Sunday, December 10, 2006


He's Swinging the Ancestors Now: Legendary Jazz Band Leader Jay McShann Dies

Charlie Parker playing in the McShann Band.

For me, the Kansas City blues painists were funketeers of the highest order, and although it might be called backward-looking revisionism, I can hear in them melodic harbingers of all of the Black American music that follows, right up to Hip Hop. Jay McShann gave Charlie Parker his start and was one of those heroic musical creators who kept the world dancing and snapping their fingers through the harrowing near-death of western civilization that was World War II. So for me great sadness and deep gratitude accompany the passing of Brother McShann at age 90 (or 97 depending on who you ask).

In 1987, McShann visited the studios of Fresh Air and laid down some serious piano. Remember him well by taking another listen to this great musician, bandleader, mentor and vocalist. May he be welcomed into the great swinging party that is going on right now wherever the ancestors are gathered on the other side. We'll miss him.

Fresh Air: 1987 Interview with Jay McSahnn

Friday, December 08, 2006


Get Hip to Shepp: Jazz Legend

Get your dome blown open by the sounds of Jazz saxophonist, educator and activist Archie Shepp profiled this week on the BBC Radio 3's Jazz Legends show with Julian Joseph.

This week on the BBC Radio 3's Jazz Legends, Julian Joseph and James Wyllie profile the tenor saxophonist, educator and activist Archie Shepp. It's a great mini-course on this important "New Wave" Jazz artist, who was also a playwright, philosopher and activist. Mentored by Coltrane in the early 60's Shepp was considered avante-garde, and played on some of his earliest recordings with Free Jazz pianist Cecil Taylor. A historian of the Black musical experience in American, Shepp drew from the full range of African American styles - Blues, Spirituals, Rhythm and Blues, African percussion and electronic. His style is both experimental, lyrical and funky and should be a part of every serious brotha's musical vocabulary. In the late 60's, Shepp, like many other Jazz musicians made the pilgrimage to Paris, to continue working during the difficult years of the British invasion and the rise of Rock. He returned to the U.S. and remains vital today as a performer and professor at the University of Massachusetts. Listen up here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Kweisi Mfume on Black Stereotypes

In 2003 Kweisi Mfume, then president and CEO of the NAACP held a press conference rejecting streotypes of Black people in America. Right now I am preparing for an exhibition of the work of Kara Walker, which uses streotypes such as Mammy, Picaninny, Coon, and the Brute to make her artistic point. For me, it is an open question if she successfully subverts the original intention and meaning of these stereotypes or reinforces them. But, I thought it worth reprinting here an excerpt from the Mfume speech.

"We are still living with the entirely untrue racist labels placed on African-Americans hundreds of years ago. We [African-Americans] do not enjoy sitting on our porches, nor do we frequently drink malt liquor from 40-ounce bottles. We do not wear our hats backward, nor our pants with one leg bunched up, and we certainly wear more than just Fila and FUBU. We love to swim. Also, few of us are afraid of dogs. Our hair is not nappy, our buttocks not big, our noses and lips not wide, and our legs are plenty hairy. Our elbows, knees, and heels are smooth and moist. We are not prone to stealing things and we think white women are ugly. We never buy cheap cars and put expensive stereo systems in them. As for the stereos we have, we always keep them playing at a courteous level. As for the cars, we always drive with our seats up and both hands on the wheel. We rarely use swear words, and our grammar is always perfect. The great majority of us think Snoop Dogg is lewd and inappropriate. We never call women derogatory names like “bitches” or “hos.” We do not smoke Kool and most of us have never heard of Newport.

We do not smoke Buddha, nor chronic, nor hocus-pocus, nor any other narcotics. We barely know the meanings of the words “fly,” “dope,” “trick,” “phat,” “dawg,” and “off the hook,” among others. Those of us who are musicians know what guitars and drums are and how to use them to make music. We rarely sing about guns or women. Our handshakes are not complicated at all. We do not like to make fun of white people. We never talk about the “white man” holding us down. We do not name our daughters after perfumes with “ita” added to the end. We do not necessarily like the taste of sweet potato pie, nor collard greens, nor fried chicken, nor watermelon. I don’t even know what chitlins are. Just about all the others I’ve forgotten are false, too. I hope this aids in the removal of racial boundaries and what not."

When asked if any African-American stereotypes are true, Mfume responded: “Well our dicks are huge. Oh, and we can dance like a motherfucker.”

A recent show of Kara Walker's work in germany is accompanied by an article commissioned by Deutche Bank (ironies abound) that, of course, in the end neatly collapses the questions about Walker's art by stating that she is a "true Black traditionalist" whatever that is supposed to mean. Anyway, it's worth a read:

Blasphemous Images: The Ironic Masquerades of Kara Walker
By Karsten Kredel

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Russell Simmons: Apologist for African Diamond Industry

Say it aint so: Russell Simmons tours mines in Bostwana in a bid to show how the industry is benefiting Africa.
Photo: Chi Modu

Human rights activists cried foul today when Hip-Hop mogul Russell Simmons toured Botswana's Jwaneng mine, the world's richest, in a bid to "show the world how some African nations are benefiting from diamonds." WTF! This seems like a serious misstep for a man who at times can appear so progressive, what with the vegan yoga hip hop acitivist schtick. I suppose, it's worth remembering that he didn't get to be a billionaire just by sitting in zen bliss and eating tofu. I'm just scratching my head trying to figure how he justifies being a mouth piece for the African diamond industry when some of the bloodiest conflicts on the continent have been fueled by "blood" diamonds and millions of black and brown folks toil in mines all over the world in what amounts to 21's century slavery. "Russell Simmons is being played by the industry. It's another diamond industry publicity stunt," said Alex Yearsley, a Global Witness conflict diamond specialist. Shame on you Russell!

Read all about this disgraceful s*&t here.

The horror of slavery, says Kevin Bales, is "not confined to history." It is not only possible that slave labor is responsible for the shoes on your feet or your daily consumption of sugar, he writes, the products of forced labor filter even more quietly into a broad portion of daily Western life. "They made the bricks for the factory that made the TV you watch. In Brazil slaves made the charcoal that tempered the steel that made the springs in your car and the blade on your lawnmower.... Slaves keep your costs low and returns on your investments high." The exhaustive research in Disposable People shows that at least 27 million people are currently enslaved around the world.

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