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spangalang

Why does LeRoi Jones (aka Amiri Baraka) hate Hard bop?

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Of course, my title for this thread is meant to be a bit provocative-- I don't mean to suggest that Baraka literally "hates" hard bop. However, I just finished his "Bop" excerpt (included in Gottlieb's Reading Jazz and taken from Jones' larger work, Blues People) and I can't help but be taken aback at his dismissal of Hard bop. He describes the initial beginnings of Hard bop as the inevitable reaction to the very-White, accessible cool jazz of the 50s, noting Hard Bops' musicians desire to return back to the more "Black" roots of jazz through emphasis on Blues and Gospel. However, although he is duly critical of the cool jazz musicians, he almost seems *more* critical of hard bop. As merely a fan, I have a really hard time believing that, within the broader context of jazz history, the powerful music of Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd, Hank Mobley, etc. (on and on) could be so casually relegated to the "final meaninglessness of the popular," as Jones puts it:

"[Hard Boppers] lost sight of the important ideas to be learned from bebop and substituted largeness of timbre and quasi-gospel influences for actual rhythmic or melodic diversity and freshness... [Hard bop] has become a kind of 'sophistication' that depends more on common, than banal, musical knowledge, instead of truth or meaning suddenly revealed. What results, more times than not, is a self-conscious celebration of cliche, and an actual debilitation of the most impressive ideas to come out of bebop. One has the feeling, when listening to the most popular hard-bop groups of the day, of being confronted merely by a style, behind which there is no serious commitment to expression or emotional profundity." Yikes.

Admittedly, I have not read the rest of Blues People, and perhaps I am misunderstanding Jones' interpretation or do not yet know enough about jazz criticism to adequately respond. However, I'd love to hear some more thoughts on this...

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Of course, my title for this thread is meant to be a bit provocative-- I don't mean to suggest that Baraka literally "hates" hard bop. However, I just finished his "Bop" excerpt (included in Gottlieb's Reading Jazz and taken from Jones' larger work, Blues People) and I can't help but be taken aback at his dismissal of Hard bop. He describes the initial beginnings of Hard bop as the inevitable reaction to the very-White, accessible cool jazz of the 50s, noting Hard Bops' musicians desire to return back to the more "Black" roots of jazz through emphasis on Blues and Gospel. However, although he is duly critical of the cool jazz musicians, he almost seems *more* critical of hard bop. As merely a fan, I have a really hard time believing that, within the broader context of jazz history, the powerful music of Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd, Hank Mobley, etc. (on and on) could be so casually relegated to the "final meaninglessness of the popular," as Jones puts it:

"[Hard Boppers] lost sight of the important ideas to be learned from bebop and substituted largeness of timbre and quasi-gospel influences for actual rhythmic or melodic diversity and freshness... [Hard bop] has become a kind of 'sophistication' that depends more on common, than banal, musical knowledge, instead of truth or meaning suddenly revealed. What results, more times than not, is a self-conscious celebration of cliche, and an actual debilitation of the most impressive ideas to come out of bebop. One has the feeling, when listening to the most popular hard-bop groups of the day, of being confronted merely by a style, behind which there is no serious commitment to expression or emotional profundity." Yikes.

Admittedly, I have not read the rest of Blues People, and perhaps I am misunderstanding Jones' interpretation or do not yet know enough about jazz criticism to adequately respond. However, I'd love to hear some more thoughts on this...

Well, if the subtlety and finesse of the music of Charlie Parker suited you, I guess you might find something lacking in the popular hits of Bobby Timmons. This is what I think Jones was talking about.

Edited by BillF

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Baraka is probably coming from the "bop was the revolution, Hard Bop the accommodation that was willing to end the revolution before full victory had been won" POV.

Can't say that he's wrong about that, nor can I say that there were some very pleasant and meaninful accomodations made along the way. The truth is that most people are more prone to being accomodationalists than they are revolutionaries. Enjoy your revoltuions when you have them, becasue they won't last forever.

You should read the whole book, though, from the beginning. It's important, and needs to be seriously considered.

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Well, if the subtlety and finesse of the music of Charlie Parker suited you, I guess you might find something lacking in the popular hits of Bobby Timmons. This is what I think Jones was talking about.

Understood, but surely Parker's innovation and expression is an impossible standard to which to hold all others. Especially since Jones is so quick to explain Miles Davis' tone (and one might assume blues-y economy of sound) as "a means rather than an end... a deep connection to the basic blues impulse... insinuat[ing] more blues with one note and a highly meaningful pause than most cool instrumentalists could throughout an entire composition." Why not give similar bop musicians and their styles (i.e. Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan) the same charitable interpretation?

You should read the whole book, though, from the beginning. It's important, and needs to be seriously considered.

I definitely intend to. I loved reading this piece, regardless of my reaction to it.

Edited by spangalang

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Remember when the book was written.

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You should read the whole book, though, from the beginning. It's important, and needs to be seriously considered.

I definitely intend to. I loved reading this piece, regardless of my reaction to it.

You should also read Jones/Baraka's Black Music - a collection of essays/record reviews/etc between 1959-1967. It's about as real-time a written look at the changes in jazz going on at that time as is out there.

You think he was tough on Hard Bop in Blues People...let's put it this way - if you were alive at the time and had a revolutionary spirit, who would you look at as relevant to your life - Donald Byrd or Albert Ayler? Remember, we're not talking about today, we're talking about right then, right there.

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Baraka is probably coming from the "bop was the revolution, Hard Bop the accommodation that was willing to end the revolution before full victory had been won" POV.

That's interesting. Could you explain what "full victory" would have amounted to in that analogy? Is there an assumption that somehow the "promise" of bop was never really actualized or that Hard Boppers are somehow responsible for what one might see as the "arrested development" (as it were) of that realization?

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Baraka is probably coming from the "bop was the revolution, Hard Bop the accommodation that was willing to end the revolution before full victory had been won" POV.

Can't say that he's wrong about that, nor can I say that there were some very pleasant and meaninful accomodations made along the way. The truth is that most people are more prone to being accomodationalists than they are revolutionaries. Enjoy your revoltuions when you have them, becasue they won't last forever.

You should read the whole book, though, from the beginning. It's important, and needs to be seriously considered.

Well said. Blues People is next up on my list ... after I finish Cohen's tomb, Ellington's America.

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I do remember when "funk" as personified by the Jazz Messengers was considered to be not hip. (I admit that when I first saw Wayne with Miles I wrote that he had "recently escaped the confines of The Jazz Messengers" or something like that.)

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Baraka is probably coming from the "bop was the revolution, Hard Bop the accommodation that was willing to end the revolution before full victory had been won" POV.

That's interesting. Could you explain what "full victory" would have amounted to in that analogy? Is there an assumption that somehow the "promise" of bop was never really actualized or that Hard Boppers are somehow responsible for what one might see as the "arrested development" (as it were) of that realization?

"Full victory" would have come in a shedding of all "programmed" notions of time, place, self, etc., musically and otherwise. Full self-realization as free, independent beings in nobody's image but your own. Music would be an act of full self-realization, not shwing up to a job and executing a pre-determined style, no matter how flexible the boundaries. Of course, this all has to be seen through the lens of Black Liberation/Nationalism as well. Hard bop was perceived by some as not moving ahead but settling in, and it was in no way time to settle in just yet.

In a way, it's all very Utopian and of its time. But in another way, it's an eternal proposition, not just in music, and not just culturally specific. Who are you? Whose life are you living? What are your goals, and what is your place in the world?

And who's decided all this?

The easy answers are seldom the correct ones, and it's not until you've answered the hard questions with the hard answers that "moving on" has validity as anything other than ceaselessness and/or a cop-out.

This was all very much in the air at the time, far less so today. But it's inevitable that at some point it will come back around, because it always does, because although most people are accomodationalists, not revolutionaries, and accommodation only works up to a point.

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I remember reading the liner notes to "Bacalao" by Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, written by Amiri. He essentially spends most of the notes describing how "sub-par" this kind of jazz is and how Lockjaw makes it barely listenable. I found it funny that they would choose someone to write liner notes who hates the music he's writing about.

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I do remember when "funk" as personified by the Jazz Messengers was considered to be not hip. (I admit that when I first saw Wayne with Miles I wrote that he had "recently escaped the confines of The Jazz Messengers" or something like that.)

Same thing with me and the funky (as opposed to "straight ahead") organ groups of the late-50s/early 70s. I thought that music was a cop out in terms of "revolutionary" goals, that it was playing to stereotypes.

The I came to realize that one of the maxims of the macrobiotic philosphy very much applied here, namely, the bigger the front, the bigger the back. The fact that I, a revo;tuion-minded white guy, didn't "get" the Leon Spencers/etc of the world right away only pointed out how out of touch I was with "the community", not the other way around. I was projecting my vales onto something that was not intrinsically mine, the very thing I was claiming to be so much against. I was a freakin' clueless hypocrite myself. That was a big lesson learned, right there, and a hard one!

Which is just to say that something as deeply rooted in "the community" as a Leon Spencer album was the physical flip-side to Albert Ayler's or Cecil Taylor's splitting-of-the-atom of that same community. Yin (upwards into the heavens /Yang (downwards into the earth), two sides of the same coin, the more Yin the Yin got, it would only be natural that the Yang would follow suit. And vice-versa.

Of course, these are all what happens naturally. The more "interference" which occurs, the more weird things get. But you can only postpone the inevitable, you can never prevent it.

I remember reading the liner notes to "Bacalao" by Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, written by Amiri. He essentially spends most of the notes describing how "sub-par" this kind of jazz is and how Lockjaw makes it barely listenable. I found it funny that they would choose someone to write liner notes who hates the music he's writing about.

And that's when dogma becomes bullshit, when somebody/anybody considers Lockjaw a status-quo kind of player. Lockjaw was a Tenor Terrorist. Believe it!

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You're preaching to the choir about Lockjaw. greengrin.gif

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All of which is to say that although Baraka's voice is an important one (and an especially so in the time of the most recent revolutionary time in jazz), he himself is far from infallible. His Karma has quite often ran over his Dogma!

But if you want to get a sense of how history felt as it was unfolding, and not just settle for a "looking back" POV written from the perspective of "now that it's all over..."(which will just as often as not have every bit as much of an agenda a Baraka did then), then hey - you got to read him.

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Baraka's interests are with free jazz. I've run into him a number of times at free jazz shows and festivals around NYC. This is the music that interests him, and which provides a scaffolding for his polemical interests. I think his critique of hard bop is essentially accurate; it's a retrograde music that fits folks like Wynton like a glove, which pretty much indicates why Baraka has a point.

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I think his critique of hard bop is essentially accurate; it's a retrograde music that fits folks like Wynton like a glove, which pretty much indicates why Baraka has a point.

Your handle is "Leeway", you use that album as your avatar and this is how you feel about hard bop? I'm confused. wacko.gif

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Blues People has many smart insights, but is so full of errors and distortions that I've never been able to get through it. Ideology frequent trumps reality in Baraka's work,

now, for the inevitable question, "what errors and distortions" I have to, annoyingly I know, beg off for now (don't own the book anymore; couldn't stand reading it and having to stop so frequently to make mental corrections). But I would recommend that you look up Ralph Ellison' review of Blues People, which I believe is right on the money,

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I think his critique of hard bop is essentially accurate; it's a retrograde music that fits folks like Wynton like a glove, which pretty much indicates why Baraka has a point.

Your handle is "Leeway", you use that album as your avatar and this is how you feel about hard bop? I'm confused. wacko.gif

Yup, it's complicated.

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I think it fair to say that Lee Morgan Hard Bop & Wynton Marsalis Hard Bop are two totally different musics reflecting two totally different worlds.

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Chalk and cheese, as the British would say.

I can't understand why anyone who likes Lee Morgan can tolerate listening to WM for even two seconds. His trumpet sounds all wrong.

Bertrand.

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I think it fair to say that Lee Morgan Hard Bop & Wynton Marsalis Hard Bop are two totally different musics reflecting two totally different worlds.

Brother from another mother.

Chalk and cheese, as the British would say.

I can't understand why anyone who likes Lee Morgan can tolerate listening to WM for even two seconds. His trumpet sounds all wrong.

Bertrand.

I sure can't stand listening to Wynton, but to say he is not a hard bopper at heart is just not accurate. The guy went to the quintessential school of hard bop, Art Blakey's band. Anyway, I have no interest in talking about WM. My point was that from a polemical view, hard bop is a finished (in ever way) form of music. Baraka is looking for something transformative (yes, revolutionary) in the music.

Edited by Leeway

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So at this point, I am extremely interested in reading more of Rosenthal's book. From what I've seen, he offers a much needed defense of hard bop as an expansive music in its own right, rather than just a cliched segway between Parker-bop and Free jazz and/or as a politically impotent, regressive genre, which (at least in the case of Baraka's writing) strikes me as a bit reductivist. I am surprised to see hard bop getting so slammed...

134182.jpg

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... after I finish Cohen's tomb, Ellington's America.

Ummm.... "tome", not "tomb" is what you meant, right?

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So at this point, I am extremely interested in reading more of Rosenthal's book. From what I've seen, he offers a much needed defense of hard bop as an expansive music in its own right, rather than just a cliched segway between Parker-bop and Free jazz and/or as a politically impotent, regressive genre, which (at least in the case of Baraka's writing) strikes me as a bit reductivist. I am surprised to see hard bop getting so slammed...

134182.jpg

Are you ready to accept the possibility that perhaps both POVs are correct?

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Am I "ready to accept the possibility..."?!?! LOL

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