Lazaro Vega

Do the Math: Iverson Interviews Wynton...

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that's why I've pasted a picture of Brad Pitt to the back of my head - it works, Larry, you should try it -

It ain't so much the back of my head that's the problem.

Though there is that damn bald spot too.

It's like my internal default setting somehow remains me at age 45 or so, and at age 66 that ain't so any more.

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the problem with thinking about minstrelsy is that there is a whole OTHER kind than the one we (and W) usually think of - the medicine show, the traveling tent shows, and early black vaudeville use the minstrel format but to MUCH different ends than the antebellum style.

Indeed, and this information is not unobtainable,as you are so properly/usefully proving. My only point is this - the word "minstrel" itself has acquired - and not unfairly - such a loaded set of connotations that attempting to even suggest the possibility of such a nuanced view of history into anything even remotely resembling "general" discussion, which is to say, any discussion not specifically set up to address the specific issue, is pretty much doomed to be perceived as talking about the "benefits of segregation to African-Americans" or some such. Yeah, you can have the discussion, but not anywhere, not at any time, and definitely not with just anybody. It requires a nuance of perception, depth of knowledge, and perhaps most importantly, a consensual clearness/cleanness of conscience that just ain't gonna be found in a random sampling of Americans, if you know what I mean.

This is not to say that the discussion is not worth having, or that the examination is not without immense reward. But it is a questioning - not of you or your work, please believe that - of what the "most" that can be accomplished is. The bad connotations of "minstelry"" can never be erased, nor should they be, imo. What I would like to think can be accomplished is the restoration of the ambiguity (which, really, is the truth of the matter) and the final (or, considering the long-term arcs that humanity takes, "final") acceptance of that ambiguity as just that, an ambiguity, something that can never be "resolved" one way or the other, and more importantly, doesn't need to be.

The irony is that the present (and near-term future) might accomplish this more readily than any examinations/debate about the past (and again, that statement is not meant as an "attack" on you or your work). Here in the heart, neigh, the bowels of Racist America, there are more and more interracial marriages going occurring, and not just in urban areas. It's far from a "trend" or anything, but I am seeing things happening now in places that as little as 25 years ago would have been the instigation for all kinds of ugliness, and evidence (anecdotal and otherwise) suggests that how it is happening is that the people who are doing it are basicaly just looking at the "legacy" and saying, yeah, ok, well, uh..... y'all want that, you can have it. It's your problem, and you seem to really really enjoy having it since you hang onto it with such relish. Don't let us spoil your party, ok, and, uh, we'll be over here if you want us.

The jury's still out on how well that's going to work, but it certainly bolsters my hope that the notion that these things only have power by us allowing them to have power is not a fantasy...

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that's why I've pasted a picture of Brad Pitt to the back of my head - it works, Larry, you should try it -

It ain't so much the back of my head that's the problem.

No man, it's TJMaxx that's the problem. Don't you know that their mirrors are seconds too?

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It's like my internal default setting somehow remains me at age 45 or so, and at age 66 that ain't so any more.

Unlucky you! My default age is 18 :D

(Well, sometimes 4, my missus sez.)

MG

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the problem with thinking about minstrelsy is that there is a whole OTHER kind than the one we (and W) usually think of - the medicine show, the traveling tent shows, and early black vaudeville use the minstrel format but to MUCH different ends than the antebellum style.

... any discussion not specifically set up to address the specific issue, is pretty much doomed to be perceived as talking about the "benefits of segregation to African-Americans" or some such. Yeah, you can have the discussion, but not anywhere, not at any time, and definitely not with just anybody. It requires a nuance of perception, depth of knowledge, and perhaps most importantly, a consensual clearness/cleanness of conscience that just ain't gonna be found in a random sampling of Americans, if you know what I mean.

While I'm guessing you are right here, Jim, and understand I am speaking as someone who is very much on the low end of the learning curve on all this, I might err on the side of assuming that the topic was approached thoughtfully. Furthermore, one might hope WM's awareness of the topic would rise above that of a random sampling. But your larger point is well taken.

... The bad connotations of "minstelry"" can never be erased, nor should they be, imo. What I would like to think can be accomplished is the restoration of the ambiguity (which, really, is the truth of the matter) and the final (or, considering the long-term arcs that humanity takes, "final") acceptance of that ambiguity as just that, an ambiguity, something that can never be "resolved" one way or the other, and more importantly, doesn't need to be.

There might be some difficulty in keeping the bad connotations and restoring ambiguity. One doesn't easily facilitate the other -- which might point toward the heart of the matter. Dunno.

(heading out now to buy a Brad Pitt mask, knowing full well this will alienate Anniston forever more. :( )

Edited by papsrus

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... The bad connotations of "minstelry"" can never be erased, nor should they be, imo. What I would like to think can be accomplished is the restoration of the ambiguity (which, really, is the truth of the matter) and the final (or, considering the long-term arcs that humanity takes, "final") acceptance of that ambiguity as just that, an ambiguity, something that can never be "resolved" one way or the other, and more importantly, doesn't need to be.

There might be some difficulty in keeping the bad connotations and restoring ambiguity. One doesn't easily facilitate the other -- which might point toward the heart of the matter. Dunno.

I'd think that keeping the bad connotations would be 1/2 of the very definition of ambiguity, the other half being that there was also some good (or at least "non-bad" elements as well?

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the problem with thinking about minstrelsy is that there is a whole OTHER kind than the one we (and W) usually think of - the medicine show, the traveling tent shows, and early black vaudeville use the minstrel format but to MUCH different ends than the antebellum style.

... any discussion not specifically set up to address the specific issue, is pretty much doomed to be perceived as talking about the "benefits of segregation to African-Americans" or some such. Yeah, you can have the discussion, but not anywhere, not at any time, and definitely not with just anybody. It requires a nuance of perception, depth of knowledge, and perhaps most importantly, a consensual clearness/cleanness of conscience that just ain't gonna be found in a random sampling of Americans, if you know what I mean.

While I'm guessing you are right here, Jim, and understand I am speaking as someone who is very much on the low end of the learning curve on all this, I might err on the side of assuming that the topic was approached thoughtfully. Furthermore, one might hope WM's awareness of the topic would rise above that of a random sampling. But your larger point is well taken.

The story of Wynton Marsalis, at least from my POV, is one of reasonable hopes repeatedly not being met...

And all I meant by all that about context of discussion and such was that I don't think that the interview was set up to be specifically about this particular subject (which is not to imply that Allen planned an "ambush" of him or anything). It just came up as part of the normal questioning, and Wynton di what he's pretty much always done, spout thoughtless dogma (as opposed to thoughtful, well-reasoned dogma, I suppose...)

I'm just saying that the number of people who could spontaneously have a thoughtful, spontaneous, even halfway informed discussion about the reverberations of minstelry (and "minstelry") w/o relying on the dogma as a shield are really not that many (and I'm sure as hell not one of them, at least on the informed part, as I know just enough to know that it is indeed a complex, deeply layered and nuanced area). That Wynton is definitely not one of them does not at all surprise me.

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in re- Monk - years ago I was auditing a course at Wesleyan on jazz; the instructor was talking about doing the dozens and referred to Monk's approach to standards. He claimed that Monk held these songs in contempt and was showing this by the way he played them. To me the reality was WAY different. Monk certainly used some distance and irony, but it was clear that he respected the tunes deeply. I argued this in class. This instructor (who was NOT Braxton, by the way) told me sternly: "Irony is a white person's term. He was doing the dozens." End of discussion. But relevant to how we look at the remnants of minstrelsy and the way they cross with just good old show biz tradition -

You should have asked the instructor if he got that "contempt/dozens" info from Monk's mouth.

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Adam - I actually did, as the conversation continued, try to explain the varied implications of the term minstrelsy - I mentioned that Bunk Johnson had made his living in a medicine/minstrel show, brought up Bert Williams and his ambivalent relationship to blackface, the first black minstrel shows, talked about Lillie Mae Glover, a Memphis singer who has spoken about how these traveling shows liberated her and represented the most exciting time in her life. Also Armstrong and Fats Waller, who epitomized just how complex minstrelsy can be, He just wrote it all off as racist degredation. The problem is that he is just not aware of how complicated this thing is/was and was not willing to entertain the thought that there might be things he does not know about.

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Jim - good points all, but I think that I can also make the argument that what Marsalis is trying to do is erase a whole piece of what is African American history - as I mentioned in the last post there are countless black musicians who used the new minstrelsy as a force for personal liberation, as an expansion of repertoire, as a way to, quite literally, change the cultural consciousness of America. To brush them off is to erase them from history, to degrade them in a much different way. It is like telling them that their lives were less legitimate and valid than those of more "serious" performers; their kind of comedy is a serious business and they took it seriously as professionals and artists. I want to recognize that.

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And I think it should be recognized, and in some ways is beginning to be. I mean, you see a little, a very little, "coming around" on Stepin Fetchitt even, who was a lot more, uh, "problematic" than the type of things you're bringing up. But yeah, these were lives, human lives, and they were lives not without a good amount of compelling "life-ness" (sorry....). They are indeed African-American tales, and as such, American tales. Atention must be paid where and when it is viable. To not do so is, as you say, an insult, degrading.

I would only state, just as opinion, not as attack, that Wynton (or even "Wynton", I'm lovin' my "" today...) is not the route through which this should go, or is going to go, hell, could go. best intentions notwithstanding. Never has been, never will be. There's too much ambiguity (even minstrelry at it's "best" was not completely without its..."issues", right?) that can never be resolved without agreeing to let it be unresolved. And I really don't see any other way of that happening aprt from a wholesale "post-racialization" (hate to keep using that term, but it seems to fit both this subject and these times right now...) of America (hell, the world, really, France & Japan in particular have percieved (in some wuarters anyway...) historical/cultural... "positions" regarding the "romanticizing" of the whole minstrel mojo as it pertains to ongoing "Black Music", so it's really not just America...) , and that is going to require a willingness to let go.

Wynton's thing is, has been, and probably always will be, the antithesis of that, of letting go and just letting the ambiguity be what it is. His thing is all about putting it in a bottle, calling it what he wants it to be, and selling it to people who want nothing else besides what is in that bottle. Sure, you got interested (and disinterested...) bystanders, but the core audience is there to buy what's in that bottle, because dammit, they know that it'll cure all their ills. Cure them so well, in dfact, that they gotta keep coming back for more...

Braxton somewhere called (or compared, not sure which) this whole Wynton/JLC mindset the New Minstrelry or words to that effect.

The irony is striking, don't you think?

Edited by JSngry

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Jim - good points all, but I think that I can also make the argument that what Marsalis is trying to do is erase a whole piece of what is African American history - as I mentioned in the last post there are countless black musicians who used the new minstrelsy as a force for personal liberation, as an expansion of repertoire, as a way to, quite literally, change the cultural consciousness of America. To brush them off is to erase them from history, to degrade them in a much different way. It is like telling them that their lives were less legitimate and valid than those of more "serious" performers; their kind of comedy is a serious business and they took it seriously as professionals and artists. I want to recognize that.

Do you really think, as I infer from the above, that WM is deliberately trying to erase some American history, or doesn't he see it (or simly not see it like that)?

MG

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I don't think it's conscious, but I do think its from ignorance - which is even more ironic, as he frequently rails against cutural ignorance as it pertains to jazz. I think he, like many others, just does not understand and is not aware of so much of the music - and this is music that won't find you, you have to go looking for it, as you know.

relative to Braxton's comment, I was visting Julius Hemphill toward the end of his life and somehow Marsalis's name came up on the TV that he had on - Julius snorted and said, of Wynton, "he's tilling the master's fields." So yes, this gets more and more ironic -

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Btw Allen, nice discussion we're having. :tup

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Braxton somewhere called (or compared, not sure which) this whole Wynton/JLC mindset the New Minstrelry or words to that effect.

Thanks for reminding me of that -- a very shrewd stroke on Braxton's part. What he meant in part, I think, is that the "whole Wynton/JLC mindset" ain't self-determined but, as some sociologists used to say, other-directed.

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Adam - I actually did, as the conversation continued, try to explain the varied implications of the term minstrelsy - I mentioned that Bunk Johnson had made his living in a medicine/minstrel show, brought up Bert Williams and his ambivalent relationship to blackface, the first black minstrel shows, talked about Lillie Mae Glover, a Memphis singer who has spoken about how these traveling shows liberated her and represented the most exciting time in her life. Also Armstrong and Fats Waller, who epitomized just how complex minstrelsy can be, He just wrote it all off as racist degredation. The problem is that he is just not aware of how complicated this thing is/was and was not willing to entertain the thought that there might be things he does not know about.

Interesting parallels between his ideas here and on jazz music/history in general. Wynton may be a fine musician, but he's a rather simplistic artist - partly, I think, because he's unwilling to accept the "complications" that come with such things.

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let me add, a little more in response to Adam's question - my whole question was set as describing the difference between black minstrelsy and traditional white minstrelsy - at the center of my question was a description of the transformation, by African American artists, of minstrelsy from its old identity to its 20th century identity in tent shows and vaudeville and other traveling entertainments - I did not just drop it on him as, "hey, what's wrong with a little blackface?" I gave it a very specific context and description -

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http://www.intaktrec.ch/interbraxton-a.htm

Ted Panken: In noting the profusion of musical information available on just a walk down the block, you're also saying that the world is smaller. But not just in a virtual sense. It's that way in real time. The world of improvisation now comprises a constant series of feedback loops from numerous sources, intersecting at all sorts of odd points, and the dialectic has taken us in many unexpected directions. How has this process affected you in recent years?

Anthony Braxton: When I made the decision to embrace music as a life's work, I understood, first of all, that I was very lucky to be able to make that decision, and that there's always something new to learn. Forty years later, I don't know where I'm at, but I have had many more experiences, and I still find myself thinking there's everything to do. The work of the last forty years has parlayed into a new set of propositions that should be able to go for another century. A new generation of young people have come up, and they're pushing things forward.

Your question is hard to respond to because it contains so many different aspects. For instance, I feel that the African-American community and the African-American leadership are going through complexities that mirror what happened when trans-ethnic psychologies were used to partition off the music ­ in a way, to block this ongoing flow of world culture in the third millennium, and to reclassify the generic experiences and make them the It. I think that has been the defining gambit of the last 20 or 30 years, and from my perspective, that has been the profound mistake of the African-American nationalists and the post-Abernathy Antebellumists.

Ted Panken: I assume by "post-Abernathy" you're referring to the civil rights activist Ralph Abernathy, but how do you mean "Antebellumist"?

Anthony Braxton: "Antebellumist" in the sense that the Antebellum psychology says that you had better stay in your place. By staying in your place, with respect to our conversation, it's blues and swing.

Ted Panken: You've also referred to this as the "Southern Strategy," I believe.

Anthony Braxton: Yes. Southern Strategy in the sense that that's why Wynton Marsalis and the Neoclassic continuum is in power. They were put in power. This is a political decision that came about in the 1980s, when Dr. George Butler brought Wynton to New York. When the mature histories of this music are written, I hope that there will be a section on what I'll call the Great Purges of the 1980s. It involved kicking out anybody who had any originality or was unwilling to have the marketplace define their music, and bringing in a philosophical backdrop from Albert Murray consistent with what I'll call the "Christian gambit." That gambit states that Black people have this special rhythm, that the evolution of what we now call Jazz is just an African-American thing, that the proclivity spectra of African-Americans goes from hip-hop and blues and whatever, but not to a guy like me. Only a certain spectrum of black or of African-Americans can be accepted in this reseeded idea of blackness.

Ted Panken: But Mr. Braxton, you're a trained dialectician. It can't be that what happened in the '80s is merely because of a singular corporate or political decision. There have to have been factors in the zeitgeist that made it make sense for that to happen.

Anthony Braxton: My viewpoint is this. If the Lincoln Center, post-Murray, Neoclassic continuum had defined their right to do what they wanted to do, I would say great. But they said, "Jazz starts at Louis Armstrong; it stops in the middle '60s." That is very different. Defining it in that way is reductionist. When Stanley Crouch talks about Negro rhythms and what are the correct psychological and vibrational components to keep this Negro affinity in the position he wants it, he's really talking about something else. He's not talking about the African-American community as a composite spectra. He's talking of the African-American community as perceived through a Christian framework, as perceived through the Southern experiences, and how those experiences were defined among the intellectuals in the South. I love New Orleans, but I'm not from New Orleans. I'm glad I'm not from New Orleans. As far as I'm concerned, when King Oliver and Louis Armstrong came north, that's when Louis Armstrong discovered extended improvisation.

This idea of entertainment as the optimum state is another antebellum idea. And also, the idea that these people have established a perspective on the Atlantic slave experience that says they're the only people who have suffered. In America, when the railroads started expanding West, they brought in the Asian-Americans! Nobody has a monopoly on being a victim.

In my opinion, the dynamic implications of the exclusionary reverse racism that comes from the African-American community will put it in a much worse position in the next 10-20-30-40 years. I feel very sad about that. I think among the factors that have contributed to this are: (1) the purges of the 1980s; (2) a reductionist viewpoint of the Negro that corresponds with antebellum sentiments and with the trans-activist Christian agenda; and (3) the inability of the African-American community to accept the idea of total equality with all of our people. This racist exclusionary psychology is only possible because certain people were put in positions of power because they would espouse these viewpoints.

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Thanks for posting that. His comment about King Oliver and Armstrong coming north and moving to extended improvisation is interesting.

He's certainly crystal clear in his views on Marsalis. And it just reinforces how absurd it is that someone in WM's position would fail to even entertain the idea that blues and swing might be insufficient on their own to define black music. It serves the power structure he's a big part of, I guess, but does not really move the ball forward as far as a collective understanding the music. And I suppose that's the crux of the biscuit.

Edited by papsrus

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Thanks for posting that. His comment about King Oliver and Armstrong coming north and moving to extended improvisation is interesting.

Yes, he's made a very interesting, and maybe astute point there.

His "post Abernathy" view of African American history reminds me of a conversation I had with Jason Moran where he told me that he considers music distinct in post civil rights and pre civil rights era terms.

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This has become a very interesting discussion. A few comments:

I do not think that America, and Black America in particular, is ready yet to come to grips with the legacy of minstrelsy in all of its richness and complexity. There is just too much painful baggage that too many people are still carrying around. I think that we eventually will come to grips with it, but we probably need the detachment of at least one more generation.

As for Wynton Marsalis in particular, I think that the quote that Larry Kart presented earlier from the Iverson interview on Duke Ellington as a symbol of dignity in African American music gets to the heart of his mindset. The fact is, Wynton Marsalis still believes himself to be on a crusade to counter racisism by always projecting jazz as a "dignified" African American art form. That is in direct opposition to the stereotype of minstrelsy in black American entertainment that he also indentifies in today's Hip Hop.

I think that it is sad that Wynton Marsalis still feels the need to champion jazz in this manner in 2008. But that is the case. That is still part of the social context of the America that we live in. And Marsalis is far from unique in this regard.

We might wish that we lived in a country where historical objectivity always rules the day on subjects like this. But we do not. Therefore, I still argue that Wynton's reaction to all of this is understandable, sad but understandable.

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As for Wynton Marsalis in particular, I think that the quote that Larry Kart presented earlier from the Iverson interview on Duke Ellington as a symbol of dignity in African American music gets to the heart of his mindset. The fact is, Wynton Marsalis still believes himself to be on a crusade to counter racisism by always projecting jazz as a "dignified" African American art form. That is in direct opposition to the stereotype of minstrelsy in black American entertainment that he also indentifies in today's Hip Hop.

Ernie Andrews had some very interesting points to make analagous to this in his medley "Articulated blues"/"Parker's mood". It particularly focuses, but not unkindly I feel, on the diction of Walter Brown, the great blues singer with the Jay McShann band. This attitude isn't, it seems, anything like as recent as tying it to WM's views makes it appear.

That's on the CD "The many faces of Ernie Andrews (HighNote).

MG

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Perhaps the narrative of minstrelry will get a reconsideration/redirection when the perceived ending of the story changes...

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