From: Angelika Beener
Dear Nate, Aaron, Joe and Kelvin,
Agreed, Aaron. This is a real privilege and just pure fun.
Not sure where to start as there have been so many great responses and points to spring from. Kelvin, I agree that the scope of the jazz controversies hasn’t changed a whole lot, but in some sense that’s what makes the discussion fascinating, if not imperative. I think the general concern (sorry to lump it that way) has less to do with creative choice per se, and more to do with inarguable cultural deliquesce. Any other descendants of a cultural art form would be concerned about the same issues, yet somehow when it comes to jazz, this is absurd, petty, narrow thinking.
In an interview for my blog with pianist Geri Allen, she said it best: “There is a basic issue of connectedness to the culture, and the musicians... have to make an investment in that... This is the norm with other world musics; you must deal with the cultural criteria. That premise is understood by artists, students, and scholars alike universally. Why is this language a problem when it comes to jazz, why does this idea rattle some people today?”
Vijay Iyer has come up a lot in our discussions, and with good reason. But beyond his kick-ass album released this year, he is also a supporter of this concept. (I won’t put words in his mouth, you can read his own here.) So this is not about race in the context that some would conveniently hope. You have to dig deeper, and be honest with yourself to really get it. But that’s what jazz is, isn’t it?
Aaron brought up the important issue of education. Not only is there financial crisis in terms of jazz education, but the disproportionate racial profile is indicative of the problem many don’t want to admit exists later on in the professional arena. I just interviewed 2011 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition winner Kris Bowers, who talked about being among the three or four Black students in the jazz department at his Los Angeles high school.
Andrew Councill for The New York Times
I attended one of the most recognized performing arts high school in the country, myself. I can vouch for the same ridiculous ratio... right here in New York City. Is this acceptable? What do the administrations and faculties at these schools have in place to actively seek more balanced diversity in music programs on the high school and collegiate level? Heck, even my son’s pre-school has a diversity committee. Are they going into the churches, which is where 90% of young, Black musicians are being developed and fostered, for example? I’m just saying. If the educational system is skewed, surely we have to fathom that this domino affect doesn’t magically correct itself in the recording industry. It’s a real problem, with real repercussions, as Allen warned in our interview.
She referenced her cultural heroes Mary Lou Williams and Dr. Billy Taylor quite a bit in our talk, and I think it’s wonderful how much Dr. Taylor’s legacy is impacting the future of this music, from Moran filling his colossal shoes at the Kennedy Center to paving the way for opportunities like Wynton Marsalis’ recent and latest appointment as CBS News cultural correspondent, contributing to “CBS This Morning” and “CBS Sunday Morning.” (When does this man sleep?) By the way, Kelvin, I totally understand the unsettled feeling about the JALC/Qatar thing. If there is one outward expression that Marsalis can always get out of me it’s the eye-squinting, lips pressed together, head rock from side-to-side move. There’s always a tinge of “Ummm....????” Nevertheless, I’m excited to see what he will bring to the table on a weekly basis.
I was at the Blue Note club for the Glasper Experiment featuring Lupe Fiasco show when Mos Def and Kanye West sat in. That was life changing. Some other mention-worthy performances I caught this year were Herbie Hancock at the 54th Monterey Jazz Festival, and the Jason Moran produced 713 ---> 212 shows at the 92nd St. Y. I wish so badly that I was able to make Ambrose Akinmusire’s Carnegie Hall debut with his big band. Did anyone here go?
Akinmusire’s Blue Note debut made my Top 10 of 2011 list (What’s New? Pun intended.) My favorite album of 2011 has not made a lot of “Best Of” lists that I’ve seen, but Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner’s The Golden Age of Apocalypse is the greatest sleeper of the year.