Jazz and Blackness

Jazz and Blackness


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



They helped free us poets, playwrights and actors from the white

supremacy esthetic as per formal drama. They smashed the very

concept and made us conscious just how free one  can be if

one will just go there. They told us thespians, just do your thing

and we will come in and out as we desire.



Jazz and Blackness

By Marvin X


Sunday evening we attended an onstage conversation between poet Amiri Baraka and bassist Reggie Workman at Oakland’s Eastside Arts Center. Actually it wasn’t onstage but the esteemed gentlemen were part of the circle of artists, intellectuals and community people who turned out for the event. Since I declined to speak at the event, I am posting my comments now.

Since the age of fourteen or fifteen, I have listened to jazz. Of course I heard it growing up, especially my family moved from Fresno to Oakland’s 7th Street, but was turned on to jazz by a heroin addict friend, Ronald Williams. In between shooting dope, Ronald and his friends used to listen to jazz and discuss Islam. What a potent mixture! I didn’t indulge the dope, but I listened to the music and conversation. Sometimes we’d be a little cafe on Whitesbridge and they would play Nina Simone’s “I Love You Porgy,” over and over. Once in Oakland and living on 7th Street in the back of my parents florist business, jazz filled my world, especially as a Cub Scout hustling Jet and Ebony magazines up and down 7th. Of course I recall the signs on the wall of Slim Jenkin’s Club advertising such artists as Josephine Baker and Father Earl Hines. I’d heard my parents discussing Jo Baker many times. Not much jazz was played in our house, but I did hear the big band music of Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Up and down 7th I could hear music blasting on the juke box, blues and jazz, especially that B-3 Hammond organ. The Hammond took my soul into another zone. Poet Avotcha has a poem and play called “Oaktown Blues.” It is a masterful piece but somehow she never mentions that organ music by Jimmy Smith and others. When I think of West Oakland music culture in the late 50s, I think of the B-3. It seemed to dominate the scene. I understand this was true in Newark, New Jersey and other places as well. My association with jazz continued with lessons from my high  school girlfriend, Sherley A. Williams (RIP), who had an access to her sister Ruby’s extensive collection of blues and jazz, Sherley turned me onto Hank Crawford and a few others. In 1966, playwright Ed Bullins and I established Black Arts West Theatre in San Francisco’s Fillmore. We were soon joined by a host of musicians, e.g., Dewey Redman, Earl Davis, Oliver Jackson, BJ, Monte Waters, Rafael Donald Garrett, et al. In freestyle, they accompanied our plays and went outside to play in harmony with the street sounds, car horns, human sounds, the wind and fog. They helped free us poets, playwrights and actors from the white supremacy esthetic as per formal drama. They smashed the very concept and made us conscious just how free one  can be if one will just go there. They told us thespians, just do your thing and we will come in and out as we desire. They went from stage to audience, in the best manner of what would become known as ritual theatre, similar to the circle at Sunday’s conversation at Eastside Arts. After Black Arts West Theatre went under, Eldridge Cleaver, Ed Bullins, Ethna Wyatt (Hurriyah) and myself founded Black House on Broderick Street in SF. The Chicago Art Ensemble performed at Black House, which the hot political/culture center during 1967.  After introducing Eldridge to Black Panthers Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, Black House soon became the SF headquarters. The artists were kicked out due to ideological differences: cultural nationalism versus political nationalism. Sometime later the Panthers would understand the necessity of the cultural revolution—this was after they attended the Pan African Arts Festival in Algeria.

But soon after the fall of Black House, many artists, musicians, poets, fled the negative atmosphere of the Bay for New York. Ed Bullins fled to New York and joined the New Lafayette Theatre in Harlem. I fled to Toronto, Canada as a draft resister. After about six months, I returned underground to Chicago, hanging around OBAC (Organization of Black American Culture) and Phil Koran’s Afro-Arts Theatre. OBAC poets included Don L. Lee, aka Haki Madhubuti, Gwen Brooks, Hoyt Fuller, Carolyn Rogers, Jewell Lattimore, et al.

I was in Chicago when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, but soon fled to New York when I found out the FBI was closing in on me. Ed invited me to work at the New Lafayette Theatre as associate editor of Black Theatre Magazine.  Much like Rumi meeting Shams, or Malcolm X meeting Elijah Muhammad, I met Sun Ra and my world has never been the same. With Sun Ra I discovered the depths of drama, the integration of poetry, music, dance, lights, costume, mythology. Sun Ra taught the necessity of artistic  and personal discipline to be one’s creative best.

During this time I met drummer Milford Graves. He frightened me to death with his aggressive drummer, so bold that he was banned from playing downtown New York. Milford’s music was so political, it was then that I finally realized the musicians and arts were the vanguard of spreading revolutionary consciousness. The politicos had much to learn from them. The arts gave the musicians and poets more mental balance and especially more spirituality. The essence of Sunday’s conversation at Eastside Arts was that musicians, poets, rappers must know our history and stay connected with the people. Amiri Barakapointed out that we are still slaves, although Elder Ed Howard would argue that we are not slaves, rather simply Africans caught in the slave system. For example, Ed would say how could slaves or free slaves publish a newspaper called Freedom’s Journal in 1827?  How could a slave write David Walker’s Appeal, 1829? How could a slave write the Frederick Douglas classic “What to a slave is the 4th of July?” Workman and Baraka stressed Jazz is the only American music, the other music is European, only jazz is American. James Baldwin said in my 1968 interview with him, “We’re the only thing that happened here, nothing else happened here but us!”30 July 2012

Source: blackbirdpressnews

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Jazz and Blackness—No Jazz in the Crack House Part II

Marvin X


The heroin addicts love jazz, the Crack heads hated jazz and all other music, including speech. Long before I became a crack head, I noticed when I came into the crack din no one looked up or even acknowledged I was in the room. Only silence and the passing of the pipe from one crack head to another. Absolutely, there was no music played since the psychosis necessitated silence, for one had to listen for sounds that didn’t exist, only in our warped minds.

We imagined police were at the door, or that friends were outside the door plotting to kill us. We even thought the friends or crack heads at the table were whispering about how to kill us, since they knew we had money. We imagined our girlfriend was knocking at the door, so we went to the door to let her in but no one was there, only the rustling leaves on the tree in the yard. This drama went on for twelve years, no music, no sounds, no talking, sometimes no sex since we couldn’t function sexually—our shit was like silly putty under the influence of crack. No human touch for years, only the daily hustle for dope money. We wonder how was it possible for a crack head to hustle money every day of his crack life, but once clean and sober he is broke. And so the music I loved was no longer part of my life, only the silence in the wind and the madness of my mind. And yet I had become accustomed to life without music so that even upon recovery, it would be years before I could listen to jazz. When I did listen to music it was P and D music, as Sun Ra called popular music, Pussy and Dick music. Only now, 2012, have I seriously returned to jazz, the music so necessary for my consciousness, spirituality, and mental health. As I said in Part I, we Black Arts poets styled ourselves after the jazz musicians. Even now, I try to write like they play, to go as far out as I can go with my words on paper. I am consciously trying to write like Coltrane, Parker and Miles played, to take the mind to the outer limits, to jump out of the box of white supremacy psycholinguistics, in short, to transcend the English language, or even if I use the devil tongue, I will flip the script, reverse the meaning of words, say the wildest shit that can come to my mind, of course a little Henny helps! One thing about that Henny, there shall be no writer’s block—you will tell the truth, even if  it will frighten you to death in the morning when you read some of the shit you’ve written. Often you must hit delete several times to not reveal too much truth, as a judge friend says I do too much.

30 July 2012

Source: blackbirdpressnews

Photo above left: The young Marvin X with Sun Ra

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Savior Sonny Simmons

Part III

I just recalled that on one occasion during those crack years I did connect with jazz. I used to live in one of those SRO hotels near San Francisco’s Union Square, near Geary and Grant. During this time I would be in my room smoking crack, separating from reality. Then many nights I would hear the most melodious music imaginable. It was so beautiful I would take a break from the Crack pipe to run outside to find the source of the music.

It was sax man Sonny Simmons playing on the corner. Sometimes it seemed his music was floating in the night fog, drawing me to where he played. I was so in awe of the beauty he expressed that I was forced to give him a donation because I knew his music was trying to save me. This happened many nights that I would be forced to stop my madness and go out to give him a donation. Now Sonny may have had his own problems since many street hustlers are dope fiends, especially musicians, but it didn’t matter to me because I needed to hear Sonny’s sounds like a thirsty man needs water.

Not long ago Sonny and Amiri Baraka performed together at Eastside Arts Center and I reminded him of those days and what I used to do when I heard him. It was like a private concert that temporarily liberated me from my madness. Thank you, Sonny.

*   *   *   *   *

Sherley Anne Williams, a leading African American author, poet, playwright and professor of literature and writing at the University of California, San Diego, died July 6 at Kaiser Permanente Hospital of cancer. She was 54 years old.

Williams, a native Californian who grew up in the San Joaquin Valley, was best known for her historical novel Dessa Rose. First published in 1986 by William Morrow & Co., “Dessa Rose” was an instant critical and popular success. The novel is now in its fourth printing and has been translated into German, Dutch, and French. At the time of her death, Williams was working on a sequel to

Dessa Rose

and on another novel set in the 20th century.

The story of an enslaved black woman and a white Southern belle,

Dessa Rose

was praised by the New York Times as “artistically brilliant, emotionally affecting and totally unforgettable.” Williams told the Los Angeles Times that her research on slavery while writing the novel “brought me to the brink of despair, because I realized how circumscribed our circumstances had been.”

Williams’ prodigious talent won her acclaim in many literary genres. Her first book of poetry, The Peacock Poems, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. She won an Emmy Award for a television performance of poems from her second poetry book, “SomeOne Sweet Angel Chile,” another National Book Award nominee. Her full-length, one-woman drama, Letters from a New England Negro, was a featured play at the National Black Theatre Festival (1991) and the Chicago International Theatre Festival (1992).

Working Cotton, Williams’ 1992 Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich children’s tale, won an American Library Association Caldecott Award and a Coretta Scott King Book Award, and it was listed among “Best Books of 1992” by Parents Magazine. She also recently published a second children’s book, “Girls Together.”

Literary scholar Barbara Christian has written: “Williams’ writing is rich, intellectually stimulating, beautifully crafted, and unique. [It] is brilliant, and her contributions to the field of African American literature are long lasting.”

Williams was an alumna of California State University, Fresno, where she earned a B.A. in English in 1966, and of Brown University, where she earned an M.A. in American Literature in 1972. She joined UCSD’s Literature Department in 1973, received tenure in 1975, and served as chair from 1977 to 1980.—

ucsdnews  / answers

*   *   *   *   *

I Love You, Porgy

            Sung by Nina Simone

I loves you, Porgy. Don’t let him take me Don’t let him handle me And drive me mad. If you can keep me I wanna stay here with you forever And Ill be glad Yes I loves you, porgy, Don’t let him take me Don’t let him handle me With his hot hands. If you can keep me I wants to stay here with you forever. I’ve got my man I love you, Porgy, Don’t let him take me. Don’t let him handle me and drive me mad. If you can keep me I wanna stay here with you forever. I’ve got my man Someday I know he’s coming to call me He’s going to handle me and hold me So, it’s going to be like dying, Porgy When he calls me. But when he comes I know I’ll have to go. I love you, Porgy, Don’t let him take me Honey, don’t let him handle me and drive me mad. If you can keep me I wanna stay here with you forever. I’ve got my man

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*   *   *   *   *

Natives of My Person

By George Lamming

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Natives of My Person

has a historical setting and deals with the voyage of the Reconnaissance, a vessel ostensibly engaged in the slave trade, a specific historical phenomenon, it is only partly accurate to describe it as a work of historical realism. Its realist component is not to be found in its fidelity to period costume, living conditions, or similar revealing detail. Instead of the veneer of verisimilitude that such usages provide, the novel locates its realism in the way in which it elaborately recapitulates an outlook.

George Lamming: Contemporary Criticism

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Season of Adventure

By George Lamming

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 31 July 2012




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