and largely catalyzed but it, Baraka moved uptown as he abandoned his life and previous bohemian identity in the East Village and moved to Harlem to precipitate Black Cultural Revolution. A bunch of us, really, had gone, up to Harlem. Seeking revolution!184 Baraka likened it to the revolutionary theorists of the Third World in his autobiography, explaining, The arrival uptown, Harlem, can only be summed up by the feelings jumping out of Csaires Return to My Native Land or Fanons Wretched of the Earth or Cabrals Return to The Source. The middle-class native intellectual, having outintegrated the most integrated, now plunges headlong back into what he perceives as blackest, native-est. Having dug, finally, how white he has become,


P. 201. 122

now, classically, comes back to his countrymen charged up with the desire to be black, uphold black, &c.a fanatical patriot! Barakas allusions to his repudiation of a middle-class consciousness and his return to the Source of a Black Nation would be a reoccurring trope consistent with the Black Arts Imperative. His lifelong attempt to create a cultural movement that would speak to the Black working-class who had been marginalized both by white and middle-class Black cultural imperatives would begin in earnestness at the Black Arts Repertory Theater/School (BARTS). In the summer of 1965, Baraka describes a livid cultural sphere complete with a variety of arts: Each night throughout that summer we flooded the Harlem streets with new music, new poetry, new dance, new paining, and the sweep of the Black Arts movement had recycled itself back to the people. We had huge audiences, really mass audiences, and though what we brought was supposed to be avant and supernew, most it the people dug. Thats why we knew the music critics that put down the new music as inaccessible were full of shit. People danced in the street to Sun Ra and cheered Ayler and Shepp and Cecil and Jackie McClean and the others. It was a great summer!185 Barakas positing of the avant-garde jazz musicians at the center of his culturalrevolutionary work here is telling. Both him, Larry Neal, Sonya Sanchez, and other poets of the Black Arts Movement made both constant references to the music, whether that was John Coltrane, the jazz tradition, or the entire continuum of African-American music, and saw it as a consistent center of Black cultural life. From Barakas masterpiece, Blues People, publishing in 1963 to the current day, Baraka has located the music as the privileged repository and source of an autonomous Black consciousness, functioning as an organizer of social and aesthetic formations.


Ibid, p. 212. 123

For instance, in his 1966 short story The Screamers186 is analogous to his use of musicians to mobilize Black communities at his base at BARTS, and later at his cultural center in Newark, the Spirit house. The story begins by describing people, the crowd who are united in their economic and political positionthey are only the wild or the very poorbut are disorganized in their behavior and their desires and lack social cohesion. Many are dancing, some are hanging out and listening the other music, some are drinking alcohol, some are trying to make romantic connections.187 They do not yet form a self-conscious movement. As the story progresses, however, and we learn more about these peoples stories, their struggles with racism and exploitation, while in real time the audience and musicians are galvanized by the music to become a single, unified entity. As the intensity of the music and story reaches its peak, the audience and musicians take their energy to the street, strutting, screaming, and singing, until, for a brief span of time, the people from the club constitute a single revolutionary force, capable of the sweetest revolution, to hucklebuck into the fallen capital, and let the oppressors lindy hop out.188 When the police arrive to put down their protests, the violence ensues and the formerly unified crowd disintegrates and fragments under state violence, dispersing in all directions to save whatever it was each of us thought we loved.189 John Panish observes that Barakas narrative displayed here clearly illustrates the connection among African American writers who use jazz in their fiction: the music and


Baraka, Amiri. The Screamers. The Fiction of Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka. (Lawrence Hill Books: 2000.) 187 Baraka, Amiri. The Screamers. p. 262. 188 Ibid, 267. 189 Ibid, 268. 124

the process of improvisation are seen as being inextricably linked with African American social and economic experience.190 This is certainly true, but there is another layer in this event than the powerful link between improvisation and Black freedom dreamsit is role of the musician, itself, in precipitating Black political consciousness and social mobilization. Even if Baraka does not invoke the term or theorist himself, the way he situates the musician is analogous to the role Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci gave his social category of the so-called Organic Intellectualsocial mediators that arise out of ones own class or group and give it homogeneity and an awareness of its own function not only in the economic but also in the social and political fields.191 These are distinct from intellectuals from other locations because they arise out of the social, cultural and aesthetic codes of the group themselves, and articulate its identity and purpose in its own terms, a sort of vanguard born out of its own communal fibers. Organic Intellectuals, for Gramsci, help a group or class cohere and give it a common understanding of historical both its agency and purpose in the larger social totality. In Barakas narrative, it is the privileged role of the musicians to cohere the social space of the jazz cluband Black Americans themselvesand give it revolutionary potential to challenge the American state. Why did Amiri Baraka-one of the chief, if not the chief, propagators of the Black Arts Movementlocate the musician, and specifically the jazz musician, as the vanguard of a revolutionary Black consciousness? What was the significance of this ethnosonic landscapeone that is at, at once, born out of a traditions of Black orality, yet is


Panish, Jon. The Color of Jazz: Race and Representation in Postwar American Culture. (Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 1997). p. 131. 191 Gramsci, The Prison Notebooks, p. 5-7. 125

simultaneously extra-discursiveto this poet/playwright? And why, of all musicians in the Afro-American musical continuum, would one so obscure as the free jazz musician be singled out as an avatar of Black consciousness? This chapter will, in as much as it is discursively possible, demonstrate how the free jazz movement presented the condition of possibility of the concept of Blackness itself articulated and struggled for by the prominent theorists of the Black Arts. Such a study is significant on a number of levels. In tracing the historical and phenomenologically-structuring significance of a decolonized jazz aesthetic for the revolutionary Black subject, its impact on the Black Arts Movement is a good place to start. Far from being the shortest and least successful movement in African American cultural history, as Henry Louis Gates, Jr., has provocatively proclaimed, the aesthetics, attitudes, and disposition of the Black Arts Movement would profoundly set the stage for the structures of Black feeling in the decades to come. In addition to making a broad and enduring impact on African American literature, remaking it as a blues-toned legacy unabashedly invested in, and supremely conscious of, its own southern-born vernacular taproot, a jook-honed survivors ethos of self-willed mobility, self-determined personhood, and bitterly lyric self-inscription as Adam Gussow argues,192 the Black Arts Movement had a deep morphological influences on the emergence of hip-hop, arguably the most groundbreaking, militant, and globally influential musical expression since the advent of jazz. As Marvin J. Gladney asserts, hip-hop culture has remained true to many of the convictions and aesthetic criteria that evolved out of the Black Arts Movement of


Gussow, Adam. If Bessie Smith had Killed Some White People: Racial Legacies, the Blues Revival, and the Black Arts Movement. New Thoughts on the Black Arts Movement. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2006.) p. 227. 126

the '60s, including calls for social relevance, originality, and a focused dedication to produce art that challenges American mainstream artistic expression.193 Indeed, Public Enemy's Chuck D to declaration of hip-hop as the "CNN" of the Black community resonates with what Black Arts Movement practitioners were executing in the creation of an autonomous Black aesthetic and form rooted not only in existent proletarian Black culture but also one that spoke of the political struggles and dynamics of oppression and resistance faced on a daily basis by the Black masses. The significance of the Black Arts Movement on Black, and indeed, the totality of American cultural and political life, begs for an analysis of the cultural trust of Black power itself in light of global decolonization and the rise of the Darker Nations. However, as this is primarily a study of the political and social valences of jazz in light of these shifting historical forces that dominated the 1960s, a thorough exploration of the Black Arts Movement, as necessary as it is, cannot be undertaken here. Instead, our focus will be on the role free-jazz musicians created a space of a liberated Black phenomenology from which the Black Arts used as their guide to both uncovering, and constructing, a Black subjectivity that spoke in its own voice, for itself, unmediated by the imprisoning episteme of Western modernity and its attendant linguistic and cultural logics. This Black aesthetic would be notably marked a repudiation of the system of racialized reason so integral to the latters functioning, an epistemic revolution that these writers credited Coltrane and his ilk as its vanguard. This chapter, then, will explore, first, the significance of jazz musicians in the words, poems, and deeds of the Black Arts writers themselves. More general speculations

Gladney, Marvin J. The Black Arts Movement and Hip-Hop. African American Review, (Vol. 29, 1995.) p. 1 127

and analyses pointing to how such an extra-discursive, quasi-material and socially ambiguous force as free jazz would point the door to a decolonized Black aesthetic. It will proceed to look at the life and work of Sun Ras magnetic influence on these artistactivists, observing his legacy as an early pioneer of the concepts integral to the Black Arts. His pioneer of an autonomous artistic collective, practicing cultural selfdetermination in matters both material and aesthetical, point to the importance of the doit-yourself ethos of Black cultural institutions Harold Cruse polemicized for in his trendsetting Crisis of the Negro Intellectual. Sun Ras contribution was not only in his institutional form, however. His contributions as a philosopher and prophet of a radically oppositional cosmology and concept of Blackness had deep echoes in the proceeding movement in arts in letters. These included a critical historiography that integrated Western modernity in both its political and spiritual incantations, offering an alternative history of Blackness and world-spiritual development that Sun Ra would call his AstroBlack mythology. Ra also was a pioneer in his vocal disowning of the Western concepts of individuated subjectivity, anthropomorphism, political nationalism, and its corresponding tempered harmonic system guided by the Enlightenment derived ideologies of rationality and human sovereignty over the natural world. Perhaps most thematically consistent with this piece, Sun Ras work with Third World aesthetics, scales, and sounds will be critically analyzed in this context. Finally, his actual intersections with the Black Arts Movement, including his work with Amiri Baraka at BARTS, his influence on writers, theatre companies, other Black Arts institutions, and other musical collectives. It will look at the ways in which Sun Ra not only shaped the Black Arts, but was shaped by them. Finally, I will point to the fundamental import Sun


Ra had for the jazz community as well-including his underacknowledged influence on that earthshaking master of the Tenor and Soprano saxophones, John Coltrane. John Coltrane will take precedence in the next section in location as the bearer of a liberated Black subjectivity. His transcendence of the Western harmonic system and ceaseless self-exploration will offer a model of a critical, liberated Black consciousness at the core of the Black Arts movement. Equally important, in the authors eyes, is his embrace of a Third World soundscape in his move toward spiritual and harmonic transcendence, an alliance whose basis, not incidentally, formed the political core of the Black Power movement. His influence on both movements will be documented in this section, demonstrating not only the complex ways that culture and politics breathe and live in each others warm, dialectical embrace, but also how it is the music, and specifically the ever-vatic Coltrane, that is the privileged avatar of Black self and communal definition in this era. Indeed, as Larry Neal wrote, There is no need to establish a black aesthetic. Rather, it is important to understand that one already exists. The question is: where does it exist? And what do we do with it?194 This chapter will attempt to answer how Neal, and others in the Black Arts Movement, answered these intractable questions.

Jazz in the Radical Imagination: Baraka, Coltrane and the Liberated Zone of Blackness
If you can hear, this music will make you think of a lot of weird and wonderful things. You might even become one of them. -LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) 195

Hoyt. W. Fuller, A Survey: Black Writers Views on Literary Lions and Values, Negro Digest, (January, 1968), 35. 129

The native intellectual who takes up arms to defend his nations legitimacy and who wants to bring proofs to bear out that legitimacy, who is willing to strip himself naked to study the history of his body, is obliged to dissect the heart of his people. -Frantz Fanon The Black Arts Movement debt to the free jazz movement, even in the most humble estimation, cannot be overstated. The new syntax of desire that its progenitors realized in their overturning of every lexical and epistemological assumption held dear by Western linguistics is no doubt in due to the unprecedented assertive tones by which John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, Abbey Lincoln, and a whole generation of artists screamed in their undoing of the fibers of orthodoxy in African-American improvised music. In every single one of the Black Arts Movements journalsfrom Negro Digest to the Journal of Black Poetry, Liberator Magazine to Umbra, we find on nearly every page, as Kimberly Benston tells us, the evocation of music as preeminent medium and vanguard exemplar of the eras devotion to restless experimentation, disruptive discovery, and the immediate translation of vision into art.196 Indeed, this point is substantiated in eloquent passion when we trace the definitive anthology of the Black Arts Movements poetry, titled Black Fire, and discover as early as its introduction these powerful words, penned by James T. Stewart: Whatever constitutes a Black Aesthetic has and will rest on the musician. The black musician is ahead of everyone in the expression of true black sensibility. For him, negritude or soul or blackness has never been a matter of soapbox articulation. The musician has not expressed his self through the power of speech or an African wardrobe. More than any other kind of black artists, the musicians creates his own and his peoples soul essence, his own negritude.197

195 196

LeRoi Jones, Black Music. (New York: Morrow, 1967), p. 67. Benston, Kimberly. Performing Blackness. (New York: Routledge, 2000). p. 116. 197 James T. Stewart, The Development of the Black Revolutionary Artist, Black Fire, ed. Baraka, Amiri and Neal, Larry. (Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1968). p. 7. 130

In diametric contrast to the power of the petty words of the soapbox orator, even to Aimee Csaires negritude movement, it is the Black musician, and the Black musician alone, who hold the power of articulating an autonomous language, a decolonized space freed from the discursive prisons of the colonizer. Its autonomy can be found in its selfauthenticating power, its semiotic command deriving from a space outside of language and semiotics itself, its own historical reflection, negation, and re-articulation, that leads the linguistic practitioners of the Black Arts Movement to privilege music as black modernisms herald and host.198 Larry Neals analysis in And Shine Swam On epitomizes Benstons observation and echoes Stewarts distinction between Black music and, for Neal, a less organic African-American literary tradition: To reiterate, the key to where the black people have to go is in the music. Our music has always been the most dominant manifestation of what we are and feel, literature was just an afterthought, the step taken by the Negro bourgeoisie who desired acceptance on the white mans terms. And that is precisely why the literature has failed. It was the case of one elite addressing another eliteBut our music is something else. The best of it has always operated at the core of our lives, forcing itself upon as in a ritual. It has always, somehow, represented the collective psyche.199 Neal, like Stewart, unequivocally locates the music as the uncanny source of Black Americas cultural unconscious. It was the job of the cultural revolutionary to make the power latent in the music conscious. And for these writers, nothing was more powerful, more in touch with itself and its Black identity, than the avant-garde of the AfricanAmerican jazz. Undeniably, the aesthetics, attitudes, and unyielding mission to create an autonomous Black Arts Movement were all informed, and as some argue, catalyzed, by

198 199

Betson, p. 117. Quoted from Betson, p. 119. 131

the fiery flow of jazzs avant-garde that challenged conventions of orthodox musical and social relations in its relentless de-and reconstructing of its every operational assumption. This process lead to a fiercely reordered system that privileged collective improvisation, modal-based melodic development that transcended the walls of western harmony, and a rhythm section freed from the prisons of monotonous time-keeping. Its practitioners, such as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Sun Ra, did not always articulate their work in explicitly political termsthat is, under the auspices of Western radical traditions such as official Marxism, or aligned with existing political movements such as the Nation of Islam or the Black Panther Partybut their challenge of existing Western harmonic structures and its division of musical labor is both implicitly and explicitly tied to the ground moving beneath the feet of Black America, that monumental decentering of the West as the worlds epistemological and historical center, whose condition of possibility was the great epoch of decolonization. In musical vernacular, the West would no longer function as the Black musicians tonicand the privileged locus of Black artistic imagination would both traverse the oceans searching for musical soundscapes in other worlds, while also looking deep inside its own history, for a strangely new, yet centuries old, vernacular to mark out the metaphysical territory of Blackness. If this sentence seems a bit much to digest, perhaps Kimberly Benston puts it more succinctly: For the modern black art of which Trane was a prime mover, fury envision apocalypse as the artists engages in Euro-American culture in an agonistic relationships. This apocalypse is something more than the destruction conceived by the oppressed as retribution against their enemies. Implied in it is a nearly total rejection of Western history and civilization. The revolt of the Afro-American artists against specific literary or social conventions is, at bottom, a rebellion against authority and the memory of imposed systems. As trumpeter Clifford Thornton (alumnus of the Fabulous Sun Ra cabal) declared, true revolution of consciousness begins by a radical un-learning of existent modes. It is not an improvement or modification of available techniques, that the black artist


requests; rather, his call is for an entirely new grammar, a post-Western form (Baraka, et al.). Divorced from the enveloping society, he sets out on a fresh journey into the uncharted spaces of the self. He courts the dismembering anger of the herd by undertaking the liberating psychic descent.200 While Benston does not take into his analysis the use of Third World sonorities that, I argue, made this break and critique possible, his insights into the unique phenomenology of free jazz, its significance for the Black Arts Movement, and the concept of Blackness it precipitated, are without parallel. Benston insists that the new musics experiential philosophy of self-reflection, deconstruction, and resurrection, would serve the basis of Black Arts Movement theorists such as Larry Neal, A.B. Spellman, Lindsay Barret, and James T. Stewarts black ethoswhich he defines as a transformative assertion through a ceaseless dialectic of dissolution and reformation which precipitates a reordering of Black Weltanshang as structures of meaning are subjected to the force of new social and emotional conditions.201 His observation is validated with poetic license by Haki Madhubutis poem, Dont Cry, Scream202: into the sixties a trane came/out of the fifties with a golden boxcar riding the rails of novation. blowing a-melodics screeching screaming blasting [] music that ached.

Late Coltrane: A Re-Membering of Orpheus. Kimberly W. Benston The Massachusetts Review, Vol. 18, No. 4 (Winter, 1977) p. 772. 201 Benston, Performing Blackness, p. 116. 202 Haki Madhubuti, Dont Cry, Scream, in Madhubuti, Groundwork: New and Selected Poems from 1966-1996 (Chicago: Third World Press, 1996), p. 41. 133

murdered our mind (we reborn) born into a neoteric aberration. The poem advances for us a number of considerations in regards to the ongoing conversation of the valences of jazz innovation in the 1960s. The title of the poem is alone provocative of a motif that would run through the music and its poetic reflections by Madhubuti and others: the scream. The scream, as discussed early, seems to have found its voice most early in Abbey Lincoln, who recalled that it freed her up. Coltrane, following John Gilmore in Sun Ras Arkestra, perfected the screams liberating and murdering potential: its capacity to destroy the inherited Black identity mediated by white America representational and definitional institutions, down beat and Time their archons in the world of jazz. It is this scream, in all its defiant overtones and unfathomable fundamentals, which breaks the hegemony of this false consciousness and allows the Black subject to be reborn into a neoteric aberration. This aporetic telos of death and rebirth that was experiences by one in the ephemeral embrace of a Coltrane solo was a central motif in the recitation of the Coltrane poem by many of those in the Black Arts, as well as in the critical work of Amiri Baraka. Indeed, Baraka put it most bluntly: New Black Music is this: Find the self, then kill it.203 In Barakas view, the destruction of this contested, culturally colonized Black subject is heard within the centripetal unraveling of melodic concept after concept within the playing of the generations free improvisers. Yet the new jazz also takes on the issue of power relations between Western bodies of thought regarding artistry and musicality with non-Western formulations. As he said in reference to Coltrane radical reorganization of My Favorite Things, [Coltrane] showed us how to murder the popular

Baraka, Black Music, p. 231. 134

song. To do away with weak Western forms. He is a beautiful philosopher.204 The Fanonian drama being enacted herethe violent destruction of the Western popular song from within mirrors the process by which Fanon described the colonized exerting existential claims to personhood through acts of violence and destruction aimed at the colonizeris too dramatic to be ignored. Barakas metaphor for the revolutionary warfare against the colonized in musical revolutions turns up again in a discussion on Ornette Colemans playing: for Baraka, one way to make white institutions crumble and its apologizers break and run even faster than they are now would be to turn crazy, to bring out a little American Dada, Ornette Coleman style.205 A central aspect of these musicians discovery of a liberated metaphysical territory of Blackness, a self-affirming autonomous voice, was the exploration of the musical tonalities and rhythmic structures of other non-Western culturesthat is, the peoples of the Third World, those fighting for their freedom from colonial oppressors. Baraka sees the invocation of non-Western scales as a direct refutation of Western civilization and off its reasonable pretenses. Indeed, Baraka goes so far to link the tempered scale in Western musical aesthetics as tied to Euro-American temperaments of the body populace, indicting the hegemony of racialized reason in both systems as a reflection of a colonizing imperative. For Baraka, the use of non-Western scales, which are much more internally differentiated and less mapped along a fixed set of cognates, he hears as a rejection of the Western deity of reason: the Eastern peoples music demands, at least, that many half, quarter, etc. tones be sounded, implied, hummed, slurred, that the whole sound of a life get inno matter the precision the Europeans claim with their reasonable scale which
204 205

Ibid, 229. Philisitinism, p. 53, quoted from Benston (2000), p. 119. 135

will get them only the sounds of an order and reason that patently deny most colored peoples the right to existThe Black musicians who know about the European tempered scale (Mind) no longer want it206 Here, the use of Third World tonalities pointed to what was underway in all sectors of African-American life: a rejection of the entire metaphysical assumptions that Western civilization stood on. This was the essence of the New Thing, which Baraka insisted had restored the hegemony of the Blues to a music that was dialectically shaped by two diametrically opposed political groups and their corresponding worldviews. For Baraka, the question that the New Thing presentedor rather, the one that it answeredwas indissoluble with the global realignment underway in which America was to become the formal Imperial center of the world-system, filling the vacuum left by Europes demise. In one masterful stroke, Baraka links the free-jazzers restoration of the social philosophy the Blues held, an increasingly belligerent and transparent American Imperialism, and Black Americans corresponding consciousness of the global nature of their struggle: I cannot think that the music itself is a more radical, or any more illogical, extension of the kinetic philosophy that has informed Negro music since its inception in America. Negro music is always radical in the context of formal American culture. What has happened is that there are many more Negroes, jazz musicians and otherwise, who have moved successfully into the featureless syndrome of that culture, who can no longer realize the basic social an emotional philosophy that has traditionally informed Afro-American musicBut perhaps the proportion is being significantly adjusted as even more young Negroes begin to consciously flee the stale purity of the missionaries legacy. It is a curious balance, though one, as the West finds itself continuously redefining its position in the world and in need of radical reassessment of its relationships to the rest for the world, that will prove of the utmost importanceWhat is it that [young


Baraka, Black Music, p. 194, 199. 136

African-Americans] are being asked to save? It is a good question and American had better come up with an answer. 207 Baraka here speaks of what Singh, Fanon, and even the Moynihan report spoke of earlierthe radicalization and mobilization of African-Americans as a both a sober and enraged response to the antinomies of an international political system characterized by a universal violence due to the United States willingness to use both covert and overt military force against independent darker nations. Yet, importantly, he links the cultural ambitions of African-Americans with this same impulse, and understands that the political solidarities and cultural appropriations are inextricably intertwined. What was being searched for in the explorations of the new improvisers and their eclectic use of African, Asian and South American sonorities was an independent Black consciousness, one that sought to liberate its contested consciousness from the historical and metaphysical assumptions of white modernity. In moving through these trans-planetary locations, sources of insurgent histories and musical traditions whose very existence threatens European claims to universality, the new music paradoxically rediscovers its voice: the Blues. In Barakas eyes, the socalled free jazz of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, and Sun Ra restored the autonomous Blues impulse to the jazz tradition. As he writes, What these musicians have done, basically, is to restore to jazz its valid separation from, and anarchic disregard of, Western popular forms. They have used the music of the forties with its jagged, exciting rhythms as an initial reference and have restored the hegemony of the blues as the most important basic form in Afro-American music.208


Baraka, Amiri. Blues People: Negro Music in White America. (Harper Perennial: 1999.) p. 235-36. 208 Blues People, p. 225. 137

Baraka saw the restoration of the hegemony of the Blues as the affirmation of nonWestern epistemology, indeed, a Black phenomenology, that resisted the vicious confines of Western reason and its implications for the construction of culturally homogenous and spiritually bankrupt societies. The blues impulse for Baraka was not simply a minor pentatonic scale with a flatted fifthit was a social philosophy, one conceived out of the ineffable rupture of the Middle Passage characterized not only by gratuitous violence but also by a profound alienation experienced by the African in American puritanical culture. It was a vestige of the oppression Black Americans knew America capable ofhis indestructible bond with this country.209 As James C. Hall suggests in his reading of Blues People, it was an aesthetic, philosophic, and religious response to the shock treatment of modernity210and thus inherently had antimodern articulations while being foundational for the birth of American modern culture, both inside and outside of American cultural modernism. Importantly, it was a social philosophy that was not passive but actively imported historical and cultural agency on its Black listeners: But at its best and its most expressive, the New Black music is expression, and expression of reflection as well. What is presented is a consciously proposed learning experience.211 Blues People is a landmark work of cultural criticism, the first extended work by an African-American on jazz criticism and an invaluable contribution to the development of American cultural studies, African-American ethnomusicology, and an unprecedented materialist analysis of historical musicology. Yet Baraka has received little acknowledgement by contemporary jazz criticism, whose analytical lenses of race and
209 210

Blues People, p. 126. James C. Hall. Mercy, Mercy Me: African-American Culture and the American Sixties. (Oxford: University Press, 2001.) p. 152. 211 Baraka, Black Music, p, 188. 138

class analysis of jazz music are ironically much indebted to his pioneering work, even if in disagreement with his conclusions. As James C. Hall writes, Little credit has been given to Jones, in American Studies circles or elsewhere, for pioneering in the study of American popular culture and giving such work an important credibility. Yet no one has duplicated the systemic character of Joness work, that comprehensiveness that makes Blues People appear as a summa of African-American culture, although he can bee seen as the initiator of broadranging works on African-American music and those works of Sixties and Sixties- influenced African-American culture theory which centered Black music as paradigm or paradigmatic influence.212 Indeed, blanket criticism of Baraka is so commonplace in recent literature that it has seemed to become a prerequisite for publishable jazz scholarship.213 John Gennaris treatment of Amiri Baraka is characteristic of the dominant scholastic trends that privilege anti-essentialism as a cornerstone of analysis above historicized readings of power relations between communities marked by not only class, race, and gendered positionalities, but also by these positionalities privilege, oppression, and conflict shaped by these contradictions. In contrasting Barakas decidedly Black Nationalist reading of jazz with Ellisons understanding of it as a mulatto art form, Genarri ascertains: Ellison incisively underscores the pessimism inherent in Barakas argument: if Baraka was right that black culture had been denuded of its authenticity, stripped of its essential properties, by its commodification in the American entertainment industry, then the blues people of the twentieth century urban America were trapped in a defensive, reactive posture, fatally consigned to having their cultural expression predetermined by forces beyond their controlFor Ellison and Murray, the key is not American capitalisms negative capacity to co-opt and balkanize black music, but American pluralisms positive capacity to absorb it and be transformed by it.214 The conversation is compelling and valid, and Gennari may just be simply demonstrating

212 213

Hall, Mercy, Mercy Me, p. 152. Genarri, John, Blowin Hot and Cool, and Porter, Eric, What is This Thing Called Jazz? 214 Genarri, John. Blowing Hot and Cool: Jazz and its Critics. p.278 139

that it did indeed take place, despite what one may easily interpret as a tone that is dismissive of Baraka vis--vis Ellison. But this conversation utterly silences what is happening outside the context of this literary exchange: there is little reference to the historical conditions of Africa America, to the political economy of the jazz industry, and the aesthetic and ideological hegemony in jazz criticism that powerfully shaped definitions of jazz. The underlying structure, in other words, is that a white commercial/critical establishment controlled and structured Black musical production and their superexploitation. What we are left with, then, is an ahistorical exchange in which Ellison seemingly won-out by emphasizing a more dialectical approach to understanding the construction of American popular taste. However, Gennari seems utterly unaware, or at least does not take seriously, of the self-conscious epistemological restructuring that Baraka, Spellman, and artists like Archie Shepp were undertakinga rearticulation and relocation of Black improvised music that pertained to the political goals of a historical bloc they represented and helped constitute. In other words, Barakas writing is not understood as not only a descriptive project of jazz but one that is constitutive of a new Black subjectivity which sees Black music as a decisive weapon in a struggle against Euro-American Imperialism and Capitalism. (As Baraka himself maintains, The 60s upsurge of Black writers on jazz was at the same time a reflection of the Black masses cry for self-determination (at its most practical, beginning with selfdefinition.215) For Gennari, this consideration is utterly absent; even if he disagrees with its vision, we are left with no historical context for which Baraka is operating in except as a self-aggrandizing white-hating pessimist; there is no political telos Baraka is connected


Baraka, Digging, p. 78. 140

to. In light of these omissions, which I perceive to be of a more ideological nature, rather than historically rooted, Ralph Ellisons comments still bear discussion here. Ellisons own reading of American culture is less a conflict between a colonized Black subject and a white cultural apparatusit is rather of a mulatto character which is a complex negotiation between Black and white cultural mores that demonstrates a telos of Black cultural agency in the transition from slave to citizen. Music in this light cannot be reduced to political ambitions or power conflicts, but rather, like all art, is multifaceted, a concord of sensibilities, and in the context of the unpredictably of American social relations, is far more profound than a bifurcated a battle between Black and white. Barakas planting of the tremendous burden of sociology on the music, writes Ellison, is enough to give the Blues the blues.216 Interestingly enough, Ellisons affirmative reading of Blues and jazz is not diametrically opposed to Barakas. For Ellison, the music represents a heroic response to the absurdities and shortcomings of American society for African-Americans, thus offering a fundamental guide for those trying to make sense of the vicissitudes and historically effacing era of modernity. In his words, The blues speak to us simultaneously of the tragic and the comic aspects of the human condition and they express a profound sense of life shared by many Negro Americans precisely because their lives have combined these modes. This has been the heritage of a people who for hundreds of years could not celebrate birth or dignify death and whose need to live despite the dehumanizing pressures of slavery developed an endless capacity for laughing at their painful experiences. This is a group experience shared by many Negroes, and any effective study of the blues would treat them first as poetry and as ritualBessie Smith may have been a blues queen to the society at large, but within the tighter Negro

Ellison, New York Review, February 6th, 1964. Reprinted in Shadow and Act. (New York: Random House, 1964.) p. 248. 141

community where the blues were part of a total way of life, and a major celebrant who affirmed the values of the group and mans ability to deal with chaos.217 While Ellison focuses on the ritual function of the music and the humorous quality of the Blues, he locates its roots as a response to the brutal dehumanization faced by Black Americans and their experiences during slavery and the terror of the plantation. Such a view does not disagree with Barakas understanding of the Blues: "Blues (lyric) its song quality is, it seems, the deepest expression of memory. Experience re/feeling. It is the racial memory.218 It is unclear, moreover, why such ritual could not also function as a counterpublic space, and that Bessie Smith could hold both affirmative, and critical, messages in her work, performing each in one bold stroke. That is the reading Baraka advances in his play 1964 Dutchman, in which his character Clay rages against a white woman he is in conversation with that white listeners of the Blues queen dont know yet what theyre doing: They say, I love Bessie Smith. And dont even understand that Bessie Smith is saying, kiss my bass, kiss my black unruly ass. Before love, suffering, desire, anything you can explain, shes saying, and very plainly, Kiss my black ass. And if you dont know that, its you thats doing the kissing.219 Barakas reading is certainly an unequivocal emphasis of the militant expressions of these rituals. But that they were bothritual and resistanceis something that Baraka embraces. However, for the 1960s Baraka, it is in the context of white American society that these spaces must be understood as defiant expressions of cultural autonomy and self-definition, serving as an indissoluble link of African-Americans in the 1960s to that

217 218

Ibid, p. 256-257. Baraka, Amiri (LeRoi Jones). Black Music. (New York: Quill, 1967). p. 183. 219 Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Dutchman (1964), in The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997), 1897. 142

apocalyptic rupture of the plantation. They were not only places for laughing, but also locations of mourning, and held within their sonic fabric the capacity to transmute both of these emotional refuges into incantations of a much more militant variety, is an important theme in the teleology of Blues People which traces the shifting and evolving expressions of the music under the pressure of nearly ineffable epistemic and psychological changes inherent in dramatically shifting historical conditions. But it was this heterogeneity of expressive modalities, and their occasional crystallization into more conscious attitudes and antagonistic dispositions (such as Be-Bop), that demonstrated the cultural agency exercised by African-Americans in the metaphysical and communal location of music that was not afforded anywhere else in Black artistic and social life. It was for this reason, the pervasive power of self-definition that the musicians bore exclusive witness to, that Baraka located them at the center of his political and cultural praxis. As he wrote in the cultural nationalist periodical The Cricket, the true voices of Black Liberation are the musiciansthe history of Black Music is a history of a peoples attempt to define the world in their own terms.220 Ellison would not disagree that Black musicians held the power of self-definition and emotional coordination among the African-American populacehis break with Baraka is that this, somehow, would have political implications (or, rather, incantations). Indeed, Ellisons comments in the review seem to be intimately linked to an aversion with a new Black politics of a decisively anti-assimilationist character. In fact, he explicitly indicates this when he writes that Blues People is like much that is written by Negro Americans at the present moment, takes on an inevitable resonance from the

quoted from Bowles, Nathaniel. My Music is WordsThe Poetics of Sun Ra. Diss. at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. p. 4. 143

Freedom Movement, but it is in itself characterized by a straining for a note of militancy which is, to say the least, distracting.221 Ellisons most effective criticism comes when he questions how much jazz and Black music truly are oppositional formations in the context of American society domestically and U.S. hegemony internationally. In regards to the latter, he writes, Today nothing succeeds like rebellion (which Jones as a beat poet should know) and while a few boppers went to Europe to escape, or became Muslims, others took the usual tours for the State Department. Whether his makes them middle class in Joness eyes I cant say, but his assertionswhich are fine as personal statementare not in keeping with the facts; his theory flounders before that complex of human motives which makes human history, and which is so characteristic of the American Negro.222 Ellisons comments bring us to another discussion regarding the role that jazz played in American diplomacy during the Cold War. Such a complex topic cannot be fully developed in a discussion of the theoretical location of jazz and Black music within the Black Arts Movement, but it is worth mentioning that these State Department tours were much more complex and contradictory gestures by the musicians than this critique mentions. During the Eisenhower administration, jazz became fashioned a sonic secret weapon for waging cultural diplomacy in both the Soviet blocs and the Third World. For both Perry Von Eschen and Willis Conover, jazz functioned as a crucial tool for winning worldwide opinion in the Cold War and healthily addressing its public relations Achilles heel, its race problem. Conover goes as far to asserts that the Cold War was won by blues jeans and jazz.223 The tours themselves were promoted by the State Department, and contrary to
221 222

Ibid, p. 248. Ibid p. 253. 223 Quoted in Hall, Mercy, Mercy, Me, p. 190. 144

Ellisons suggestion, they were hardly unilaterally helpful for establishing American hegemony in the Third World. The musicians themselves often intervened in presenting trouble-free nationalist sentiment. Dizzy Gillespie, for one, repudiated the State Department when the latter tried to brief him beforehand on how to answer questions about American race relations. As he put it bluntly: Ive got 300 years of briefing. I know what theyve done to us, and Im not going to make any excuses.224 In addition, for Gillespie, these tours nurtured not only international encounters with musicians from Africa and all over the Third World, but also both reflected and fostered a decidedly anticolonial politics. In a 1975 tour for the State Department in Kenya, Gillespie explained to reporter that Ive always been inspired by your President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, and his composition Burning Spear, named after Kenyettas nom du guerre during the anticolonial struggle, was a pastiche of Indian, South American, and African influences, with a touch of Blues for good measure.225 In addition to pointing to an understanding of Third-World sonorities as themselves organically linked the ethos of decolonization, these two comments reveals that these tours did not solely, or even primarily, promote American hegemony or a peaceful picture of the nascent Empire as a post-racial utopia. Charles Mingus, another cold war jazz diplomat, refused to change the names of his songs that indicted American racism, such as Remember Rockefeller at Attica, a sardonically lively composition dedicated to the Attica prison massacre of AfricanAmerican inmates who successfully took control of the prison demanding better living conditions and treatment. According to officials in the State Department, other posts

Kaplan, Fred. When Ambassadors Had Rhythm. New York Times. June 29, 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/29/arts/music/29kapl.html. Accessed April 21, 2010. 225 Leonard Feather, African Debut for Ambassador Diz, Los Angeles Times (January th 6 , 1975). 145

should be forewarned that Mingus projects his political views into song titles which could be embarrassing.226 When the State Department officials changed the names of this songs and others at a concert in Romania, Mingus managed to transcend the attempted silencing by speaking out against Americas ongoing war in Vietnam, much to the chagrin of the concert organizers.227 Minguss refusal to play apologizer of American Imperialism demonstrate that these jazz musicians were hardly passive pawns of the State Department, and actively contested an uncritical representation of jazz as a symbol of the nation-state. Perhaps one of the most explicitly anti-Imperialist of the African-American jazz performers sent abroad during this time was Randy Weston. Weston had long committed to a Pan-African musical project, recording Uruhu Africa in 1960 with Nigerian percussionist Olatunji, also an alumnus of Max Roachs Freedom Now Suite (1961). Like Roach, Westons inspirations were African decolonization movements (Uruhu is a Swahili word for Freedom) that sparked a lifelong interest in the continents music, history, and people. In 1961, under the auspices of the State Department, Randy Weston and his sextet traveled to cities and nations all over the African continent, including Dakar, Morocco, Mali, Upper Volta, Niger, Ghana, Cameroon, Gabon, Algeria, and a host of others.228 He was warmly received in Algeria, where the newspaper El Moudjahid wrote, in a telling


Memo to Department of State, Washington D.C., from American Embassy, Bucharest, on Cultural Presentations: Visit of George Wein. (May 30th, 1975). Bureau Historical Collection. 227 Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler, The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 446-447. 228 Von Eschen, Perry. Satchmo Blows up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004), p. 171. 146

document, For the first time since independence we can hear jazz, true jazz forwe cannot call Woody Hermans music jazz. The article continued, writing, This is the proof that jazz is most popular in Africa, its cradleWithout transplanting Africans, jazz would never have existed.229 The identification with African Americans on the behalf of newly liberated Algerians is quite clear, as is the dismissal of whiteappropriated jazz that, one can presume, many Algerians understood as the effect of racialized power relations in the United States. Randy Weston returned the identification. In addition to arguing that jazz was African music in the newspaper An Nasr, explaining, This music gave birth to jazz. If there had not been any Africa there would not have been any jazz,230 Weston also made an case for the interconnectedness of the racial strife in the United States with the same Imperialism the United States implemented all over the Third World. After being accused by a young Algerian man of endorsing the American atrocities committed in Vietnam while representing the State Department, Weston responded: War, man, is a drag. There isnt just one Vietnamthere are lots of them. We have them in Mississippi, in Alabama, and in the North. Were not just mouthing about themwere trying to do something about them. You cant just mouth youve got to do something. Are you?231 The stark comparisonbetween American military aggression in Vietnam whose consequences included the deaths over 2 million Vietnamese, and the Black Freedom Movement in the United Statescould be painted as a problematic essentialism by

Randy Weston in Algiers, El Moudjahid, [Algiers] (April 4, 1967), original and English translation in Bureau Historical Collection. 230 Return to Origins, An Nasr [Algiers], (April 4th, 1967), original and English translation in Bureau Historical Collection. 231 Airgram to Department of State from American Embassy, Algiers, on The Randy Weston Sextet in Algiers (April 13th, 1967), 2. Series 2, Box 31, Bureau Historical Collection. 147

fashionable cultural critics of jazz today (similar to Sauls perceptive comment, mentioned above, regarding Minguss symbolic linkage of the Haitian Revolution and African-American struggles against racism and exploitation). That, of course, would be utterly missing the point. African-American jazz musicians, as within other cultural spheres and activists in the Black Power movement, were actively identifying with the Third World in political and cultural terms to both theorize their historical condition (as internally colonized) and to form transnational alliances that could both represent each others interests, and, perhaps, overthrow the Empire itself. Weston, of course, was doing something about ithe viewed his trip as an attempt to forge these alliances and connected the struggles divided by hundreds of years of history and thousands of miles of the Atlantic Ocean. This reading of his comment was utterly missed by a State Department escort, who saw we as an identification with the United States nation-state and, thus, a defense of his country.232 These tours inside Africa, despite the intentions of the United States diplomatic apparatus, did not have the intended effect of promoting a favorable image of American race relations, so crucial for the emergent hegemon to maintain its advantage over the Soviet Union in decolonized states. Indeed, such tours did not prevent Algeria breaking ties with the United States in 1967 following its unilateral support of Israel in the aftermath of the six-day war. And the identification that Africans made during the tours were not with the American nation-state, but with the Black Freedom movement that they saw as strikingly analogous to their own. As Perry Von Eschun perceptively argues, Congolese and Ghanaian audiences may have identified with Williams, Ailey, Ellington, and Weston, and may also have identified with these artists with

Von Eschun, Satchmo Blows up the World, p. 176. 148

America, but the America they identified with was that of African American culture and symbols of civil rights and black powerJazz, gospel, and soul could not redeem American foreign policydecisions that had led to the war in Vietnam, the military alliance with Pakistan, and U.S. support of African coups. The State Departments embrace of a once marginalized music to reform and revitalize the image of America shows a misplaced reliance on African-American culture to project vitality and optimism on the part of a country that was deep in crises.233 Indeed, it was the African-American musicians themselves who pointedly resisting being repackaged as passive apologists for Empire and American racial apartheid. Their contestation of jazzs meaning and political allegiances on an international stage was a reflection of the same currents that was leading Amiri Baraka and Black Arts Movement cultural producers to reclaim jazz as an expression of Black consciousness and a more human worldview. If Ellison views these contestations of Black Americas political positionality on an international scale as mere posturing, is a patronizing cynicism that should be reckoned with critically. As Hall notes, Ellisons retortespecially if its rooted in an emergent cynicismthat all conscious rebellion is but a stanceis surely more dangerous than Joness narrative hyperbole.234 It likewise demonstrates the contested definition and meaning of jazz, and how this meaning itself was a central front in the cultural and political revolution underway in Black America, whose sonic frequencies had deep international reverberations for global politics. The Black Arts Movement, then, was a dual gesture. It was both an attempt to reclaim jazz and Black music from what its progenitors saw as the corrosive and colonizing effect of white America. It was also, simultaneously, the attempt to convert

233 234

Von Eschun, Satchmo Blows up the World, p. 176, 184. James C. Hall, Mercy, Mercy Me, p. 122. 149

this insurgent cultural sensibility of the African-American musical tradition into an allencompassing cultural and political praxis, to channel the negating and constitutive process of the music as pedagogy for how to live a decolonized life. It was the endeavor to introduce the hegemony of the blues into aspects of African-American cultural life outside of the sphere of the aural. Significantly, Baraka was by no means one of the main actors of the Black Arts Movements with deep roots in the music: Asika Tour, Sonia Sanchez, Jayne Cortez, Tom Dent, Larry Neal, A. B. Spellman, critic Stephen Henderson, and Ishmael Reed all placed Black music as a site of Black artistic autonomy that had resisted white appropriation and control235and saw the New Thing as an aesthetic turn linked not only to the continuum of African-American music stretching to rhythm and blues, but also to incipient Black revolution. In the words of Tour, Somewhere along the line, the Keep on Pushin in song, in Rhythm and Blues is merging with the Revolutionary Dynamism of COLTRANE AND ERIC DOLPHY OF BORHTER MALCOLM of YOUNG BLACK GUERILLA STRIKING DEEP INTO THE HEARTLAND OF THE WESTERN EMPIRE.236 In addition, Sonia Sanchez, another prominent poet of the movement, was the daughter of a prominent jazz drummer and club owner. It was through her listening to Coltrane and tenor saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders that she began hearing a music in her work, drawing on jazz thematically and aesthetically in her phrasing and topics. In A Coltrane Poem, 237 she paints the musician as a distinct caste of liberators in the Black community whose deaths were anticipated in the advance by the American state: But I saw yo/murder The massacre Of all blk/musicians. planned
235 236

Smethurst, the black arts movement, p. 64. Tour, We Are on the Move, 450. Quoted from Smethurst, p. 65. 237 Smethurst, p. 67. 150

In advance. Yrs befo u blew away our passsst And showed us our futureeeeeeee. Here, blk musciains are not only targeted for assassination by the counter-revolutionary forces of the American security apparatusor the fatal political economy of jazzthey also blew away our passst and showed us our futureeeee opening the door to a decolonized Black consciousness so in touch with itself that it could overcome its own internalized hatred and precipitate internal, and then societal, revolution. While Coltrane was not assassinated in the same manner as Malcolm X and other black leaders, his expiration to liver cancer contracted during his chronic addiction to alcohol parallels the torturous and early deaths of Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Bessie Smith, and a countless lesser-know jazz musicians whose stories may be never told, and thus represents the fatal political economy of jazz representative of the perils of Black ghettoization more generally. Sanchezs invocation of Tranes capacity for blowing away the past points to an important trope in the Black Arts Movement that is bound up with the process of negation and affirmation that a decolonization, and revolution, of consciousness required. This was the practice of a counter-historiography that challenged the legitimacy of a traditional history, one which was still riddled with Hegelian ethnocentrism in which Africa had no part to play except as that accidental birthplace of humankind. Frequently, artists associated history as a modality of erasure, an unequivocal social death whose silenced reverberations shook like earthquakes in the age of Black Power. In Jay Wrights Death as History, history is located as death itself, and Wright challenges it with African mythology. It is that African myth/that we use to challenge death. Wrights


turn to the African myth suggests a double-gesturethat official Western history is itself a myth, and only through the force of constituting a counter-narrative can Black Americans escape a self-erasure. Though, as Smethurst notes, Wright did not consider himself a member of the Black Arts Movement, his work was often circulated in central Black Arts journals and anthologies.238 What is striking about this suggestion of a subversive African mythology is that it was an intellectual and artistic project that had been undertaken for decades before, and was carried into the present day, by one of the most emblematic free-jazz institutions of the decolonizing imperative: Sun Ras Arkestra. Indeed, Sun Ra and his idiosyncratic collective is an underacknowledged vanguard to Black Arts Movement, as well as the free jazz movement, in countless ways. His collective was one of the first do-ityourself institutions in the Black artistic community, and certainly its most enduring: Ras collective produced their own albums and artwork and retained all profits, while Ra maintained complete creative and artistic control of work of his group. He radically broke with Western musical forms and its location as a tonal center for his work. And he connected all of his work to revolutionized Black consciousness and self-awareness through the creation of an alternative historiographyan Astro-Black mythology created around the twin poles of a hip Egyptology infused with dreams of outer space. As Kodwo Eschun sums it up, Sun Ras process at creating his inspiring solar-myth was derived from the following methodology: Afro < > American history is white mythology Reject history and mythology. Assemble countermythologies. Assemble


J. Wright, Homecoming Singer, p. 63, quoted in Smethurst, p. 82. 152

science from myth and vice versa.239 Sun Ras influence on the Black Arts Movement is deep in each of these venues and deserves attention for our historical consideration of these defining cultural formations for Africa-Americas 1960s.

Sun Ras Subversive Mythology

Despite Sun Ras systemic absence by accounts of either 1960s jazz, the Black Power Movement, or the Black Arts Movement, he was integral to all of these. As Nathaniel Earl Bowes writes, not only Sun Ras music but also his written corpus of musician and cosmo-philosopher Sun Raillustrates a relationship to buried histories and folk forms that places him within a rich history of African-American intellectuals, despite his widely accepted cultural status as fringe artist and campy futurist clown.240 Indeed, Sun Ras connection to a whos who of historically significant African-American cultural and political institutions and individualsranging from the Nation of Islam in Chicago, Amiri Baraka in Harlem, John Coltrane in the East Village, to the Black Panther Party in Los Angelesdemonstrates Sun Ras location in the continuum of what John Corbett calls the African-American grassroots intelligentsia.241 Indeed, Corbett notes that Ras declarations were in direct dialogue with those other figures of affiliated African-American intellectual life in Chicago, and for Bowles, this association legitimizes Ras work, rooting its more unbelievable elements in socially active and


Eshun, Kodwo. More Brilliant Than The Sun: Adventures in Science Fiction. (Quartet Books, 1999). p. 158. 240 Bowles, Nathaniel. My Music is WordsThe Poetics of Sun Ra. Diss. at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. p. 4. 241 A concept not dissimilar to that of Antonio Gramscis organic intellectual. 153

historically important revolutions of thought. 242 John Gilmore, Sun Ras longtime tenor saxophonist and unyielding innovator of multiphonic and chordal sounds, remembered that The Muslims got a lot from himEvery time they would see Ra, theyd crowd around him and try to find out what he was aboutThey would sort of antagonize him, in order to get him to talkThey got a lot from him, like a Negro being a dead body.243 Indeed, Ras influence on the a wide cross-section of Black nationalist and revolutionary thought necessitates our attention to the details of his beliefs and their links to an emergent global consciousness that uprooted the West as the center of cultural and epistemic reality. Sun Ras so-called Astro-Black mythology, which Grahm Lock defines as Sun Ras conscious creation of a mythology encompasses both the Astro of the outer space future, and the Black of the ancient Egyptian past, 244 and informed the entirety of his musical vision, his philosophical outlook, and his praxis in the world. Its raison detre of his cosmic-folkloric fusion was to free Black Americans from a false history, locked in ignorance by white institutions of knowledge and power, counter the mythologized innocence of the West and its monopoly on humanity. If you like death and like being of the living dead then call yourself A Negro and continue to be rejected by the world as first class citizens[one can stop being oppressed] by the simple act of studying and understanding true life-giving wisdomAnd alsoyour history, and the history of other nations.245


Corbett, John. The Wisdom of Sun Ra: Sun Ra's Polemical Broadsheets and Streetcorner Leaflets. (WhiteWalls, 2006), 2. 243 Interview with Graham Lock, Chasing the Vibration, p. 160. 244 Lock, Graham. Bluetopia: Visions of the Future and Revisions of the Past in the Work of Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, and Anthony Braxton. (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999.) p. 14. 245 Ra, Sun. JESUS SAID, LET THE NEGRO BURY THE NECRO. Quote from Bowles, My Music is WordsThe Poetics of Sun Ra, p. 11. 154

The importance of recovery ones true history and disowning the identity and name given to them by their oppressors was of fundamental import to Ra. As he explains, [B]lack people, they back in their past, a past that somebody manufactured for them. Its not their past, its not their history.246 In another instance, he declares emphatically that Black people are carefully supervised so theyll stay in a low positionthey back in the past, a past somebody manufactured for them.247 Thus, Ras elaborate mythology must be read as a subversive strain of counter-historiography, of radical mythology, that counters the legitimacy of official history and the all-sovereign reason that governs such knowledge production. Ra challenge such truistic vocabulary as truth and history, understanding such concepts as social and philosophical constructions intended to produce an epistemology that legitimized European historical dominance and centered its production of knowledge as the global standard. One comment he makes links the production of truth to state power: Those who live by reality are salves of truth. Its a kind of narcotic, a dope. When the police find our the truth about you, they say they get the dope on you; they talk about a drug that can make you truthful, truth serum.Truth can be bad.248 In another comment, Ra explains the oppositional elements of his belief-system to history: Astro-black is aboutOh, something thats greater than the truth. So its over in myth, its hidden. Myth was here before history. When they started history the truth couldnt move, cause they put a lot of lies in there too.249 And finally, in a succinct

246 247

Eshun, Kodwo. More Brilliant Than The Sun: Adventures in Science Fiction. p. 162. Eshun, Kodo, More Brilliant Than The Sun, p. 155. 248 Szwed, John. Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra. (New York: DaCapo, 1997.) p. 317. 249 Lock, Graham. Chasing the Vibration, (New Earth Press: 1994.) p. 148. 155

statement: They saw that history repeats itself; but history is only his story.250 I believe it is not too much to see this as a sophisticated critique of the gendered construction not only of historical agency but the state itself. Indeed, according to Brent Hayes Edwards, Ras mythology is not the result of a-historicismhe roots his sense of myth and the impossible precisely in the history of U.S. racism and segregation.251 Sun Ras comments here disclose that his counter-mythology is a complex and sophisticated negation of European historical narratives of modernity, progress, and reason, and an affirmation of an alternative epistemology rooted in the suppressed and erased histories and structures of feeling of Black Atlantic populations. Indeed, his observation that history had beginning, that it was a project of truth-construction (when they started history) and that it was a specific and dominating kind of myth (When they started history truth couldnt move, cause they put a lot of lies in there too) point to a sophisticated deconstruction of Hegelian history that would be articulated decades later by postcolonial scholars.252 Indeed, in Enirqiue Dussels illuminating discussion of Hegel, we can find the specific history that froze truth dead in its tracks. Hegel posited that World History, a teleology inoculated by Enlightenment Europe, is the self-realization of God, Reason, and Freedom. Universal History represents, he writes, the development of the consciousness that the Spirit has of its freedom and also the evolution of the understanding that the Spirit obtains through such consciousness. This development implies a series of stages, a series of
250 251

Szwed, Space is the Place, p. 317. quoted in Bowles, Poetics, p. 22. 252 See, for instance, Pratt, Mary Louise, Modernity and Periphery: Towards a Global and Relational Analysis in Elizabeth Mudimbe-Boyi, ed., Beyond Dichotomies (Albany: SUNY Press, 2002) and Enrique Dussel, Eurocentriscim and Modernity. boundary 2, Vol. 20, No. 3, The Postmodernism Debate in Latin America (Autumn, 1993) 156

determinations of freedom, which are born from its self-concept, that is, from the nature of freedom to become conscious of itself.253 This development, incidentally, was a one-way process, with Europe as the absolute model and eternal capital of History: The movement of Universal History goes from East to the West. Europe is the absolute end of Universal History. Asia is its beginning.254 If Asia is beholden to an immature historical spirit, a spirit trapped in its infancy, it is in Africa has not even been born as a properly human being. Africa is in general a closed land, and this maintains its fundamental character.255 Among negroes it is the case that consciousness has not attained even the intuition of any sort of objectivity, such as, for example, God or the law, in which man is in relation with his will and has the intuition of his essence[The negro] is the man as beast.256 This mode of being of the Africans explains why it is extraordinarily easy to turn them into fanatics. The realm of the Absolute Spirit is so impoverished among them and the natural Spirit so intense that any representation which they are inculcated with suffices to impel them to respect nothing, to destroy everythingAfrica....does not have history as such. Consequently we abandon Africa, to never mention it again. It is not part of the historical world; it does not evidence historical movement or developmentWhat we understand properly as Africa is something isolated and without history, still mired in the natural Sprit, and therefore can only be located here at the entrance gate of Universal History.257 The final quote is especially significant. Africa is not part of the historical world, it is only at the entrance gate of Universal History. In fact, the continent stands outside of history altogether, and as such is not properly human, it is man as beast. Here is the context in which Ras comments about history must be read. Ra understood


Lectures in G.W.F. Hegel, Samtiche Werke, ed. J Hossmeister (Hamburg: F Meiner, 1955), 167. 254 Lectures, p. 243. 255 Ibid, p. 212. 256 Ibid, p. 218. 257 Ibid, p. 231-34. 157

history was a project, and not a neutral unfolding of events over homogenous space and time; it was a discourse of modernity that inaugurated a world-view that included concepts of progress, freedom, and reasonas well their legitimized counterparts of racialized enslavement, native genocide, and political Imperialism. Even the concept of modernity brings to mind an image in which Europe is located as the center planetary consciousness, and those outside its borders as an infinitely exploitable and conquerable series of peripheries. As Mary Louise Pratt writes, The idea of modernitywas one of the chief tropes through which Europe constructed itself as a center.258 Ra, however, did not have the luxury of reading a choate body of literature as exists now to determine the ethnocentrism, and legitimizations for genocide, that laid in the structure of Enlightenment categories of Reason, History, and Progress. He had to search himself for histories and non-Western cultural histories to find an answer. A voracious reader as well as a savant piano player, Ra eventually came to the dual conclusions that African-Americans were descendents of the founder of Ancient Egypt, an that this history was actively repressed by the political entities that destroyed the Ancient Egyptian civilization and enslaved Africans. Graham Lock argues that Ra came to this conclusion from a multitude of sources: W.E.B DuBoiss study, The World and Africa: An Inquiry into the Part Which Africa Has Played in World History, where DuBois states that it is one of the astonishing results of the written history of Africa that almost unanimously in the nineteenth century Egypt was not part of Africa.259 Lock also cites Ras familiarity with George G. M. James Stolen Legacy: The Greeks Were Not the

Pratt, Mary Louise. Modernity and Periphery: Towards a Global and Relational Analysis in Elizabeth Mudimbe-Boyi, ed., Beyond Dichotomies (Albany: SUNY Press, 2002), p. 35. 259 Lock, Bluetopia, p. 10. 158

Authors of Greek Philosophy but the People of North Africa, Commonly Called the Egyptians, the first book, according to Lock, that comprehensively challenges accepted historical constructions of Ancient Greece and Rome. During his lifelong research of an alternative or repressed history/mythology of Black Americans, Ra also took note of instances of active censorship of those intellectuals who credited African-descended with accomplishments or a location in universal history. One such philosopher was Count Augustine Volney, whose 1791 essay, The Ruins, or, Meditations on the Revolutions of Empires: and the Law of Nature, suggested the African roots of civilization. During a visit by a phantom while meditating in the ruins of Palmyra, Egypt, he was offered visions not only of a classless world but also the midwife of civilization, religion, law, literature, science, and art were the same people now rejected from society, for their sable skin and frizzled hair.260 In another book Volney wrote that the mere face of the Sphinx should be enough evidence as to the sable skin-ed origins of civilization. In a piercing indictment of hypocrisy of the United States, he concluded: Just imagine, finally, that it is I the midst of peoples who call themselves the greatest friends of liberty and humanity that one has approved the most barbarous slavery and questioned whether black men have the same kind of intelligence as Whites!261 After discovering The Ruins, Ra learned there were several editions of its American translation, and its first all references to the Black origins of civilization had been removed. Ra learned that Voleny was furious and fought to have them restored in future translations, and Volney himself chastised the United States for this act during a lecture

260 261

Quoted in Szwed, John. Space is the Place. p. 68. Ibid, p.68. 159

tour for which he was accused of Hottentotism, the irrational worship of Black people. The struggle over truth, history, and representation became clear for Ra, and its implications for the American Black man. Sonny now knew that he would have to read more carefully, for what was writteneven by those acknowledged to be the greatest minds of all timemay have been deliberately altered. And if the history we received, so incomplete.mustnt there be another history that corrects it? Perhaps a secret history, known only in part by a few, but one which could be pieced together and reconstructed?262 through it all Sonny saw a bigger point: that Negroes had long been a threatening force, their race a cipher that needed to explained away in order to sustain white peoples claims to the ancient world. It was a competing mythology which white people had to at once suppress and demonize. It was anther history of the world, history of the universe really, that needed to be discovered, and one which the right person might discover, a person whose heart was pure and whose sincerity was unquestioned.263 These considerations led Ra to locate the American Black man in a truly unique positionutterly outside the narratives of history and nation-states. Repeatedly in his work, Ra celebrated the ethos of diaspora and the multi-subjectivity it provides. Indeed, it this very self-differentiation that provides his compositional muse and ability to hear his counter-fugal melodies, harmonies, rhythms: When a composition comes to me, I find melody, harmony, and rhythm all at the same time. I means that in practice, for example, I may end up giving a piece of music to the drummers, too, because if what they play doesnt please me, if it doesnt correspond to that very thing among the multi-beings that exist in the universe and that I have in my head, if they play the rhythm just right you have to also be on the right tone or the right drum.264 If Barakas blackness, as defined through his character Clay in the Dutchman, longs for incantation as literal presence, for the singular revolutionary act that would murder
262 263

ibid, p. 69. Szwed, Space is the Place. P. 72. 264 Szwed, p 121. 160

self-difference and heal the breach between black identity and discourse which the original violence of whiteness opened,265 as Kimberly Benston asserts, it is significant that the musicians who were his revolutionary muse and maestro did have the same ambition to have a unified subjectivity. Instead, Ras embrace of self-difference is central not only to his analysis of Black Americans being uniquely poised to offer a radical cosmopolitan ethos to those under the sway of nationalist entitles. It was this historical dispossession to a fixed entity, like man, that led to the rejection of the spiritual teachings of the Creator in favor of metaphysically maligning materialistic pursuits. In his words: According to my research, the governments of this world have conspired to destroy the nations of black people. Those were Europe, Asia and Africa, especially Ethiopia, India and South Africa. And all other nations have helped with it; some by just holding off and doing nothing. The consequence though has been that there now exists a separate kind of human being, the American Black man. And I should say that he doesnt belong on this Earth. Some of them have assimilate themselves to the white race, or pretended to do so. You could call them the people of the earth from the point of view that they have given up everything in favor of materialistic comforts. But here in America there are also Black people who have given up noting, who couldnt give up anything because they live in harmony with the Creator of the cosmos. And they will always be a source of difficulty for every nation on this planet, because theyve no other ruler than he Creator of the cosmos and theyre faithful only to him. The Bible speaks about that too. Theyre the only people who stand apart. Nobody can say that Israel is that people, because Israel is counted as one of the nations of the world at least in the United Nations, but not the American Black people.266 Indeed, Sun Ra saw the diasporic location of African-Americanstheir location outside of historyas their greatest strength. Interestingly, this would contradict

265 266

Benston, Performing Blackness, p. 11. Szwed, p. 140. 161

tenants of Black Nationalist thought that called for a separate Black state. He strongly disagreed with the Black Muslims, who indicted in a pamphlet he wrote explaining, WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF NARROWNINDED RELIGIONS WHICH TEACH DESTRUCTION FOR ALL RACES EXCEPT THE SEMETIC RACES. REALLY IT IS TIME FOR THE WORLD TO WAKE UP. ANY BOOK WHICH TEACHES THE DESTRUCTION OF PEOPLE ACCORDING TO RACE IS PREJIDUCED.267 While discussing the ideological contradictions between himself an Ra, Baraka made much the same observation: Sun Ra understood it in terms of his idea of angels and demons at playthat is, if being good means being in tune with this planet that was no goodso he insisted on being a demon. Sun Ra had a larger agenda.268 Ra this historical dispossession as precisely the liberating thrust of Black musical and cultural production. Unbeholden to the sometimes ethnocentric and narrow aims of nationalist politics, Sun Ras black subjectivity retained an integrated sense of self that stood in promising opposition to the violence of an ego separated from an interrelatedness to others, a self that was internally differentiated. In this vein, we can also reconsider Sun Ras interrogation of man and other vestiges of anthropomorphism, as a critique of the political dimensions of such categorization. In a film that he starred in, Space is the Place, he enters a community center for African-American teens, holding a large gem. When hes asked if hes for real, Ra recodes his question in a pointed rebuttal of reality and personhood: Im not real, Im just like you. You dont exist in this society. If you did, your people wouldnt be seeking equal rights. Youre not real. If you were, youd have some status among the nations of the world. So were both myths. I do not come

267 268

Bowles, p. 18. Quoted in Szwed, p. 213. 162

to you as a reality, I come to you as a myth, because thats what black people are, myths. I come to you from a dream that the black man dreamed long ago.269 Such a critique of personhood is reminiscent of political philosopher Hannah Arendts blistering critique of the concept of human rights, wherein she notes that the concept of a human and the rights s/he are supposedly guaranteed is only honored and recognized in so far as the said human is a citizen or is legally protected by a sovereign power, that is, a state.270 Here Ra uses a critique of reality and its attendant nouns in soberly calling attention to the political forces which undergrid such designations. Sun Ra, however, sees African-American distance outside such power-laden conceptual categories as a creative and spiritual blessing. Indeed, two of the musicians he most respected laid outside this privileged designation by the state are both indebted to such inspiration by the fact of their outside-ness. In his words, Fletcher was really part of an angelic thing. I wouldnt say he was a man. I wouldnt say Coleman Hawkins was a man, because they did things men hadnt done, and hadnt done it before. And they didnt learn it from any man. They just did it. So therefore it came from somewhere else. A lot of things that some men docome from somewhere else, or theyre inspired by something thats not of this planet. And jazz was most definitely inspired, because it wasnt here before. If it wasnt here before, where did it come from?...Something, some particular being, used them to do things, inspired them so much, worked them so much, they had to do it. Ras questioning of the entire ontology of the Enlightenment was central to his alternative mythology and his praxis as a pedagogue, prophet, and cultural revolutionary. Central to this project was the deconstruction of word and meaning itself. The role of discursive and epistemic reordering is crucial for the work of dismantling an inherited consciousness. Antonio Gramsci, anticipating Foucault, saw

269 270

Quoted from Lock, Bluetopia, p. 60-61. Ardent, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. (Harcourt: 1973.) Ch. 9. 163

language as contested terrain of cultural conflict in the vie for hegemony of dominant groups and classes over subordinated ones. Observing that that every language contains the elements of a conception of the world,271 Gramsci argues that an imposed vocabulary marks the boundaries of permissible discourse and identify; while obfuscating oppressed social groups history, location within a social-economic structure, or articulate their oppression or alternatives to it.272 The alienation between language and subordinated groups was perhaps nowhere so pronounced than in the African-American population, where neither the misnomers human being nor citizen had any political valence in their instance. Sun Ra took the restructuring of language as an essential part of his praxis, often double- and triple-deconstructing and repacking words together, forming an alternative etymological method intended to release hidden and liberating truths within the codes of language. As Sun Ra wrote in To the Peoples of Earth, Proper Evaluation of words and letters In their phonetic and associated sense Can bring the peoples of earth Into the clear light of pure Cosmic Wisdom.273 In another poem, Ra makes clear the power relations inherent in words, and points to the spitting of consciousness caused by the ambiguity of languages and the power relations inherent in the production of truth and the capacity to lieas well as the Karmic consequences for those who tamper with the elasticity of words. As he writes, The elasticity of words The phonetic-dimension of words The multi-self of words Is energy for thoughtIf it is a reality.

Quoted in T. J. Jackson Lears, The Concept of Cultural Hegemony: Problems and Possibilities, The American Historical Review, Vol. 90, No. 3 (Jun., 1985), pp. 569. 272 Joseph V. Femia, Gramscis Political Thought, (Oxford, 1981), 44. 273 As quoted in Benston, Kimberly. Performing Blackness. p. 16. 164

The idea that words Can form themselves into the impossible Is through words. The fate of humanity determined By the word they so or approve Because they reap what they so Even if it is the fruit of their lies (Words and the Impossible274) Sun Ras elaborate and fantastic spectacle that he weaved with his group of musicians, dancers, poets, cosmological themes, and simulated space travel ,was a recoding of words, aesthetics and spectacle itself. Indeed, Ras very invocation of space must be read in relation to an Earth ruled by white supremacy, dictated by an Imperialist Capitalist world-system: space became a radical future which was presented as the negation of the present order, an extra-discursive location that was both located in the contours of the radical imagination and in the fantastic and counterpublic space Ra was able fashion during his performances:

Imagination is a magic carpet Upon which we may soar To distant lands and climbs And even go Beyond the moon To any planet in the sky If we came from Nowhere here Why cant we go somewhere there?275 As Ra biographer John Szwed notes, for Ra space was both a metaphor of exclusion and reterritorialization, of claiming the outside as ones own, of tying a revised and recovered past to a reclaimed future.
274 275

Szwed, p. 302. Szwed, p. 161. 165

This was not a self-aggrandizing or spolisitc vision. It had its roots deep in African-American communities and consciousness. Ra saw his role as bandleader as directly contributing to communal uplift: At all my band rehearsals I talk to the fellows and try to make them see the point of knowing and admitting to oneself whether he is right or wrong and how fine it is to know the ecstasy of being right. Due to many aspects which discourage, the young Afro-American often loses initiative and other principles in life.276 Indeed, Ra saw his music as imagining a better humankind, a new world: Music pulsing like a living heartbeat, Pleasant intuition of better things to come The sight of boundless space Reaching ever outward as it in earch of itself. Music spontaneous rapture, Feet rushing with the wind on a new world Of sounds: Invisible wordsvibrationstone pictures A new world for every self Seeking a better self and a better world. Music akin to tough Imagination! With wings unhampered, Unafraid Soaring like a bird Through the threads and fingers of today Straight to the heart of tomorrow, Music rushing forth like a fiery law Loosening the chains that bind, Ennobling the mind With all the many greater dimensions Of a living tomorrow. Ra lived his diasporic position, embraced his exclusion from the dominant political order, with a wisdom of this locations unique and redemptive position in world history. His location, as both inside and radically outside of modernity, was reflected as well in his unique relationship to time: both in terms of the poly-rhythmic and

Szwed, p. 47. 166

esoterically grooving pulses of his pieces, as well as his relationship to the current trends within the jazz tradition. As Jack Cooke wrote in Jazz Monthly in 1968, It sounds ahead of, or just as often behind, but never of its time: its occasional gaucheness is offset by flashes of real complexity, but it never tries to be even remotely fashionable. This perhaps suggests another point to bear in mind about Ras development and the extreme originality of his later music; the sense of being cut off, musically, maybe to some extent geographically, certainly intellectually, is very strong here277 Ra being cut offhis epistemic and aesthetic distance from the mainstreamis rooted in the Astro-Black mythology he labored to construct, which, I have argued, is at its heart a deep critique of European modernity and its corresponding Weltanschauung, imposed on the practical consciousness of African-Americans. In my reading, Ras vision cannot be seen as outside of the imperative of decolonization whose winds flowed from India and Ghana to Birmingham, Alabama. Ra was consciously contesting the historical narratives of a West who conspired to keep Africa American ignorant of its history, marginalized by the official narratives of the state and weakened by its lack of self-consciousness. To revolutionize Black consciousness, he would have to create a musical form radically non-Western, rooted in African-American musical traditions yet dramatically escaping the proverbial plantation of the ghetto or the lynching grounds and to an outer space where higher truths of music and spirituality reign over power and violence. Indeed, the music, while embracing futurist concepts that sought to destabilize Euro-American organization and epistemes of time/space, also deliberately and innovatively invoked the entire history of Black American music. As Smethurst writes in one of his few substantive analyses of the music in his 373 opus of the Black Arts Movement, [t]he actual performance of Sun Ra and his

Szwed, p. 161. 167

Arkestra presented perhaps the most striking statement of this notion of continuum, in which neo-African chants and instrumentation merged with Fletcher Henderson, doowop, bebop, electronic music, and free improvisation, often culminating in When the Saints go Marching In.278 As Smethurst also notes, the cutting-edge jazz musicians of the 1960s were the first within the Black Arts Movement to introduce aesthetic codes and artistic traditions from outside the Western cannon from transnational locations. Some of the most important articulators of these ideas of cultural continuity and interchange between Africa and the diaspora, Smethurst writes, and between the popular and the vanguard, were the free jazz musicians themselves.279 I would argue that free jazz musicians were the most important, as well as being the vanguard of these cultural shifts. Sun Ra, with his various Third-World named composition, his eclectic use of non-Western instruments including Chinese bells and multiple African drums (and drummers!), and his liberal use of the Egyptian altered melodic minor scale, all prove that he was no exception to this trend. But his deep immersion in the African-American music tradition itself is also of import for this. The fact that Ra linked the African-American musical continuum not to Western historiography but a whole other cosmology, peoples who were asserting their political and cultural independence on a world scale at that very moment, is telling for this discussion of the interstices of decolonization and the musical development in African-American improvised music. It was a reoccurring trope at this time, for a whole cross section of African-American musicians, from Dizzys Burning Spear to


Smethurst, James. the black arts movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s. p. 66. 279 Ibid. 168

Coltranes post 1960s-development that was heavily indebted to Indian ragas and other musical concepts. Indeed, Ra used not only outer space but also Third World soundscape to create his particular aroma of liberatory music. Overtones of China, for instance, was issued on album two years in to Chinas cultural revolution in 1958. The song begins with a gong hit, and after a piano line in fifths that opens the piece, a timpani drum beat that sounds a bit like a military march. The groove not discernibly Chinese per se, but certainly an unusual feel for a jazz song. The horns of John Gilmore, Pat Patrick, and Charles Davis then enter in lush harmonies that have a distinct feel reminiscent of more swing-era compositions. However, at around 1:00, the horns distinctly change their articulations, with much more staccato, pronounced inflections with Sun Ra playing on piano fifth again, creating a somewhat unrealistic and even orientalized aesthetic, but one that clearly references China nonetheless. After a piano solo, the horns reemerge, again exhibiting a big-band swing feel and harmonic structure of a much more in the vein of Fletcher Henderson. Connecting the vernacular of African-American big band music into the sonorities of China, real or imagined, is a direct attempt to create a cross-cultural linkage within the song form. Ra consciously linked this and other interstellar tonal currents, and Third World aesthetics with a desire to expand the planetary consciousness of the African-American: In those days [in Chicago], I tried to make black people, the so-called Negroes, conscious of the fact they were living in a changing world. And because I thought that they were left out of everything culturally, that nobody had thought about bringing them in contact with the culture, none of the black leaders did thatthats why I thought I could make it clear to them that there are other things outside their closed environment.280

Szwed, p .173. 169

Ra, the ever-elusive wordsmith, also may have also named the song to connote a double meaning: not only were the overtones of Chinese music channeling a cosmic energy that transcended time and space; 1958 was also a significant year for the decadeyoung state. Not only did China form the Afro-Asian Peoples Solidarity organization the year before, and invite W.E.B. Du Bois on August 27th of that same year to celebrate his birthday;281 it was also the first year of the implementation of the Great Leap Forward. The consequences of this economic planning project, (and it is no secret that they were, in many ways, disastrous) are less significant than its meaning as cultural and political blueprint Chinas ambitious economic and foreign policies were for peoples of color in the United States. Chinas overtones were sung emphatically by W.E.B. Du Bois, who commented awestruck in 1959 after a twenty-three year hiatus: China after long centuries has arisen to her feet and leapt forward. Africa arise, and stand straight, speak and think! Act! Turn from the West and your slavery and humiliation for the last 500 years and face the rising sun.282 Four years after Du Boiss venerating words, Mao himself took a stand on the intensifying Black Freedom movement in the United States, casting it not only as central to the international anti-imperialist movement but also as its vanguard: The evil system of colonialism and imperialism, Mao stated, arose and throve with the enslavement of Negroes and the trade in Negroes, and it will surely come to its end with the complete

281 282

Kelley, Robin D. G. Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination. p. 66-67. Kelley, Robin D. G. Black Like Mao. in Afro Asia: Revolutionary Political and Cultural Connections between African Americans and Asian Americans. (Duke University Press: 2008.) p. 98. 170

emancipation of the black people.283 DuBois was hardly the only Black radical to note Chinas significance for African independence movements and Black Americans fighting for their own liberation in the heartland of Empire. As Baraka put it, China was organically linked to the liberated and decolonizing nations of Africa. Ghanas Kwame Nkrumah had hoisted the black star over the statehouse in Accra, and Nkrumahs pronouncements and word of his deeds were glowing encouragement to colored people all over the world. When the Chinese exploded their first A-bomb I wrote a poem saying, in effect, that time for colored peoples had begun.284 Barakas suggestion that the acquisition of a Chinese atomic bomb meant that the darker nations now had a legitimate claim to history is thoroughly ridden with a masculinist understanding of power and self-realization. Other poet-activists joined Baraka in the chorus to celebrate Chinas ascendancy and find their own revolutionary imagination. One was Ramon Durem, a veteran AfricanAmerican activist who fought in the Spanish Civil War for two decades to prevent the rise of another fascist and (more) colonial state in Europe. In 1962 disenchanted with white radicals who were not interested in a radical solution to the Negro question, he turned away from them and Beat generation and its false claims to cultural radicalism in his poem Hipping the Hip. In a progression that closely mirrors Barakas, Durem turns to the liberated China for a new revolutionary imaginary: Juice is no use and H dont pay

283 284

Ibid, p. 101. Kelley, Freedom Dreams, p. 67. 171

I guess revolution is the only way Bluesis a tear Bopa fear of reality. Theres no place to hide in a horn Chinese may be lame but they aint tame Mau Mau only got a fine-tone scale but when it comes to Freedom, Jim they wail! dig? The piece is significant for two reasons. Not only are the Chinese and Mau Mau posited against the vapid narcissism and false consciousness of beat culture, but the demand for a revolutionary and militant musical form rooted in these musics, such as Mau Maus fivetone scale that hold freedom, was already underway in the musical avant-garde. Max Roachs album was one of the first examples, but Ra preceded other explorers of these musics by years. In other words, it seems that the overtones of China certainly did reach far and wide. But let the record show that it was Sun Ra who perceived, early on, their sonic ripples in the air of the world groovescape, and incorporated them into the AfricanAmerican musical continuum. Ra also invoked another site of anticolonial struggle in his song India in 1956. Built around the Indian pedal point, the song revolves around a single chord and is loaded with percussion. The album, Super-Sonic Jazz, was reviewed by Don Gold of down beat. The album was, he wrote, as an attempt to blend the music of the East and West,an


attempt he added, that failed.285 Sunology is a song that infuses blues to concepts and tonalities Indian music. Perhaps it did fail to the ears of down beatbecause its intention was to traverse Western music altogether. And it certainly does not fail on musical grounds: Pat Patrick, Ras baritone saxophonist, takes a wonderful solo over what is essentially a blues colored by another heavy and an Indian rhythmic cadence. In 1959, Ra continued his Third-Worldist futurism, which I suggest extends beyond the oft-discussed misnomer Afro-futurism because its geocultural imaginary was based in Africa but extended far beyond it. Of course, Ras composition devoted to the continent, in both its ancient and contemporarily articulations, were numerous. On his 1959 Lady with the Golden Stockings, for instance, he included tracks such as Aiethopia, a tribute to the ancient Ethiopian civilization from which Ra theorized that the settlers of Ancient Egypt had traveled from that is heavy in poly-rhythmic percussion; Africa features only a flute and even more drummers and rhythmic layers, with four male singers singing along in the style of a Barber shop quartet but with Africaninfluenced overlapping beats, again bringing a folk Black expression into communication with international subjects; and Watusa a commentary on a quite racist MGM film of the same name, a sequel to King Solomons Mines that depicts whites struggling to gain access to the resources of a mine in Southern African, defended by a decidedly savage South African tribe. While the movies colonialist underpinnings are supposedly equalized by the corruptive effects the mission holds for its the white protagonists, not unlike Heart of Darkness, the piece must have been an affront to Ra, who uses its title to reclaim South Africa as a place of pride. The album was later released as The Nubians of


Szwed, p. 153. 173

Plutonia, linking Africa explicitly with outer space.286 Many criticisms have been leveled at Sun Ra for his sometimes imagined and superficial engagement with Africa and the Third World. One of his earliest and most systemic indictments at the time of his cultural prominence came from a panel of critics of the Jazz Magazine of Paris. France, Szwed has noted, was unusually receptive to the spectacle of Sun Ra, and the self-denoted musical prophet had even prevented a riot between students and police three years after the 1968 student movement that brought France into political paralysis. His critical reception, however, was very contested by the French cultural apparatus. In one discussion in Jazz Magazine, the panelists discussing Ra contemplate his attempted appropriation of African aesthetics and rhythms: Philippe Carles: Were the references to Africa so evident at Nanterre [concert hall]? Francis Marmanade: In the costumes, yes, they were very different from the Superman costumes we saw at Catelet. On the other hand, the African references were less clear in the dances. Jean-Louis Comolli: It was interesting precisely for this invention of Africa by blacks from Harlem and elsewhere. But it was a mythic Africa, a bricolage. Denis Constant: A drugstore-styled Africa. JLC: That was it. A vision of African wholly invented by Western culture, by the dominant ideology of the United States, by the way whites represent Africa to themselves. These dances, for example, are just the opposite of African dances, because they had no sacred, initiatory, or mystical context FM:myths without mythology, or mysticism without religion...287 This anti-essentialist argument deployed here is still widely shared today. The reviewers here, and their arguments that resonate with contemporary cultural studies, have a point in asserting that much of the African tonalities and rhythms Ra employed were either imagined, contrived, or even mythic. But to suggest, as Jean-Louis Constant does, that this is a reflection of the dominant ideology of the United States is diametrically
286 287

Szwed, p. 171. Szwed, p. 289. 174

opposed to the political foundation of Ras whole mythology (which he does, clearly, posses, contrary to Francis Marmanades remarks). African Americans had deep reasons to connect with transnational subjects, as discussed in detail in this chapter. As Guattari reminds us, the invocation of African identity and history was not deployed to activate an archaism, a return to an idealized past, but its synthesis in which Ra looked the Ancient legacy of African-Americans and their cosmic yearnings, characteristic of a much larger Black radical praxis in which African-American redefined their consciousness, their modes of expression, and agency in order to turn modernity and its Imperial epistemes on their head. It would be in New York City, and specifically Harlem, that Ra could most effectively and widely disseminate his music and his vision to Black communities engaged in a period of state repression and grassroots resistance.

Ra in Harlem: The Vanguard of the Vanguard

Harlem had changed dramatically since the last large-scale Black cultural movement that found its ceaseless strokes in the belly of her streets and subway cars. The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s promised a type of cultural activism in which AfricanAmericans could, in arts and letters, earn the goodwill of white America and prove their cultural viability for assimilation and inclusion in American political and cultural life. In the words of David Levering Lewis: It was brilliant insight that of the men and women associated with the NACCP and the NUL that, although the road to the ballot box, the union hall, the decent neighborhood, and the office was blocked, there were two untried paths that had not been barred, in large part because of their very implausibility, as well as irrelevant to most Americas: arts and letters. They saw the small cracks in the wall of racism that could, they anticipated, be widened through the production of exemplary racial images in collaborations with liberal white philanthropy, the


robust culture industry primarily located in New York, and artists from white Bohemia.288 The brilliance of the Talented Tenths insight will be discussed below. What is important, however, is that the intense emphasis on high cultural production during the Harlem Renaissance has to be understood as the advancement of a civil rights agenda through cultural activism: win hearts, minds, and respect, and the ideological consensus that permitted economic inequality and systemic discrimination against AfricanAmericans will slowly whither way. For Nathan Huggins in The Harlem Renaissance , most Harlem intellectuals aspired to high culture as opposed to the common man, which they hoped to mine for novels, poems, plays, and symphonies. They saw art and letters as a bridge across the chasm between the races. Artists of both races, they thought, were more likely to be free of superstition, prejudice, and fear that ordinary men. It would be this alliance at the top that would enlighten both races and bring them together from the intellectual and moral poverty inherent in racism and white supremacy. Huggins admits this is an attitude of cultural elitism, but sees the ideology of the Talented Tenth, however flawed and contradictory, as not separated from the common Harlemite, for Afro-Americans in the 1920s individual achievement connoted more than personal comfort and ease. The future of the race seemed to depend on men and women making it in America. Thus, he rebukes the idea that the Harlem Renaissance can be reduced to a privileged Black bourgeois agenda that had no interest in the working class or unemployed Black Harlemite. They [middle-class professional Blacks] leveled


Lewis, David. The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader. (New York: Penguin, 1995.) p. xxvi. 176

barriers for othersso it was thought. So, it may appear to us to be attitudes of bourgeois naivet, were often highly race-conscious and aggressive.289 This acknowledged, Huggins points out that the Talented Tenths ideological telos was inherently contradicted. Their embrace of European art forms as indicative of high culture in some ways inevitable due to their bourgeois upbringing and education, but it had a polarizing implication for the relationship between what Du Bois called The Advance Guard of the Race in a 1903 essay of the same name, and the common black American living in 1920s Harlem. It also had profound implications for the development of an organic Black American culture itself if it was modeling itself after European forms. Building on the point, Huggins notes that one of the most telling and tragic contradictions of the Harlem Renaissance was that a generation that was searching for the New Negro would have passed up the only original thing going on. That being, according to Huggins, jazz. But then, it is not too surprising, Huggins coyly writes, the jazzmen were too busy creating a cultural renaissance to think about the implications of what they were doing.290 The Great Depression laid waste to the dream of social change through the achievement of cultural power without challenging the economic and political structures subordinating Black America dominating whites. Caused by a failure of capital accumulation to sustain itself in early 20th century America within economic expansion that was increasingly based on debt accumulation and governmental de-regulation of financial markets, it would be Black America who were some of the hardest hit.


Huggins, Nathaniel. The Harlem Renaissance. (Oxford University Press, 1973). p. 3Huggins, Nathaniel. The Harlem Renaissance. p. 11. 177



According to the 1931 Report on Negro Housing presented to President Hoover, 50% of Harlems families would be unemployed by the end of 1932. This, compounded with the a syphilis rate that was already nine times larger than white Manhattans, a tuberculosis rate five times greater, and pneumonia and typhoid twice as frequent, all demonstrated the poverty of the Harlem Renaissances political philosophy and its understanding of power.291 Indeed, Harlem intellectual Jesse Fauset chastised the Talented Tenth unrealistic approach that left Blacks helpless to combat a socio-political-economic setback from which it may take decades to recover. The Renaissance was partly to blame for its nave belief that social and economic recognition will be inevitable when once the race has produced a sufficiently large number of persons who have properly qualified themselves in the arts.292 And as Huggins notes, the Talented Tenth had not grassroots political movement behind their cultural work, instead looking to the centers of white cultural power to had their genius and talent validated: They [Du Bois, Randolph, and the Talented Tenth] were not involved in the block and precinct work that might have given them the kind of political leverage that the American political system understood. They, like other middle-class reformers, rejected that alternative as corrupt. It meant that Harlem intellectual leadership was epiphenomenal. It had no grass-roots attachment. Its success depended on its strategic placement, not its power. These leaders made themselves into conduits of Negro thought to white men of influence, and they attempted to channel white good intentions into effective reform. Except as white power could be inflected through them, they had no reason to believe that they could command black peoples actions. Without mass support they were mere emblems of leadership, important to force change. That is why they and Harlem failed in what they had promised to come.293 Their fault, if it can be called a fault, was in their innocent faith in the American liberal tradition. The problem was that racism, unlike child labor and unrestrained
291 292

Lewis, (1994) Harlem Renaissance Reader, p. xxxviii. Lewis, (1994) Harlem Renaissance Reader, p. xli. 293 Huggins, (2007) The Harlem Renaissance, p. 48. 178

exploitation and natural resources, could not be touched by simple reforms and efforts at right thinking. Rather, it was so deep in the American psyche (black and white) as to not be consciously understood.294 While the Harlem Renaissance produced some amazing works of literature, fine art, and artistic works in other mediums, it was, in many ways, a cultural and political movement that left Harlem desperately vulnerable not only to the Great Depression but to political and economic inequality more generally. And Hugginss caveat aside, the Harlem Renaissance was a class-based movement, that of the nascent Black bourgeois (or petitbourgeois) whose ambition was the capture of artistic recognition and cultural capital for their ability to successfully imitate and internalize Euro-American aesthetic forms and standards. For our discussion, Harlems immense promise during the self-donned Renaissance, and the catastrophic disenfranchisement the community experienced in the Great Depression, made Harlem the veritable metaphor of Black America and the measuring stick of its social standing. In this sense, even in times of crisis and poverty, it still retained, at least symbolically, its designation as the capital of African-America. Smethurst addresses this contradiction thoughtfully: Though the New Negro Renaissance notion of Harlem as an artistic and political capital remained (in a more distinctly Left register than perhaps in the 1920s), in some ways the communitys claim to distinction in the 1930s came, ironically, through a new sense of its hypertypical status. In other words, Harlem became a sort of everyghetto rather than the unique city of refuge [typified in the Harlem Renaissance] In this later, overlapping vision of hypertypicality, Harlem embodied the conditions of oppression and poverty seen as attending urban black life throughout the United States In addition, the earlier symbolic promise of the Harlem Renaissance accented this intensity of ghetto oppression, with earlier vision of the city of refuge standing as sour reminders of a dream deferred.295
294 295

Huggins, (2007) The Harlem Renaissance, p. 50. Smethurst, The Black Arts Movement. p. 110. 179

These eviscerated visions did not only serve as sour reminders. They demanded an entirely new praxis, a cultural movement with a completely different understanding of power, and a relationship to white hegemonic cultural formations. The specter of the Harlem Renaissance held the deferred dreams that the Black Arts Movement stood on. The sobering reality of the intransience American racism, and an understanding of power that was located in the control of institutions, capital and cultural autonomy, rather than a false one derived from earning good will from white oppressors for their aesthetic mimicry, called for a radically different praxis. Huggins passing comment that jazz was not only spared from Middle-class pretensions but was also the only true Renaissance underway in Black American culture is revealing for the cultural formation that was the Black Arts Movement. Its uncooptablity and distance from, some have argued, a culturally colonized Black middle class made it the idea location to base a cultural movement to create a Black aesthetic. And Sun Ra was one of the most influential muses for these activists who entered Harlem, whose mission was, as many of them saw it, to correct the mistakes of their Talented Tenth predecessors. Indeed, the Black Arts Movement in Harlem had an almost diametrically opposed praxis to the Harlem Renaissance, and can be understood fully without considering its 1920s predecessor. Instead of attempting to become proficient Euro-American aesthetic standards and mediums, it attempting to cast of all traces of cultural and epistemic whiteness and challenge the basic metaphysical assumptions of Western civilization. Instead of rooting itself in the cultures of elites, it tried to create an avant-garde artistic form rooted in the vernacular and daily life of the Black working-class. Instead of


bypassing grassroots and precinct work, their art was used exactly for this purpose, mobilizing, agitating, and organizing sections of Harlem and Black neighborhoods all over New York to precipitate cultural and political revolution. Finally, far from ignoring jazz and seeing it as disreputable or an uncomfortable reminder of Black Americans inability to assimilate, they located the music at the center of their cultural and political praxis, aiming to create an aesthetic form as grounded in the experiences and structures of feeling of African-Americans as the music had historically been. This was the stage for Sun Ras profound influence on the Harlem Black Arts Movement. He had already made considerable contact with Amiri Baraka. As Amiri Baraka wrote in Eulogies, Ra was so far out because he had the true self-consciousness of the Afro American intellectual artist revolutionary.296 Indeed, Baraka saw Ra as possessing a distinct cultural consciousness that was both leagues ahead of himself and his fellow writers but also a pillar of the radical Black aesthetic the New Thing was beginning to articulate: What trane spoke of, speaks of, what Ra means, where Pharoah wd like to go, is clearly another world. In (w)hich we are literally (and further) free.297 Baraka understood correctly Ras cosmic imagination that his soundscape sculpted as the invocation of a radical utopian space and consciousness from which a vision of a liberated Black being could be realized. As Sun Ra biographer John F. Szwed notes, LeRoi Jones (Barakas previous name and identity) was deeply influenced by Ras own. Joness poetry is always discussed in terms of its relationship to the Beats and the New York poets of the 1950s, of his having later rejected them in favor of Csaire and Langston Hughes. But Sun Ra was also a silent partner. He is there in Joness
296 297

Baraka, Amiri. Eulogies. 1991. p. 171. Quoted from John Szwed, Space is the Place. p. 210. 181

historical allusions, in the tone and pitches of his reading, in his sense of the importance of language, and in his consciousness of the possibilities of playing the spoken word against the written, unleashing the phonetics buried within the printed word.298 Szweds argument is supported in Ras essay meanings of Nationalism, found in his Raise Race Rays Raze (a book whose title along shows Sun Ras influence). While describing the process of discovery of national consciousness, Jones makes reference to books loaned to him by Sun Ra: Study the history of ancient Egypt. The move from Black to white. Reversed is the story of America. America who always (secretly) patterned her self after Egypt. Because she was so influenced by the sons and daughters of the ancient Egyptians. (See Astrology Space Age Science re: American Money and its symbolism. See God Wills the Negro& more). The ancient race of Black giants come to life again.299 During this time, Ras partnership and contribution to the Black Arts Movement in Harlem was integral to his own ability to survive and sustain his artistic vision. During the subsequent years, Ra played several shows, benefits, and concerts at the behest of the Black Arts Movement and, during its operation, the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School (BARTS). Ra raised money for BARTS at a benefit hosted by the Village Gate on March 28th. John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Crachan Moncur III, Archie Shepp, Charles Tolliver, Cecil McBee were also on the bill.300 Part of the reason for the return to Black communities was because of changes in the political economy of jazz in New York City, particularly the closure of jazz clubs, coffeehouses, and lofts in the Lower East Side and Greenwich Village that had provided

298 299

Ibid, p. 209. Ibid. 300 ibid, p. 209. 182

space for innovative jazz musicians to perform and develop.301 Thus, Ras membership with BARTS and spaces opened up in Harlem through the Black Arts Movment was crucial. Ra played at BARTSs first show, with the Ayler Brothers, Milford Graves, and the Yoruba Temple led by Baba Oserjeman. In addition, the Black Arts Movements took the streets and created a counterpublic sphere, reclaiming the sonic spaces in the streets and the imaginations of Black communities who experienced the music and myth of Sun Ra. For the next three months [after the 1965 opening of BARTS] the Black Arts sent trucks out into the community presenting music, dance, drama, paintings, and poetry in vacant lots, playgrounds, parks, anywhere they could find to reach the community.302 BARTS was an influential institution in the emergence of similar Black Arts institutions around the countryas Smethurst notes, it was tremendously inspirational as the first major black nationalist art institution of the 1960s with a nationalist reputation, and creating a model of a liberated black future that fused nationalist and avant-garde strains in the Black counterculture. That Sun Ras aesthetic and social philosophy were a was a central part of BARTSa ideological synthesis meant that the frequencies of Sun Ras music and vision would have nationwide reverberations, its overtones reaching as far West as Watts UGMAA. In BARTSs inaugural public event, for instance, a march down 125th street, the parade was led by Sun Ra and his band, which as Smethuryst describes, recalled Left and Garveyite marches through the community from the 1920s through the 1940s but with an avant-garde cast.303 Despite BARTSs closure after the withdrawal the Office of Economic

301 302

Smethurst, p. 111. Szwed, p. 210. 303 Smethrust, p. 151. 183

Opportunity funds a police raid for storing caches of weapons in the building, Ra remained an integral part of the Black Arts on the East Coast. He performed at Amiria Barakas Spirit House, a black cultural center opened in Barakas hometown of Newark, and played a Mardi Gras festival for Barakas basement theatre titled Kimakos Blues People: Ra held court, in front of a spectacular spread of classic Afro American cuisine Amina had prepared. A bottle of Courvoisier, diverse friendslike the grand salons of advanced civilizations, where philosophers and intellectuals and artists could hold forth in open, pleasurable, serious discussion about the whole world and profound reality.304 Amiri Barakas description of the festival creates the image of an image of an autonomous Black civil society with music as its nucleus. A counterpublic sphere forged in the weaving of Sun Ras Arkestra and his uncompromising rearticulation of Blackness, Barakas comments demonstrate the central role Ra played in the cultural and political conversations, debates and formations underway in the Black Arts Movement. Ra also performed the music for Barakas play A Black Mass at Procters Theatre in Newark in the May of 1966. The play was a retelling of Elijah Muhammads Yacub myth, the story of the Black scientist who creates the white race to enslave humanity and corrupt its soul. Sun Ras Arkestra improvised the music to cues in the script, such as Music can fill the entire room, swelling, making sudden downward swoops, screeching, or Sun-Ra music of shattering dimension. Larry Neal suggested that Ras influence on the counter-historical message of the play was of primary importance, writing that the plays mixture of science fiction and Muslim mythology led the audience


LeRoi Jones, Meanings of Nationalism, Raise Race Rays Raze, 1971, p. 109. 184

to understand that all history is someones version of mythology.305 Not only did Ra influence Baraka and the BARTS, but he had a deep affect on a whole cross-spectrum of Black arts artists and institutions in New York. One such institution, the National Black Theatre at 125th Street and Fifth Avenue, was an early practitioner for Black ritual theatre and an institution which Smethurst describes as an integral part of the Harlem Black Arts loft scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s centered at Fifth Avenue and 125th Street that also included the Black Mind, the Last Poets East Wind, the Studio Museum in Harlem, andthe New Lafayette Theater. The NBT strongly resembled Sun Ras Arkestra in that the NBT was a communal and collective environment that addressed every aspect of the black thespian, or theatre workers, life. In addition, its aesthetics were guided by a mythic vision that spanned African and Black American culture. Smethurst argues that in its incorporation of Pentecostal church ritual, the music of neighborhood taverns, and Yoruban culture, that as in Sun Ras music, the NBTs training and productions exhibited a fascinating combination of what I have called the popular avant-garde approach with a neoAfrican alternative cultural stance, emphasizing the importance of establishing black spiritual and social myths that would enable the true self-determination of black people. In other words, like Sun Ras bandthe NBT sought to embody a new, yet strangely traditional, black world as well as represent it on stage.306 Thus, Sun Ras institutional embodiment of a liberated Black future, his synthesis of avant-garde with Black musical traditions and Pan-African sounds, and his emphasis of the importance of affirmative and redemptive myths, informed the NBTs on every level of its existence. Several prominent Black Arts poets made direct references to Ra. Ishmael Reed,

305 306

Neal, Larry. Views of a Liberated Future, p. 73; Szwed, 211-212. Smethurst, James. The Black Arts Movement. p. 104. 185

for instance, wrote I Am a Cowboy in the Boat of Ra in which a synthesis of Blake, Haitian Vodun, and gnosticism is grounded by the gospel of Sun Ra.307 Henry Dumas also published work directly referencing Ras work, such as his short story Ark of Bones, about a young men discover an ark that contained the bones of their ancestors. A frequent visitor to Sun Ra between 1965 and 1966, he also wrote the poem outer pace Blues that draws on Ras mythology as well, producing a form Baraka termed AfroSurreal Expressionism.308 Perhaps the most poignant evidence of Sun Ras deep influence on the Black Arts Imperative is his frequent publication in Black Arts anthologies and poetry collections. In the definitive anthology of the Black Arts Movement, Black Fire, edited by Larry Neal and Amiri Baraka, Sun Ras 8 poems make him the most published poet in its polemical assembly. Ras poems here are of a more political nature, such as The Visitation, where he describes racial segregation in his Birmingham childhood. Another poem in the anthology, Of the Cosmic Blueprints, suggests that the enslavement of Africans in America sowed the seeds of a cosmic being afforded to African-Americans because they lacked a politically recognized existence. Ras own political consciousness was also deepened from his work and collaboration with the Black Arts. Walter Miller, and old friend of Sun Ras from Birmingham, said that when he first came to New York he was surprised that Sonny had gotten into racial issues. Sonny seemed angrier: like, when one night after a gig at a club he took his time dressing, and they turned the lights on him. Sonny hit the guy. I

307 308

Szewd, John. p. 223. Ibid. 186

couldnt believe it.309 And his Black Arts sponsors and artistic colleagues not only gave him space to explore his vision and innovation and unfettered, but encouraged him to make even more radical departures from Western convention. As Szwed analyzes, while Ra thought that many of Barakas efforts were wrongthat he should not push black into conflicts with whites, that his nationalism was too earthly and materialistiche was nonetheless influenced by him and encouraged to take his music further outsomething truly radical was happening in his music. The performances were growing longer, the rhythms wilder and more complex, and the soloists were being encouraged to go even further beyond their means.310 Ras work after 1965 moved even further towards collective improvisation, his album The Magic City released that year, dedicated to his home town of Birmingham, Alabama. It is an album long collective improvisation with the entire Arkestra, and marks the beginning of Ras real transcendence of the standard jazz form. The relationship between Sun Ra and the Black Arts Movement in Harlem and the East Coast more generally demonstrate a consistent and defining themes of this decade: the dialectical relationship between Black music and politics. As the Black Arts Movement took his pedagogy and aesthetic style seriously, he felt at home in these spaces, beginning to perform more freely and lining up with political action on the ground and in the streets. These musical developments, intertwined with the labors and cultural mobilization of Black Arts activists, would have profound meanings for the jazz world as well. Despite Sun Ras notable absence from Ken Burns Jazz and the dominant jazz historiography, there is considerable evidence that he influenced a wide cross-section of musicians, in matters both philosophical and musical. Charles Mingus, for instance, was

309 310

Quoted from Szwed, 212. Szwed, 212. 187

an early supporter and defender of Ras music and gospel. In addition to defending Ras musical vision, he introduced the pianist to choreographer Katherine Dunham and helped set up an audition with her for a New York revue production. Shortly thereafter, Ra went to see Charles Mingus play at the Five Spot, and Mingus asked him what he was doing here. I come down to the Village a lot, Ra answered. No, replied Mingus, I mean what are you doing down here on Earth?311 In another telling example, 1956 Sun Ras band opened for a new Miles Davis group which included John Coltrane. Pat Patrick, Ras baritone saxophonist, urged Coltrane to meet Sonny and gave him a copy of one of Ras better known leaflets, titled Scholarastic Precepts. Then, some seven years later, John Gilmore got on stage after closing time at Birdland. As he told Val Wilmer, I couldnt get my thing going. I started getting nervous because, you know, the impression that you make in a place like Birdland, they mean a lot. They mean whether you work or not. I said, Id better get something together quick!. Unable to play with the musicians, Gilmore decided to play against them. I played contrapunctual to what they were doing rather than trying to get into the same groove. Anyway, it worked out. It worked out so good that they didnt know whether I was playing anything or not! Musicians and audience alike were confused at the totally new direction the music had taken. One person was not. John Coltrane was sitting at the back of the club and the impact on him was amazing. He ran right up to the stage shouting, John Gilmore, John Gilmore, you motherfucker. You got it, you got the concept! All the other cats was standing around me doing, I dont know about this cat, manwhether hes playin something. But when they heard Trane say that, they said, Aw this cat, he must be playin!312 Coltrane, who incidentally released his own song titled India some seven years, later, must have hear in Gilmores playing a direction that he had embarked on. The use of multiple meters was something Ra pursued with a passion, as Coltrane attempted to

311 312

Szwed, p. 190. Quoted in Szwed, p. 210. 188

explore new ways to layer time and feeling on top of each other. As Szwed asserts, it was at Sun Ras insistence that Gilmore push for extreme techniques that lay outside of the Western musical tradition that laid at the basis of both his innovations and his inspiration for John Coltrane. As he writes, [Saxophones] offered the potential for an enormous variety of tones, many of which lay outside the Western aesthetic: overblowing, new extremes of vibrato, alternate ways of producing the same note, extreme vocalized articulation, and the so-called false upper register (which the bar-walking rhythm-and-blues knew as the true register of the horn). With these horns it was possible to honk, scream, cry, growl, pop, and slap tones, and generally explore the mechanical and human limits of beauty and the sheer nastiness of sound. And Gilmore, pushed by Sun Ra, pursued these techniques perhaps more rigorously than anyone before or since, with almost religious zeal. And though his commitment to Sonnys music kept him from being better known by the public, his influence on other saxophonists like John Coltrane was profound.313 Indeed, as Coltrane himself asserts, listening to Gilmore was likea big reservoir, that we all dip out ofI listened to John Gilmore kind of closely before I made Chasin the Trane. So some of those things are really direct influences of listening to this cat, you see.314 The fact that the most defining Tenor sound of the decade would reach these same non-Western vernacular sounds that lay outside of Western tonality and musical discipline indicated the links between Sun Ras decolonization of sound and Tranes own. Between Ras deep influence on Black Arts activists through his pioneering of alternative historiography, his pioneering use of non-Western aesthetics, and his Arkestra itself that was both a liberating spectacle and radical communitarian collectivein all these ways, in music, culture, and politics, Ra was the vanguard of the vanguard.

313 314

Szwed, p. 189. John Coltrane: An Interview. Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music. p. 235. 189

Conclusion: To Build the Tower

On the other side of the bitter struggles against domination and for the liberation of the imagination, there opens up a multiply dispersed zone in which we are gripped by vertigo. But this is not the shiver of a beginning, confronted with extreme possibility. It is possible to build the towerin every language. -douard Glissant Algeria, 1969. The state played an active role in promoting revolutionary and anti-imperialist forces since its overthrow of the French colonial yoke seven years later. Despite political crisis had swept the country independence, with Algerias first president, Ahmed Ben Bella, overthrown by his former ally and defense minister, Houari Boumdienne, in 1965, Algeria was seen as a state sympathetic to worldwide revolution against European and American Imperialism. It was a logical place for Eldirge Cleaver, Black Panther in exile, to flee to. In 1969, amid intense COINTELPRO repression Eldridge Cleaver fled to Cuba from the United States to escape FBI prosecution, and after an awkward and ambiguous visit, he was transported to Algeria. In Algiers during his stay, the country was hosting the Pan-African Festival, which Cleaver decided he would make public his presence in the country. He mobilized a huge delegation that included his wife Kathleen Cleaver, Panther artist Emory Douglas, David Hilliard, and many Panther-affiliates, and held a press conference to announce his residency in the revolutionary nation. Their arrival at the Pan-African Festival could not be more fitting. The Panthers, like Malcolm X and a whole generation of Black radicals, saw themselves as internally colonized and rejected philosophies of Black nationalism in favor of a radical internationalism that saw themselves as connected to a larger global struggle. Kathleen 190

Neal Cleaver, former Black Panther and wife to Eldridge Cleaver notes that The strategic importance of Black Americans, in Panther terms, was that they lived in the belly of the beast, within striking distance of the heart of American Imperialism.315 Indeed, in contrast to many activists in the Black Power Movement and Black Arts Movement, Huey P. Newton explicitly dismissed the idea of Black nationalism, stating that even the concept of stable nation-states were dead: We believe that there are no more colonies or neocolonies. If a people is colonized, it must be possible for them to decolonize and become what they formerly were. But what happens when the raw materials are extracted and labor is exploited within a territory dispersed all over the globe? When the riches of the whole earth are depleted and used to feed a gigantic industrial machine in the imperialists home? Then the people and the economy are so integrated into the imperialist empire that its impossible to decolonize, to return to the form conditions of existence. If colonies cannot decolonize and return to their original existence as nations, then nations no longer exist. Nor, we believe, will they every exist again. And since there must be nations for revolutionary nationalism or internationalism to make sense, we decided to call ourselves something new.316 What they decided on was revolutionary intercommunalism, which would serve to foil the reactionary intercommunalism that the United States had created through its imposition of one global market and the reduced power of the nation-state. Revolutionary intercommunalism would constitute communities seizing the institutions that have control over their lives and using them to meet the popular demands of the people. This, argues Newton, would create the conditions for a culture that is essentially human and allow people to resolve class contradictions.


Cleaver, Kathleen Neal. (1998) Back to Africa: The Evolution of the International Section of the Black Panther Party (1969-1972). The Black Panther Party Reconsidered, p. 216. 316 Intercommunalism, p. 187. 191

At the conference in Algeria, Cleaver used the occasion to delineate this internationalist vision and announce the construction of a two-story Afro-American Information Center not far from the Al Fatah information center. Given 1969 Algerias geographical and temporal proximity to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Cleaver denounced Zionism and U.S. Imperialism, the latter which uses the Zionist regime that usurped the land of the Palestinian people as a puppet and pawn. Speaking to an energized crowd among cheers as Power to the people and Al Fatah will win Cleaver continued, We recognize the Jewish people have suffered, but this suffering should not be used to justify suffering by the Arab people right now.317 The Palestinians, conversely, supported the Black Panther Party. In 1970, Eldridge Cleaver and Al-Fatah agreed to conduct revolutionary struggle together. The agreement entailed training Panther leaders in actual combat against Israel and to assist in Fatah operations in the Middle East. Al Fatah would gain Panther revolutionaries to add to its ranks, while the Panthers could gain skills in sabotage and combat, to eventually carry out quick and deep strikes in the United States. An Al Fatah spokesman considered Panther training for revolutionary warfare in the United States of utmost importance, noting that Panthers were already being trained in North Korea, Cuba and North Vietnam.318 While this may not have been entirely true, what is clear is that the Palestinians clearly identify the Panthers and African-Americans as victims of United States imperialism whose struggle is their own. The collapse of the international section and expulsion from Algeria in 1973 may have rendered this agreement irrelevant,


Eldridge Warmly Received by the People of Algiers. The Black Panther, August 9, 1969. 318 Stout, Kathleen. (1991) Eldridge Cleaver. 192

but solidarity and revolutionary intercommunalism were organizing principles for Panther foreign policy that produced both material and political support for the Panthers across the world. It also demonstrated that the exchanges between African-American radical internationalists and Third-World revolutionaries were mutually reinforcing. In addition to articulating an internationalist vision that linked American support for the Jewish state as a sophisticated way to destabilize and threaten the independent Arab nations, Cleaver also made another important contact at this festival. His name was Cal Massey, an influential and radical composer/trumpeter whose work reveled and echoed the Black Liberation struggle underway in the United States. Eldridge Cleaver asked Cal Massey to compose a long-form work dedicated explicitly to the struggle underway in the Untied States titled The Black Liberation Movement Suite. Massey, swept up in the power of the Panthers delegation in Algeria and sensing the Black Liberation movement was entering a dire and more critical phase, agreed wholeheartedly. According to his co-composer, Italian Socialist Romulus Franceschini, Cal called told me he wanted to compose a long suite which would represent the consummation of his life work. He knew, I believe, he would die soon. The suite would consist of much new material with some older material like The Damned Dont Cry, which Cal had composed some dozen years later, and which, in fact, we had already recorded with John Coltrane in 1960. The suite was called The Black Liberation Movement Suite and it was virtually completed by 1970. It consisted, of that time, of eight movements, some of which were dedicated to Black leaders.319 Indeed, Cal Massey was not only one of many composers to record work on behalf of the Black Panther Party (Lee Morgan and Herbie Hancock had both recorded songs for imprisoned leader Angela Davis, and the Hancocks beautiful dedication Ostinato (Suite

Quoted in Ho, Fred. The Damned Dont Cry, in Wicked Theory, Naked Practice: A Fred Ho Reader. p. 140. 193

for Angela) on the 1970 release Mwandishi is a heavy 15/8 funk tune, with an ominous bass clarinet riff holding down the role of the bass that stands as one example of the revolutionary potential of funk-jazz fusion)but Cal Massey, significantly, was an almost universally recognized and admired musician among a whole cross section in the jazz community. He stood as a bridge between the younger avant-garde musicians, such as Archie Shepp, and the jazz tradition, having written a composition for Charlie Parker (Fiesta), guest-arranging two songs for Duke Ellington, and a close collaborator of John Coltrane. Despite his credentials in the jazz community, his political outspokenness and alignment with the radical movements of the 1960s meant his career was difficult and he lived poor. Long marginalized by the commercial and critical apparatus of the jazz industry that found whose work too political and polemical for sponsorship, in the 1960s Cal Massey began organizing many of his own concerts at the time to support community organizations, such as a benefit concert he organized at St. Gregorys Church across the street from his house in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to raise money for a new community playground. The concert included the John Coltrane quartets performance of the Love Supreme suite, featuring the multi-reedist Rashaan Roland Kirk (who previously had taught children how to play saxophones with Horace Tapscott in Watts320), as well as Thelonious Monk. After Massey finished his m magisterial work, The Black Liberation Movement Suite, he organized three concerts for the Black Panther Party, which proved to be financial successes for the party. As Fred Ho puts it, Cal Masseys self-produced concerts were also part of the thrust for artistic selfdetermination through creating alternative cultural institutions and forms of

Tapscott, Horace. Songs of the Unsung. p. 213. 194

cultural production for the benefit of the black community. Masseys benefit concerts were historically important as artistic events and economic successes as well. These highly successful concerts, including three benefits he organized for the Black Panther Party, demonstrated the mass support for the concept of community-based cultural production as thousands of community people turned out to attend cutting edge concerts in the heart of Black Brooklyn.321 Indeed, Massey was another one of many grassroots-based musicians, such as Tapscott and Sun Ra, and his deep connections in the jazz world brought others, such as Coltrane, into this style of community-based musical production as well. Indeed, Coltrane called on Cal Massey to provide large-scale orchestration for his Africa Brass sections, and during this session they recorded The Damned Dont Cry, a section that would later be incorporated in the suite.322 Indeed, it is likely that Masseys commitment to the community at the expense of personal wealth and fame rubbed off on Coltrane, who in 1964 and 1965 performed in two benefits for the Marxist magazine Freedomways and Paul Robeson, as well as performing at a fundraiser for BARTS at the Village Gates on March 28th (on a bill he shared with Sun Ra). Finally, his last public appearance was made at Olatunjis Center of African Culture, a cultural center in Harlem started by none other than the Nigerian-born percussionist for Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, Olatunji himself. Indeed, Coltrane had planned on traveling the African continent with Olatunji to deepen his Third-World musical explorations. 323 Indeed, as Black radicals such as the Panthers embraced revolutionary intercommunalism and sought to transcend the trappings of the nation-state, Coltrane was seeking the same type of radical cosmopolitanism through his unfettered search through
321 322

Ho, p. 137. Ibid, p. 133, 323 Ingrid, Monson. Freedom Sounds. p 303. 195

non-Western musical traditions. Coltrane had long embarked in an exploration of African, Indian, and Chinese musical traditions in order to discover more deeply the common root of all music, a universality that incorporated the traditions of the entire globe. In his words, he was searching for the root of that soundwhich set everything else into being.324 In the words of Benston, This quest for uninhibited musical freedom took several directionsthe major acquisitions of space were made within the realm of the notes themselves. Influenced partly by nondiatnoic aspects of Indian and African music, Trane moved completely away from both fixed tonality and strict verticality toward pan-modal, chromatic articulation. Chords, whether singular or multi-layered, were simply cut loose from any tonal center of gravity.325 Indeed, many commentators far more qualified than I have explored the invocation of Indian and Chinese musics in Coltranes work. In the course of his search for structure within the loosening of harmonic boundaries, Coltrane began studying Indian and other non-Western scales and modes. Lewis Porter notes that Coltrane started paying particular attention to the music of the Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar in early 1961.326 I collect the records hes made, and his music moves me Coltrane stated. Im certain that if I recorded with him Id increase my possibilities tenfold, because Im familiar with what he does and I understand and appreciate his work.327 Following their introduction in 1964, Shankar and Coltrane began to converse about Indian music.

324 325

Quoted in Benston, Kimberly. Performing Blackness. p. 125. Late Coltrane: A Re-Membering of Orpheus # Kimberly W. Benston # The Massachusetts Review, Vol. 18, No. 4 (Winter, 1977) p. 772. 326 Porter, Lewis. John Coltrane: His Life and Music (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2000), p. 209. 327 1961 interview by Francois Postif, quoted in Porter, p. 209. 196

Regarding these lessons, Shankar recalled: I could give just bare beginning and main things about Indian music and he became more and more interested.328 Coltrane had intended to spend six months studying with Shankar in 1967, but died before this could take place. 329 The importance of Shankar to Coltrane is evidenced by the fact that the latter named his son Ravi in 1965. Indeed, Carl Clements and Ingrid Monson analyze John Coltranes tunes Song of Praise and Wise One, respectively, from the perspective of utilizing Indian musical concepts such as the alap and raga.330 Now is not the place to demonstrate the musical similarities between them, but they are profound, and Coltrane is clearly indebted to Indian cultural resources for his musical development and improvisatory breakthroughs. Of course, Indian and African-American cultural and political exchange was not unprecedented. The two peoples have deep ties during their respective battles against colonialism and Jim Crow, as Howard Thurman had studied with Ghandi in the 1930s and brought his teachings of militant pacifism to Martin Luther King, Jr.331 And when Henry Leventhal, a U.S. Army Signal Crops stationed in India as World War II wound down, gained a coveted audience with Ghandi, Leventhal recalled that, The first thing we wanted to know was how Paul Robeson was.332 The social valences of Coltranes Indian appropriations are of a unique significance when weighed against not only his experimentation with Chinese modal

328 329

Farrell, Gerry. Indian Music and the West (Oxford: 1997), p. 191. Ibid. 330 Clements, Carl. Indian Concepts in the Music of John Coltrane. Institute for Studies In American Music. (Fall 2007); Monson, Ingrid, Freedom Sounds, p. 302-303. 331 Horne, Gerald. The End of Empires. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2008,) p. 97. 332 Ibid, p. 3. 197

systems, which Hafez Modirzadeh convincingly argues,333 but also in the consideration of Coltranes radical re-visitation of his own musical tradition, the Blues, and his own reconstitution of Blackness. As Benston writes, Coltranes late music was like some elemental cry of desire for unfettered identity.334 Coltrane did not only move outside the African-American musical tradition. He also explored deep inside the music of his people to find its elemental cry, its truth, which he was sure lay at the basis of all musics that had served as cultural repositories of a peoples stories and structures of feeling. But it was undoubtedly something very specific about the terrifying power of the blues that led Coltrane to discover his cathartic and earth-shaking sound, when he encountered its naked memory facetoface after stripping its reified conventions of their ossified meaning and coming in touch with the pulse that undergirded the Blues tradition. Such a discussion of the Blues music requires a return to Paul Gilroy to reconsider what the musics of the Black Atlantic held for the myriad populations of the diasporathose musical forms that were the direct expression of the slaves will. For Gilroy, these musical forms served as undeniable philosophical resource: The invented traditions of musical expression which are my object here are equally important in the study of diasporic blacks and modernity because they have often supported the formation of a distinct, often priestly caste of organic intellectuals whose experiences enable us to focus upon the crisis of modernity and modern values with special clarity. These people have often been intellectuals in the Gramscian sense, operating without the benefits that flow either from a relationship to the modern state or from secure institutional locations within the cultural industries. They have often pursued roles that escape categoristaion as the practice of either legislators or interpreters and have advanced instead as

Modirzadeh, Hafez. Aural Archetypes and Cyclic Perspectives in the Work of John Coltrane and Ancient Chinese Music Theory. Black Music Research Journal, Vol. 21, No. 1 (Spring 2001), pp. 75-106. 334 Ibid, p. 125. 198

temporary custodians of a distinct and embattled cultural sensibility which has also operated as a political and philosophical resource. The irrespirable rhythms of the once forbidden drum are often still audible in their work. Its characteristic syncopations still animate the basic desiresto be free and to be oneselfthat are revealed in this countercultures unique conjunction of the body and music. Music, that supposedly compensated slaves for their exile from the ambiguous legacies of practical reason but for their complete exclusion from modern political society, has been refined and developed so that it provides an enhanced mode of communication beyond the petty power of wordsspoken or written.335 This proactive and historicized reading of the Black musicians privileged location as the custodian of a distinct and embattled cultural sensibility also provides a muse for an autonomous political and philosophical voice. Certainly Malcolm Xs aforementioned commentthat the black musician, he picks up his horn and starts blowing some sounds that he never thought of before. He improvises, he creates, it comes form within[likewise], He can invent a society, a social system, an economic system, a political system that is different from anything that exists on this earthalso point to the musics importance as a space of Black autonomy to perhaps the most influential African American of the late 20th century. For Malcolm, as for Baraka and Gilroy, the music is the bearer of a distinct and embattled Black political sensibility, pregnant with a galvanizing structure of feeling that serves as an organizer of social memory and as a chain to an untranscribed, and untranscribable, tradition. As Gilroy invokes above, the slaves own prohibition from the privileged domain of literacy and written languagethe organizational and communicative apparatus of power and reason for the Enlightenment-derived systems of, epistemologically, reason, and politically, and nation-state formation. In a twist of historical irony, then, it would be in matters musical and oral that populations of the Black Atlantic, of the myriad

Gilroy, The Black Atlantic, p. 76. 199

plantations whose formal histories will be lost in the untold massacres and rapes of countless anonymous souls, where Black cultural autonomy and expressive power would be developed and harnesseduntil, at the moment of Black modernity and mass migration to urban centers, that these dynamic musics would dominate Western capitals and threaten white cultural hegemony worldwide. Not only would they threaten the justifiability of ideologies of white cultural and political supremacy, their poly-rhythmic and cross-historical origins would threaten the very idea of a unified, Cartesian Western subject and introduce the concept of cultural hybridity into the an attempted homogeneity of a decidedly ethnocentric West. French-Caribbean poet and historian douard Glissant captures both of these points both pointedly and poetically, in all their historical, decolonizing, and hybridist implications: It is understandable that in this universe every cry was an event. Night in the cabins gave birth to this other enormous silence from which music, inescapable, a murmur at first, finally burst out into this long shouta music of reserved spirituality through which the body suddenly expresses itself. Monotonous chants, syncopated, broken by prohibitions, set free by the entire thrust of bodies, produced their language from one end of this world to the other. These musical expressions born of silence: Negro spirituals and blues, persisting in towns and growing cities; jazz, biguines, and calypsos, bursting into barrios and shantytowns; salsas and reggaes, assembled everything blunt and direct, painfully stifled, and patiently differed into this varied speech. This was the cry of the Plantation, transfigured into the speech of the world. For three centuries of constraint had borne down so hard that, when this speech took root, it sprouted in the very midst of the field of modernity; that is, it sprouted for everyone. This is the only sort of universality there is: when, from a specific enclosure, the deepest voice cries out.336 This passages prose can only be quoted at length for its meaning to be discernedand felt. The expressive qualities of Black Atlantic music, their collectivist conjunctions of


Glissant, Poetics of Relation, (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1990). p.

73. 200

body, rhythm, and the aural, are deeply rooted as the call of a silenced body undergone three centuries of erasure and perpetual, intergenerational conditions of organized genocide. What was born was an unprecedented universality, a universality that countered the ethnocentric and ethnic-cleansing cultural and political tropes of a racialized Western reason and the structuring of international capitalism (of which the plantation system played a fundamental part, in both its ability to raise unprecedented levels of profitability, its restructuring of New World economies as primary producers, and, of course, its importation of some 12 millions African-born slaves). Its universality, however, is not only in the aptitude and intensity of its expressive contentit is also rooted in its formation within the organic auspices of a tarnished and trampled cultural process, that of orality, and its corresponding multiplicity. Indeed, as Glissant continues: The Plantation, like a laboratory, displays most clearly the opposed forces of the oral and the written at workIt is there that multilingualism, that threatened dimension of our universe, can be observed for one of the first times, organically forming and disintegrating. It is also within the Plantation that the meeting of cultures is most clearly and directly observable, though none of the inhabitants had the slightest hint that this was really about a clash of cultures. Here we are able to discover a few of the formation of the laws of the cultural mestissage that concerns as all. It is essential that we investigate historicitythat conjunction of a passion for self-definition and an obsession with time that is also one of the ambitions of contemporary languagesin the extensions of the Plantation, in the things to which it gave birth at the very instant it vanished as a functional unit. 337 This is a sense of multiculturalism that is not depoliticized, not ignorant of power relations and history, and does not reify culture as fixed, ontological entities, as it is popularly understood in contemporary discursive apparatuses administered by the state and sectors of civil society. Glissant rather offers reading of a multilingualism and


Ibid, p. 74. 201

musical formation that is polycultural, that is, an interconnectedness of historical and cultural agency among different groups that leads to an self-differentiated self, a being rich with heterogeneity of different histories of peoples in the world. As Robin Kelley puts it, Although folk had trouble naming us, we were never blanks or aliens in a "black world." On the contrary, we were and are "polycultural." By "we," I'm not simply talking about my own family or even my `hood, but all peoples in the Western world. It is not our skin or hair or walk or talk that renders black people so incredibly diverse. It is the fact that most black people in the Americas are products of a variety of different "cultures" -- living cultures, not dead ones. These cultures live in and through us everyday, with almost no self-consciousness about hierarchy or meaning. In this respect, I think the term "polycultural" works a lot better than "multicultural," since the latter often implies that cultures are fixed, discrete entities that exist side by side a kind of zoological approach to culture. Such a view of multiculturalism not only obscures power relations, but often reifies race and gender differences.338 As Kelley concludes this discussion of cultural multiplicity in Black subjectivity and history, So next time you see me, don't ask where I'm from or what I am, unless you're ready to sit through a longass lecture. As singer/songwriter Abbey Lincoln once put it, "I've got some people in me."339 The multiple people the Lincoln sings of resonates with the reading Glissant and I have given of these musical formations. What is at stake here, for our discussion, is also multiple: we are wondering why Black musics have frequently had polycultural invocations, while contradictorily, are exploring how music served as the repository of an autonomous Black cultural sensibility, and we are exploring how this music, perhaps, was a doorway between Black American structure of feelings and those of other spacesnot only of the Black Atlantic, not only between Black Americans and Africa, but between Africa America and the

Kelley, Robin D. G. The People In Me, Utne Reader (September-October 1999), p. ibid, p. 3. 202


decolonizing world itself. John Coltrane made this point in a letter to none other than down beat editor Don DeMichael, with whom Coltrane had a friendly relationship but was not afraid to be explicit about the musics polycultural and political implications: Many thanks for sending me Aaron Copelands [sic] fie book, Music and Imagination. I found it historically revealing and on the whole quite informative. However, I do not feel that all of his tenants are entirely essential or applicable to the jazz musician. This book seems to be written more for the American classical or semi-classical composer who has the problem, as Copeland [sic] sees it, of not finding himself an integral part of the musical community, or having difficulty in finding a positive philosophy or justification for his art. The jazz musician (you can have this term along with several others that have been hoisted upon us) does not have to worry about a lack of positive and affirmative philosophy. Its built in us. The phrasing, the sound of the music attests this fact. We are naturally endowed with it. You can believe all of us would have perished long ago if it were not so. As to community, the whole face of the globe is our community. You see, it is really easy for us to create. We are born with this feeling that just comes out no matter what conditions exist. [emphasis added] 340 Here Coltrane states a number of points that echo Glissant and Gilroythe organic linkage between Black music and community, the built in philosophical resources the music holds, and importantly, the link of this to an integrated sense of self, a self that is linked to and intertwined with the Other. The whole face of our globe is our community Coltrane says. Given his work invoking Indian and Chinese music, as well as that of Africa, Coltranes words and music say a lot about this polycultural space that jazz musicians so adeptly embraced. Much has been suggested of Coltranes supposed non-political work, citing a problematic interview with Frank Kofsky in which the latter tried to limit the saxophonists work to didactic messages regarding Black nationalism and the Vietnam War. Yet, Coltranes comment, that the whole world was his community, meant that this world undergoing a repudiation of colonialism, in both

Quoted in Ratliff, Ben. Coltrane: The Story of a Sound. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007). p. 157. 203

political and cultural terms, would have resonance and reflections in Tranes music. Indeed, as Ingrid Monson asserts, to emphasize that Coltranes universalism and a positive embrace of African-American strategies of self-determination are not necessarily contradictory impulses.341 Indeed, not only are they not contradictory, they organically linked, and they could not be otherwise. Tranes identification with the Third World was an expression of African-American political autonomy; the struggle for an identity unfettered by the epistemic chains of racialized modernity, creating a music that spoke to, and through, the Third World, and the possibility of a human community that lived through and with the Other. This is not so different from the Black Panther Partys alignment with the Vietnamese people struggling for liberation against American Imperialism (and it is worth noting that bassist Hakim Jami, who not only played in Cal Masseys The Black Liberation Movement Suite and in Sun Ras Arkestra, wrote the anti-war anthem "Vietcong," which saxophonist Gary Bartz and vocalist Andy Bey immortalized342). And, for Coltrane as for Sun Ra, Cal Massey, Max Roach, Charles Mingus, Horace Tapscott, Abbey Lincoln, Randy Weston, and countless others, decolonization was not merely an aesthetic flare in the background: it was the condition of possibility of jazz exploding into this cosmopolitan and liberated phenomenology that it truly realized in the 1960s. Coltranes music, incidentally, has had dynamic appeal all over the decolonized and decolonizing world. Fela Kuti is one prominent example: the creator of the immensely popular Afrobeat musical genre and leader of a social movement in Nigeria
341 342

Monson, Freedom Dreams, p. 303. Latimer , Chalres. Rockin the bass: Hakim Jamis long road back to Detroit (again). Metro Times. (June 6, 2007.) http://www.metrotimes.com/editorial/story.asp?id=10592 204

against the corrupt American-backed government, Fela spoke of affinities between the modal jazz of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Archie Shepp, and the sounds common among people to the Bush.343 Felas biographer Michael E. Veal argues that Felas Afrobeat music proclaimed progressive music of the future, which had frown out of a jazz-soul-highlife fusion, reconciled through modal harmonies found in traditional Yoruba genres and heavily inflected by African American culture.344Hearing Fela solo on soprano saxophone is enough to confirm his profound debt to Coltrane. Not only did Fela gain musical resources from the African-American jazz tradition, he became politicized during a visit to Los Angeles, where he met a Black Panther member named Sandra Smith, who introduced him to Kwame Tour (Stokely Carmichael). Angela Davis, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. One can only wonder if he also met Horace Tapscott, whose community-based music center has much in common with Felas shrine.345 Nigeria was not the only country were jazz profound affects on the social and political consciousness of the people. South Africa has long been deeply influenced by African-American musical traditions, jazz at the forefront of them. Steke Biko, the South African Black consciousness leader, saw jazz in much the same way as Black Arts Movement activists did across the Atlantic: The craze about jazz arises out of a conversion by the African artists of mere notes to meaningful music, expressive of real feelings. The Monkey Jive, Soul etc. Are all aspects of a modern type African culture that expresses the same original feelingswhen soul struck with its all-engulfing rhythm it immediately caught on and set hundreds of millions of black bodies in gyration throughout the

Vela, Michael E. Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000), p. 70. 344 ibid, p. 72, 80 345 ibid, p. 68. 205

worldreading in soul the real meaningthe defiant message say it loud! Im black and Im proud.346 Bheki Mseleku, a South African musician himself, explains: Jazz has to do with people fighting for their freedom. Its not just an American thing. What helps me to understand [John] Coltrane are the Zulu musics, Xhosa musics, Indian musics I was born among. My music says I want to be free. [But] those who have marketed jazz were the ones who were oppressing its makers.347 Indeed, here it is Coltranes invocation of these historically heterogonous, yet deeply intertwined, musical traditions that Mseleku finds so compelling. And, as with most audiences of jazz outside the United States, he correctly understands it is not chained to the ground of the United States or its attendant national identity. There are many more examples than can be delivered here. But jazz musics powerful location, both in and outside modernity, affirming a pluralistic identify in the heart of the worlds most powerful and culturally homogenizing empires, certainly spell one of modernitys central paradoxes. In fact, I would argue, in Coltrane, Roach, and Sun Ra incorporating the musical traditions of the Third World, they proceeded to build a truly universal music that stood that racist claims of European tempered universalism on its head. As douard Glissant wrote, On the other side of the bitter struggles against domination and for the liberation of the imagination, there opens up a multiply dispersed zone in which we are gripped by vertigo. But this is not the shiver of a beginning, confronted with extreme possibility. It is possible to build the towerin every language.348 Indeed, this is exactly what Coltrane and his ilk were doing: while liberating Blackness from its colonized and epistemic bondage, they were, for the first time in human history,

Quoted from Washington, Salim. Mbaqanga: The Social Valences of Jazz in PostApartheid South Africa. Unpublished Manuscript.
347 348

Bheki Mseleku, quoted in Washington, Salim. Glissant, douard. Poetics of Relation. p. 109. 206

creating a music that transcended boundaries, that was in dialogue and mutual fusing with the musical traditions of other peoples and places, across the span of the entire globe. This, in a way, was a return for its own intersubjective desires: Jazz did not belong, and never belonged, truly, to the American nation-state, and its birth in New Orleans should evidence enough of this. The music we call jazz now has always been a cross-Caribbean formation, complete with the Latin tinge Jelly Roll was so fond of and the hybridist, multilingual and poly-epistemic cultural formations in the complex plantation network of the Americas. The jazz revolution returned this music to the world, away from the provincial claims of Imperial exceptionalism and the American cultural apparatus, and in the process and alignment with the peoples struggling against political and epistemic Imperialism, precipitated the decolonization of modernity itself. That Coltrane has retained his central location in jazz vernacular to this day shows that we have not truly internalized his message, have not taken the cultural logic to its logical conclusion in our lives and lifestyles. Multiplicity was always in the social fiber of the music, and it could not remain repressed for long. What does this multiplicity consist of? asks Glissant. The implicit renunciation of an arrogant, monolingual separateness and the temptation to participate in worldwide entanglement.349 In the long days of extreme neo-conservatism in which we find ourselves, all fronts of cultural and political life are threatened with the stale monoculturalism and the claims of homogenous nationhood. Glissant is acute about this danger, writing, It would be almost futile and even dangerous to defend these languages from a monolinguistic point of view, because this would enclose with them within an ideology and a practice that area already outmodedIf one is in too much of a


Glissant, p. 118. 207

hurry to join the concert, there is a risk of mistaking as autonomous participation something that is only some disguised leftover of former alienations.350 Unfortunately, this is precisely the trap jazz, under the auspices of Jazz at Lincoln Center, has fall into, now a defender of American exceptionalist values such as meritocracy and (its vision of) democracy. But the struggle continues, and countless jazz musicians to this day struggle against the national and ethno-centric claims these supposed guardians of tradition make for the music. They include the Afro-Asian musical synthesis of ChineseAmerican Baritone Saxophonist Fred Ho, the cross-cultural work of Iraqi-American trumpeter Amir ElSaffar, and the Marty Ehrlichs incorporation of Klezmer traditions into jazz music, as well as his commitment to bring the marginalized music of Julius Hemphill to light. But it was its dual location in both African-American communities, and looking outward to the world for philosophical and spiritual resources, that served as the veritable bridge between not only African-Americans and the Black Atlantic, but African-Americans and the whole world. These diasporic networks and international cultural exchanges that jazz constructed help explain Hip-hops emergence as a global counter-hegemonic musical formation today, empowering black identity is a way that a less-institutionalized once did. Jazz remains an oft-discussed subject and is heralded as a national treasure, but it is rarely acknowledged in contemporary discourse as a black art form, or what the implications of that are. This project is an attempt to demonstrate the inherent politics laden in jazz since in its inception, looking specifically at the historical moment of the 1960s. Hopefully, deeper questionsabout the relationship between culture and politics; the role of the black musician in African-American political and cultural life; about how

ibid, p. 119-120. 208

human beings living in modernitywill be unearthed through the work as well. It is vitally important that we bring light to a revolution that has not been transcribed, or even acknowledged, and reconstruct a moment in jazz that has been largely ignored, misrepresented, and repressed in the jazz academy and institutionand for obviously good reason.


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