When Jazz Ain't Jazz
By Marvin X
I recently attended the UC Berkeley Jazz Festival at the Greek Theatre. The audience was full of Black people, thus you know it wasn't a jazz festival. In the Bay Area, jazz festivals and venues such as Yoshi's are usually full of white people so if the Greek Theatre was full of Blacks, you know it wasn't jazz, maybe cool jazz or smooth jazz or fusion jazz, or Latin jazz but not jazz, not real jazz or more properly Black classical music, the most conscious music of the Black nation in the wilderness of North America.
Chaka Khan, KEM, Will Downing, Gorge Duke, Stanley Clarke are all great musicians and they performed great music, but I wouldn't call it jazz, not the jazz I know, like Sun Ra, Pharaoh Saunders, Coltrane, Miles Davis, Chicago Art Ensemble. George and Stanley did perform one number on acoustic bass and piano, “Autumn Leaves,” that was truly jazz, but most of the jazz festival music must be considered soul, neo-soul, blues, whatever, but not jazz.
Although I love all Black music, I wouldn't have paid $55.00 to sit on the grass to hear what I heard, except it gave me the opportunity to spend time with my lady friend, away from the computer, away from concern about the state of the Black nation. Still, I was/am concerned about the state of black art, especially black Music. During the years I was a dope addict, music was absent from my life, even though before dope music was an essential part of my being, including performing with Sun Ra for many years, coast to coast.
And even now I prefer reading poetry with Bay Area musicians such as harpist Destiny, violinist Tarika Lewis, djembe master Tacuma King, and more recently keyboard master Elliott Bey. While in Philly, I recorded a DVD with the remaining members of Sun Ra's Arkestra, Danny Thompson, Noel, and Marshall Allen, also Rufus Harley (I understand he made his transition a few days ago, peace be upon him), and Elliott Bey. So I can't take Miller Lite jazz. I got to have it full strength, pure, unadulterated.
Thus, I left the Greek Theatre disappointed, since it was a long concert with long set changes and cold weather as the fog descended on the Bay. Chaka Khan was just getting started as I was leaving along with quite a few other concert goers.
This past Sunday, I got to hear and perform with some real jazz musicians. Brother Ghasem, a longtime Bay Area fixture had come into town from Europe and performed at Anna's in Berkeley. When the set began, my woman friend said, "I see what you mean, now this is jazz." Indeed it was what I was accustomed to appreciating as jazz. All the local musicians were present, including E.W. Wainwright, Brother Khalil Shaheed, and Destiny on harp. There were poets Reginald Lockett and myself, and dancers Deborah Vaughn and Anisa in the audience. Also painter Arthur Monroe.
Ghasem, overcome with emotion, kept noting from the mike, "This is a family affair." Indeed it was since it began with a naming ceremony for his new daughter.
Ghasem is certainly one of the best musicians out of the Bay Area, on the level with Bobby Hutcherson, Dewey and Josh Redman, bassists Rafael Garrett, James Leary; drummers Bill Sommers, Babatunde Lea, Butch Haynes, Yancey Taylor on vibes, and so many others.
Ghasem invited me to read during the poetry portal. I decided to read “What If.” It was the best reading of the poem to date as members of the audience noted. One person said they heard me at the Malcolm X Jazz Festival, but this was much better. I agreed. I simply floated on the bed of music behind me, like I was on a magic carpet. I kept hearing Ghasem and Destiny doing a call and response with me, "No God but God, No God but God, No God But God." This was jazz, or shall we call it jazzoetry. Reginald Lockett followed me with a poem on the theme of healing. Reginald has been with the Black Arts Movement since the 1967 Black House that Eldridge Cleaver, Ed Bullins and I founded.
My friend noted that if Blacks heard this real jazz they would appreciate it. Somehow we must get it to them. Don't expect to hear it on the radio, certainly not on the station that sponsored the Berkeley Jazz Fest, KBLX. And even the so called jazz stations don't play real jazz, as if they are afraid of the music. I must agree real jazz is powerful, it can make you do the holy dance, it can change minds and spirits, for it is healing music, just what the doctor ordered.
Recently a young poet viewed a music video of John Coltrane. The young hip hop poet got the holy ghost after hearing Coltrane for the first time, and Eric Dolphy as well. The poet said the hip hop generation should be allowed to hear rap until 10PM. After 10PM only jazz should be heard in the hood. Can you imagine the revolution in consciousness? Maybe one day jazz will be jazz again, not cool jazz, smooth jazz, fusion jazz but real jazz, Duke, Basie, Billy, Ella, Parker, Miles, Coltrane, Saunders, Philly Joe, Max, Shepp, the real deal holyfield. Lord, let us pray for jazz.
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