The Book Cooks
Wicked Theory, Naked Practice: A Fred Ho Reader
Edited by Diane C. Fujino
(University of Minnesota Press; Minneapolis/London)
Highlights in the History of "Jazz" Not Covered by Ken Burns:
A Request from Ishmael Reed
In the spring of 2001 , I met Ishmael Reed in Oakland, California, for lunch to discuss his writing an article for the anthology Afro Asia: Revolutionary Political and Cultural Connections between African Americans and Asian Americans, which I was working on with Professor Bill Mullen, then of the University of Texas–San Antonio. Ishmael agreed to write something, but in return asked that I send to him “ten important dates left out by Ken Burns in his documentary, Jazz.” I agreed, eager to cite what I believe to be significant dates to the confluence of music and liberation politics in the United States. The following is what I sent, with some revisions for this collection.
September 29, 1947
Premiere trumpeter “Dizzy” Gillespie introduces to the American “jazz” world Cuban congero Chano Pozo, and the “Latin-Jazz” or “Afro- Latin” sound is “born” at the historic concert at Carnegie Hall that featured the composition “Cubana Be, Cubana Bop.” This concert also marks Gillespie’s leading his first big band, which quickly establishes itself as one of the greatest big bands of all time. However, the development of “Latin-jazz,” as in all artistic fermentations, began much earlier. Cuban composer/band leader Mario Bauza recalls introducing Chano Pozo as a possible percussionist for Gillespie as early as 1939, and Gillespie’s own composition “A Night in Tunisia” (composed in 1942) reflects “Afro-Latin” rhythms. Besides “Cubana Be, Cubana Bop,” another popular “Afro-Latin-jazz” composition is “Manteca.”
Charles Mingus records “Fables of Faubus” as a sarcastic, pungent condemnation of segregationist-racist Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus.
Composer George Russell publishes his book Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, the first systematized revolutionary “jazz”music theory, which he first began to develop as early as 1953. Russell’stheory contributed to the growth of “modal” jazz. In his theory,improvisation could apply “horizontal” scales to “vertical” chords invarying degrees of consonance and dissonance. His system expandedthe possibilities for soloists and composers to develop melodic linesbeyond conventional harmony. Pianist Bill Evans and trumpeter/musical avatar Miles Davis were familiar with Russell’s theory andwere leading artists in the “modal” jazz of that time.
Charles Mingus in alliance with Max Roach, fed up with the exploitation of the Newport Jazz Festival, organized and self-produced the Breakaway Festival, an alternative festival occurring simultaneously with the Newport Festival. Mingus also started his own small labels during this time as an effort by musicians to control the means of their cultural production, a politically advanced cultural activist effort.
August 31 and September 6, 1960
In two recording sessions led by drummer/composer Max Roach, the Freedom Now Suite is recorded, supporting the struggle against both U.S. segregation and South African apartheid, a significant Pan-
African statement made by a musician. Roach’s stature across generations of musicians brought the tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins with younger artists such as singer Abbey Lincoln and saxophonist Booker Ervin together for this historic recording. Decades later, Roach continues to be a vanguard leader in his collaborations with younger, radical musicians, as shown in such works as his phenomenal duets with Anthony Braxton, Archie Shepp, Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand), Fab 5 Freddy, Cecil Taylor, and many others.
December 9 and 10, 1964
Tenor saxophonist/composer John Coltrane records A Love Supreme for Impulse! Records, an entire album-length suite that is consideredby many as one of the most influential recordings of all time, witha musical impact that extended far beyond “jazz” into many othermusical styles, as well as a signature recording for the generation ofthe 1960s.
July 17, 1967
John Coltrane dies in Huntington, New York, at the age of forty-one. By the time of his death, Coltrane had come to be regarded as the veritable musical shaman and avatar of the 1960s cultural revolution in Western society from his constant cross-cultural explorations and excursions beyond established musical parameters and norms. He was embraced by a whole generation of cultural radicals among blacks, whites, and many others as symbolizing the inexhaustible pursuer of truth, spiritual peace, and higher consciousness.
January 24, 1971
For 15 minutes on a national television broadcast, the Ed Sullivan Show is stormed by radical, militant black “jazz” musicians, including Archie Shepp, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and others, who seize the airtime before a national television audience to perform “free” music both to protest of the exclusion of “jazz” on network TV as well as to herald the revolutionary assertions of the new music.
September 10, 1976
Upon the death of Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong and the uprisings by Azanian (black South African) youth in Soweto in South Africa, Max Roach calls upon radical tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp and longtime friend bassist Charles Mingus (who, interestingly, did not like or respect Shepp) to perform two extended works, “Sweet Mao” and “South Africa ’76” while touring Italy at the behest of the Italian Communist Party. Mingus, as Roach tells it, was on contract signed to Atlantic Records, which wouldn’t allow him to do this, so the recording was made as a duet between Roach on drums and Shepp on tenor sax. This double album recording, simply entitled Force, won the Grand Prix du Disque, France’s highest recording award.
The First Asian American Jazz Festival, organized by the Kearny Street Workshop in San Francisco, featured two evenings of concerts at Fort Mason Center, produced by George Leong. The featured artists were Stockton Filipino American pianist Rudy Tenio; the Afro- Asian band United Front (with Japanese American bassist Mark Izu, African American alto saxophonist Lewis Jordan, African American trumpeter George Sams, and mixed-heritage Japanese–Black American drummer Anthony Brown); a band led by Japanese American saxophonist and shakuhachi (traditional Japanese vertical bamboo flute) player Russel Baba (with African American violinist Michael White and drummer Eddie Moore, who also played the saw); a trio led by Mark Izu with Paul Yamazaki on bass clarinet and Ray Collins on tenor and soprano saxes; and a young band with leader/drummer Guapo Lee (the stepson of Japanese American woodwindist Gerald Oshita), featuring the young tenor saxophonist Joshua Sherdoff (later known as Joshua Redman). The Asian American Jazz Festival has been an annual event and has the distinction of being founded a year before the more mainstream and larger-budget San Francisco Jazz Festival (formerly called Jazz in the City).
October 12, 1991
Persian American tenor saxophonist and composer Hafez Modirzadeh publically introduces “chromodal discourse” theory at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago during the 36th annual conference of the Society for Ethnomusicology. “Chromodal discourse” theory may be the latest revolutionary musical theoretical system since George Russell’s “Lydian concept” (Modirzadeh was a student of Russell’s at the New England Conservatory, where he first developed the “chromodal discourse” theory and documented it in his personal diary on September 20, 1983). Through a systematic application of alternative saxophone fingerings, Modirzadeh has applied a Persian “quarter tone” temperament system to Western diatonic harmony, skillfully maneuvering complex vertical chord changes such as those in Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” with a modal horizontality. His “chromodal discourse” theory was formally published in a copyrighted dissertation submitted April 15, 1992, and defended May 20, 1992, at Wesleyan University, a campus once known for its stellar World Music and African American Music programs. Modirzadeh’s dissertation committee was chaired by Jon Barlow and included Anthony Braxtonand Javanese gamelan Indonesian specialist Sumarsam. Modirzadehbegan to teach this theory in the fall semester of 1990 at San Jose State University. Through a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Composition fellowship, he performed and recorded various compositions demonstrating this theory on May 30, 1989, in San Francisco which were released in 1993. The following is Modirzadeh’s more detailed chronology of his chromodal discourse theory:
1. The concept was first articulated in late September of 1983, while [I was] attending the New England Conservatory, in Boston. George Russell’s course on Lydian Chromaticism encouraged the development of the theory. I entered in a journal, at that time, some of the following: “Can modality and tonality be brought together somehow?”; “To keep the essence of the mode . . . with chords that are colored themselves (with extensions)”; “The final goal should be to strive for a way to play over conventional jazz changes, but with new melodic material to draw from”; “. . . to expand the dastgah (Persian modal) system, and its tuning, into harmonic regions, giving it vertical sound as well as horizontal, while keeping it intact modally”; “and the tuning system should be kept intact, even when a western-tuned instrument is accompanying.” The theory continued to develop through stints in Los Angeles, at UCLA (1984–86), and while living in New York City (1987–89).
2. Due to [an] NEA Jazz Fellowship, on May 30th, 1989, three original compositions based on the theory were recorded in San Francisco, California. These were idiomatic transformations of “Stella By Starlight,” “Autumn Leaves,” and Monk’s “Round Midnight.”
3. During the Fall of 1990, the first formal teachings on “chromodal discourse” were integrated into the Jazz Studies program at San Jose State University. The introduction of “tetramodes,” “metricodes,” and “idiomatic transformation” were initialized into a practical cross-cultural approach.
4. “Chromodal Discourse,” as a then-new cross-cultural approach, was given its first professional introduction as a paper read at the 36th Annual Conference [of] the Society for Ethnomusicology, on October 10–13, 1991, at the Palmer House Hotel, in Chicago, Il. The reaction was not a memorable one.
5. On April 15, 1992, “Chromodality and the Cross-Cultural Exchange of Musical Structure” was submitted in dissertation form for the PhD at Wesleyan University, in Middletown, CT.
On May 20, 1992, Modirzadeh’s defense of the dissertation was held with committee members Sumarsam, Anthony Braxton, and Jon Barlow (chair). The dissertation represented an interdisciplinary philosophy in both music theory and practice through story-telling. For a listing of chromodal projects since then, refer to http://userwww.sfsu.edu/~fezmo, or simply type “Hafez Modirzadeh” into a search engine.
* * * *
Many criticisms have been levied against the highly touted and super-marketed Jazz by Ken Burns, including the fact that while only a recent lover of the “music,” Burns has virtually no expertise on the subject matter and relied heavily upon the perspectives and contacts of the Wynton Marsalis/Jazz at Lincoln Center cabal. While many valid criticisms regarding omissions and ideological biases were made by critics of the PBS series, I believe the main problem stemmed from its heavily propagandistic tone in support of Marsalis/Crouch/AlbertMurray/Ralph Ellison’s integrationist view of “jazz” as “American music.” The documentary seemed to denounce any black nationalist or Pan-Africanist ideologies or expressions, particularly the avant-garde of the 1960s. Branford Marsalis is featured denouncing Cecil Taylor as promoting “self-indulgent bullshit,” but Taylor is never afforded a response. No leading artists of the 1960s movement, many of whom are still alive (and some are quite articulate, such as Bill Dixon and Archie Shepp, among others), were interviewed. Furthermore, Wynton himself is called upon to pronounce the nexus between “race in America” and “jazz” in his stumbling, canned statement that “jazz” is the challenge to America to live up to its ideals and promises of democracy, freedom, ad nauseum.
This is the mainstream, pro-Yankee integrationist/imperialist political position regarding “jazz” as America’s “classical music,” which legitimates the music according to bourgeois, Eurocentric standards of American art. Rather than characterize the music as resistance to oppression (e.g., Archie Shepp’s lyrical metaphor, “Jazz is the lily in spite of the swamp”), or as a music that sounds the aspirations for freedom (implying that the struggle for freedom is both historical and ongoing), the integrationist-imperialist position proclaims “we are all Americans” and that the “music” is consistent with, rather than in contradiction with, the values espoused and practiced by this social system. It was Malcolm X who so clearly and sharply stated, “I’m not an American. I’m a victim of America,” and that “Democracy is disguised hypocrisy.”
The class struggle within the music of the African American (“New Afrikan”) nation is reflected in these two fundamental differing positions: music that stands with the oppressed nations and nationalities of the settler-colonialist multinational United States, or music that identifies with the oppressor United States, used by its State Department when sent on tours to Africa and the Third World to promote integrationism and the façade of democracy. Among the artists, this struggle is reflected in positions of artistic integrity and defiance versus accommodation to minstrelsy (watered-down commercial “jazz”) or bourgeois artistic pretensions (canonized classical music à la Marsalis).
Originally a personal exchange between Fred Ho and Ishmael Reed; later published in Shuffle Boil 5/6 (2006). Copyright 2009 by The Regents of the University of Minnesota.
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