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Assault on Black jazz artists


For those over 40, especially over 50, the foundation of the music they grew up with, and presently enjoy, is called Jazz. Originally, it evolved from traditional Afrikan instrumental music.

In a youth oriented society, promoted through entertainment and the mass media, there are small opportunities to really hear and enjoy, what the older group knows as real Jazz. What is presently promoted as Smooth Jazz is nothing more than melodic R&B instrumentals, coated with authentic musical elements, propagandized as jazz. Unfortunately, the younger generations are taught and believe that most of the instrumental music played on formatted radio stations, is really jazz. That is equivalent to teaching a child that concentrated and processed orange juice, is better than fresh squeezed.

One who knows, never has to have explained to them what the real thing is. Part of that evolves out of an Afrikan musical heritage. (The same musical elements that makeup traditional Afrikan music, are exactly the same as those used in all forms of Black music in America: multi-rhythmic patterns, blue scale, syncopation, improvisation, blue notes, yea saying, etc.)

The Afrikan, or Black musical legacy, originates in ancient Afrika. Multiple DNA studies have established that Afrikans, born in America, have an Afrikan ancestral origin. Knowing that, and what earlier generations went through–capture, the Middle Passage, slavery, oppression, stark racism, segregation–deliberately channeled to be an underdeveloped, ultimately stuck, underachieved, or failed people. These are the generational experiences that people of Afrikan descent, consciously or unconsciously, experience as their historical/cultural heritage. From that history, stories, feelings and pain, are the underpinnings of what creates Black music.

The genes, ancestry and culture of European descent musicians will not know what that is. Their history and culture reflects a completely different reality. Their soul, and music can never realistically express the fullness of the Afrikan experience. The depth of their jazz knowledge comes purely from the education of listening, learning, practicing, and playing their interpretations of what Black jazz artists have passed on. This is not to say that the music of musicians of European descent cannot reflect a high quality. Musicians such as: Stan Getz, Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Gerry Mulligan, Bill Evans, and several others have proven otherwise.

The main concern is, when we do have the opportunity to hear the music on radio stations, most abundant on the Internet, the majority of the artists played are of European descent. The large majority of radio personnel at various so-called jazz radio stations are of European descent. This is an issue that has ignited several discussions; not because of who they play, but who they do not play. The same thing happened in history. People of European descent took, and were given credit for most of the great things and great people on the earth.

Regarding today, with most of the music labeled jazz, there are some issues for consideration. There is a proliferation of soprano, alto sax players, and guitarists. The sax players, without going through a litany of several artists, but representative, are copying the smooth playing style of Grover Washington Jr. White sax players have sat on his doorstep for a long time, and continue to do so. Tenor saxophonists, who are not as prominent as alto and soprano sax artists today, or as commercially successful, play in the shadow of John Coltrane, preceded by Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Ben Webster, and others.

In the initial modern commercial jazz, Cannonball Adderley, alto sax, was the first to do so with his track, “This Here,” followed by “Mercy Mercy Mercy.” Cannonball was inspired by the greatest of all alto sax players, Charles “Yardbird” Parker. The next generation, so to speak, of commercial or popular jazz, was John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things.”

The so-called smooth jazz guitarists are basically imitating, or bouncing off the sound of Wes Montgomery, with various interpretations. In rock, it is Jimi Hendrix, originally an electric guitar blues player. Grover and Wes represented the foundation of the so-called smooth jazz movement, which really turns out to be melodic, instrumental R&B.

Intended or not, artists of Afrikan descent are having their music usurped. Black jazz artists are token additions on present day jazz radio station formats, with very few exceptions. It is not a blame thing. The focus is to fix it. A starting suggestion, instead of one out of five or six tunes played, how about every other tune played. That way, everybody gets play, and the listening audience will get a full diet of real jazz, from the artists who created it.

– Dr. Kwaku’s class, Afrikan World Civilizations, with all new lessons, is this Friday, 7-9 p.m., at 4343 Leimert Blvd. (corner of 43rd Place and Leimert Blvd.). See for details.

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