Our music connects the United States to the Global South and to the Black radical tradition, in committed evolving solidarity to social justice and self-determination against White Supremacy and the patriarchy. Jazz can be an integral part of the revolution for Black liberation. Any true history of jazz, study of jazz, and any contemporary discourse around civil rights and intersectionality--unavoidable in jazz studies--absolutely must discuss race, patriarchal oppression, and racism explicitly. Scholars, institutions of education, music programs, media, and booking companies need to address several dimensions of racism, sexism, and dispossession in their policies including: hiring, educational, and business requirements. They must draw on Black intellectual traditions to assess and facilitate the historical, contemporary, and theoretical importance of Black intellectualism in aid of the establishment of a contemporary non- exclusionary, anti-sexist anti-racist community.
Jazz developed out of the blues of the Black south after Jim Crow laws were forced on Black America. The music was a reaction to White Supremacy and its consequences. Jazz is a revolutionary protest music. Jazz, in Black solidarity, is a noble rebellion. The origin of codified jazz education, which began in the 1960s, was an attempt by white people and well- intentioned Black educators to restore and preserve “classic” jazz. Because the nature of jazz is to be constantly transforming, this patriarchal campaign to preserve certain styles or modes actually became, not only an obstacle to the art form, but, due to the amount of money, infrastructure, and privilege afforded these programs, in effect carried out an accidental and wholesale theft of jazz. The creation of jazz studies programs in academia were attempts to intervene into exclusionary white patriarchal academic spaces. Although the motivation to create these programs was primarily to “save” jazz from its demise under the weight of White Supremacist and white-centered culture and colonization, the existence of many of these programs ultimately became agents of the ideologies they sought to avoid. The incarceration of thought through racism and patriarchy left no room for justice. As Angela Davis said, “The most difficult and urgent challenge today is that of creatively exploring new terrains of justice, where the prison no longer serves as our major anchor.” The music and art must serve justice, for Blackness, for women, for the future of fellowship in our human family. Institutions of education, media, and business have become prisons of thought. Both racism and patriarchy had a beginning, and now they MUST end.
Eric Dolphy & Charles Mingus
This phenomenon--in which an aspect of counterculture or revolution is diluted or destroyed via attempts to codify and legitimize it--is one example of many in the history of the late twentieth century, which was characterized by neoliberalism. The codification of jazz, above all other outcomes, resulted in its capitalization. Preservation yielded homogenization and palatability to those listening to the music outside of any historical, intellectual, or cultural context. It imprisoned jazz from itself and everything that defines it, which is the ongoing story of protest, evolution, and liberation. By pretending that jazz is not a method of having conversations and responding to the moment, by suppressing the oral history which is the foundation of jazz’s folk pedagogy, jazz education programs actually became arbiters of the marginalization of Black Americans, Black culture, and its co-conspirators in the liberation movement. Robin D.G. Kelley said, “Dispossession is spiritual theft.” In short, once again, Black people were dispossessed of what was theirs.
Curriculum is designed as a reflection of white male patriarchy and assimilationist “legit” principles. The White silence around the history of jazz as protest music in combination with the denial of the oral tradition within academia is only one form of violence upon and theft from Black being and intellect. Ask yourself, “Who judges the “diversity? Who judges the “inclusion? Who judges who graduates or gets accepted? Who judges who gets a job? Who judges what is “legit” and what is ‘fine arts’?” Protesting Black jazz musicians and their co-conspirators must be integrated in resistance to the cloning, homogeny, and sensibilities of white-centered patriarchal Americanism and “legit” protocols, procedures, and policy. Every turn in White America’s attempt to capitalize Blackness, humiliate Blackness, and make Blackness ready for production and distribution, is in direct response to the refusal of Blackness to segregate and assimilate. Black co-conspiratorial jazz was and is truth-- prophetic and direct, responsive and demanding.
The invention of these institutions which result in silencing Black art in the pursuit of the promotion of white comfort has endless examples of historical precedent. Throughout America’s history, running parallel to the history of jazz, the racist system used many tools of White supremacy to attack non-exclusionary protest, movements, and jazz, such as police brutality, local KKK organizations and rallies, and white-centered policies. Henry Ford had a racist mission to promote a white patriarchal and anti-semitic “wholesome” idealism by promoting white fiddle contests and square-dancing in public schools. In the political sphere, Woodrow Wilson’s racist patriarchal ideology was evident in the remarks that he made after viewing “The Birth of a Nation. He said, “It’s like writing history with lightning. My only regret is that it is all so terribly true.” Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr. and Herbert Hoover’s, “Better Homes in America” was a precursor to FDR’s HOLC redlining policies. All of these racist tactics used to demoralize, dehumanize, marginalize and capitalize on Black America’s creativity and voice systemically wove a veil over Black art and expression, excluding Black America from politics, radio, and clubs. It destroyed the natural development of community and culture in the pursuit of white capital, thus replacing it with first a segregationist (Jim Crow) and then an assimilationist (Neo-Liberal) narrative. Throughout, Black women have always fought for social justice and equity--from long before Harriet Tubman’s campaign to free over 750 enslaved people in 1863, at the Combahee River in South Carolina to the Combahee River Collective in the 1970’s, till now. In the meantime, many Black and white co-conspirator jazz musicians were highly engaged in the protest for social justice and the fight for equity, not only in their music, but in their communities, on tour, and beyond. True social justice and equity must also explicitly include Black intersectional feminist creativity and scholarship, and develop new tools and tactics to revolutionize this broken patriarchal ideology. Again, justice and true peace will only come through dialogue and collaboration with Black women.
Blues are the root of the sound of Black protest, Black women’s labor, resistance, refusal and uprising against white tyranny, patriarchy, and supremacy. If you take the story of Black America and the blues out of American music, it is just an intra european class expression. It is the sound of integration, fellowship, collaboration and connection among all people. The blues is where you find solidarity with the Black struggle, and work to create a world that is anti-racist anti-sexist and equitable. To paraphrase Paul Robeson, we’re not trying to “save” humanity, we are working to SEE humanity, to let humanity be. Therefore, Jazz, art, and educational institutions and outreach should be anti-racist anti-sexist protests and direct interventions into the white supremacist/white-centered education, narrative, and racial capitalistic neoliberal “fine arts” exclusionary patriarchal system.