[JPL] Yoshi's Pulls Anniversary CD Due to Lack of RacialDiversity in Art...

Phillip Greenlief pgsaxo at pacbell.net
Sun Jun 17 13:49:14 EDT 2007

Hey Folks,

Not to flog a dead horse, but here's a response to the Yoshi's debacle
by one of our finer local jazz writers...

Have a good weekend, and if there are any fathers out there, enjoy the

Yoshi's: Behind the charges of bias
Contra Costa Times
Article Launched: 06/14/2007 03:04:57 AM PDT

WHEN RACIAL discrimination is the topic of debate, conversations in the 
Bay Area tend to jump directly to indignation and outrage, skipping 
calmer and more thoughtful modes of discussion.

And thus the controversy over the absence of African-American 
bandleaders on a CD produced by Yoshi's to celebrate the club's 10th 
anniversary at Jack London Square swiftly turned into an angry outcry.

In seeking to quickly and simply compile an album of artists recorded 
live at the club, Yoshi's artistic director Peter Williams admittedly 
took an ill-advised shortcut by dealing only with Concord Records, and 
ended up with a second-rate CD. Shortly after the controversy boiled 
over in the press, Williams and club owner Kaz Kajimura announced a 
recall of the offending album, which featured respectable but hardly 
classic performances by players such as Joe Pass, Marian McPartland and 
Poncho Sanchez. (The album's two most exciting tracks, by organist Joey 
DeFrancesco, happen to include two black players -- drummer Byron 
Landham and tenor sax legend George Coleman -- so the claim that the CD 
completely ignored African-American artists isn't exactly accurate.)

Acknowledging that a promotional venture intended to showcase the 
club's legacy had turned into a fiasco, they committed to releasing a 
second album that better represents musicians who have performed at the 
venue. While some view the initial Yoshi's anniversary CD as part of a 
larger revisionist movement that seeks to downplay the African-American 
roots of jazz, nothing in Williams' seven-year history of booking the 
club speaks to any kind of racial agenda, and it would be disgraceful 
if the club heeded the shrill voices calling for his dismissal.

What's particularly depressing is that convincing the club to withdraw 
the CD is the definition of a Pyrrhic victory. It means there's no new 
album to create fresh opportunities for musicians, advance anyone's 
career or put money in a player's pocket. Meanwhile, a new development 
at Yoshi's with dire implications for jazz musicians of all colors and 
cultures has gone largely unnoticed.

Starting on June 25 with zydeco accordionist Geno Delafose & French 
Rockin' Boogie, the club is booking dance bands on Mondays, which means 
the elimination of some 50 precious slots over the course of a year 
that have traditionally gone to Bay Area-based jazz artists. Most of 
the bands slated for Mondays so far are Cuban-style Latin dance combos 
whose work I love, but there are close to a dozen other venues in the 
Bay Area that regularly present these groups. There's only one Yoshi's, 
however (at least until the Fillmore District franchise opens sometime 
in the fall), and the region's resident jazz musicians depend upon 
playing Yoshi's for exposure and excellent production values when 
celebrating the release of a new album. In seeking to draw new 
audiences, the club is responding to its bottom-line imperative, and 
that's the painful topic that can't be avoided: how to keep live jazz 
viable in a market-driven economy.

WAIT, IT GETS WORSE: If the Yoshi's controversy generated more heat 
than light, the simultaneous attacks on Jazzschool founder Susan 
Muscarella are far more objectionable. That controversy was sparked by 
singer Rhonda Benin and Anna de Leon, a longtime pillar of the Bay Area 
scene as a singer and club owner who now runs Anna's Jazz Island in 
downtown Berkeley.
On May 19, they went on Doug Edwards' KPFA show "Ear Thyme" and stated 
that Muscarella was excluding African-American musicians from the 
Downtown Berkeley Jazz Festival. The fact that Muscarella had yet to 
finish booking the Aug. 23-26 event would seem to make public charges 
of under-representation premature, but with passions inflamed, many 
decided that Muscarella was guilty as charged. Her exemplary track 
record of presenting a wide array of jazz artists, with particular 
attention to female instrumentalists often overlooked by other venues, 
didn't stop some musicians from denouncing her in the press.
Do the charges hold water? When Muscarella appeared on "Ear Thyme" on 
May 26, Edwards turned the numbers that she had crunched to defend 
herself against her, noting that when the Downtown festival focused on 
Latin jazz in 2005, 50 percent of the musicians booked were Latino. But 
when 2006's festival had a general jazz orientation, 30 percent of the 
artists were African-American. According to Edwards, since less than 
half of the musicians booked last year were black, discrimination was 
evident. But African-Americans don't come close to making up a majority 
of jazz players in the Bay Area, and to suggest that a festival 
institute a quota is frankly insulting to black musicians.

Indeed, the Bay Area is blessed with a diverse wealth of talent -- 
black, white, Latino, Asian-American, Indian and Native American -- and 
after 10 years of covering jazz here, what I've found remarkable is 
that so many musicians have made significant contributions, despite the 
scene's limited resources.

And that's the rub. It's the rare well-seasoned player who doesn't 
believe, often with justification, that he or she has been overlooked 
and under-employed (a feeling shared by modern dancers, painters and 
documentary filmmakers, by the way). Many white musicians feel they 
have lost opportunities due to their race, and it's hardly surprising 
that some black musicians feel the same way.

Unfortunately, much of the media coverage has fallen into the 
black-vs.-white paradigm, portraying African-American jazz musicians as 
united against the perceived injustice perpetuated by Yoshi's and the 
Downtown Berkeley Jazz Festival. In truth, there's a broader spectrum 
of opinions, with many defending Williams and Muscarella (while many 
others want to avoid the messy controversy altogether).

Robert Stewart, the brilliant Oakland-born African-American tenor 
saxophonist whose resume reads like a jazz hall of fame, has been 
outspoken in countering the recent charges. But his voice has been 
conspicuously absent from the press and airwaves, so I'm giving him the 
last word:

"I'm ashamed of the hostility and triviality that has been directed 
toward Susan Muscarella and the Yoshi's establishment by black 
musicians in the Bay Area," Stewart wrote in an e-mail. "Further, 
though I do not know Susan Muscarella and have never played in her 
festival nor her school, her efforts to perpetuate the black classical 
music of America must be acknowledged and applauded, regardless of any 
personal bias against her as an individual. ... Peter Williams, Yoshi's 
current artistic director, is also fair and honest in his dealings with 
black musicians. Consequently, a mere compact disc of live recordings 
void of black musicians is triviality beyond comprehension, to say the 

Write Andrew Gilbert at jazzscribe at aol.com.

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