Monday, January 16, 2012

The "J" Word

Some young African American musicians object to the word “Jazz” to refer to that archetypal American Black music that is the basis for nearly everything else musical in this country. They reject the word because it was associated with their ancestors performing music in brothels, bars and speak easies, and young black musicians of the 50s and 60s with needles in their arms. The "J" word is like the "N" word to them. 

That would be a bit like people in Spain seeking to disown the word “Flamenco” to refer to that uniquely Adalusian gypsy music, that was originally played in cabarets and street side bars.  

It is built around the juerga, an informal, spontaneous gathering that included dancing, singing, palmas (hand clapping), or simply pounding in rhythm on an old orange crate or a table. Flamenco, in this context, is organic and dynamic: it adapted to the local talent, instrumentation, and mood of the audience.  

Or perhaps the people of Argentina should seek to disown the word, Tango, to refer to that uniquely native Argentine musical dance form. The word "tango" acquired the standard meaning of the place where African slaves and free blacks gathered to dance. 

It was there the compadritos took the tango back to the Corrales Viejos—the slaughterhouse district of Buenos Aires—and introduced it in various low-life establishments where dancing took place: bars, dance halls and brothels. It was here that the African rhythms met the Argentine milonga music (a fast-paced polka).  

Charlie Parker & Miles Davis
John Coltrane
Indigenous music of the poorest peoples of various societies have emerged as the quintessential music of each of their respective cultures and have become essential to their national identity.  I will stop using the word “jazz” when incomparable musicians like  Wayne Shorter, Roy Hargrove and saxophonists, Sonny Rollins, Joshua Redman and bassist Christian McBride decide to hang up their chops and take to the rocking chair.  

Thelonius Monk
When they all forget the lessons they learned from Bird, Dizz, Miles, Trane, Art, Max, Elvin, Oscar and yes, yes of course Monk, then I’ll stop talking about jazz.  What would I do without Miles’s Green Haze, Coltrane’s Blues to Elvin or Monk’s Round Midnight or Tristano's Requiem.   Until then, I’ll keep treasuring jazz as the most essential musical part of my life. 

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