[JPL] More on jazz/not jazz
drjazz at drjazz.com
Wed Jan 11 20:07:41 EST 2012
The Word "Jazz" Will Now Be Racist
Henceforth, please refer to the genre as "Black American Music."
By Victor Fiorillo 1/10/2012 Comments 10
Last Thursday, while I rocked out in Greenwich Village to the
white-people music known as Van Halen, Philadelphia-based pianist Orrin
Evans--recipient of the $60,000 Pew Fellowship for the Arts--was a quick
ride up the A-C-E in Hell's Kitchen at Birdland. Note that I did not
refer to Evans as "Philadelphia-based jazz pianist" as I would have in
2011. This is because Evans has decided that he no longer plays jazz. He
plays Black American Music.
At Birdland, Evans sat on a prestigious panel of musicians who had
congregated for the Inaugural Black American Music (or BAM) conference.
(If you've got an hour-and-a-half to kill, you can watch a video of the
panel here.) Though he's been far more vocal on his Facebook page, where
he makes it quite clear that "`jazz' is a perfect word for some peoples
music just not mine," he didn't get much of a word in at Birdland, where
his verbose co-panelists set the tone by comparing their business to the
"plantation system" and being careful to use "the j-word" whenever they
were referring to that old, racist word, jazz. They theorize that black
audiences have largely turned away from the genre because of the word
The whole thing started back in November, when distinguished trumpeter
Nicholas Payton, also on the panel, posted a manifesto of sorts, in
which he declared: "Jazz is a lie. America is a lie ... Playing Jazz is
like running on a treadmill: you may break a sweat, but ultimately you
ain't going nowhere. I am Nicholas Payton and I don't play `the j word.'
I play BAM."
Apparently, Payton didn't make the point strongly enough in that post,
so he ran a follow-up in December: "I am not dissing an art form. I am
dissing the name, Jazz. Just like being called Nigger affected how Black
people felt about themselves at one time, I believe the term `JAZZ'
affects the style of playing. I am not a Nigger and I am not a Jazz
musician ... `Jazz' is an oppressive colonialist slave term and I want
no parts of it."
Phew. Who knew?
"That word [the j-word] has such a negative connotation to it," Evans
told me when I reached him on his cell this morning. "From where I'm at,
the best way to say it is Black American Music. It's the image, not the
music. The name itself is limiting audiences. I understand why some of
the white musicians don't see it as an issue. That's because when they
turn to the audience, they see themselves. When a white guy walks into
an all black strip club and it's all black young people, trust me that
white guy is going to feel a little different. Nobody looks like me. I'm
not saying I don't want to see y'all [white people] no more. But can we
sprinkle some pepper in there?"
One veteran Philadelphia jazz musician (who is not white) sees it this
way: "While I think that dialog around the issues of jazz's legacy and
jazz's future is vital, I take issues with some of the figures involved
in this most recent dust-up who, in my estimation, are mostly about
creating a cult of personality and who leverage identity politics in the
service of same. However, the issue is important, explosive and one that
must be addressed---and to whatever degree possible, resolved---if jazz
(in America---it thrives elsewhere, mostly liberated from this whole
`who owns the tradition and has a right to play it' argument) is to have
anything approaching a vibrant future."
So, anyone want to check out Chris' Black American Music Cafe this weekend?
Dr. Jazz Operations
Oak Park, MI 48237
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