Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Blues Revival

I'm channeling the blues revival of the late 50s/early 60s, specifically the interest in what was called the Country Blues (by Sam Charters) in 1959, but which had, by 1964, become the Delta Blues, though much of it was not from the Delta at all.  Anyway, a few things are clear:

1. Despite all the rhetoric about folkie authenticity, communal song archives, and primal individual expression, the old blues players that the revivalists found were clearly playing music that was soaked in popular song and show business performance traditions.  Nobody plays like this because it's "tradition" or "a deep soulful wail" (tho those things are in there.)  This is showing off:

2.  There's clearly something to admire in the passion that folks like Koerner, Ray. and Glover felt about this music, and their performances are interesting. But more than their performances, the fact that they really just wanted to play, that they were lifers for music making and this was the music they wanted to make.  That's very punk rock, and just one of the reasons why the blues revival seems to me to be (maybe) the first emergence of unpopular popular music.  But there's something unconvincing here, at least for me, and I think its regional, not racial identity that undercuts the performance.  It's not because they're white, its because they're northerners, and you can hear it in the singing:

(no idea who the people are in this video, BTW, but they seem like they belong there.  It's the only clip I can find that isn't from the documentary.) 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sunday's page(s)

While the band asserted their own definition of “American” values offstage, the real opportunity to complicate the tour’s narrative came during performances.  I have spoken previously of “crossover narratives” as discursive formations intended to authenticate individual performers whose career or body of work is held to defy genre boundaries.  I have argued that, more often than not, it is more accurate to say that these performers are at the center of efforts by critics, audiences, industry actors and other musicians to manage genres for their own benefit, and that the genre boundaries supposedly crossed are in fact reified.  What Gillespie and the band present, and I would argue enlist Stearns in, is a “crossover narrative” which defines jazz as a musical hybrid, one that demands, as Gillespie notes in an interview recorded on the tour, “access to the full range of European harmonic development, and also the full range of African rhythmic development.”[i]  And, as the two key geographies Gillespie cites imply, it is a crossover narrative rooted in the history of colonialism and the global slave trade, a history that is, in many of the locations the band visits, increasingly subject to revolution, revision and critique.  The act of “crossing over” activated in this narrative is the crossing and re-crossing of the Black Atlantic[EJ1] , the necessary condition for the establishment of “black music” as, in Paul Gilroy’s term, “a counterculture of modernity.”[ii]
            The music that Gillespie’s state department band plays articulates a watershed moment in an emergent co-identification between jazz, anti-colonialism, and the American civil rights movement, one that is fraught with any number of ironies, all of which, to one degree or another, work against or complicate the overt transcript of American capitalist triumphalism, and all of which are clearly expressed in “Manteca.” Where the tour’s narrative stresses jazz’s capability to express universal emotions, “Manteca’s” juxtaposition of straightforward, European-influence African-American jazz rhythms on the bridge, and the African-descended syncopated clave rhythm of the other sections of the song diagrams both the compatibility of the musical devices of the African diaspora, and the difference that differing colonial regimes made in terms of the survival and retention of specific musical practices.  This dual expression is consistent with arguments that Gillespie made throughout his life, casting jazz, and specifically Be-bop’s aggressively virtuosic tendencies as both indelibly linked to African American and Afro-diasporic history and practice, while at the same time disputing the charge that it had been or could be “stolen” by white musicians by explaining that “you can’t steal a gift.  Bird [Charlie Parker] gave it to everybody who could hear it.”[iv]
            While such sentiments–especially in conjunction with his onstage persona–would, in ensuing years, blunt and soften the public perception of Gillespie’s commitment to black identity, I would argue that they represent what Paul Gilroy calls “strategic universalism,” or “planetary humanism.”   Gilroy argues that “yearning to be free, that is to be free of “race” and racism, has provided enduring foundations for the resolutely utopian aspirations to which a racially coded world gave rise among the subordinated, immiserated and colonized.”[v]  While Paul Austerlitz, who stresses the importance of these terms in negotiating a continuum or “creative tension” between relativism and universalism, prefers “planetary humanism,” “strategic universalism” is more helpful here because it cites Gayatri Spivak’s post-colonial notion of “strategic essentialism”–the mobilization of essentialist discourses and stereotypes by subordinated colonial subjects in the service of anti-colonialist aims.[vi]  As we shall see, strategic essentialism offers a useful lens for seeing Chano Pozo’s extended and highly theatrical conga solos on older versions of the song.  “Strategic historicism,” a variant of Spivak’s term deployed by queer studies theorist and historian Valerie Traub to indicate "a mode of historical inquiry attuned to continuity and rupture, similarity and difference," is helpful for unpacking the chant of “I’ll never go back to Georgia” which opens the State Department band’s versions of the song.[vii]  More than just a gesture of protest, the chant diagrams a narrative which places the slave trading ports of coastal Georgia behind the narrator, and the promise of a post-colonial future ahead.  The fact that this chant is voiced by an integrated band, stressing a consciousness of racism’s dehumanizing effect on dominators as well as dominated, further attests to the usefulness of the notion of post-colonial strategies in auditioning these complex performances[EJ2] .
            The version of “Manteca” performed by the State Department Band in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, on august 24th, 1956 opens with Dizzy announcing, over a wildly enthusiastic crowd, “and now…Manteca!”  He stretches out the middle syllable [“maantaaaaaaaayyyyy-ca!”] and follows the end of the word with a short, almost grunted four note vocalization in guttural unison on top of Nelson Boyd’s bass, which has begun delineating the repetitious but memorable ostinato pattern that underpins one of the song’s three main sections.  Elsewhere in “Manteca” this simple patterns’ repetition will cycle hypnotically below and through the complex harmonies implied[EJ3]  by the horns and piano, creating an insistent and propulsive pulse.  Here in the introduction though, Charlie Persip punctuates the space between the end of one cycle and the beginning of the next with a succinct and dramatic flourish played on his bass drum and floor tom.  And, as the bass ostinato begins it’s second repetition, the voices come in, first the band without Gillespie, and then Gillespie, audibly closer to the microphone, joining in, to chant along with each iteration of the bass line: “I’ll never go back to Georgia!”  The chant, which does not appear on any of the publicly released versions of the song recorded before this tour, is sung three times total, with Persip’s drums supplying exclamation points in between.[viii]  After the third chant, the drums roll the band into the first section, with Persip’s accents on the upper toms implying the conga drums thatappear on earlier versions of the song.  The saxophones, trombones and trumpets begin the simple, interlocking riffs that define this section, and Gillespie’s trumpet enters with a commanding flurry of upper register notes, announcing the song’s primary theme.   All of this takes place in less than a minute.  The key to this gesture though, and to the way in which the crossover genre of Afro-Cban jazz registers not only the deep history of diasporic dispersal, but the more recent history of 20th Century diasporic dialogue between Harlem and Havana, is that the phrase doesn’t end with “Georgia.”  It ends with that final beat.  In the State Department band, that beat is articulated by  a quick flam on Charli Persip’s toms.  In the original recording, it’s the sound of skin on skin.

[i] Gillespie interview on 3rd CD
[ii] Find Gilroy: “counterculture of modernity” quote & cite.
[iii] Austerlitz xiv
[iv] “Can’t steal a gift” quote from Lees.
[v] Gilroy, Paul.  Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line.  Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press,  2000.  p.330
[vi] Austerlitz- “planetary humanism”
[vii] Straub- “strategic historicism” find quote from lesbian renasiance.
[viii] List of prior recordings of “manteca.” 

 [EJ1]Insert: by Africans in slave ships, carrying via memory, recognition and response, musical patterns and idea, and now by African Americans in airplanes, etc.

 [EJ2]-classlessness of race in the service of anti-communism- Mtgy bus boycott quotes (or save that for later & connect to Newport? – yes!

 [EJ3]That much is true, but it’s not really the point to make: it’s the spaciousness & the interlocking parts.  Harmonic complexity is the issue on the bridge.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Megraw's Recipe

for finishing = 1 page a day.  Every day.