Tuesday, July 27, 2010
What We Talk About When We Talk About Jazz
Last week, I caught Tony Bolden deliver a lecture on jazz at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, MO. He was speaking as part of the Making the Wright Connection NEH Institute.
During his talk, Tony provided some brief histories of the music, explaining how the very term "jazz" had been contested by musicians and its earliest commentators. Tony also drew on the wonderful archive of footage at the Jazz museum and showed clips of various other musicians, and he also played clips of the music.
In some ways, listening to Tony talk about the music gave us--the audience--firmer connections to what we were hearing. I was reminded that the conversations about jazz or any music for that matter can be central to a developing knowledge.
I met Tony years ago and read his book Afro-Blue: Improvisations in African American Poetry and Culture. I realized, too, as I did during that lecture, that I've gained quite a bit listening to him talk through the music.
In our talks over dinner or in passing at a conference, what we talk about when we talk about jazz ends up being a conversation about the music, its musicians, other music and musicians, politics, poetry, black and American culture, and our own approaches to writing about various cultural expressions.
It's interesting too that our conversations about jazz lead us to considerations of other musics, including the blues, funk, gospel, and R & B, and rap. Hmmmm, and now that I think about it, it's interesting that my discussions with folks about those other musics don't necessarily lead back to jazz.
Maybe I have to work harder to insert Trane into discussions about Jay Electronica. Or, I have to see to it that when folks mentioning Beyonce, I bring up Ella Fitzgerald and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Whatever the case, I'll keep conversing about the music and trying to highlight the links to black studies.