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THE STRONG CARD

PITTSBURGH JAZZ

 

From Blakey to Brown, Como to Costa, Eckstine to Eldridge, Galbraith to Garner, Harris to Hines, Horne to Hyman, Jamal to Jefferson, Kelly to Klook; Mancini to Marmarosa, May to Mitchell, Negri to Nestico, Parlan to Ponder, Reed to Ruther, Strayhorn to Sullivan, Turk to Turrentine, Wade to Williams… the forthcoming publication Treasury of Pittsburgh Jazz Connections by Dr. Nelson Harrison and Dr. Ralph Proctor, Jr. will document the legacy of one of the world’s greatest jazz capitals.

 

Do you want to know who Dizzy Gillespie  idolized? Did you ever wonder who inspired Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey? Who was the pianist that mentored Monk, Bud Powell, Tad Dameron, Elmo Hope, Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme? Who was Art Tatum’s idol and Nat Cole’s mentor? What musical quartet pioneered the concept adopted later by the Modern Jazz Quartet? Were you ever curious to know who taught saxophone to Stanley Turrentine or who taught piano to Ahmad Jamal? What community music school trained Robert McFerrin, Sr. for his history-making debut with the Metropolitan Opera? What virtually unknown pianist was a significant influence on young John Coltrane, Shirley Scott, McCoy Tyner, Bobby Timmons and Ray Bryant when he moved to Philadelphia from Pittsburgh in the 1940s?  Would you be surprised to know that Erroll Garner attended classes at the Julliard School of Music in New York and was at the top of his class in writing and arranging proficiency?

 

Some answers  can be gleaned from the postings on the Pittsburgh Jazz Network.

 

For almost 100 years the Pittsburgh region has been a metacenter of jazz originality that is second to no other in the history of jazz.  One of the best kept secrets in jazz folklore, the Pittsburgh Jazz Legacy has heretofore remained mythical.  We have dubbed it “the greatest story never told” since it has not been represented in writing before now in such a way as to be accessible to anyone seeking to know more about it.  When it was happening, little did we know how priceless the memories would become when the times were gone.

 

Today jazz is still king in Pittsburgh, with events, performances and activities happening all the time. The Pittsburgh Jazz Network is dedicated to celebrating and showcasing the places, artists and fans that carry on the legacy of Pittsburgh's jazz heritage.

 

WELCOME!

 

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Duke Ellington is first African-American and the first musician to solo on U.S. circulating coin

    MARY LOU WILLIAMS     

            INTERVIEW

       In Her Own Words

Black Music is Black Music: Call it that!

Black Music is Black Music: Call it that!

by Fred Logan

April 18, 2016

Amiri Baraka said somewhere that, among other things, calling jazz (and other black music) "American" music ignores who created it and the

immense debt, including monies, owed to Black musicians.

If a generic "America' created jazz, then this debt can be belittled and ignored.  Baraka said  somewhere else that the "music (all black music)

and the people are the same."   It is impossible to understand jazz history without understanding African American history, sociology, and aesthetics.  

"Pittsburgh" or "the Hill District" did not produce great jazz musicians. Pittsburgh and the Hill District are two small geo-political spots on the map of the world.  The Black masses in the Hill and in Pittsburgh created great great black musics and musicians. This is equally true of Harlem, and everywhere else. 

Black music did not develop in any of these places until black people came and developed it, wherever. 

 

Decades ago, the  renowned African American scholars W.E.B. Du Bois, Alain Locke, and  Sterling Brown argued that black music tells the world about black life, and black struggle.

On March 23, Columbia University scholar,  Dr. Farah Jasmine Griffin, led a very important discussion at Pitt. She looked at the life and music of three black female vocalists in the immediate post-1960s era, from the early 1970s to the mid-1970s. And She asked the question, "What does the music of a particular era say about that historical moment?"   This is a continuation of DuBois, Brown, Locke and many others.     

In this tradition, Rahsaan Roland Kirk calls Black music Black Classical music.  We should all  call  "Black music" "Black music" without a second thought or any apology to anyone. To whom, generic "America?"

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Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on April 20, 2016 at 11:00pm

Dan,

Thanks for your comment and question.  I'll be glad to tell you all about it as I was on the front lines.

Comment by Dan Wasson on April 20, 2016 at 10:56pm

Nice comment Dr. Nelson. I'd like to learn more about the union merger. Thanks

Comment by Dawn Reel on April 19, 2016 at 9:36pm

This article is great, thank you. I am sharing this widely. I know that jazz is black music and now white people have taken it over. Please have more about this... and what we can do to have more African-American empowerment (or however you'd describe it)? (besides seeing musicians who teach that jazz is African American music).

Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on April 19, 2016 at 8:37pm

RACISM IN JAZZ: DEAD OR ALIVE

 

Is racism dead in jazz?  The editorial column First Take in the July 2003 issue of Down Beat magazine: "I've had so many discussions with musicians about how they choose with whom to make music, and the answer almost always rings the same: Simply, they collaborate with those who can play. Forget race, sex, religion and so forth. It's 2003, and we've progressed beyond such backwards thinking."

 

On the issue of racism in America:

In a March 2001 article James Clingman, Jr. referred to a statement by the Mayor of Cincinnati who had presided over a summit on racism during the election year: "Racism is the number one problem in our city. Man, with all of this high-powered authority, assisted by our "Black Leaders," we should finally get this racism thing solved." Clingman submits that this perspective "is just another effort that Black people refer to as the Okey-Doke. How some white people can be so patronizing when it comes to racism is beyond my understanding. Oh, I know why they do it; I just don't know how they can do it, and sleep at night. They must think we are really stupid. (He goes on to say that) "racism exists, is the scourge of this nation, and has been since the country started… We cannot solve the racism problem. White people invented racism not Black people. White people commit racism; Black people only react to it. White people only deal with the issue when it is expedient and convenient for them - especially when there is another election on the horizon and they need Black votes… Do you think racism is really THEIR number one issue? If you do, I have some nice ocean front property in Kansas I'd like to sell to you. They simply want racism to be OUR number one issue, and they want us to be diverted from taking care of business. Let's get this straight. Racism is a condition of the heart, and changing hearts is God's business. Racism is structurally imbedded in the fabric of this country. "

James Clingman is an Adjunct Professor, Univ. of Cincinnati, Dept. of African American Studies on "Black Entrepreneurship". He is the founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, served as its first Executive Director and President. Hosts the radio program, "Blackonomics" at "1230TheBuzz.com", sponsored by Visions 2000 and is the author of the book, Economic Empowerment or Economic Enslavement – We have a choice (www.enterzone.com/power). Contact him at P.O. Box 6722, Cincinnati, OH 45206, 513-489-4132.

 

My response to this editorial comment follows:

 

Until racism is eliminated from the American social landscape it will remain a factor in the country’s cultural landscape.  The roots of provincialism run deep in America and have not been addressed adequately by desegregation, civil rights, women’s suffrage, liberalism, affirmative action, compassionate conservatism, religious fervor, etc. to any extent that would lessen its sting or ultimate victory over equality, fairness or mutual respect among the citizenry.  As long as America is a society that requires an elite vs. lower class dichotomy, racism will flourish.  Provincialism has its weakest expression when there is a viable and strong middle-class.

 

The following are examples of opinions of well-respected authors who exhibit cultural racism in their otherwise astute works on world music:

 

"After the dissemination of Jazz, which was definitely 'put through' by the Dark Forces, a very marked decline in sexual morals became noticeable…Now, it is just this over-emphasis of the sex-nature, this wrong attitude towards it, for which Jazz-music has been responsible.  The orgiastic element of its syncopated rhythm, entirely divorced from any more exalted musical content, produced a hyper-excitement of the nerves and loosened the powers of self-control.  It gave rise to false exhilaration, a fictitious endurance, an in-satiability resulting in a deleterious moral and physical reaction.  Whereas the old fashion melodious dance--music inspired the gentler sentiments, Jazz, with its array of harsh, ear-splitting percussion instruments inflamed, intoxicated and brutalized, thus causing a set-back in Man's nature towards the instincts of his racial childhood.  For Jazz-music at its height very closely resembled the music of primitive savages.  A further result of it was to be seen in that the love of sensationalism which has so greatly increased.  As Jazz itself was markedly sensational, the public has increasingly come to demand 'thrills' in the form of 'crook dramas' and plays, the only dramatic interest of which is connected with crime, mystery and brutality.  This also applies to sensational fiction; for the sale and output of this type is

prodigious.

---Cyril Scott, 1958---

 

"In the present stage of (mankind's) development, the emotional nature needs to be calmed down and controlled.  But jazz acts to the contrary.  It excites the emotions and plays up the desires.  And most devotees of jazz are teen-agers upon whom it has an especially deleterious effect.  From the age of fourteen to twenty-one the adolescent goes through a crucial time in development while the mind has not yet reached a point where it can control the emotions.  To be continually exposed to jazz, which over stimulates the emotional nature, can have but the one effect of being destructive if not actually disastrous…The result of this condition is seen on all sides; in the use of drugs and alcohol by young people; in the frantic love of speed on the highways, which gives a false sense of freedom to the excitable youngsters; robberies, rape, and even murder committed by some who are so young as to be scarcely adolescent.  Jazz and juvenile delinquency are twins.  Where one flourishes the other will appear.  And those who assist in the dissemination of these destructive rhythms are drawing upon themselves a harvest of sorrow and pain, though they may be entirely ignorant of any wrong-doing; for ignorance of the law excuses no one…The psychic conditions created in times of war lay humanity open to the most damaging onslaughts of the Dark Forces, for at such times it is as if the human psyche is stripped of its protective sheath of high-mindedness and idealism and is responsive to evil impulses, which it accepts as its own.  The legacy of World War I was jazz, which can be traced to African sources.  It came from Africa with the slave trade of colonial times and took root in America, undergoing an evolution in its new home, and then bursting into blossom after the first war.  Its current popularity originated in the night clubs of New Orleans.  From New Orleans it spread through the nation, found a welcome in Paris night clubs, and from Paris infected all of Europe and finally the world."

---Corinne Helline, 1965---

 

On Racism in jazz:

As a musician, I not only choose to collaborate with those who can play, I often consciously try to use an integrated group when I can. Some may call it tokenism and perhaps it is, because it is a choice that involves more than whether the person can play, it is always a choice from among those who CAN play. Since the demise of the Chittlin' Circuit, I have often been the token on a few good paying jobs and have seen lesser players make multiples of my income bracket because they were hired by a "color blind" contractor who can conveniently fulfill his contract with competent white players before he ever gets around to considering non-white players as an after-thought. There are exceptions to this but they are few and far between and they are reputed to have to bear some "heat" from their white colleagues when they do integrate their contract.

 

Being a professional musician is not a parlor game of friends who like to play together. It is infested with the same racial dynamics that pollute American society in general. The editorial comment in Downbeat is not only naïve but Pollyanna in that its author most likely thinks he sees reality in his purview when actually he sees a narrow slice from an institutionally biased perspective. If I had a dollar for every time I said to a well-meaning white person that Affirmative Action is virtually mythical, I would be quite affluent. Nationwide statistics document quite a different story. Blacks are 13% of the general population. Unemployment statistics for whites nationally is 5.7% and 12% for Blacks. A university study of Pittsburgh's unemployment a few years ago found that Black males between 18 and 60 were 50% unemployed. What's wrong with this picture? It wasn't long ago that jazz was not considered legitimate or serious music. ASCAP still has a separate category on its Registration Form for "Serious Music" and it doesn't mean jazz. So when did racism go away and if it is backward thinking, it still prevails. The black tokenism that prevails is no better statistically than it was 30 years ago. However, since the majority of Black teens have turned to hip-hop, it might be suggested that jazz is becoming the new arena for Black tokenism because young Blacks are not learning it in any great number.

 

I have attended some very fine jazz concerts this year and find a curious trend among the performers, i.e., they are increasingly tipping their hat to the "classical (European) composers" in their programs. I must ask myself what the point of this is. I grew up in a tradition where all the major jazz players tipped their hat to the blues (African origin) which is the roots of the tree we call African American Music of which jazz is a branch (see Portia Maultsby, Ph. D.). If I wanted to attend a chamber music concert, I would have gone to one. If I go to a jazz concert, I am not expecting to hear Ravel or Rachmaninoff. What is the subliminal message here? Is there a paucity of jazz available to play? Why aren't the performers performing their own work rather than reaching back to cover a selected European Classicist?

 

There is much ado these days about certain young generation Black jazz players who also play the European classics. From a contemporary perspective this may seem like a big deal but not to me. In the inner-city neighborhood where I grew up in the 1940s almost every musician could play or sing the European classics. My aunt Fannetta Nelson Gordon (who shared the high school orchestra piano bench with Billy Strayhorn) is a classical piano virtuoso who was, at 16, the accompanist for the National Negro Opera Company founded in my neighborhood by Mdme. Mary Cardwell Dawson in 1941. Robert McFerrin, Sr. was the featured baritone who went on to be the first African-American male soloist at the Metropolitan Opera. Ahmad Jamal completed the Bach studies at the Dawson School around age 11. I would dare say that in the major cities of 40+ years ago the majority of Black musicians were well-versed in the European classics musically but, and this is the big BUT, they weren't permitted to study or work in the major venues or fields of employment because they were black, not because they were incompetent.  The Pittsburgh Symphony was not integrated until 1964 although my high school contemporaries and I had played ensemble and soloed with the Symphony nine years before that at ages 14-15 in the Pittsburgh Symphony, Jr. that held joint concerts with the symphony members. Our half-Black high school orchestra (Westinghouse High School) even won the PA State Championship in 1957. Yet when the segregated locals of the American Federation of Musicians merged in 1965 almost no Black musician received union work for almost five years resulting in a class action lawsuit for racial discrimination. Many of the most excellent players had to seek work in other fields than music because the union never called them for work opportunities.

 

If one looks into the history of jazz, much can be seen in the employment trends of the bread and butter marketplace. From Broadway to San Francisco, Chicago to New Orleans, Blacks have been struggling to maintain a voice in the music of their own culture. The African American Jazz Caucus affiliate of the International Association for Jazz Education was founded to provide a voice to the African American origin of the music called jazz that has been recognized as such by the 100th US Congress in HCR 57.

 

To use the example of the great players of the tradition, who in most cases are mutually respectful of each other, to illustrate that racism has disappeared is naïve and simplistic. My 60 years in the music business has shown much camaraderie and some generosity but has not approached a true democracy at all. Sweeping generalizations like the Downbeat editorial statement are attempts to cure the cancer by ignoring the symptoms, i.e., the Okey-Doke.

 

Nelson E. Harrison, Ph. D., trombonist, composer, arranger. lyricist, inventor, clinical psychologist

Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on April 19, 2016 at 8:31pm

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