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AllenLowe

Gay Jazz Musicians

148 posts in this topic

that Portrait of Jason thing is worth perusing, thanks Joe - nothing sensationaiist, just an honest portrait. We need not fear such things.

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that Portrait of Jason thing is worth perusing, thanks Joe - nothing sensationaiist, just an honest portrait. We need not fear such things.

Not to be clinical about it, but... sexuality is complicated; sexuality within a community of individuals who share a history of slavery and racial discrimination and general disenfranchisement much more so; sexuality within a community of artists who also happen to share a history of slavery and racial discrimination and general disenfranchisement that much more so. PORTRAIT OF JASON, among other things, helps to illuminate that complexity.

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Outing the living is one thing, but Allen is right with regards to history.

Because being comfortable/open about one's own sexuality (if it's not hetero-normative) is still a challenge to many, coming out has broader implications than one's own small sphere.

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Maybe it is because I am not gay, but I just can't see people caring at this point. In what historical context does it matter? I know most of you guys are from a diffenrent generation than I... nevermind. I have no idea why you think someone's homosexuality is important. Your open-mindedness feels as ignorant as my dad's close-mindedness.

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i feel the need to add to my first post and say that i don't even think the term "bi-sexual" would necessarily apply to the folks i mentioned. back in the day (50's, 60's, 70's), some of these guys used to participate in what they called "freaking off parties" or "orgies" with women and other men. cocaine and alcohol were usually present as well. within that context, i don't think these guys would have considered themselves even "bi-sexual" let alone "gay". and just to further clarify, i was not present at any of these parties but i heard about them and knew people who were there.

and Chris has always had his own agenda on this topic and been very consistent.

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I'm still coming to terms with the notion that jazz sucks.

I can understand those who might be interested in this from some historical/social perspective. Beyond that, it matters not.

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Not judging, just saying... if Oscar Peterson was gay, he did a pretty good job on the other side of the fence - 4 wives, father to seven children (at least). First time I heard that one.

Having babies and marrying multiple times is not at all unusual, especially when one considers Peterson's environment and the fact that we only recently have woken up to reality.

I am currently compiling a list of jazz musicians who might possibly be straight. Please bear with me.

Don't want to continue this much further, but I am trying to understand the terms here. Valerie above says that some of these musicians must be bi-sexual, which would seem to be accurate (assuming there's any merit to some of this, which I'm beginning to doubt quite frankly, and no, I'm not in denial). But Chris, stay with me here, you're saying that if someone is married to a member of the opposite sex for 50+ years (whether one marriage or several), dies married to a member of the opposite sex, fathers children, but also has relations with members of the same sex, that person's not bi-sexual; they're strictly gay??? This is a bridge too far for me.

i understand it like this: someone who openly has relationships with both males and females, a few months or years of this, then a few of the other, is bisexual - someone who leads a "double-life" being straight, married and all to the outside and while having more or less secret same-sex relationships for fear of whatever should not really be considered bisexual... just like a jazz musician isn't a ... musician as well just because he played a great timpani solo on an album of ... music...

I'm not in denial mode or morally shocked or anything... and I don't mind discussing these questions.

I asked Chris the very same question that John Tapscott rose again - however he seems to ignore it. So...

Niko's explanation makes sense, but my point still is: it can be multi-faceted. You can be married, have affairs with people of both sexes... bi-sexuality exists. I quickly had the impression Chris was in denial-mode regarding bi-sexuality and found that a bit weird, but I guess I'm out of here now.

I think it's crucial to note that, beyond the fact that bi-sexuality as a phenomenon (i.e., sex with both men and women) exists, bi-sexuality as a self-identifier is a very real thing. Reducing the conversation to a gay/straight dyad undermines the notion that many in the GLBT community do understand sexuality as more of a spectrum than a duality (and identify themselves at various points within--and not necessarily at the extremes of--that spectrum). This is actually a huge issue in contemporary sexuality--I've heard firsthand accounts of queer folk (self-identified as such) coming into tension with gay self-identifiers due to the fact that said queer folk are perceived as living in a non-committal, liminal space (i.e., get with the revolution). All this does is diminish the agency of people that do genuinely feel various degrees of attraction to both sexes, which is in its own way just as disenfranchising as perpetuating jazz's latent (or overt homophobia.

On a different note, and keeping in mind I know very, very little about Arthur Rhames, I think it's interesting that Rhames's otherwise surprisingly detailed (for a relatively obscure musician) wikipedia entry completely omits any mention of homosexuality--especially considering his death at a relatively young age--in the late 1980's--due to AIDS-related illness. One of the more pointed passages in the liners to that Soundscape album that came out a while back was Vernon Reid acknowledging that (paraphrasing here) getting to know Rhames helped Reid "get over" his own homophobia. Obviously, Rhames's sexual orientation is totally incidental to whether or not the music moves you, but it's difficult not to see how the early death of this musician with remarkable potential was inextricably linked to the problematic nature of AIDS treatment/recognition/awareness. That's a very clear and relevant reason to discuss homosexuality in jazz.

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@Chris: why is "pulling out the old bi-sexual card" "just plain naïve"? So Basie can't have really loved his wife AND be in love with men? Is this an "either-or" thing? Never thought about love that way... interesting concept.

Sorry. I had to scroll up to see which question I hadn't answered. I somehow missed that one, so here's what I have to say about that.

Here's the part of Valerie's post that I was responding to:

"I doubt quite sincerely that Oscar, Count, Dizzy, Duke and Miles would be termed 'gay'. perhaps 'bi-sexual' would be more appropriate, if true."

:blush:

Sure, a person can be madly in love with his or her spouse while also finding same-sex compatibility—even love. There is a very thin line separating Gay from bi-sexual. You may recall that Elton John referred to himself as belonging in the latter category at a time when it had become common knowledge that he was homosexual. It was his way of softening the blow, as it were, because a man having sex with another man was (and, apparently, still is) somehow regarded as being less unsettling if he also sleeps with women. He's not really gay, they justify, he's just curious. That is pure BS. Gay people were commonly forced to marry a person of the opposite sex in order to quell gossip and satisfy those (often family) who were afflicted with homophobia. It was in many cases cruel punishment and suicides based on the narrow thinking of others were not uncommon.

That said, most gay people have had a heterosexual experience in their life, and many are parents, but that does not necessarily make them bi-sexual—it often just makes them compliant.

When I termed Valerie's response naïve, I had in mind the fact that she has moved on the jazz scene for many years, so she had to have noticed the macho atmosphere that, to some degree, still exists in that world. Our culture loves to create stereotypes and Gay people were not supposed to be construction workers, runway models, cowboys, housewives....or jazz musicians. Gay men were interior decorators, ballet dancers, etc. while gay women were truck drivers, Army captains, etc.

I recall a Billy Taylor album where he felt a need to mention in the liner notes that while his instrument was the piano, he also had children. I am sure that Billy was heterosexual, but he knew what misconceptions the thinking around him could generate.

I thought Valerie's statement said more about her thinking than it did about the reality so many would rather not face. The irony is that there is nothing wrong with that reality unless one has been conditioned.

Miles once told me that he enjoyed sex with other men—not exclusively, but with some regularity. He almost said that on "60 Minutes", when interviewed by Morley Schafer. Miles mentioned two musicians whom he had "fooled around" with—one has been mentioned in this thread—but I also kept that to myself, although he didn't request that I do so. I believe that people should only be "outed" by themselves, when they feel the time has come. It is a different matter when it comes to people who are no longer with us, so I disagree with Joel in that respect.

So, to return to your question, Ubu, I just wanted to point out that the bi-sexual card is often dealt by people who—consciously or subconsciously—are in denial.

Have I now answered your question?

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better said than I said it, thanks - re: Impossible above, I think you've turned this a bit un-neccesarily into an attack. The failure to discuss this stuff is more destructive than actually talking about it.

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So, to return to your question, Ubu, I just wanted to point out that the bi-sexual card is often dealt by people who—consciously or subconsciously—are in denial.

Emphasis on "often" and not "exclusively" (or even, necessarily, "most of the time"). The phenomenon you're discussing 100% exists, but it's definitely not the full picture.

I'm curious--are you reading Miles's sentiments as being a piece with this culture of denial, or as an avowal of genuine bisexuality/queerness? I actually don't know much about Miles in this respect, so I wonder if this is an instance of a musician defining his sexuality on his own terms (rather than one in a long string of inside/outside the closet/"hint, hint" incidents).

Glad we're having this discussion. I've missed the heavy discussion on this board--there's serious brainpower and wit here.

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I tried to bring this up a while back and it didn't seem to garner much interest then. Glad it's getting its legs now, because it's a subject that I am interested in.

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Miles was definitely one of those folks i mentioned above who appeared to be clearly bi-sexual (but also a misogynist)!!

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the panel that Francis led was a few years ago - I'll ask him if any of it was recorded.

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Until someone explains how this has anything to do with the music, I'll continue to find this a total waste of time.

Gay, straight, "queer" or "bi-sexual" (I put that in quotes since Albertson won't acknowledge its a possible category), it all amounts to a sideshow of no possible significance unless its that important to have a "full" picture of people, in which case Albertson is doing yeoman's work to correct the historic record, and for that I'd have to say: :tup

:rolleyes:

But the fact remains that if you can't identify someone as gay in a blindfold test, what the fuck does it matter?

Same exact thing as distinguishing white jazz musicians from black jazz musicians, except that the distinguishing characteristic isn't totally obvious on first sight.

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I'm curious--are you reading Miles's sentiments as being a piece with this culture of denial, or as an avowal of genuine bisexuality/queerness? I actually don't know much about Miles in this respect, so I wonder if this is an instance of a musician defining his sexuality on his own terms (rather than one in a long string of inside/outside the closet/"hint, hint" incidents).

There was no hinting when it came to Miles. He was as outspoken as they come—too much so for many people. Miles was often brutally honest. I wish he had written his autobiography rather than allow Quincy Troupe to make stuff up.

I strongly disagree with those who believe that an artist's sexual orientation ought not be brought up, because it is somehow unrelated to his/her creative output. When I wrote my book on Bessie Smith, I never paused to ponder whether or not I should mention her eclectic sexual desires. Her bi-sexuality (and that is what it was, in her case) was an integral part of her persona and much of what she did was more readily understood in light of that knowledge. I recall reading a biography of Langston Hughes that gave not a hint of his homosexuality and, thus, left the uninitiated reader with unanswered questions. How much did Carl Van Vechten's homosexuality (not bi-sexuality, although he was married) influence his activities in Harlem, his role in the Harlem Renaissance?

What Allen said bears repeating: "The failure to discuss this stuff is more destructive than actually talking about it."

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Here's an article by Sherri Tucker which has a go at this question. You might not like the style.

http://www.criticalimprov.com/issue/view/88

Re. bisexuality, marriage (can't get multiquote to work) we can remind ourselves about Wilde and Tchaikovsky, among others.

I'm told that a lot of jazz musicians were also black. Can anybody confirm? So far I have Miles, Coltrane, Monk, Ellington, Basie, Bird, Armstrong, Kenton. And those are just the well-known names! Anyone else you can think of that might have been black?

Stan Kenton has been outed!

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Knowledge of a musician's sexuality is clearly important in understanding a musician's music - it's a powerful part of what makes them who they are.

It's not necessary in enjoying that music. I was aware of Britten's sexuality long before I heard his music. It's not something I think about at all when listening, except where words come into play like in 'The Turn of the Screw' or 'Death in Venice'. And there something more disturbing comes into play given Britten's liking for young boys - I find that very uncomfortable and can't ignore it (though some would argue that is what 'art' is all about - confronting the dark side). [incidentally, I find leering after female 'jailbait' in rock songs equally uncomfortable - but that too reflects what really goes on in life].

Edited by A Lark Ascending

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Social factors can be relevant insofar as they affect whether or not the music was produced at all. We can lose a musician like Rhames (and, obviously, his music) due to the stigma against his lifestyle (albeit a step indirect--I wish someone knew more about Rhames, because odds are dying the late 1980's in your early 30's due to AIDS-related causes has something to do with lack of treatment resulting from social pressures, etc.).

Musicians can and often do lose opportunities to play (record, gig, etc.) due to the apparent opprobrium of coming out. This isn't always the case--Gary Burton still does what he does and to much fanfare--but it's enough to suggest that there's a deficiency in the way we treat sexuality as a factor in determining whether or not an artist is worthwhile in one sense or the other. Or, rather, it's because we happen to be weighing so much on factors like sexuality as a determinant of quality/viability (i.e., "gay people cannot play masculine music") that sexuality becomes something that needs to be addressed. Anyway, prejudice is itself a "relevant social factor."

And, as someone noted above, this is the age old question of whether or not "external" factors are relevant in understanding the music. As Lark mentions, you don't need to know the background to enjoy the music. But let's frame this in a way that is now less explosive (that is, not in gender or sexuality terms)--when I interviewed Louis Moholo-Moholo a while back (that is, spoke with him on the record), he made pains to articulate that the music of the Blue Notes was a sort of fighting music--something meant to undermine and by the very nature of its existence combat Apartheid. This psychology may or may not have informed the actual inputs into the music (that is, Chris McGregor may or may not have been sitting there arranging "MRA" thinking that he was fighting the Boer), but it's clearly how Moholo-Moholo wants the music to be perceived. The social connection becomes part of the narrative--hell, in the Blue Notes' case it's nearly the genesis of the narrative--and ignoring it is analogous to trying to mentally erase Nazism from Casablanca because Nazism makes you uncomfortable.

Granted, not all art--or even not much of it--is as explicit as the Blue Notes' in the way that its social import interacts with the music. Rhames did not necessarily make "gay" music, but it was music made by a gay man (in the same way that the Blue Notes' was made by a mixed race group contemporary to Apartheid). The point is that understanding how social elements interact with the music can, in addition to other things (and to the exclusion of others), go a long way toward explaining how music turned out the way it did and turns out the way it does (or, for that mater, does not).

Edited by ep1str0phy

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So, to return to your question, Ubu, I just wanted to point out that the bi-sexual card is often dealt by people who—consciously or subconsciously—are in denial.

Have I now answered your question?

Yes indeed - most interesting, Chris, thanks a lot!

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Interesting observations, ep1str0phy. What you say about the stigma of HIV/AIDS possibly having given Rhames second thought about seeking medical help rings true. People often associated AIDs so strongly with homosexuality that those infected with it were instinctively labeled. Albert Daley and Woody Shaw—neither of whom were gay, as far as I know—come to mind.

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I'm still not sure how an instrumental musician's "straightness" or "gayness" influences his or her music. I'm not saying it doesn't, just that I don't understand how it does. Would someone be willing to take a run at that?

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