From Randy Sandke's ....

From Randy Sandke's ....

Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

March 31st, 2010, 3:29 pm #1


...."Where the Dark and the Light Folks Meet: Race and the Mythology, Politics and Business of Jazz."

I have been reading Randy's book. Excellent, well-argued, and profusely documented treatment of race in jazz. Randy is level-headed and has common sense. He is not pushing an agenda. His writing is measured and rational.

Among many statements that really caught my attention, here is the first one I want to transcribe.



I went to the New York Times archives and read the rest of Gibson's quote. Here it is,

"Bix Beiderbecke was great, but wasn't greater than Louis Armstrong. Benny Goodman was a great clarinetist, and if he was alive he would be playing clarinet in our orchestra. The fact is he didn't write any music. One of his most significant contributions was to get black and white people on the same stage. That's a great achievement. I'm glad he did it. But we are talking about music here; we are talking about art. It goes way beyond what Benny Goodman did."

I am almost speechless. 

First the errors of fact. "What did they (Bix and Benny) write?" Bix wrote Davenport Blues and four piano compositions. ASCAP lists 120 compositions by Benny Goodman.

When Benny Goodman got black and white musicians on the same stage, he was not making a political comment, he was not pushing an agenda for racial equality. He simply chose the best musicians available at the time to make music, regardless of the color of their skins.

It is pathetic to see scholars (not only in the arts, but also in the sciences) color their views and their research results about art or science by political considerations and agendas. Analyses of art and science endeavors must be objective, based on the intrinsic qualities of the art or science itself, not on extraneous considerations. It is so simple, but, unfortunately, rarely done.

Albert
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Brendan Wolfe
Brendan Wolfe

March 31st, 2010, 4:13 pm #2

Albert,

I'm not convinced that anything regarding race & jazz is "so simple," even if you say it is. You argue that "scholars ... color their views and their research results about art or science by political considerations and agendas."

I would ask you this: By what standard are Stanley Crouch and Ben Ratliff scholars? Seems to me they're critics, and as such, are not beholden to "objective" analyses or "research results." Their job is to know a lot about jazz and then argue opinions. It's actually okay for critics to have an agenda, so long as they advance it honestly and straightforwardly. But when you and others employ the word, it sounds so shady and ominous (the Gay Agenda! the Liberal Agenda! the Far Right Agenda! the Bix Agenda!). Sort of like how Sandke uses "political correctness." I mean, the phrase itself is so loaded politically it is meaningful only to those who have ... agendas.

Anyway, my point is that Crouch doesn't think Bix "worthy of inclusion in the pantheon." Whatever pantheon exists is no more than the product of consensus over time -- in other words, a bunch of people's opinions -- and not some objective, scientific inquiry as you seem to suggest. (And who knows what terrible agendas lurked behind the opinions of people who liked Bix in the first place!) For what it's worth, I think Crouch should be congratulated for having the courage to think differently. If he defends his point poorly, or shows no real feel for jazz, that's another thing. But that's not what your post argues as far as I can tell. Same with Ben Ratliff -- the dude is allowed to disagree with you, and as a critic, his only obligation is to know jazz and make an argument. It's worth mentioning, too, that the snippets Sandke highlights have to do with Bix's playing and say nothing of Bix's race. Are we to assume that if a critic downplays Bix's importance, race must be the motivation?

Rob Gibson, on the other hand, seems to be making an actual argument, and one based on a false premise -- that Bix and Benny didn't write. So your criticism of him is justified, I think.

I haven't read the Sandke book yet, and maybe he is mounting a fair and coherent case regarding Bix and race, providing a much broader discussion of the views of Crouch and Ratliff, among others, but I can't tell from your excerpt.
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Jamaica
Jamaica

March 31st, 2010, 6:10 pm #3

...."Where the Dark and the Light Folks Meet: Race and the Mythology, Politics and Business of Jazz."

I have been reading Randy's book. Excellent, well-argued, and profusely documented treatment of race in jazz. Randy is level-headed and has common sense. He is not pushing an agenda. His writing is measured and rational.

Among many statements that really caught my attention, here is the first one I want to transcribe.



I went to the New York Times archives and read the rest of Gibson's quote. Here it is,

"Bix Beiderbecke was great, but wasn't greater than Louis Armstrong. Benny Goodman was a great clarinetist, and if he was alive he would be playing clarinet in our orchestra. The fact is he didn't write any music. One of his most significant contributions was to get black and white people on the same stage. That's a great achievement. I'm glad he did it. But we are talking about music here; we are talking about art. It goes way beyond what Benny Goodman did."

I am almost speechless. 

First the errors of fact. "What did they (Bix and Benny) write?" Bix wrote Davenport Blues and four piano compositions. ASCAP lists 120 compositions by Benny Goodman.

When Benny Goodman got black and white musicians on the same stage, he was not making a political comment, he was not pushing an agenda for racial equality. He simply chose the best musicians available at the time to make music, regardless of the color of their skins.

It is pathetic to see scholars (not only in the arts, but also in the sciences) color their views and their research results about art or science by political considerations and agendas. Analyses of art and science endeavors must be objective, based on the intrinsic qualities of the art or science itself, not on extraneous considerations. It is so simple, but, unfortunately, rarely done.

Albert
Lol! Bix is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't. Guys like Crouch are basically saying that jazz has to have a particular sound, a "black sound," or it isn't jazz. What made Bix stand apart, was the fact that he didn't ape a black sound, he produced his own sound. His music was truly an extension of himself, as an individual, which is exactly what art is supposed to be: the unique expression of one's self, otherwise, it's just imitation. So it seems that Bix gets knocked for truly being an artist - because he doesn't sound black enough, and yet, if he'd imitated the emotions, in his music, of the black musicians of the time, he'd be stealing from them. Funny because, the black jazz musicians of Bix's time, in general, respected him, because he was doing his own thing.

When social critics start talking about Bix, and race, they miss the whole point.
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Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

March 31st, 2010, 6:59 pm #4

Albert,

I'm not convinced that anything regarding race & jazz is "so simple," even if you say it is. You argue that "scholars ... color their views and their research results about art or science by political considerations and agendas."

I would ask you this: By what standard are Stanley Crouch and Ben Ratliff scholars? Seems to me they're critics, and as such, are not beholden to "objective" analyses or "research results." Their job is to know a lot about jazz and then argue opinions. It's actually okay for critics to have an agenda, so long as they advance it honestly and straightforwardly. But when you and others employ the word, it sounds so shady and ominous (the Gay Agenda! the Liberal Agenda! the Far Right Agenda! the Bix Agenda!). Sort of like how Sandke uses "political correctness." I mean, the phrase itself is so loaded politically it is meaningful only to those who have ... agendas.

Anyway, my point is that Crouch doesn't think Bix "worthy of inclusion in the pantheon." Whatever pantheon exists is no more than the product of consensus over time -- in other words, a bunch of people's opinions -- and not some objective, scientific inquiry as you seem to suggest. (And who knows what terrible agendas lurked behind the opinions of people who liked Bix in the first place!) For what it's worth, I think Crouch should be congratulated for having the courage to think differently. If he defends his point poorly, or shows no real feel for jazz, that's another thing. But that's not what your post argues as far as I can tell. Same with Ben Ratliff -- the dude is allowed to disagree with you, and as a critic, his only obligation is to know jazz and make an argument. It's worth mentioning, too, that the snippets Sandke highlights have to do with Bix's playing and say nothing of Bix's race. Are we to assume that if a critic downplays Bix's importance, race must be the motivation?

Rob Gibson, on the other hand, seems to be making an actual argument, and one based on a false premise -- that Bix and Benny didn't write. So your criticism of him is justified, I think.

I haven't read the Sandke book yet, and maybe he is mounting a fair and coherent case regarding Bix and race, providing a much broader discussion of the views of Crouch and Ratliff, among others, but I can't tell from your excerpt.
.... putting words in my mouth.

When and where did I say that Crouch and Ratcliff are scholars? My posting had two distinct parts.

The first part was the quote of Randy's book, followed by the quote from Gibson. My criticism had to do with two points made by Gibson.

The quotes made me think -in general- beyond the specific points found in Randy's excerpt, and I lamented about how much "scholarly" work in the arts and sciences is tainted by political agendas, how sad it is that scholarly views on arts and science, which should be based on reason and intellect, are often colored by extraneous considerations.

Going to the question of critics not being bound by objectivity, I don't see a problem with critics providing subjective opinions. However, I have a problem when a critic uses political agendas to provide opinions about an issue (arts or sciences) outside of politics.

Finally, I'll add that the line of demarcation between a critic and a scholar is sometimes  difficult to define. Is Ratcliff a critic or a scholar? Is his book on Coltrane a work of criticism or a work of scholarship?

Albert
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Brendan Wolfe
Brendan Wolfe

March 31st, 2010, 7:17 pm #5

I can only say, Albert, that the Sandke excerpt you provided quoted Crouch and Ratliff in the act of providing jazz criticism. It quoted Gibson in the act of defending artistic choices he made as director of the Jazz at Lincoln Center. You then wrote that "It is pathetic to see scholars ..." So if your post had "two distinct parts," you provided no segue between them. If Crouch and Ratliff and Gibson are not scholars, then why do you want to complain about scholars? Your complaint only makes sense in the context of a discussion of scholars, which is another reason I got confused, I guess.

You have a problem about "political agendas" among critics, but again you haven't made clear what sorts of agendas Crouch and Ratliff are espousing simply by not loving the music of Bix Beiderbecke. Perhaps Sandke provides more context, but you don't, making your argument confusing, at best. Does Ben Ratliff not like Bix because Bix is white? If you think that's the case, what's your evidence? Or what's Sandke's evidence?

Finally, Crouch and Ratliff can be both critics and scholars, depending on what they're doing. When they're giving opinions as to the quality of a given musician's records -- as quoted by Sandke -- it seems to me they're acting as critics. When you're writing a column for the New York Times, you're a critic; when you're writing a biography, you're likely a scholar. Although that depends largely on how you approach the project. Not all writers of Bix biographies are scholars by a long shot.
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Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

March 31st, 2010, 7:58 pm #6


.... missed the quote that was at the origin of my posting. From "Jazz Modernism" by Alfred Appel Jr., "To discover whether a critic or cultural historian ..." This was the <i>first sentence</i> in the excerpt from Randy's book.  I also quoted what Randy wrote about Gibson, and I went on from there to look up the complete statement by Gibson as given in the New York Times. It seems clear to me, and I imagine to others, that the focus of my specific criticism had to do with two points made by Gibson. My general comment (and link) about scholars went back to the use of the phrase "cultural historian"  in the quote from Alfred Appel Jr. I generally view  a "cultural historian" as a "scholar."

Albert
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Brendan Wolfe
Brendan Wolfe

March 31st, 2010, 8:23 pm #7

That's fine, Albert. My fault. I wonder why Sandke follows Appel's reference to "cultural historians" with quotations from people who are behaving like critics, not like cultural historians. But at this point, I might be nitpicking, and I don't mean to. Still, you haven't answered my questions about Ratliff and Crouch. And I love Appel's book, and the thing about that quote of his is that he doesn't say that if you don't like Bix, you're driven by a racist agenda; he says if you don't like Bix because he exploits "black sources," then you're driven primarily by "racial politics."

But the admittedly very short snippet of Sandke's book, which serves as the occasion for your gnashing of teeth on the subject of "agendas," does not provide any context for why Crouch and Ratliff don't like Bix (or at least like him as much as we do). And quite independent of what you posted, I think that's a problem. And I thought that because you have the book, you might be willing to provide some of that context -- either from your own perspective or from Sandke's.
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Brendan Wolfe
Brendan Wolfe

March 31st, 2010, 9:29 pm #8

I was being unfair, Albert, in asking you to provide some context regarding Crouch's views, when I have that context at hand myself. My point was that without that context -- which wasn't provided by you or, in the excerpt you posted, by Sandke -- talk of agendas and political correctness is just that: talk.

So here's an excerpt from my book-in-progress from the first of two chapters that tackles the always thorny issue of Bix and race.
Writes Stanley Crouch: "Beiderbecke ceases to be a great musician and becomes a pawn in the ongoing attempt to deny the blues its primary identity as Negro-developed, introspective music, which is about coming to understand oneself and the world through contemplation. To recognize that would be to recognize the possibility of the Negro having a mind and one that could conceive an aesthetic overview that distinguished the music as a whole. Troublesome person, that Negro -- especially one with an aesthetic."

"Thats the big problem with Stanley Crouch," [Terry] Teachout responded. "My cat knows more about music than he does. So Stanley exudes these clouds of rhetoric which sometimes are evocative, although he really needs better editing, but he does not know anything about the stuff of music."
Crouch's quotation comes from "The Negro Aesthetic of Jazz," an essay collected in Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2006), page 212. Crouch was reacting to this, from the same essay: "Martin Williams, the late, great jazz critic and himself a white Southerner, told me [Crouch] once that there used to be a group of white jazz musicians who would say, when there were only white guys around, 'Louis Armstrong and those people had a nice little primitive thing going, but we really didn't have what we now call jazz until Jack Teagarden, Bix, Trumbauer, and their gang gave it some sophistication'" (212).

In this instance, I think Crouch's point is driven primarily by his political and social agenda. Which is fine by me. There are perfectly valid points to be made about Bix Beiderbecke in the context of politics and social studies. However, a criticism of his art is not particularly well served under those circumstance. Crouch has every right to dislike Bix's music, or at least not rate it as highly as Louis Armstrong's, but we should be skeptical when he dislikes it for reasons that aren't strictly musical. By the same token, I encourage his skepticism in response to those who would categorize the music of "those people" as merely "primitive" next to white "sophistication."

I sometimes think that this talk of "agendas" and "political correctness" is a symptom of our tendency to too quickly paint ourselves as victims in these discussions. And I think it helps to look closely at that original Crouch quotation above -- he wasn't talking about Bix's music at all; rather, he was talking about the way we use Bix as a pawn. That much, I think, is true.
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Alberta
Alberta

April 1st, 2010, 2:16 am #9

...."Where the Dark and the Light Folks Meet: Race and the Mythology, Politics and Business of Jazz."

I have been reading Randy's book. Excellent, well-argued, and profusely documented treatment of race in jazz. Randy is level-headed and has common sense. He is not pushing an agenda. His writing is measured and rational.

Among many statements that really caught my attention, here is the first one I want to transcribe.



I went to the New York Times archives and read the rest of Gibson's quote. Here it is,

"Bix Beiderbecke was great, but wasn't greater than Louis Armstrong. Benny Goodman was a great clarinetist, and if he was alive he would be playing clarinet in our orchestra. The fact is he didn't write any music. One of his most significant contributions was to get black and white people on the same stage. That's a great achievement. I'm glad he did it. But we are talking about music here; we are talking about art. It goes way beyond what Benny Goodman did."

I am almost speechless. 

First the errors of fact. "What did they (Bix and Benny) write?" Bix wrote Davenport Blues and four piano compositions. ASCAP lists 120 compositions by Benny Goodman.

When Benny Goodman got black and white musicians on the same stage, he was not making a political comment, he was not pushing an agenda for racial equality. He simply chose the best musicians available at the time to make music, regardless of the color of their skins.

It is pathetic to see scholars (not only in the arts, but also in the sciences) color their views and their research results about art or science by political considerations and agendas. Analyses of art and science endeavors must be objective, based on the intrinsic qualities of the art or science itself, not on extraneous considerations. It is so simple, but, unfortunately, rarely done.

Albert
I look forward to reading Sandke's book.

I have enjoyed this exchange immensely. I hope others contribute too!

In my humble opinion, it is just such discussions as these which make our culture here in the US unique, or at least rare. We talk about issues of ethnicity and race and argue about them and label each other "politically correct" (one of my favorite terms--it sounds so positive and means something so negative) or racist or something else but these discussions are one of the ways we little by little achieve a more just society.

I agree with Sandke that Bix's reputation has suffered in the last 20, 30, 40 years. I disagree that it is necessarily due to "political correctness". (He may not think it is solely due to p.c. either.) The math is not in Bix's favor: jazz players continue to be born and play and record, and with Bix we still have those same 5 compositions and the same however-many records with the same 4-bar tastes and 8-bar quarter-solos, and frankly, how secure would Bird's or even Louis's reputation be if we had so few notes to hover over for all these years?

Tastes change too. Maybe Bix's style is less likable these days due to the impact of whatever music has been absorbed previously by a first-time listener to his work. It's got to be difficult for someone who has gotten used to the swirling lines of somebody like Kenny G to set his ear to an artist who plays in a limited register and with an entirely different rhythmic sense, as Bix does.

And there is certainly the issue of political correctness to deal with. So much has been done to African Americans in this country that it is tempting to add to the list the sin of appreciating the creations of a white-skinned talent who excels in a field dominated by blacks. The fallacy in that is that by appreciating Bix we are not diminishing the achievements of anyone else in the field. Didn't Louis say that love only leads to more love? If he didn't, he could have.

Anyway, thanks for all the discussion. Hope it continues!



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Glenda Childress
Glenda Childress

April 1st, 2010, 3:33 am #10

Albert,

I'm not convinced that anything regarding race & jazz is "so simple," even if you say it is. You argue that "scholars ... color their views and their research results about art or science by political considerations and agendas."

I would ask you this: By what standard are Stanley Crouch and Ben Ratliff scholars? Seems to me they're critics, and as such, are not beholden to "objective" analyses or "research results." Their job is to know a lot about jazz and then argue opinions. It's actually okay for critics to have an agenda, so long as they advance it honestly and straightforwardly. But when you and others employ the word, it sounds so shady and ominous (the Gay Agenda! the Liberal Agenda! the Far Right Agenda! the Bix Agenda!). Sort of like how Sandke uses "political correctness." I mean, the phrase itself is so loaded politically it is meaningful only to those who have ... agendas.

Anyway, my point is that Crouch doesn't think Bix "worthy of inclusion in the pantheon." Whatever pantheon exists is no more than the product of consensus over time -- in other words, a bunch of people's opinions -- and not some objective, scientific inquiry as you seem to suggest. (And who knows what terrible agendas lurked behind the opinions of people who liked Bix in the first place!) For what it's worth, I think Crouch should be congratulated for having the courage to think differently. If he defends his point poorly, or shows no real feel for jazz, that's another thing. But that's not what your post argues as far as I can tell. Same with Ben Ratliff -- the dude is allowed to disagree with you, and as a critic, his only obligation is to know jazz and make an argument. It's worth mentioning, too, that the snippets Sandke highlights have to do with Bix's playing and say nothing of Bix's race. Are we to assume that if a critic downplays Bix's importance, race must be the motivation?

Rob Gibson, on the other hand, seems to be making an actual argument, and one based on a false premise -- that Bix and Benny didn't write. So your criticism of him is justified, I think.

I haven't read the Sandke book yet, and maybe he is mounting a fair and coherent case regarding Bix and race, providing a much broader discussion of the views of Crouch and Ratliff, among others, but I can't tell from your excerpt.
As I read Sandke's book, his purpose seemed to be to amass tons of data as counterpoint to the "politically correct" position than white musicians undeservingly profited from jazz much more than did blacks. He does seem to succeed in making his point that the supposed disparity in remuneration between white and black jazzmen has been much overstated, e.g., Whiteman paid his hot players well, but Ellington paid his soloists quite well also.

Sure, Louis Armstrong didn't get royalties from his Hot Five recordings, but then Bix didn't get any royalties, either. Nobody did in the early days. It was fee for service. At best Bix got his $67.50 for each recording with Whiteman and less for his Okeh sessions.

Critics and scholars will argue forever about who contributed what to the art, it seems, but at least Sandke tries to lay to rest the belief that ruthless white managers and producers took unfair advantage of black musicians; they often did, it seems, but they didn't mind doing the same to whites either. And if a musician could make them a bundle, they were willing to pay what it took to get him, and not a buck more.

News Flash! The entertainment business is a for-profit concern!

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