Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Appropriation of Jazz Music

There has been a lot of discussion about the theft of black music, especially that genre called jazz. But the current face of this music: its promoters and practitioners as non-African is nothing new. When the music became popular and more importantly a money maker, all of a sudden was adopted by the hecklers as their music. It happened to blues and it's child with the "r" in it's name (Rhythm...), so why not "jazz," a label most "jazz" artists don't acknowledge, the term a derogatory one. But who looks at the etymology of words or the events they spawn anymore? For the most part, instead of preserving our heritage, African people react.

So onto the current controversy: the San Francisco Bay Area's decline in work for the people who made jazz music possible, black artists. There have been several great discussions hosted by radio host Doug Edwards, on his Saturday evening show: Ear Tyme on KPFA 94.1 FM ( last month. There was also an article in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle on page 1 (visit, and there is a meeting Sunday at the Oakland Conservatory of Music, Angela Wellman's place on Franklin and 16th Street in downtown Oakland at 3 p.m., for Black Musicians and those concerned about the preservation of the culture to meet and discuss next directions.

It's always good to meet black people who are doing positive things, but why in response to Yoshi's Jazz Club issuing their first compilation on Concord without noticing that there are no black musicians on the roster except Pancho Sanchez, who doesn't identify as African although he is certainly a brother? This is disheartening.

At the meeting last month, many in the room hadn't known the Oakland Conservatory existed, though most of them obviously knew each other, many in the audience famous folks. It felt like the gathering one has after a funeral where people say, "We should really try to get together at times other than these to catch up."

We really should.

I spoke to a brother yesterday who wanted to develop an infrastructure to respond to the Chronicle piece. Why do we need to respond other than tell the writer and the paper: well done. The writer accurately identified the problem, interviewed many of the key people involved in addressing the issue, read the email conversations and listened to Doug Edwards' last show.
Its great documentation. We can clip the article and move on.

What we need to do is support institutions like the Oakland Conservatory, SF Noir a presenting organization, Sankofa Cultural Institute, and develop other vehicles to produce, market and create opportunities for black cultural exchange and preservation.

Black people who never go to Yoshi's were upset by the release of the Concord CD; black people who never go to a jazz festival, whether it's free or paid, were upset. After the meeting at the Oakland Conservatory, where there was a recital, not many artists stayed behind to hear the children perform.

Some of the kids were black.

Linda Tillery spoke about why she started the Cultural Heritage Choir. She said it was to document our music, our treasures and to pass it on to the next generation. Well the same has to be done with jazz. If there are not opportunities for black people, especially children to learn about their culture and legacy then popular culture will shape their development and we know what that means: miseducation.

Last Thursday, Marcel Diallo hosted a free concert and community discussion at his Black New World on 8th and Pine in Oakland. This event which featured from New Orleans, the ReBirth Jazz Band, just off the plane from Paris, David Murray and Taj Mahal, Berkeley resident, was exactly what needs to happen more in black community.

Sometimes people think you have to travel out of the country for a cultural exchange program. You can cash in your frequent flier miles right here at home. We need to facilitate cultural exchange between African people here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Our people are acting up here in the Bay because they don't know where they come from. Some of the more enlightened youth talk about "back in the day." They need to know that it's not that far back and that black people are still doing great things right in their own neighborhoods. These social entrepreneurs just don't get the props or accolades or notice they deserve so they remain unknown.

But many of us know these people and its time we start working to reconnect the disconnected--plug into what's out there which is working and create avenues where they don't exist.

Note: Today, Saturday, June 2, on the front page of the Chronicle is the headline: Yoshi's Shamed, Pulls CD, or something like that. The word, "shamed" is the operative word, but really it was public pressure and good economic sense that went into this changed attitude because in another article the tone or view of Yoshi's was--it's a done deal folks, there is nothing we can do about it. Certainly the Chronicle is to be applauded for keeping the issue in the forefront. I think the club felt the ripples of the earthquake in their purses and decided the ire of African Americans in the San Francisco Bay was not worth defending a product former record producer and jazz historian, Orrin Keepnews said wasn't even that good in the first place.


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