Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org &
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Jim Europe’s Hell Fighters
email to bk:
|I remind you that I caught part of Part I of Ken Burns’ Jazz on broadcast, presumably when it was fresh and new, but that’s all I saw. Now years later, the library has the whole series on tape, so at long last I get to see all of Part I, get to see whether it’s Wynton or Branford Marsalis making the macroinformational points about both devils and angels being squeezed into the music, and get to hear again some of the names I wasn’t quite sure of the first time around: Jim Europe. I also get to see Part 2 and will in sequence see all of the rest.
The Creole were “classically” trained and very musical before the Civil War. After Reconstruction, all “blacks” were leveled to being under the white boot. Creoles found themselves demoted to the cellar and forced to play with ex-slaves. The “white” folks thought all the “black” folks were ex-slaves, subject not only to Jim Crow but to ignorant and prejudiced mythology.
Jack Johnson wrapped his dick with gauze in preparing to spar before a paying public. That’s so delicious. The racists paying their precious money to bamboozle themselves about Negro virility and prodigy of equipment. You know that’s a favorite story of mine and I know you’ve repeated it yourself.
Well, now I add Jim Europe’s innovations to it. But add that though Europe did the following, he was neither the first or the last to do it. James Galway, eg, advised his students never to play anything without having first memorized the sheet music. Never use a metronome; keep time in your head. Of course this is master’s advice, not for beginners. Like Zen archery. It’s no good telling the novice not to think about what he’s doing. Mastery will never be achieved. It’s the expert who doesn’t want to stumble himself by looking at the keys, the beginner has to have his fingers placed on C E & G and on B F & G again and again. Anyway, that’s what Jim Europe did. He was the best musically “literate” band leader around and he was Creole. So if Irene Castle hadn’t hired him and if Irene Castle weren’t herself so unimpeachably “white European” in her bearing, Jim Europe wouldn’t have found the audience he did and the audience would have been deprived of him.
So Europe knew the audience myths about black “ignorance.” This was all after all in the middle of the Romantic Age, an Age produced by Industrialism. We got rich by destroying everything, so now we long for “noble savages.”
Jim Europe provided them. He had his men rehearsed to perfection: like Horace Silver’s band, like Michael Jackson’s dancing: 16th note perfect. But it was only in rehearsal that they were allowed the sheet music. And that’s where Maestro Europe does seem to have been the first: he deliberately let the audience think that his drilled professionals were idiot savants! They paid their money to deceive themselves!
And the Creole got a little bit of their own back. And prospered.
They paid their money to deceive themselves.
2005 01 24 I just emailed bk a reminder of the above to set the context for a story I see as very much related. The final chapter of James Wood’s Global Change tells of his researching popular music in Puerto Rico in 1968. He began by sorting what he saw on the juke boxes into folk music, native music, and music invading from the outside: corruption. He then learned that what he was regarding as the native music, had been encouraged to regard as the native music, was recorded in Hialeah, FL by musicians who toured the major venues.
The “whites” who saw Jim Europe and troupe aren’t the only ones to deceive themselves. Wood has undeceived himself in the area of Puerto Rican music and in many another area as well. Let’s more of us join him.
The reading is nostalgic for me in a way I hadn’t anticipated. Wood combines geography with commerce, agriculture, sugar, slavery, population movements, subsistence living … Much of it parallels the researches and teachings of Ivan Illich at CIDOC, Cuernavaca. I had at least partly been there before.