Jazz Moves: Studying Black Progressive Music

Jazz Moves: Studying Black Progressive Music


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



“Jazz” is an extension of the black man, “freed,” who found himself still shackled to the

same chain, all shinned up, when he unwittingly ventured out into “their” free world of

 opportunity and wealth, only to be assaulted, whipped, murdered, and raped some more



Books by Floyd W. Hayes, III

A Turbulent Voyage: Readings in African American Studies / Forty Acres and a Mule: The Rape of Colored Americans

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Jazz Moves: Studying Black Progressive Music

 Paper delivered by Floyd W. Hayes, III

 African American Jazz Caucus/ Jazz Research Institute Conference

  North Carolina Central University April 17, 2008


Thank you, Dr. Ridley, for your kind introduction.  I also want to thank you for inviting me to be this morning’s guest speaker. 

I am pleased to return to North Carolina Central University in this capacity.  I have been an “Eagle” for more than 40 years, graduating in the class of 1967.  In October, 2007, we celebrated our 40th reunion.  From a class of approximately 250, about 100 of us returned to NCCU for Homecoming last year.  Collectively, we made a class gift of approximately $75,000 to NCCU.

It is significant that we come together in this second annual conference of the Jazz Research Institute here at North Carolina Central University.  As you know, NCCU has taken the lead as the first of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities to establish this kind of institute, which is designed to preserve our musical and cultural heritage and its impact on the world.  The collaboration between Dr. Ira Wiggins, Director of Jazz Studies at NCCU, and Dr. Larry Ridley, Executive Director of the African American Jazz Caucus, in establishing the Jazz Research Institute is monumental.  Therefore, please join me in congratulating them for their outstanding achievement.  We also need to do everything possible in order to support this important endeavor, now and well into the future.

I want to talk briefly about the forces that encouraged me to develop a course I presently offer at Johns Hopkins University: Bebop, Modernism and Change.  While I know that the Jazz Research Institute here will and should emphasize performance, music theory, and production, I trust that the institute will have space for courses like this one that focus on the intersections among jazz or black progressive music and literature, history, philosophy, sociology, politics, and economics.  For me, jazz also is an intellectual project—it is a way of looking at the world—that expresses the tragicomic life experiences of black people in an anti-black world.  Jazz, as black progressive music, is both performance and discourse.  We need to pay attention to all aspects of jazz in order to preserve our musical and cultural heritage.

In the early 1950s, my parents introduced me to jazz.  I remember listening to those old 78 rpm records, featuring Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Lionel Hampton, and Erroll Garner.  My father was especially captivated by Garner, who hummed as he played the piano.  I also had an uncle, who was a jazz saxophonist.  He played in a number of night clubs in Los Angeles.  One night, I went along with him to a gig in a Hermosa Beach night club.

From those early years, I retained an interest in Black progressive music that has lasted to this day.  Initially, I was a listener, but I soon became a student of our music.  It was in the 1960s that I began to understand jazz as a dimension of our complex and complicated historical experience in the Americas.  In those days, I read liner notes on albums, seeking to learn as much as I could about jazz musicians and their music. 

As a Black Power adherent and graduate student in African Studies at UCLA in the late 1960s, I was captivated by the possibilities of revolutionary nationalism.  The first book I read on the subject of black progressive music was Frank Kofsky’s radical 1970 study, Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music.  By the 1980s and 1990s, I was reading such magazines as Downbeat and then Jazz Times. What caught my attention was the paucity of Black jazz critics.  Black jazz artists always were shown on the magazine covers, featured in interviews, and written about in cover stories.  Records reviews appeared in every issue.  But the writers were mainly, almost always, white. 

In this model, black musicians only were portrayed as performers.  I began to wonder how jazz artists interpreted their music—what the music meant to them.  How did they look at the world, and how did their music reflect and express their world view?  Clearly, the music spoke to the life experiences of black people.  Here was the substance of the blues-jazz aesthetic; musicians and their music always articulated a message.   Examples are legion: Louis Armstrong’s “Can’t Give You Anything But LoveBillie Holiday’s “Strange FruitCharlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, “Salt Peanuts,” Coltrane’s “AlabamaNina Simone’s “Mississippi God Damn,” or Miles Davis’ classic album, Kind of Blue.

By the time that I joined the Department of Political Science and the African American Studies and Center at Purdue in 1991, I had begun to think about developing a course on some aspect of jazz, but I wasn’t quite sure about its focus.  I became close friends with Antonio Zamora, jazz saxophonist and Director of the Black Cultural Center at the university.  When he and his Indianapolis ensemble—this aggregation usually consisted of guitarist Steve Wheatley, drummer Lawrence Clark, and organist Al Walton—performed at Knickerbockers, a local pub in Lafayette, Indiana, I often would help Tony set up.  He stored the group’s equipment in a location around the corner from Knickerbockers.  It was a major task moving the heavy organ, which was Big Al’s thrown.  On one occasion, Tony even took me along to a gig in Ohio.

These experiences, along with discussions with Tony and the members of his ensemble about black progressive music, led me to begin serious research for a course that focused on jazz.  Significantly, Tony became my friend, mentor, and brother.  He helped me to understand the importance of struggling to interpret the meanings of jazz and the intent of jazz artists.  Our relationship continues, as Tony and I talk at least twice a week. 

As we all know, Black music is the history of America’s blues people.  Beginning in the history of American enslavement, captured African slaves and their American descendants created work songs, spirituals, gospels, ragtime, jazz, blues, rhythm & blues, and contemporary rap and hip-hop culture.  Even the different forms of jazz (Dixieland, Swing, Bebop, Avant-garde, Free Jazz, and contemporary Smooth Jazz) represent Blacks people’s struggle to hammer out a narrative about their tragicomic existence in the world.  With a genealogy in both sacred and secular consciousness, Black progressive music is a way of looking at the world, a strategy of theorizing the Black existential situation in the world, and a means of engaging the world—in the face of white supremacy and anti-Black racism.  And like Black life, jazz moves—it is creative, innovative, and improvisational.

Years ago, I came across the following statement about jazz by the late great percussionist, composer, educator, and activist Max Roach.  In a 1962 essay, entitled “Jazz,” he wrote:

“Jazz” is an extenuation of the African chants and songs.  It is an extenuation of the pain and suffering of those long, and too often, destinationless trips across the Atlantic Ocean, deep in the holes of those dark, damp, filthy, human slave ships, endured by chained, innocent, black men and children.  “Jazz” is an extenuation of the humiliations suffered by these same human beings while being sold as cattle or produce.  It is an extenuation of the pain of the whip, the assaulter, the procurer, the “driva’ man,” the patrol wagons, the kidnapper, the sunup to sundown slave field and plantation.  It is the extension of many, many lynchings, castrations, and other “improvisations” of genocide on these same black men, women and children.  “Jazz” is an extension of the black man, “freed,” who found himself still shackled to the same chain, all shinned up, when he unwittingly ventured out into “their” free world of opportunity and wealth, only to be assaulted, whipped, murdered, and raped some more.  The “Spiritual,” “Race Music,” “Rhythm and Blues,” “Dixieland,” “Jazz,” (and never, yet, any of the music named by its creators, but by the disdainful, master observer).  “Jazz” is an extension of the black artist being relegated to practice his or her craft, even today, under these intolerable, too similar, conditions.

 Max Roach

Reading Roach’s was the final motivation I needed to begin to formulate my ideas for a course on Black progressive music that fitted with my own education, outlook, and sense of jazz as a narrative of the life experiences of Blacks in the African Diaspora.

Since joining the Department of Political Science and the Center for Africana Studies at Johns Hopkins University in 2004, I have been teaching Bebop, Modernism and Change. Although jazz had emerged out of the lived experiences of African-descended Americans during the early decades of the twentieth century, many white American musicians and entrepreneurs had appropriated swing jazz by the 1930s.  Reflecting the structure of Jim Crow segregation across the landscape of America, large swing jazz bands often excluded black musicians, denying them the means to maintain economic self-sufficiency.  Hence, as always in America, white supremacy, cultural appropriation, and capitalist exploitation were dynamic elements of a social structure of domination. 

By the 1940s, a cadre of young black American musicians—the stellar list includes Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk—set in motion a paradigm shift that challenged American culture’s social and musical inequality.  The bebop musical revolution was characterized by innovative and improvisational moves as black American and Afro-Cuban creative artists produced a new, intense, and rebellious sound that reverberated throughout American society.  The seminar explores the social and political content, meanings, and intent of jazz music, in general, and bebop music, in particular.  While the major historical focus is from the 1940s to the 1960s, the seminar also examines the broader history of black progressive music (jazz) and its impact on the social transformation of modern America.  The ascendancy of bebop, as an intellectual and musical system, embodied and reflected the political and social conditions of the turbulent 1940s—the frustrations, aspirations, subversive sensibilities, and protests of a progressive group of black American musicians. 

As World War II ended, black Americans once again began to challenge the national and global structures of white supremacy, economic exploitation, and cultural imperialism.  Demanding to experience the democracy they had fought for during the war, black Americans called for the end of segregation in America and the termination of colonialism in Africa.  It was during these moments of agitation and protest that black creative artists began to express a new musical sensibility that embodied, reflected, and accompanied the new social movement for black liberation.

For numerous historical reasons, particularly since the advent of modernity and the rise of the Enlightenment in Western Europe during the 18th century, the production of Africana cultural and literary discourse has been a political act.   In particular, black American culture—and black culture in Latin America and the Caribbean—emerged within the context of Western cultural domination—the Atlantic Slave Trade, chattel slavery, imperialism, colonialism, segregation, white supremacy, and anti-black hatred and violence.  These structures and processes of domination also served as the cultural milieu in which Western Europeans and Euro-Americans came to define and represent their African captives and their American descendants as negative and inferior, often sub-human.  Hence, the life experiences of native black Americans have been characterized by intense political, social, and cultural struggle. 

Black American creative artists have themselves engaged in various forms of resistance in the historic and monumental battle for black liberation, human rights, and self-determination.  In many ways, reflecting black people’s experiences with the underside of modern American culture, beboppers and their complex and improvisational music might be considered counter-modernists, as they both embraced and challenged modernist American culture.  In the broadest sense, black American music tells the story of the black experience in America; it also exposes the illusions of American democracy.  In denying freedom, justice, equality, the consent of the governed, and the pursuit of happiness to blacks, white Americans historically devalued the nation’s highest political values.

How is it that the musical and cultural production of a people so despised, oppressed, and exploited could become so important to America?  How did this music become America’s music, actually long before Representative John Conyers led the passage in 1987 of the House Resolution declaring Jazz as a valuable national American treasure?  Jazz performers and their music also have had profound effects on American culture.  One only needs to examine the literary movement of the 1940s and 1950s, which came to be known as the Beat generation.  Here was a movement in which poets, essayists, and novelists employed a jazz cadence in their writing.  Today, jazz has audiences and adherents around the world.

In a world in chaos and on the verge of international anarchy, how can we understand and value black American progressive music?  Through an historical examination of this musical tradition, seminar members have the opportunity to reflect upon the complex meanings, intent, and content of bebop music.  The seminar stresses an interdisciplinary approach to knowledge (literary, historical, political, cultural, and philosophical), allowing for a reconsideration of the meaning of bebop music and the significance of its black American creators with respect to the changing character of American society. 

As Julie Thompson Klein asserts in her book, Crossing Boundaries: Knowledge, Disciplinarities, and Interdisciplinarities: “[A]n interdisciplinarity rooted in critical thought reinvents scholarly and public discourse by regenerating method and epistemology.  When intellectuality is premised on rediscovery and rethinking, resocialization and reintellectualization, interdisciplinarity becomes not just a way of doing things but a new way of knowing.”  Thus, interdisciplinarity recognizes the inter-connectedness that propels our increasingly complex society and its cultural production and understands that the measure of competence for its members will reflect their ability to grasp this characteristic.  In the final analysis, the seminar is designed to equip students with a method of inquiry that will be useful in understanding the complex interconnections of bebop music and social change in America from the 1940s to the 1960s and beyond.

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Required Texts:

Anderson, Iain. 2007. This is Our Music: Free Jazz, the Sixties, and American Culture. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Jones, LeRoi (Baraka, Amiri). 1963/2002. Blues People: Negro Music in White America. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

O’Meally, Robert G. 1998. Ed. The Jazz Cadence of American Culture. New York: Columbia University Press.

Porter, Eric. 2002. What Is This Thing Called Jazz?: African American Musicians as Artists, Critics, and Activists. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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To access the web version of this course, use the following link:

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The new Jazz Research Institute at NCCU has the potential for providing a site that fosters a variety opportunities, which might include the following:

Seminars, lectures, workshops, performances given by professional jazz musicians/educators.  Retired musicians need to be invited, for students and young musicians can learn so much of value from the life experiences and perspectives of older and retired jazz artists.  Importantly, we need to celebrate master musicians while they are alive;

Research on all aspects of black progressive music by visiting scholars;

Seminars on the historical, political, economic, sociological, literary, and philosophical dimensions of black progressive music, in which scholars can interact with jazz educators, jazz performers, and young and jazz students;

 The specific development of black jazz critics, especially those who pay particular attention to black jazz musicians as artists, intellectuals, activists, and critics;

The celebration of black progressive music in black communities in Durham and Raleigh.  Jazz is for the people; it is the people’s music; it speaks to life experiences of America’s blues people.

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The Beat Generation: Silencing Blackness

December 2, 2004

Ms. Cynthia Requardt Curator “On the Road: The Beat Writers of New York and San Francisco” MSE Library Johns Hopkins University Dear Ms. Requardt: Each time I visit the MSE Library and observe the exhibit, entitled “On the Road: The Beat Writers of New York and San Francisco,” I have become increasingly disturbed by a display of Beat Generation figures and their work that ignores the central influence of black expressive culture on that movement. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, how is it that Johns Hopkins University, one of the world’s major institutions of advanced learning, could mount an exhibit of an important American cultural movement and choose to overlook what Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison refers to as America’s “Africanist presence”?  Therefore, I am compelled to offer this brief comment. The casual observer could walk past the exhibit’s portrait of Bob Kaufman without realizing his black American (mixed-race) heritage. I know of other pictures of him that are less ambiguous. In neither the exhibit nor the exhibit’s brochure is there a comment about Kaufman’s racial identity. Absent is any mention of the extent to which he employed the black expressive culture of jazz innovation and improvisational art in his work. To all those who understand the significance and meaning of the Beat movement, black American art forms were central to that project and to the making of modern (and even postmodern) American culture. Hence, Bob Kaufman’s racial and cultural identity is important and should have been acknowledged in the exhibit. Significantly, other key black American figures, such as Amiri Baraka (then LeRoi Jones) and Gloria Trapp, also should have been included in the exhibit. Black artists were not footnotes or appendages to white Beatnik histories of people like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Rather, black cultural workers and their innovative and improvisational styles were central. In his new book, Integral Music: Languages of African American Innovation, Aldon Neilsen writes:

The tale of the Beats has too often been half a tale, albeit full of sound and fury, and the stories of such innovative black artists as Stephen Jonas, Bob Kaufman, Harold Carrington, Gloria Trapp, even Baraka himself have yet to get adequately told. The major biographies of Ginsberg give only scant space to Baraka, who was a crucial colleague.  Critics such as Moss and Turco would have us believe that half of the tale of American poetry and culture, casually and inaccurately rendered, is the whole story. Allen Ginsberg knew better (2004: 117-118).

As an artistic movement, the Beat expression was inconceivable without the influence and example of black expressive culture. I am aware that no single exhibit can be totally inclusive, but we need to discontinue the long nightmare of whites’ narcissistic self-regard that, too easily, excludes and forgets the central importance of blackness to modern and postmodern American intellectual and cultural life. Sincerely, Floyd W. Hayes, III, Ph.D. Coordinator of Programs and Undergraduate Studies Center for Africana Studies Senior Lecturer Department of Political Science Johns Hopkins University 107 Greenhouse 3400 N. Charles Street Baltimore, MD 21218 Phone: 410-516-7659 FAX: 

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Are there a significant number of jazz programs at HBCUs?—Rudy

Rudy,   There may be jazz studies programs within departments of music, as is the case at NCCU. But NCCU is the first HBCU to establish a Jazz Research Institute. Jazz studies programs are designed to train jazz performers. A jazz research institute has a broader mission. I tried to speak to my own vision of that project. I am not a musician, but I love the music; and I approach my course with an attempt to get at the history and politics of jazz, especially the bebop revolt. As always,  Floyd

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—


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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

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By W. E. B. Du Bois

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

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

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posted 26 April 2008




Home Floyd W Hayes III Table

Related files: Letter to Bob Kaufman  Bob Kaufman Bio

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