by LARRY RENI THOMAS
Jazz is a term that was given to American classical music around 1900, by the New Orleans aristocrats who after visiting the whorehouses and hearing the black musicians play the sounds of freedom, sought to deny it its dignity when they realized that they couldn’t play it and that their associates could not play it either. It has never belonged to black people nor will it ever. When the aristocrats realized that they could exploit it and make money off of it, the music, which is a reflection of the African-American musical reaction to the modern era, they took it over and have controlled it ever since. The first recorded “j-ass” (short for jack-ass) recording was performed by a group of people who the aristocrats selected. It would have been unthinkable and unprofitable to use black people to record black music.
American classical music has always had trouble with its African-American core because it has always been given a negative meaning. I interviewed Art “Buhania” Blakey several years ago after a concert at Duke University and he was highly ticked off because there were almost no black people in attendance. When I asked him was there a conspiracy to keep the music away from black people, he said, “Hell, no!” Buhania went on to say that black people don’t particularly like it and have been told by black preachers not to listen to the music because it was “devil’s music.”
I have been a jazz radio announcer/writer for three decades and have heard many blacks tell me that they don’t like jazz because it moves too fast or slow, there is not enough soulful singing, or that white folks like it. These are all absurd reasons of course, but that’s reality. How do we solve it? How do we reverse decades of fear and ignorance? Good questions. Maybe we should ask the aristocrats–the 10 families or .001% of the world who run things. The answer is to keep on doing what we are doing by promoting it, playing it on the radio and by posing such questions and challenging the status quo when they keep trying to make it something that it isn’t. It is BLACK MUSIC and it will continue to be for another 100 years. Just like we know that the Old Dixieland Jass Band was some watered down, mediocre music, we will know that most of the music we hear these days that passes itself off as American classical music (jazz) is as fake as a three-dollar bill.