June 2, 2007
Jazz Succumbs to RacismBy Thomas Lifson
Jazz is the great cultural achievement of America where blacks took a leading role as creators and practitioners, and where blacks and whites and eventually Asians, Latinos, and well, everyone, performed and listened in harmony (literally and figuratively). That era ended yesterday, thanks to the forward-thinking "progressives" of the San Francisco Bay Area. Race is now more important than music, according to authoritative local commentators and practitioners.
Jazz has now fallen to the level apparently requiring affirmative action. The word "tragedy" leaps to mind. We are moving in the opposite direction from a society where everyone is presumed equal and race is an irrelevant criterion. So much for Dr. King's "content of our character" hopes.
Yoshi's jazz club, a very prominent jazz venue in Oakland's Jack London Square entertainment district has, in the words of the San Francisco Chronicle, been "shamed" by its failure to judge the worth of jazz musicians on the color of their skin, instead of the content of their artistry.
The managers of Yoshi's jazz club said Friday that issuing a 10th anniversary CD with no African American musicians was "a huge mistake" and "a major oversight." In the wake of complaints by some African American musicians and community leaders, the club issued an apology and withdrew the disc.
Here is where Yoshi's now says it went wrong:
The crime, then, is in failing to regard skin color as a major criterion.
Apparently in this day and age, especially in the "progressive" Bay Area, one must always devote time and effort to racial bean-counting and careful allocation of everything on the basis of race. It doesn't matter if your business is a small one (Yoshi's is not exactly a multinational conglomerate, despite its international prominence and importance in the world of jazz), race must always be considered an important standard for judging every decision. Colorblindness is a crime.
Yoshi's was following the old way of thinking in jazz, and now that old way is judged bad by the leading lights of the Bay Area. As Matthew May reminded us yesterday, in the old days (you know, the era of Jim Crow), black and white jazz musicians were indifferent to race. The only criterion was, "Can he play?" Today, the "enlightened" minds demand a racial consciousness that puts the old apartheid regime of South Africa to shame.
In the realm of jazz, the monumental contribution of African-Americans to world culture, blacks are now relegated by "progressives" to the status of fragile, weak outsiders, so uncertain of their own merit, so lacking in standing that they require special consideration and support lest they fall between the cracks. A protected species, in other words. I had always thought blacks were not just in the front of the bus, they were in the driver's seat when it came to jazz. Now, blacks have been moved to the back of the jazz bus.
Ironies abound in the decision of Yoshi's to withdraw its original 10th anniversary compilation CD.
Translation: the new CD is going to cost more. So much for making high quality jazz available to the widest possible audience. Can jazz really afford to lose any more listeners?
Translation: about 500 lucky jazz fans now have an instant collector's item, all but certain to skyrocket in value.
Question: what becomes of the unsold CDs? Are they now so offensive that they must be shipped to the nearest landfill to become solid waste? If so, the clever garbage truck crew has a nice little gold mine on their hands if they spot the valuable trash. So:
Are we going to hear cries that the CDs must be destroyed? After all, if they are so somehow harmful that they must be withdrawn, then isn't it an act of "racism" to recycle them through unofficial channels? Should they be treated the way Hitler treated books by Jews, and burned in a public bonfire? If so, someone please call Al Gore and tell him about the pollution that will result. Or maybe Yoshi's must go to the expense of hiring a shredding machine, to protect the world's from the sounds of melanin-deficient jazz musicians.
Running a jazz club is never a route to fortune. I don't know the state of finances at Yoshi's, but I suspect that the financial blow of junking 500 CDs, along with the extra royalty costs and other expenses associated with a new affirmative action version of the 10th anniversary disc, are material, as they say in the world of financial reporting. If Yoshi's were to quietly sell the 500 politically incorrect discs on ebay (at the moment of writing this piece 68 jazz CDs recorded live at Yoshi's are on sale at ebay), the "shame" could actually become a minor financial bonanza. I would certainly pay a handsome sum for one of the forbidden discs, as they mark a historic turning point - the moment when blacks became a protected species in the world of jazz.
But if Yoshi's were to salvage its investment in this way (and thereby be able to host more jazz musicians - "more than half of the musicians who play Yoshi's are African American"), what are the odds that it would be denounced as a racist act? With people like Glen Pearson, an African American musician and College of Alameda instructor, waiting to pounce, I'd say almost a certainty. Here's what Pearson had to say to the Chron:
Silly me, silly Yoshi's. We thought jazz was about music. It turns out that it is about racial grievances.
This sad tale hits me in the gut because of a bit of personal history. Growing up in Minneapolis, which was in the 1950s a metropolis with very few black residents, the first black person I ever really met and sat down and talked to as a child of about 11, was a jazz musician, the great Eugene Wright, best known as the bassist in the Dave Brubeck Quartet in its "classic" phase. His kindness and consideration toward me, a youthful jazz fan and son of a former jazz vocalist, made a huge impression on me, both for his musical artistry and for his wonderful friendly and engaging personality. Race simply wasn't an issue, and in the 1960s that was a pretty rare experience. Gene, along with the upbringing my parents provided, set my racial template to "everyone is the same."
Evidently, even in jazz, that way of thinking is obsolete. And I cannot describe how sad I feel about it.
Hat tips: Paul Morel and Bookworm
Thomas Lifson is editor and publisher of American Thinker.