[JPL] About BAM, from Bobby Sanabria

Arturo Gomez arturo at kuvo.org
Thu Jan 12 11:45:23 EST 2012


Besides a gifted percussionist, bandleader, big band conductor and educator, Bobby is a brilliant scholar of jazz and Afro-Caribbean music.....

Bobby on BAM

Max Roach wanted to change the name of jazz to African American Classical Music. But he re-assessed that toward the end of his life. Why? Because he started doing a lot of concerts with the Mario Bauza' Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra as a guest through the auspices of Marta Moreno Vega from the Caribbean Cultural Center in NYC.

Latinos were there since the beginning and helped create what we call jazz as we know it today and we have never been given the credit by the jazz community at large. We are still considered a footnote in jazz history. A footnote? Nothing could be further from the truth. Ken Burn's myopic disastrous Black and White only view of the jazz world helped to reinforce that with mainstream America.

The word "jazz" in and of itself is not responsible for the decline of this music's popularity with mainstream America today. It is a complex set of circumstances that can be traced back to the jazz community itself which never addressed the fact that the audience for the music had to be reinvigorated/renewed by finding a new generation of fans. The last time that happened was in the early 70's with the jazz/rock fusion era when artists like Weather Report, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin & The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Tower Of Power, Billy Cobham, Larry Coryell & The 11th House, Alphonze Mouzon, Jaco Pastorius, Don Ellis, Carlos Santana and many others were playing at major festivals that many times featured rock and pop oriented acts. TIME magazine even had a cover story that stated JAZZ IS BACK! with Herbie Hancock on the cover. But once "Black Friday" happened and CBS decided to drop every jazz artist it had because the suits decided there was more money to be made in other burgeoning fields (anyone remember Disco?) like Rap, C & W, etc. the die was cast.

The major mitigating circumstance that also began killing jazz oriented music with mainstream America was the de-regulation of the FCC by the Reagan administration which led multi-million dollar conglomerates like Clear Channel and Viacom to have clear sailing to buy over 1,000 stations across the country. Stations which formally played jazz, R & B, Gospel, Blues and which were converted to MOR (Middle Of The Road), C & W, Easy Listening, Classic Rock, Rap, Smooth Jazz and Talk Radio formats. This devastated the jazz radio industry and it prevented a new fan base to be created. How are you going to keep a music, a tradition, a movement, a culture alive if you're not exposed to it? My generation learned everything from listening to the radio.  Case in point, when NYC's 24 hour jazz station WRVR all of a sudden was converted to a C & W (Country & Western). NYC has absolutely no 24 hour jazz radio station. We listen to WBGO FM from Newark.

TV? Jazz was always a presence in the cartoons, variety shows, etc. Once Johnny Carson stopped hosting the Tonight Show by retiring, jazz ceased to exist on mainstream TV. Saturday Night Live once featured some of the hippest music ever. Does anyone remember when Sun Ra and his Arkestra was featured as the musical guest? I'm freakin' talking about SUN RA! We don't have any advocates for jazz anymore on TV because this new generation of producers doesn't even know the music exists. They haven't heard/been exposed to it.

Blaming the word "jazz" for the current sad state the music is in in terms of cultural relevance to most Americans is ridiculous. Mr. Peyton stated in the press conference that he had last week at Birdland that the image of the word jazz portrays a drug induced  negative stereotype of a musician (along with other negative attributes) to most people. I assume he bases this image from the reference point of the 1940's/50's/60's when heroin ravaged many of our great talents.

But today? Most jazz musicians today will talk to you about being on a macro-biotic diet, how proud their kids are doing in school, and how they're thinking about becoming vegans or Buddhists. Who in fuck's name is he talking to, hangin' with? That is a stereotype based on ignorance. And trust me, you have those stereotypes in all styles of music. I won't get into what the stereo type is of a salsa musician, a rock musician, etc., etc. Besides, jazz musicians have already done the research. Drugs like heroin don't make you play better. No one today on the scene is into hard drugs. Not to say there aren't some, but I would say it is smaller percentage than the national average.

The negative image of the jazz musician? Where I come from (the South Bronx) the image of the jazz musician was always one of a person devoted to a majestic art form. Why? Because to play the music itself took years of devotion, study and dedication. If you said you were a jazz musician it meant that you were serious, an intellectual, a person to be looked up to because you were Worldly.

Read my previous post on when this hold thing started weeks ago. I actually agree with some of Nicholas' assessments. But to blame the word jazz for the sorry state the music has in terms of commercial viability, in terms of how a public that is basically ignorant about all things cultural in this country is just plain wrong. Particularly when the word itself was created where the art form and he were born, the northernmost city of the Caribbean, 'Nawlins.

Ache' alafia,
Bobby Sanabria


Arturo Gómez
Music Director
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