Black Music, White America

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Personal / Stories / Themes / Music & Art /

Preamble 2004 11

Extending what I started to say about Black Music, White America in 1995, on first starting my home page, has been put off and put off. The most important things are the hardest to gird for, the easiest to postpone. There are greater crimes in the history of kleptocracy than what “whites” did to “blacks” but none that I feel so deeply ashamed of: because I love the music so. I just scribbled the following to bk as an email:

Illich would hold the mike and say, “Don’t you see that I’m oppressing you?”

Marge drags the Simpsons to Carmen. The ensemble goes into Toreador; Bart sings the rude version. Homer laughs, Marge is scandalized and shushes him.

Your mother [Hilary] and I attended a Bolshoi Swan Lake shoved into Madison Square Garden. The acoustics were abominable. The Colby hockey arena is the only venue I’ve ever been in with worse acoustics.
Understand, this was the FIRST Bolshoi appearance in the US. Hilary and I very much wanted to see the legend. But they were Rouskies: and the local union would permit no such culture. “Hey, Louie,” one worker calls across the stadium as the orchestra, the dancers, the devotees are deep into the famously flagrant D minor. “Whadya have for lunch?” “Liverwurst,” Louis calls back.

And the poor orchestra tries to play, the poor dancers tried to dance, and poor H&P tried to listen and watch.

Amadeus shows the cheap seats singing along with the Mozart: singing along WITH, not sniping against.

When Beethoven debuted the Eroica, the audience would have been rapt: they cared about Napoleon, they cared about the music: mostly FOR.
Now we’re enslaved to it, have to shush. Ruined for ever.

Birdland: the audience was with the music or impervious to the music depending on the night of the week and the hour. The early crowd thought the music was for them: like the guy fucking and getting fucked while Jelly Roll played. The john was the genius; Jelly Roll was just the n-. Same as the whore. Just another n-. [Bowdlerizing K., 2016 08 03 Offensive terms go dosido in fashion.]

The late crowd was for the music. Pres, the Count, Miles … was the genius; the crowd was the worshipper.

If the early crowd clapped “in time,” it clapped out of time, couldn’t follow the time, never got the syncopation right, and was always ahead of the beat. For the longest time (still a little), I too [was] always ahead of the beat. Muddy always knows EXACTLY where the beat is. Ray Charles. Michael Jackson. EXACTLY! The later crowd may have been too cool to clap because it didn’t want to show how bad it was. The early crowd was oblivious to the possibility of its being spastic. (Like Bush is oblivious to the certainty that he’s a moron!)

The cheap seats for Mozart knew where the beat was because it was their beat, it was their music, it was their culture. The Maguire Sisters, clapping out of time to Basie, were slumming. Basie was NOT their music, their culture: their culture was imitating Basie, getting it wrong.

The debut audience for Carmen would have shut up. They didn’t know it yet. Leave the performance to the pros. But they would have anticipated that the music would become theirs, that they’d be able to follow it.

Not at all like Nelson Rockefeller looking at a Picasso, the Picasso that he would soon OWN: and not have to understand or resonate with.

The stimulus for the note was my trying to catch up on the Simpsons by renting the DVDs. I’m bailing out of Disk 1, trying to explain to bk, who loves the Simpsons and has long recommended it, and making side comments that I snatch over to here: many of the considerations being relevant.

bk got the MS: public gets an already edited version. Quotes are supposed to be quoted? I can’t help revising. Not these days.

bk needs no explanation for the Jelly Roll reference, but the public may: see Ken Burns jazz history series for PBS. The customer at the black whore house would have believed himself the star of the activities; Jelly Roll, watching him get laid trough the peep hole and improvising piano rolls, crescendi, etc. as appropriate was just the piano player.

Seven centuries ago Chaucer equated poetry and fame. He meant that his poetry sang the fame of the duchess, the king … Ironically, Chaucer became famous, the poet!, and we’ve forgotten the duchess, the king (except for his poem about them!) Jelly Roll became famous: and nobody gives a damn about the john who came and went from the whore house.

I tell you: learn a Jelly Roll piece. Study the harmony. Ponder the progressions. Try I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say …” for example. Then figure who the genius was.

OK: that Eb, Ab6/A diminished has been used a jillion times since; but who ever played it BEFORE Jelly Roll? (Can’t tell: too much music lost. But still I bet it wasn’t many: probably none.) Or how about the substitution of the II for the IV? That’s jazz, man. Familiar now; but not then.

Civilization is our word for human culture as something positive. Kleptocracy is Jared Diamond’s more negative coinage for the same thing. In On the Waterfront the union’s intellectual, with a semester of college, played by Rod Steiger, says “We’re entitled to it — if we can take it.” That’s the morality of civilization. God gave Canaan to the Jews if they could take if; God gave America to the White man, because he could take it. Then the Christians enslaved the natives to work the silver mines. Then, conscience stricken, a priest talked the Christians into enslaving black Africans instead: out of sheer humanity.

It’s your music:
and you’re gonna lose it.

Warming By the Devil’s Fire
on young blacks and the blues

These black Africans came from all over hell and gone. Africa is a big continent: the continent that birthed humans (according to the latest and best evidence). When the slavers found great prospering cities in Africa, as big, as prosperous, as clean, as Amsterdam (but without gun powder powered fire arms, then burned them, scattered the ashes, took the people. In the markets the slaves were stripped of their identity: like boot camp. Families were broken up. Slaves were regrouped so they would have no family, no religion, no language in common. In their new locations they were forced to learn the new local language: so often English. They of course were not permitted to learn it well.

But: the slaves were still human. Still had that DNA. The women were raped, seduced, whatever it took. But a funny thing happened: the slaves were therefore cross-breeding, while the slavers were still in-breeding. The slaves had a Sgt. Pepper mishmash of cultures imposed on them; the slavers stuck to whatever European hovel with pretensions they came from. So: when it came to mixing new things, the slaves had advantage after advantage thrust on them.

Jelly Roll Morton
thanks, all-about-jazz
Do you know what “Jelly Roll” is slang for?

(Work song goes, “Georg-an women Yeah Got a sweet jelly roll, Well-a.)

Anyway, in music, it’s obvious what happened. The new life, the new form, the new vitality … came from the slaves: and ex-slaves: and descendants of ex-slaves. Now among the slavers, there are always those ready for change: especially among the most despised of the slavers (and the slavers’ servant / allies): Jews, for example. Next thing you know, not only do you have Scott Joplin, and Buddy Bolden, and Jelly Roll Morton, and King Oliver, Kid Ory, Jack Teagarden, Louis Armstrong, etc. … Not only do you have Skip James, and Leadbelly, and Muddy Waters … But we have Bix Biderbecke, Eddie Condon, Jimmy (and Marion) MacPartland, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, and Harry James.

One of these days, and it won’t be long,
You’ll call my name, and I’ll be gone.

familiar folk theme

Jazz is black music: deracinated from any roots. Jazz is also, inextricably, a cross breeding. You can’t subtract the African from jazz; neither can you subtract the European part: what the educated Creoles brought, what James Europe brought, what Benny Goodman and his lot brought: mixing in Eastern, Arabic, Jewish … Mixing in Mozart and Dubussy and Ravel.

Actually you can subtract many elements: so long as you realize that what you’re talking about is New Orleans Dixie, Chicago Dixie, Delta blues, Delta work song … But jazz (originally fucking music) is the mix. Jazz is EVERYTHING that happened.

I resist the temptation to move this next comment to a footnote: I’ll string it right here:
The slave trade centered in West Africa. A kind of English was spoken. Slaver English picked up lots of West African words: from a bridge hand of local languages. Jass, bug, hip, cat … these words came into English from the slave trade. And jazz and its homophones meant copulation. In America, in New Orleans, it was the music played at the whore houses, in the honkey tonks (same thing). There: honkey: I bet that’s West African too: West African for the white invaders. (2012 05 22 Just saw an etymology offered by The Straight Dope.)

Well: the problem with invaders is to appropriate what they absorb from what they invade. No problem: just take it: say it’s yours. Keep saying it: and your children will believe you.

Buddy Bolden turned down the opportunity to make the first jazz record! So a white Dixieland band specializing in barnyard acoustic humor took it. Then they said THEY invented it. Said it for decades. (That record was cute. I too love pig farts and such from the brass and reeds. But if you really want to hear a band go wild with sounds of the body — fucking, sucking, and a lot of farts too — listen to the Charlie Mingus band!) (Eat some chitterlings while you listen!)

The blues isn’t the blues.
No: it’s the cure for the blues.
It’s medicine.

I’ll continue this in a bit: get to my main point: about appropriation. First I’m going to string some things in and mount the result.

Dissonance is our life in America.
Duke Ellington

Ellington pic from harlemworld evaporated

A series of recent emails to bkMarcus:
Duke, Prince
(I had just been talking to bk about Will Smith as an amazing star because he seems to comfortable with himself while being so normal: yet he’s from the traditionally despised group!)

Will Smith seems perfectly comfortable with himself, his family, his school, his society, his government, with the female sex, with his fellow males, doesn’t seem to bear grudges, resentments … yet doesn’t seem stupid; on the contrary, seems smarter than average.

Just listening to Duke. playing in London. 1963. Same stuff, same band, same soloists I thrilled to in 1954, 1955. Now it’s 2004, December, and I’m listening to it again.

In 1954 the white audience listened with condescension, I imagine the 1963 audience listening as more on a level if not looking up a bit.

And Duke recalls what I just said about the Fresh Prince. Duke fit in. If others thought he didn’t; he thought he did.

I bet the Babe’s fellow Yankees wouldn’t dare walk into some swank place. With the Babe, they would. Not that Babe would have himself invited them, till invited to believe himself worshipped everywhere. then find himself more right than wrong.

Duke dressed HIMSELF as a “duke” from an early age. His mother may have taught him, but he got the lesson.

Duke & Miles

Duke was born in DC. Was raised to fit. He fitted. The socket may not have been comfortable but the plug was comfortable.

In other words, Duke wrote black music, put together the Yankee team of black stars, but presented it, once the music spread into white society, like a white man. Duke and Guy Lombardo were not that different as businessmen.

Miles was born in St Louis. Father quite successful financially. land, horses. Julliard.

Jack Elliot chased Woody around. Dylan chased Jack and Woody around. Miles chased Bird around.

Bird was not from Duke’s mother or from Miles’ father. Bird was black black. Bird was from the po’ farm, a n- hick.

Miles chased Bird around and DECIDED to be black black; though he could easily have put on a tux and followed Guy Lombardo around. Guy would NOT have heard what he was playing. Duke’s bosses had NOT heard what the young Duke was playing. Miles knew (more right than wrong) that only BLACK people would hear what he was trying to do with Bird: at least at first.

So when white society embraced Duke in his tux, he was all soft and cuddly. when white society tried to say to Miles, Oh, that’s nice, Miles got all hard and prickly. Became a junkie. acted like a junkie even when he wasn’t strung out on H.

pk now adds:

Except of course for all those Italian designer cloths!

2012 05 22 Whew. I’ve blended a couple of 2000s K. files and may yet read in another related couple or three. Yes, speaking of black black: coming up, Thelonius Monk! The black conspicuous as a leader in insisting on black black, getting away with it (sort of).

Thelonius Monk
thanks, rovicorp

One time I’m riding the IRT local. Some big dude, shaggy overcoat, comes into the car. He’s wearing a hat, you know, the way certain people can: with style: utterly personal. He marches down the car: two step: one, two, one, two … Military: left, right. He stops at the center post, mid-car. He beats like some manual of arms on the steel post. Some people got up and left: intimidated by this big black dude, I guess. Cat didn’t look very dangerous to me: maybe to himself. He marches to the end of the car; about face, back to the middle, the post: and another manual of arms “paradiddle.”

Cheez! Suddenly I recognize him. It’s Monk!

K. had a note that I had another Monk story already in my Journal (Manhole Street Prank.) Wrong: it was a Mingus story!
All these censored-K. posts are resurrections, the originals got zapped by the hypocrite fed: Macbeth murdering the witnesses to the murders.

Something strongly implicit above I’ll comment explicitly as I can:
In puberty, a smeared trumpet note from the Bob Cosby orchestra on radio got my attention: woke my gonads up. “Blues,” some actor said. Never mind what a script writer for a show for Bob Cosby would mean by blues: I was in love, forever.
But it was like my Christianity, my reverence for “blues”: it wasn’t shared by those around me. Oh, yes, the Christians say: Jesus: without it meaning a thing (in terms of changing their life!) Oh, yes, the neighboring suburbanites say: blues: I got rhythm, cha cha, and they go into condescending blackface.
I had no choice but to accept that; it didn’t become intolerable to me until after my friends, for years, had shown no idea what it was that I was recommending to them — Dave Brubeck, Lester Young, started to say, Oh, yeah, listen to that! at the rhythm and blues that was just coming to be called RockNRoll. Chuck Berry is wonderful; but not wonderful like Lester Young. Fats Domino is wonderful; but no wonderful like Horace Silver.

College, Columbia, was a different world. There were suburbanites just like my high school fellows, but there were also knowledgeable jazz nuts: musicians: guys who knew it! and could play it!! or some approximation of it.

(We’ll never know what might had come out of any horn I’d been trained on as a child because I wasn’t trained on any. When I begged for sax lessons I was given excuses I’ll link to reports of later. Bottom line: my family, my school, my society did not want any white jazz respecters, especially if they could wiggle rhythmically like they had no bones and only rubber for joints. We were breeding lawyers, doctors, professionals; not n- lovers.

N- Lover! That’s what my “friends” called me! 1954, 1955, 1956 …)

But stepping back to high school, what had really pissed me off, was when the guy who’s shrugged at Brubeck, at Duke, were suddenly madly following Elvis Presley?

Presley was good, Presley was very good: but: how come they didn’t already know Blue Suade Shoes? I did. And I knew jail-house rock predecessors.
Elvis’ fame, however deserved by Elvis, was disgusting evidence of economic and cultural racism.

And my jazz musician friends in college knew so, thought so, too, exactly. Rapidly, as a matter of fact. I was trying to erase prejudice; white jazz musicians were avidly enforcing racist prejudice: in favor of the blacks.
My (black) roomie Bernie tormented my (white) roomie Myron asking him if he wanted him, Bernie, to smear him, Myron, with shoe polish.
So: there were reverse absurdities; but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t all absurd, and obscene, and unChristian … to begin with.

Eventually, I’d turn again my culture in lots of ways, in nearly all ways, but that was where I got my first or second practice: first, trying to be a Christian in a culture of hypocrites, second, trying to be fair about musical, cultural genius, among BooBooZee grab-and-holders: kleptocrats, thieves … morons … bureaucrats, experts, the schooled … Ugh.

Ladies Sing the Blues

There are so many things in our history I’m ashamed of. So much of what I love is poisoned. 2016 09 04 I’m watching a doc called Ladies Sing the Blues. It celebrates Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, and Billie Holliday and strings a bunch of others in their wake: Lena Horne, Peggy Lee … The camera closes in on Billie and my knees buckle, tears blur my vision. But not till after I’m ready to puke at how the whole thing is presented: Bessie is presented as drunk, falling over at a bar. The bar’s business is brisk, Bessie is ready to fall in a heap. Dickens has a character who’s a Jew, the Jew has to be presented as a crook, a corrupter of children. We show a black genius? Show her as self-incapacitated. Human society will never live that history down: and it shouldn’t: shouldn’t be able to.

Apropos, Things to Know
Lady Sings the Blues is the immortal title of a Billie Holliday album, issued the same year as her autobiography. Know further, Lady Day was one of Billie’s nicknames. That’s all positive; but here’s negative: Ladies Sing the Blues opens (as just mentioned) with Bessie Smith pretending to be drunk and falling down at a bar as she sings St. Louie Woman. If you know the blues you know that St. Louie Blues is not a blues! Or it’s a loose blues, not a strict blues. The blues is a form. Like a sonnet is a form: “I could write a sonnet about your Easter bonnet” is not a sonnet!

OK, I concede, words mean what the speaker means, not what the English teacher says. But those who care about meaning should stand up for meaning. How many baseball fans would tolerate an ignoramus talking about “baseball” meaning a game with six innings two outs per inning, two strikes per out …? No, no: we should learning meanings, and respect them. The blues is not just any damn thing, the blues is the blues.

Actually the blues is a choice of things, depending on what company you’re in. The jazz meaning is looser than the folk meaning, or the blues meaning. Delta blues is stricter than say Chicago blues.

More than one thing is hinted at:
The blues is twelve bars.
The A material is repeated.
The blues scale is used. Inclusion of the “blue” note is essential. (In C listen carefully to the character of the sixth.) The third is flattened, the fifth may be flattened, the sixths and sevenths are probably flattened too.

St Louis Blues is a blues because people who don’t know what “blues” means think it’s a blues. There’s no legitimacy to their thinking: or speaking. This needs editing.

Gettin’ old, I should have written about these things when I knew better what I was talking about.

2017 01 12 email to bk

The Story of Gospel Music
Jeez, if I’d known I was going to learn something I would have
streamed this months and years ago.
1800s, the slave owners noticed that the slaves singing with their
drums were actually communicating, coordinating things: running off,
arson, sabotage. So the slavers took the drums away from the slaves.
But they didn’t stop them from singing! and the slaves incorporated
their ancient percussive music into their VOICES!
They saved the drum without the drum.

I knew that Amazing Grace was written by a ships captain, I did not
know that he was a slaver, his ship a slave ship.

2017 04 09 How many times have I told about first being ravished by a blues trumpet with smeared notes on the radio, the Bob Cosby Show? How many times just since 1995 and the launching of my private domains? How about just since 2000?
I was just reading comments on basketball as the home of the most globally recognized athletes, about its stars, Steph Curry for example, as the most exciting conveyors of our culture?
Now: see those two things as almost the same! The black part of the culture is what’s most exciting, the most in demand, all over the world.
Drinking in the Old Reliable in the early 1960s hoards of blond white girl ready to do anything for the most ordinary vulgar black guys: their taboo more exciting than a vibrator.

Embarrassing Slave Joke
2018 03 27 Sixth or seventh grade I improvised a joke that now haunts me. I adored Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory … Benny Goodman. I despised, heeld in contempt the people who told me that Americans honored freedom, who made me go to school to tell me that. Acid boiled in my mouth as I contemplated popular music, music for people deaf to Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory. I wise cracked: I wish slavery would be brough back: then I could buy Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory, Lioneal Hampton … I’d have the monopoly on genius, on feeling, on excellence.; and the peple who enslave me, pen me in their schools, would have nothing. Nothing. Nothing bu money.

Did I really imaggine that I’d have money? More money than Louis? Enough money to buy Louis!??

It was a joke. I was exploring irony, too young to explore it well. It shivers my timbers to recall to poor taste.

Stories by Theme

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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