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Amiri Baraka (1934–2014)

Teoksen Blues People: Negro Music in White America tekijä

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Image credit: Library of Congress


Tekijän teokset

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Merkitty avainsanalla




Memory: discovering from an inscription in a chapbook that your sister once met Amiri Baraka.
Merkitty asiattomaksi
Kiramke | Jun 27, 2023 |
Excellent book on blues AND jazz by a brilliant writer. It wasn't quite the book I was expecting -- since I've read other books by Jones (Baraka) I was expecting more fiery rhetoric than is here. That said, this is a book that is as much about how the music(s) is/are based in African-American *experience* as it is about the music itself. You might find yourself puzzled (I was, initially) by the fact that many of your favorite artists -- if you are a blues fan -- are not here: there's no mention of Robert Johnson, or Charley Patton, or Skip James. I am guessing this may be because the book somewhat (though not entirely) predated the real explosion of interest in country blues that occupied the rest of the 1960s (Baraka cites books by Sam Charters and Paul Oliver that *do* mention some of these people, however).

The subtitle, "Negro Music in White America" really should give you a good idea of what this book focuses on -- music as an expression of, and outgrowth of, black experience. I look forward to reading *Black Music* which is a followup or companion to this volume.
… (lisätietoja)
Merkitty asiattomaksi
tungsten_peerts | 3 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Apr 3, 2023 |
To understand that you are black in a society where black is an extreme liability is one thing, but to understand that it is the society that is lacking and is impossibly deformed because of this lack, and not yourself, isolates you even more from that society. Fools or crazy men are easier to walk away from than people who are merely mistaken.

Blues People was published in 1963, when Jones (aka Amiri Baraka) was early in his career as a literary provocateur, the modern civil rights movement was soon to come to a head, and the New Thing in jazz was growing horns and wings in NYC. From an historical/sociological perspective, Jones argues that the music of African-Americans reflected the changes in the nature of their relationship with America. The phrase “blues people” comes from Ralph Ellison, who defined it as “those who accepted and lived close to their folk experience.” The phrase obtains a sharper critical thrust in Jones’ hands.

In Jones’ telling, black people in the U.S. have passed through a series of conditions—captive, slave, freeman, citizen—and their experience at each stage shaped the music that they made. Captured Africans were forced into an alien world where none of the familiar cultural references were available; their contact with Western slavery was strange and unnatural. The African came to realize that all the things he thought important were thought by the white man to be primitive nonsense, including his music, which contrasted with Western music in function and rhythm. Western musical concepts of ‘beauty’ and ‘regularity’ did not pertain to African music, which instead emphasizes rhythmic syncopation, polyphony & creative paraphrasing. ‘African culture was suppressed by constant contact with Euro-American culture and obscured by rapid (forced) acculturation,’ though the nonmaterial aspects of African culture were difficult to eradicate. Field hollers and work songs retained key elements of African music, even as the function of the music shifted. The spread of Christianity among slaves moved them further from Africa and traditional religious beliefs and practices, writes Jones, though their African heritage provided much of the emotional content to black Christianity.

Nothing too contentious so far. But Jones argues that the increasing prominence of the black church led to the development of a new theocracy and social mores which in turn enforced a new hierarchy. Blacks highest in the social and economic hierarchy (church elders and officers) emulated whites, and social stations among blacks began to mirror the structure of white society. The disdain that ‘high station’ blacks had for the lower class effectively signaled their acceptance of white superiority, writes Jones, and the new distinctions among blacks was reflected in black music: church spirituals (imitations of white hymns) were more melodic and musical than the field hollers, and the fiddle music and jig tunes of ‘the folk’ were judged as sinful. The legal end of slavery presented to the ‘negro masses’ a chance at a fuller life outside the church, though, with more opportunities for backsliding and indulging in ‘the devil’s music.’

Freemen entered a complicated situation of self-reliance and thus faced a multitude of social and cultural problems that they never had to deal with as slaves, and the music of blacks in the U.S. began to change to reflect these social and cultural complexities. Blues music developed because of the freeman’s adaptation to and adoption of America, says Jones, but was also a music that developed because of the freeman’s peculiar position in this county. Jones contrasts ‘primitive’ blues—developed as a music to be sung for pleasure, a casual music, folkloric—and ‘classical’ blues—which contained all the diverse and conflicting elements of black music plus the smoother emotional appeal of the performance. Classic blues became concerned with situations and ideas that were less precise, less obscure to white America, and the professionalism and broader meaning of classical blues made it a kind of stylized response, moving it in a way out of the lives of ‘the folk.’

The movement toward performance turned some of the emotional climate of the freeman’s life into artifact and entertainment.

When we get to the 20th c., with the advent of jazz, the Great Migration and the broadening experience of American blacks, Blues People becomes a critical tour de force. Jazz, as instrumental blues music with European instruments, illustrated another of the shifts in blacks’ relationship to America. The isolation that had nurtured the African-American musical tradition before the coming of jazz had largely disappeared by the mid-1920s, and many ‘foreign’ elements drifted into this broader instrumental music. A generation of educated black musicians in the 1920s and 30s (“for whom the blues was less direct,” says Jones) showed that jazz could absorb new elements and evolve without losing its identity. Sounds from the ‘hot’ brass bands of Louis Armstrong to the blues and stomp arranged for large bands (with Fletcher Henderson as the crucial figure) made black dance bands into a national phenomenon by the 1930s. Big dance-band jazz was played by black ‘citizens’, educated professionals who thought of themselves as performers (Duke Ellington, who “perfected big-band jazz and replaced a spontaneous collective music by a worked-out orchestral language,” earns only a kind of grudging respect from Jones). With jazz, writes Jones, black music became less secret and separate: acknowledgement by serious white musicians like Bix Beiderbecke and Nick LaRocca served to place black culture and society in a position of intelligent regard it had never enjoyed before. The emergence of the white jazz player meant that African-American culture had already become the reflection of a particular kind of American experience, and this experience was available intellectually; it could be learned. Black music did not become a completely American expression, then, until the white man could play it.

The migration of blacks out of the American South in the early 20th c. ‘erased one essential uniformity, the provinciality of place, the geographical and social constant,’ and henceforth there were to be such concepts as the ‘Northern Negro’ and ‘Southern Negro,’ country and city black, and a range of possible psychological and sociological reactions to life in the U.S. This movement into America stimulated the growth of a black middle class, writes Jones—a class ‘distinguished not only by an economic condition but by a way of looking at the society in which it exists.’ The black middle class formed around the proposition that it is better not to be black in a country where being black is a liability. (Jones sees a harbinger of middle-class black attitudes among the house servants and church officials of an earlier period and the ‘uptown’ Creoles of fin de siècle New Orleans). The black middle class believed that the best way to survive would be ‘to deny that there had ever been an Africa or a slavery or even a black man,’ and that the only way to be a citizen was ‘to disavow that he or his part of the culture had ever been anything but American.’

Again, black music came to reflect the conflicted relationship of blacks to life in America. City life revitalized the blues ‘with a kind of frenzy and extra-local vulgarity’ that had not been present before (ref. Kansas City as a regional center of the ‘shouting blues,’ Count Basie, Jay McShann, et. al.). Writes Jones, ‘it was almost as if the blues people were reacting against the softness and legitimacy that had crept into black instrumental music’ after whites got their hands on it. The black cultural consciousness stimulated by the war years and the emergence of rhythm & blues music were anathema to the black middle class—R&B because ‘it was contemporary and existed as a legitimate expression of a great many blacks, and as a gaudy reminder of the real origins of Negro music.’

The most original and interesting part of Blues People is Jones’ interpretation of the emergence of bebop in light of the discussion hitherto. He presents the music as a kind of deliberate project by young musicians to develop a form of individual expression that could not be diluted (or even necessarily understood) by the mainstream of American culture. According to Jones, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie all said at one time or another that they did not care if anyone listened to their music. (It’s easy to imagine them in 1942, afterhours at Minton’s, playing for themselves). The music derived from an attitude that distanced itself from ‘the protective and parochial atmosphere of the folk expression’ but also ‘put on a more intellectually and psychologically satisfying level the traditional separation and isolation of the black man from America.’

Ultimately, the form and content of Negro music in the 40s re-created, or reinforced, the social and historical alienation of the Negro in America, but in the Negro’s terms.

A bold polemic, necessary for its time, Blues People is one of the great American books.
… (lisätietoja)
Merkitty asiattomaksi
JazzBookJournal | 3 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Feb 8, 2021 |
This volume contains four essays making the case for reparations. Although written with the United States in mind, the topic is broadly applicable in the Caribbean as well. Published by St. Martin's House of Nehesi Publishers, with an introduction by Fabian Badejo.
Merkitty asiattomaksi
soualibra | Oct 16, 2020 |



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