Race & Jazz
To the Editor:
Under the guise of shining light on an important issue, Terry Teachout [“The Color of Jazz,” September], has revealed a rather dim and cliché-filled vision of the jazz world. First, he bemoans the release of a recent collection of jazz recordings, Black Legends of Jazz, which, he says, . . . chronicles a new low in racial divisiveness. Does he not know about the mid-60’s, when racial stratification in jazz was far more pronounced than it is now? And what of the Black Giants of Jazz album that Columbia issued in the 70’s?
Of greater significance is Mr. Teachout’s trashing of two of our most eloquent writers, Albert Murray and Stanley Crouch, both of whom have done so much to foster a more honest . . . union between blacks and whites. If Murray . . . chose to focus on black artists in his book, Stomping the Blues, so what? If, in this estimable tome, he wished to explore the blues, why not deal with the folks who created the blues? Murray’s analysis of the transmutation of the blues from a twelve-bar structure which began as accompaniment to a rigorously unsentimental world view into a marvelously coherent and profound vision of black life in America is a great accomplishment. . . .
Mr. Teachout then accuses Stanley Crouch of a sort of schizophrenia in his writing about jazz, something that is not borne out by even a cursory perusal of Crouch’s work. For example, . . . the following (from New Perspectives on Jazz, Smithsonian Press, 1990):
Human meaning and human value are what make an idiom universal, nothing else. Specific stylistic estimates are the things that create individual, idiomatic identity, and style is inevitably a code for the perception of human life and human meaning in a particular context. When Leontyne Price performs Tosca, what we observe is that Italian opera is so inclusive that a Negro from Laurel, Mississippi, can meet its requirements and express her own artistic identity as well. Parallel truths are witnessed when we hear a white musician play good jazz, or when we listen to a Gypsy named Django Reinhardt light up the guitar. . . .
Are these the words of a “racialist,” as Mr. Teachout brands both Crouch and Murray? . . .
As for Murray, Mr. Teachout does not mention any of his other books, the most noticeable omission being the classic The Omni-Americans. So as not to distort the record, Mr. Teachout should have addressed all of Murray’s work. . . .
I believe that the basic impetus behind jazz was a black one, albeit a black American one. Instead of hurling the “racialist” epithet, why isn’t Mr. Teachout equally incensed about the exclusion of the black contribution to other American genres in which blacks have been influential? One example: humor. So much of it is derived from Negro sources (subsequently distorted into minstrelsy), yet the “face” of American humor is not usually conceived of as a black one.
Given the upwardly mobile ladder jazz still represents to the black community in this age of gangsta rap, Bob Dole, crack, Rush Limbaugh, and the rest, I find it hard to cavil at what the Jazz at Lincoln Center concert series (directed by Wynton Marsalis, with Stanley Crouch as artistic adviser) has done to accomplish its goals. One of these, the integration (not only racially but across the board) of the core audience has been wonderful to witness. Another, the hope offered to black kids that jazz may be just the thing to increase what are their still small odds of leaving their disadvantaged neighborhoods, makes me want to be a little more lenient about what the jazz program at Lincoln Center stands for.
I understand the problem some musicians (and writers) . . . have with the relatively recent resurgence of the more traditional forms of jazz. For decades this repertoire was the exclusive domain of white players—Ruby Braff, Kenny Davern, Dick Well-stood, Don Ewell. . . . Now, all of a sudden, this music has been discovered by a slew of young, mostly black players who have gotten an inordinate amount of publicity (one wishes Dick Wellstood could have received even a meager portion of it during his lifetime). . . .
There will continue to be dues paid on both sides of the racial coin until things work themselves out—after all, we are still only a blink away from slavery in the true timetable of existence.
I share Mr. Teachout’s fervor in championing Benny Goodman, Stan Getz, Dave Tough, Jack Teagarden, and other white players as jazz musicians with no superiors (save Louis Armstrong). But I also know that they all gave credit where credit was due as to what this music is about, and where it came from. Ultimately, what we love about them is their personal way of expressing themselves in this American musical dialect, one that they all acknowledged was at first truly black and is now truly American.
The New School
New York City
To the Editor:
Terry Teachout fails to substantiate his charge that Stanley Crouch and Wynton Marsalis are guilty of racial discrimination. It is clear that Mr. Teachout rejects Crouch’s and Marsalis’s beliefs that the roots of jazz are firmly planted in blues and swing, and that jazz musicians who fail to incorporate blues and swing into their music are playing a diluted form of jazz. Apparently Mr. Teachout’s motto is de gustibus non est disputandum.
Mr. Teachout notes that Marsalis was “one of a number of stylistically conservative players of the late 70’s and early 80’s who rejected the avant-garde techniques of the 60’s in favor of a ‘neoclassical’ approach.” Yet rather than confront the neoclassicists’ sense of aesthetics, he hurls the charge of racism at his ideological foes. In their stewardship of the jazz department at Lincoln Center, Marsalis and Crouch discriminate against both white and black musicians who fail to incorporate blues and swing into their music.
Throughout his article, Mr. Teachout is forced to make a string of admissions that ultimately undercut his charge of racial discrimination. He points out that “ever since he began giving interviews in the early 80’s [Marsalis] has been quick to criticize other musicians, notably Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins, for ‘selling out’ to commercial music.” And in addition to black jazz musicians, Marsalis also criticizes black rap artists. Mr. Teachout must also admit that Marsalis “uses white players both in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and in his own groups.”
Mr. Teachout has not demonstrated that Lincoln Center’s institutional bias flows from racism. In a feeble attempt to prove that Marsalis discriminates against musicians on the basis of race, Mr. Teachout relies on disparate impact, a nonargument favored by many civil-rights advocacy groups. He relies on the following reasoning: “the ratio of concert dates in [Jazz at Lincoln Center] . . . has consistently been in the neighborhood of ten black musicians to one white.” Consequently, he says, Marsalis has discriminated against white musicians. This type of soft-headed argument has been effective on university campuses, but it will not make much headway in the jazz community. Mr. Teachout would have been on stronger ground if he had demonstrated that there is a large number of highly qualified white jazz neoclassicists who cannot get work with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. The inference of racial discrimination can arise only after such facts have been established.
Mr. Teachout states that the young jazz neoclassicists known as the “Young Lions” have “one thing in common: their race.” He ignores the obvious fact that these musicians share a common vision of jazz, a vision that Mr. Teachout does not share. Jazz musicians and critics have had ideological wars over the canon for decades. These heated debates are welcome because jazz evolves through honest debate. Rather than engage the jazz community in a debate over the merits of the neoclassicists’ approach to jazz, Mr. Teachout chose to malign the character of men who have played a central role in revitalizing jazz.
Gerald A. Reynolds
Center for Equal Opportunity
To the Editor:
Terry Teachout’s premise of reverse racialism in contemporary jazz founders on a basic misconception. . . . While race relations in the jazz world have certainly been more enlightened than in the broader society, the racially idealized environment Mr. Teachout describes never existed. The facts are (and this should not have to be repeated) that the integrated bands Mr. Teachout refers to were a rare exception and the black musicians in these bands could not stay in the same hotels or eat in the same restaurants as their white counterparts. (Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway circumvented segregation by traveling in private Pullman railroad cars.) Nor was integration common in the recording studio, although an integrated group of musicians did record as early as 1923. Local musicians’ unions also were racially segregated until about 30 years ago, and few black musicians were able to penetrate the lucrative radio, television, and film-studio orchestras.
Furthermore, Mr. Teachout’s implication that whites have played a role equivalent to blacks in the stylistic progression of jazz is simply not so. The primary stylistic innovators in jazz from its beginnings have been almost exclusively African-Americans. . . . Many white musicians have played jazz with proficiency and brilliance of the first rank, but they popularized and profited from interpreting styles that African-American musicians created. . . .
In connection with Jazz at Lincoln Center, Mr. Teachout’s contention that “contemporary white composers [have not] been commissioned to write original pieces for the full orchestra” has some validity (although one can cite commissioned work by Gerry Mulligan and Joe Lovano). The problem with these commissions has been less racial exclusion than the unreadiness of the awardees to fulfill their requisite task. Others have taken issue with Jazz at Lincoln Center’s exclusion of the music of contemporary jazz musicians, white and black, who navigate the music’s speculative realm such as Cecil Taylor, Anthony Davis, and the late Julius Hemphill. But Mr. Teachout’s primary complaint that at Jazz at Lincoln Center “the historic contributions of earlier white players, composers, and arrangers are systematically ignored” is absurd. . . .
Whether Wynton Marsalis and Stanley Crouch hold the views expressed in the isolated statements Mr. Teachout cites is open to debate. What is not debatable is that in a virtual vacuum they have worked to deepen public understanding of jazz and to inspire younger musicians to play it. The talent pool for jazz is larger today than it has been since the 1950’s, but its audience is limited and largely ignorant of the music’s legacy. A well-informed audience can construct a clearer aesthetic. When the history of jazz is understood as thoroughly by its critics as Western classical music, literature, cinema, and the visual arts are understood by theirs, we can have clearer discussions about the issues Mr. Teachout is concerned with.
Instead, we have “The Color of Jazz,” where half-truths are posited as authentic facts. One may reserve judgment on the youth-centered marketing strategies of recording labels and regret that a white artist of Phil Woods’s caliber is not signed to a recording contract with a major label. But Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson, and Cedar Walton, three sixtyish black artists of arguably greater stature than Woods, are also unsigned. . . .
Race cliquishness and interracial fraternity coexist in contemporary jazz as they always have. . . . Mr. Teachout could have raised his criticisms of contemporary jazz politics without distorting the painful realities of the music’s history. While crying reverse racism, “The Color of Jazz” deals the “race card” from the very bottom of the deck.
New York City
To the Editor:
. . . How would mainstream jazz be any different today if all the glorious B’s-Bix (Beiderbecke), Bunny (Berigan), Bill (Evans), (Dave) Brubeck-had never played? How much would anyone’s record shelf be shortened? To my ear, only Stan Getz, and perhaps Bill Evans, created original music. . . . Of the “Afro” masters, only Lester Young claimed that he had been influenced by a white player. . . .
There is no denying the fact that great white players had an important effect on jazz history. But their importance might not have come from their playing so much as from their success in legitimizing the music and thereby attracting other whites . . . as listeners, critics, and promoters.
Jazz is a distinctly Afro music, but it is distinguished from other Afro music by the unique racial mix of its audience. Jazz is an uncommon style and developed only in those few times and places where local custom and politics allowed mixed audiences. Performing for Afro audiences, Afro players have tended toward the same ritual expressions of bawdiness, misogyny, and machismo typical of much popular Afro entertainment. But the presence of even a few whites in the audience (or even if whites, especially critics or promoters, were only anticipated), in effect “kept the musicians honest” and challenged them to greater invention, skill, and even art.
So we find that whites . . . played a vital role in advancing jazz through appreciation, discernment, support, and promotion—all of which Afro communities by themselves were seldom able to sustain. And the vital contribution of great white performers in making jazz thrive consisted of attracting other whites into the audience. . . .
San Quentin Village
To the Editor:
It is ironic that in attempting to document reverse racism against white jazz musicians, Terry Teachout resorts to the same type of evidence . . . used by advocates of affirmative action, today’s most menacing program of reverse racism.
Mr. Teachout begins his article by pointing out, correctly, that jazz, as an aesthetic medium, is not a racial phenomenon. However, he seems to conclude from this that all races should be equally or proportionately represented among jazz’s ablest practitioners. So, when white composers appear to be given an “unfairly” small piece of the pie in Lincoln-C enter-Jazz-Orchestra commissions or when their works are seldom performed, he sees this as evidence that, in the terminology of affirmative action and multiculturalism, a cabal of elite black jazz critics and musicians (who were overrated anyway) are purging the “canon” of the accomplishments of white musicians and suppressing current ones.
Like all such demagogic accounts, this one includes one sad real-world example, the talented white musician, Phil Woods, who cannot get a record contract. We are offered no evidence that his problems are connected with his race, but we are supposed to infer that, since he is white and underemployed, he must be the victim of discrimination. Mr. Teachout then asserts that Woods’s case is typical. He comes off sounding like a white John Conyers, Jr., the Michigan Congressman who was unhappy with the ratio of black to white musicians in the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra.
Mr. Teachout forgets that racism is an attitude and a policy, and cannot be proved by one isolated example or by citing percentages. A disproportionately small number of employed white jazz musicians is no more evidence of discrimination than the fact that there are so few black university professors. It is impossible to impute the existence of racist actions, let alone thoughts, from outcomes; actual racism must be shown. But Mr. Teachout’s attempt to do this, with a few vague quotations from Wynton Marsalis and Stanley Crouch, is not convincing.
It is quite possible that blacks as a group are more talented at jazz than whites are. This does not mean that great individual jazz musicians like Benny Goodman and Bill Evans do not rank with their most accomplished black fellows. But until a pattern of discrimination and racism is proved, we should stick with the more parsimonious explanation of unevenly distributed talent.
Plainsboro, New Jersey
To the Editor:
Terry Teachout’s “The Color of Jazz” filled me with a great sense of sadness for the music I love with a passion, not unlike the pain caused by the death of a loved one.
Leading an all-white group for the past 25 years has certainly made me aware of the utter nonsense of the situation described in the article. Is Chico Freeman more important than Zoot Sims? Is Marcus Roberts better than Bill Evans? And on and on. Is this what jazz is all about? Who’s better? My Daddy can beat up your Daddy? Oh, the shame!
Of course jazz is primarily of black origin, but the influences on it are diverse. I am reminded of this anecdote: Barney Kessel was berated by a black musician who claimed Barney had stolen his people’s music. Barney said, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll give back ching-ching-a-ding if you return do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do!”
The folly of our bigoted society is well documented and the need for improvement is great. But in the past jazz has set an example for the rest of the world. I fell in love with jazz at the age of thirteen. I presume André Watts fell in love with classical music at some point. If whites can’t play jazz, then logic dictates that blacks can’t play classical music. I was part of a white quota system when I was hired for the 1956 Dizzy Gillespie band that toured the Middle East and South America under State Department sponsorship. But that is not why I worked with Dizzy on and off for over 30 years and became his close friend. And if I was good enough for him and Quincy Jones and Thelonious Monk, all of whom I worked with and considered good friends, why should I worry about what some young lion thinks of me? Because it hurts like hell. That’s why. . . .
I can’t get a performing grant for my group in my own town, from my local university (which thought enough of my efforts to award me an honorary doctorate), because I am white. That does not seem fair, and the policy is offensive. But the whole issue is divisive and further fuels enmity to the point of confrontation. And that is a very frightening thought.
Is it all Wynton Marsalis’s and Stanley Crouch’s fault? I don’t think so. Surely the media, and especially record companies, have contributed to this abysmal state of affairs. Enough already! Let’s play together and learn to love each other. It is our only salvation as a people. Let jazz represent this good side of our selves. Jazz speaks to the world and is a powerful force, but as it is, the music is already on the road to fossilization. Desist or perish!
The bad guys get all the press when good people don’t speak out against this betrayal of America’s gift to the world. I occupy that world and accept the gift as graciously as possible. I will not give it back.
Delaware Water Gap
To the Editor:
Congratulations to COMMENTARY and Terry Teachout for shining light on one of the gloomiest of present-day social problems, reverse racism. . . .
The true tragedy of the present situation is that, against all the anti-black ugliness of the past 300 years, one glorious exception has been the world of jazz. No knowledgeable person denies that the African-American contribution to this beautiful art form has been dominant. The American white majority has always understood this. So far, so good. But for any black musician or layman to express contempt for the contributions of white jazz players is clearly morally unacceptable.
Although I played him in the movie, The Benny Goodman Story, I was never very fond of Benny personally, but it is simply a fact that to this day he is the best jazz clarinetist of them all.
Blacks still have enemies in white America. That being the case, it does not make a great deal of sense to be deliberately offensive to friendly whites who have never been guilty of racism.
Like many pale-faced observers, I have always been guilty of bias about blacks—in their favor. I once had fun with such bias by recording two jazz albums, The Discovery of Buck Hammer and The Wild Piano of Maryanne Jackson, both of which were attributed to obscure black pianists. Sure enough, the jazz critics—who were white—gave the albums much more respect than would have been the case if my own name had been on them.
To the Editor:
Long-time laborers in the jazz vineyards are indebted to COMMENTARY for publishing Terry Teachout’s superb and much-needed article, “The Color of Jazz.”
The ugly specter of “Crow Jim” or reverse racism in the jazz world goes back at least to the 1960’s, but has never loomed as large as it does today, with such high-profile spokesmen as Wynton Marsalis, Albert Murray, and Stanley Crouch. . . .
As Mr. Teachout makes clear, Crow Jim is hardly the exclusive property of blacks. A white student in my jazz-history class at Stanford handed in a term paper that claimed: “Black musicians went into jazz for the Art, and white musicians went into it for the money.” And this is not an isolated case.
One need not have to be Jewish, like me, to abhor the rampant anti-Semitism that seems an inescapable part of the current vogue for Crow Jim among the black reverse-racists in jazz. . . .
To the Editor:
In his article, Terry Teachout cites my book, Cats of Any Color. But here I would like to mention an incident that I did not describe in my book At the Chicago Jazz Festival three or four years ago, a certain black writer on jazz, knowing of my Canadian background, asked me, “Why are there no blacks in the [Toronto-based] Rob McConnell band?” An undertext of his question was that, as a Canadian, I owed him an answer, and indeed there was an implication in his tone that somehow it was my fault. He clearly knew nothing about Canada . . . , where the black population is not large, and consequently there simply are not many black jazz musicians.
There were three big bands at the Chicago Jazz Festival that year. There was only one white musician among the three. This did not seem to bother my inquisitor at all, if indeed he even noticed.
Recently a writer praised my book in a review for Jazziz, but the magazine refused to print it: it was not “correct.” That is how serious this polarization has become. It is ironic that the Lincoln Center program, which was established for the purported purpose of preserving jazz, is destroying it through a process of prejudice combined with cronyism and political opportunism. . . .
To the Editor:
Terry Teachout’s article is both timely and well-argued. The unhappy situation he identifies operates on several levels, and suggests a further point. . . It is possible that Murray, Crouch, Marsalis, and their acolytes are driven by a quite laudable intention: to raise consciousness and pride in a black generation whose basic aesthetic and cultural perceptions have been misshapen by ugliness and despair. If so, who would take issue with them? Each group has a right to role models and . . . a heritage of its own, and Armstrong, Ellington, et al. are towering figures, worthy candidates for enshrinement.
But by what means are such ends achieved? Armstrong, Ellington, and the rest won their preeminence in a field teeming with extraordinary musicians of both races. . . . As a jazz trumpeter and the author of a biography of Bix Beiderbecke (and a forthcoming book on white participation in jazz), I can state that for every Billie Holiday there was a Mildred Bailey, for every Roy Eldridge a Bunny Berigan, for every Coleman Hawkins a Bud Freeman. Many other whites made indispensable contributions: Red Norvo, master architect of jazz mallet playing; Frank Trumbauer, elegant model for Lester Young; Bix Beiderbecke, emissary of a lyric, Apollonian sensibility absent from jazz until his arrival. Their records, and those of countless others, provide easily available corroboration of their talent.
To deny them their well-earned place, rewriting them out of history as Crouch, Murray, and Mar-salis have apparently undertaken to do, is to deprive jazz of one of its great strengths—its real (as opposed to rhetorical) multiculturalism. It is also dishonest; and falsification of history, whatever its perceived goals, is never justifiable. But as Mr. Teachout so eloquently reminds us, reverse racism has already invaded and gone far toward compromising the “meritocracy of comrades” that used to be jazz. And that is little short of tragic.
Richard M. Sudhalter
Southold, New York
To the Editor:
Terry Teachout seems to be quite accurate about racism in jazz. I arrived in New York in 1966 and was taken into the jazz circle where I was fortunate to spend a great deal of time with the players who were then at the pinnacle of their careers: Phil Woods, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Frank Wess, Joe Farrell, Jerome Richardson, Jerry Dodgion, Snooky Young, Chico O’Farrill, Joe Newman, Oliver Nelson, Quincy Jones . . . the list is too long to go on with here. But the musicians represented a complete cross-section of all that was going on in the jazz world in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. . . .
Though I was raised in the South before integration, I never experienced problems of racism in the company of any jazz musicians I had known, and coming to New York only confirmed this; in other words, every gig I went to was peopled by musicians from all ethnic backgrounds, and it seemed that no one was conscious of differences in the “cats” except for musical style, personality, and personal idiosyncrasies. . .
But things seem to have snuck up on us over the last ten or twelve years; now we find tremendous separation in the jazz community. I hesitate to point fingers, but would prefer to find ways to bring us back together. . . . Eventually, maybe those who feel as I do will get things back to normal. Jazz is a joyous music that anyone of any background who feels it and has the talent to express those feelings can play. . . .
Purdys, New York
To the Editor:
May I add a few footnotes to Terry Teachout’s excellent article? Years ago Max Kaminsky (white cornetist) wrote that blacks
did fashion a wholly new music, but its roots were embedded in European music as well as the Negro. Without the American Negro there would be no jazz, and without the white man there would be no jazz. Jazz has never existed in Africa, and it doesn’t exist there today. It was formed from the two musical cultures, from the African, which has the highest development of rhythm in the world, and from the European, which has the greatest development of harmony in the world, and it happened in America.
Coleman Hawkins (black saxophonist) wrote that in England he had trouble with people believing in the Crow-Jim concept of jazz. Hawkins declared that he had played
with Benny Goodman and all of them and I didn’t know any clarinet player that played any more than Benny. . . . And the famous old Dixieland Jazz Band wasn’t colored and that was before my time!
. . . When Jimmy Harrison (black trombonist) and Jack Teagarden (white trombonist) met in New York, they were surprised and delighted that although separated by thousands of miles in their youth, they had come up with similar new ways to play the trombone.
Robert M. Thornton
Fort Mitchell, Kentucky
To the Editor:
I applaud Terry Teachout’s article. One of the cruelest effects of the situation he describes is that scores of worthy jazz artists over the age of thirty-five, black as well as white, are being denied opportunities and exposure that are rightfully theirs. As a result, vital artistic resources are in danger of being lost. The damage to jazz and our culture is unconscionable; if these current trends continue, the damage may also be irreparable.
New York City
To the Editor:
I truly enjoyed Terry Teachout’s article. Jazz came from two sources; the blues and the popular music of the day. The importance of the blues in jazz has never been questioned. . . . The playing of popular music by jazz musicians also has a history that dates back to the origin of jazz.
The earliest jazz bands played an upscale version of the music that was then being played by New Orleans marching bands. Often the same musicians played brass-band music in street bands as well as jazz in the clubs and brothels. This marching-band music was not the blues, it was European music that black musicians in New Orleans quickly made their own. For the next 80 years, jazz musicians everywhere played tunes from the treasury of American popular song.
In the 1970’s there was fusion when, once again, jazz presented an instrumental and refined version of the rock music of this period. In the 1980’s and 1990’s musicians like Miles Davis did the same thing with hip-hop. For almost a century the blues and pop coexisted peacefully within jazz where they influenced and nourished each other.
Still, there is a grain of truth to the argument of the jazz racialists. White musicians, although they played the blues, were on the whole more comfortable with the other (pop) side of the jazz equation. Black musicians, however, were equally at home in both traditions. But the racialists’ attempt to remove the non-blues element from jazz is a distortion of the facts. . . . The only reason for doing this is to superimpose a political bias on music that has always (if imperfectly) tried to recognize quality above skin color.
Michael I. Sims
British Columbia, Canada
Terry Teachout writes:
I am saddened that Loren Schoenberg, a jazz musician whom I greatly admire, has chosen to defend the racialist rhetoric of Albert Murray and Stanley Crouch, and to misrepresent the central argument of Murray’s Stomping the Blues, which is accurately summarized in “The Color of Jazz.” I also noted there that Crouch “has on occasion expressed admiration for certain white players,” which hardly relieves him of responsibility for the other, more prominent occasions when he has written about the white contribution to jazz in terms whose racialist implications are blatantly self-evident. (It has always been part of Crouch’s method to work both sides of the street.)
To the best of my knowledge, Linda Chavez and Gerald A. Reynolds do not have backgrounds in jazz. Presumably this explains the various forms of confusion evident in their letter, just as it explains much about the “aesthetic” theories of Murray and Crouch. To recapitulate: (1) Murray’s contention is not that “jazz musicians who fail to incorporate blues and swing into their music are playing a diluted form of jazz.” It is that jazz and the blues are consubstantial; that white musicians cannot play the blues; and that white musicians therefore cannot be “authentic” jazz players. Every term of this syllogism is demonstrably untrue, and the conclusion racialist on its face. (2) My article was not about neoclassicism in jazz, a movement which existed before Wynton Marsalis was born and of which I am, in fact, a vocal and enthusiastic supporter: it was about the effects Albert Murray’s racialist ideas have had on the culture of jazz in America, with particular reference to Jazz at Lincoln Center. (3) My argument does not rest solely, or even primarily, on hiring figures: rather, it rests on the musical content of the programs devised and presented by Marsalis and Crouch.
A historically oriented jazz concert series which does not acknowledge in its programming the achievements of great white jazz musicians of the past is, once again, racialist on its face. This would be true even if every member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, including Mar-salis, were white. The point is not that Jazz at Lincoln Center discriminates in hiring—it is that Jazz at Lincoln Center uses public monies to disseminate and legitimize a racialist theory of jazz. As for what does and does not “make much headway in the jazz community,” I venture to suggest that the jazz musicians whose letters appear above know more about the views of the jazz community than Miss Chavez and Mr. Reynolds.
Ted Panken is also more knowledgeable about jazz than Miss Chavez and Mr. Reynolds, but the categorical assertions he makes in his letter should not be taken at face value by uninformed readers. For example, racially integrated jazz combos were common from the 40’s on (Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, Gerry Mulligan, and Dave Brubeck were only a few of the many jazz stars who led integrated bands in the postwar period), and racially integrated recording sessions were common from the 3 O’s on (of the 31 small-group sessions Teddy Wilson recorded under his own name between 1935 and the beginning of 1939, at least twenty were integrated).
As for the specific points Mr. Panken makes about Jazz at Lincoln Center, I am at a loss to know what he means when he says that my statement that white composers are not commissioned to write for the full Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (as opposed to smaller groups performing under the banner of Jazz at Lincoln Center) has “some” validity. Either it is true or not. Similarly, what is “absurd” about my saying that Jazz at Lincoln Center has “systematically ignored” the work of older white players, composers, and arrangers? Again, this is a matter of fact, not opinion. And while I, too, would like jazz audiences to be “well-informed” about the history of jazz, I fail to see how the promulgation by famous musicians, widely admired critics, and state-subsidized agencies of racialist theories of jazz will bring us any closer to that noble goal.
Indeed, I think it far more likely that such activities will encourage the spread of the sentiments found in Richard Mermin’s letter, which is fully as racialist as anything Murray or Crouch have written about jazz (and racialist toward whites and blacks alike, which is no small trick). It requires no comment from me save to say it is simply not true that Lester Young was the only “Afro” jazz musician who “claimed that he had been influenced by a white player”—though judging from his tone, I doubt it would matter overmuch to Mr. Mermin were his ignorance to be compromised by the facts.
E.V. Kontorovich is equally ignorant of the facts, and with less excuse, since reading my essay more carefully would have solved his problem. His “more parsimonious explanation of unevenly distributed talent” bears no relationship to the musical environment described in “The Color of Jazz,” in which talent is and has always been distributed without regard to race. Therein lies the problem with the Smithsonian and Lincoln Center jazz programs, where “pieces of the pie” are apportioned according to race, not talent—de jure in the case of the Smithsonian, de facto (so far as is known) in the case of Lincoln Center.
I thank the other correspondents—plus the many musicians, some of them very distinguished indeed, who privately expressed approval of “The Color of Jazz”—for their generous comments. Phil Woods and Gene Lees were, of course, mentioned in my original article; Steve Allen is known for his lifelong advocacy of jazz, going back to his days as host of the Tonight Show; Grover Sales is a well-known jazz educator and commentator; Richard M. Sudhalter’s Bix: Man and Legend is the finest biography of a jazz musician yet written; Marvin Stamm is a trumpeter of the highest distinction whose long résumé includes stints with the Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, and Thad Jones/ Mel Lewis orchestras; Bill Kirchner is a jazz saxophonist, composer, and scholar of note. I list their credentials to give readers of COMMENTARY a sense of perspective about the response of the jazz community to the article.