Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 16, 2016

All That Hollywood Jazz

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,music — louisproyect @ 3:59 pm

All That Hollywood Jazz

Let me start with my own connections to jazz that run as deep as those to Marxism and film, the other two passions in a long and largely quixotic lifetime. In the summer of 1961, just before I headed off to Bard College for my freshman year, I sat at a table in a pizza parlor in the Catskills enjoying a pie with my buddies when someone put a dime in the juke box to play a tune that left me thunderstruck: Miles Davis playing “Summertime”. That it was on a juke box in 1961 should tell you something about the difference between now and then.

After finding out more about Miles Davis, I began taking jazz records out of the well-stocked Bard music library and became conversant in the music of the day, which was arguably jazz in its classic period with hard bop and the West Coast style prevailing but with the avant-garde making its first appearances. In my freshman year, I heard the Paul Bley quartet in concert featuring saxophone player Pharaoh Sanders whose “sheets of sound” paved the way for the New Thing a few years later. As New Thing icon Albert Ayler put it, “Trane was the Father, Pharaoh was the Son, I am the Holy Ghost”.

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  1. Jazz, and the blues that spawned it, remains the voice of the weary, hopeful, loving, and soulful. It is primarily a product of the oppressed and NOT a “classical” medium in the bourgeois sense. Although there is and have been, attempts to make Jazz and the blues a more “transcendent” form (read more White, more mainstream, more “classical”) and, indeed, there is and has been some wonderful music in those mainstream versions of the voices of the oppressed. Indeed, there has also been a somewhat descendant selling out by true jazz and blues artists of the music. All of that being true, the roots of Jazz and the blues remains the music of the oppressed. If that music fails to remain true to its, in artistic terms, revolutionary spirit, a different medium will come along. I do understand the impulse to “institutionalize” music, especially the music of the oppressed. After all, artists should have a means to create their art. However, it is a double-edged sword to provide money to create music about people and feelings born of no money, no freedom, and, at times, no hope.

    Lament all you want the lack of respect that the music of the oppressed, in its truest forms at least, receives. I, for one, would rather see and hear the music in its natural environment, the hovels of the poor, the moving lines and notes–yes, even in the face of the privileged who could never understand it–of people striving to “unnerstan'” why we must bear viewing the strange fruit hanging as the monument of this horrid capitalist world. Such music should move us, who will, to redouble our efforts to end the suffering, end the hatred, end the reason for artistic misery writ large on stages and venues for people who do actually understand. Perhaps, one goal of Jazz and the Blues should be to emancipate us from its need so that a new and more harmonious form is born in a very different world than what we have today.
    For now, I will relish in the music that reveals our strivings and, in some ways, moves us to fight for a better world. At least, such music will at least give form to our sadnesses, passions, and joys that we seek in our lives in a horrid world.

    Comment by mtomas3 — December 16, 2016 @ 6:45 pm

  2. Good article, Louis. I suggest you check out Steve Coleman and Five Elements. Oh, and, by the way, I wouldn’t say Chet Baker was a “lesser” musician. He was arguably one of the most lyrical West Coast players ever, and heavily influenced Phil Woods, Shorty Rogers, Bud Shank, Harold Land and others. But I guess if one means by “lesser,” less-influential or innovative, then it is accurate.

    Comment by Rich Lesnik — December 16, 2016 @ 11:42 pm

  3. I meant to say he was lesser to Miles but then again everybody was. Will make that clearer.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 16, 2016 @ 11:44 pm

  4. Thanks for the fine article in today’s CP. One cavil: Anita once described Stan Kenton, who did not hire black musicians, as “a contradiction in terms: a racist jazz musician.”

    Comment by Alan Nasser — December 17, 2016 @ 9:06 am

  5. Yes, Alan. I had forgotten about that completely. He was no Gil Evans, needless to say.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 17, 2016 @ 1:46 pm

  6. Great piece Louis. I’d like to see more jazz reviews. Evangelize.

    Comment by Frank Gerould — December 17, 2016 @ 2:38 pm

  7. Louis, great piece. I enjoyed it. I did hate the Chet Baker movie. And I hated it more when I read about him and discovered that the film was not at all accurate. He certainly was an unlikable man, and that came through in the movie, but then a great many drug addicts are. Look at William Burroughs! Overall, though, the film bored the hell out of me, a tribute to the filmmaker’s lack of talent. Have you read Robin Kelley’s bio of Thelonious Monk? A damn good book.

    Comment by michael yates — December 17, 2016 @ 11:41 pm

  8. Would love to read Kelley’s book but I am so swamped…

    Comment by louisproyect — December 17, 2016 @ 11:44 pm

  9. Check out Kamasi Washington, he is the new jazz thing, blending Coltrane with Miles and Sun Ra and acid jazz grooves, the truth for 21st century jazz

    Comment by Greg M. Schwartz — December 18, 2016 @ 1:58 am

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