Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
spangalang

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

562 posts in this topic

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.

He reminds me of Britain's Philip Larkin - someone from the literary world whose attitude to jazz is far from orthodox, dismissing major areas of the music.

Whose orthodoxy are we talking about here?

The generally agreed consensus; e.g. Larkin rejected Charlie Parker and all post-Parker jazz.

Well, ok, but to say that Baraka's preference for "liberation music" falls outside of any orthodoxy is to ignore that there is (or was, any way) a whole group of people for whom that was/is the orthodoxy. It's hardly a quaint notion.

I mean, I'm wary of all this "orthodoxy" when it gets the the point of being code for "history is written by the winners". Not saying that's where you're coming from, I don't think it is, but the reflexive "how can you NOT like Hard Bop?" thing is just too simple, too "historical" in the sense that it seems to, in effect, deny the validity of not wanting "that thing", then or now, but especially then, and especially when it means not looking at the whole socio-politcal climate of the people involved, their time, and their place. You can deeply enjoy any music without getting into all that, and anybody's enjoyment is as legitimate as anybody else's, I suppose, but personal enjoyment and an understanding of the historical context of when things happened plays a huge role in understanding why those things happened like they did.

Separate concerns, probably, but when the can of worms gets opened, you can't go all "Ooooh...ICKY" when it is in fact worms that come crawling out instead of butterflies.

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.

I think the question was why Jones "hated" Hard Bop, not if he was right to.

Probably for the same reason that Malcolm X and the later Black Power movement could be so hostile to the more moderate civil rights groups (or in other eras, why the Bolsheviks were hostile to the Mensheviks or the Jacobins to the Girondins). It was not moving the revolution forward fast enough (if at all).

Gee, ya' think? ;)

Edited by JSngry

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Gee, ya' think? ;)

Indeed.

That was then, this is now.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, that was now.

Now it's then.

Tempis fuggit!!!. :g :g :g

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Now's the time!

Or was it?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's always now.

Now's the problem! And the solution! Time is the enemy of time!

I see why people get all worked up over all this stuff. It's really quite the conundrum.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I can't believe all the teeth gnashing tjats been wasted over what someone thinks about hard bop. It's what you think that matters. It reminds of when my son would look to me for approval when he did a certain thing.

Music is rather visceral. Who knows why we like a thing or another. We just do.

So he doesn't like? BFD.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I can't believe all the teeth gnashing tjats been wasted over what someone thinks about hard bop. It's what you think that matters. It reminds of when my son would look to me for approval when he did a certain thing.

Music is rather visceral. Who knows why we like a thing or another. We just do.

So he doesn't like? BFD.

Back in the late 19thC there were (not quite) armed camps, facing off over the music of Brahms and Wagner/Liszt. Today we happily listen to both (well, I can do without Liszt). The ideology has gone cold, the music remains.

Doesn't stop it being interesting to find out why passions ran so high then. Which is what the original question seems to be about.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Back in the late 19thC there were (not quite) armed camps, facing off over the music of Brahms and Wagner/Liszt. Today we happily listen to both (well, I can do without Liszt). The ideology has gone cold, the music remains.

Doesn't stop it being interesting to find out why passions ran so high then. Which is what the original question seems to be about.

Yes, I suppose the back and forth is like watching a match at Wimbledon.

At the end, as you said, the music remains and the rest is just noise that recedes into nothingness.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Always worth remembering that it's a critical construction projected onto the music. Interesting as academic debate. But it shouldn't make anyone feel guilty about enjoying hard bop. Unless you feel a need to be in his gang.

I can't believe all the teeth gnashing tjats been wasted over what someone thinks about hard bop. It's what you think that matters. It reminds of when my son would look to me for approval when he did a certain thing.

Music is rather visceral. Who knows why we like a thing or another. We just do.

So he doesn't like? BFD.

I appreciate reading and discussing different viewpoints on all sorts of things, especially from people whom I intellectually respect (i.e. Amiri Baraka). I sincerely want to learn more about the music that I enjoy and elicit further considerations and opinions from people on this site. I don't know when that became "feeling guilty" about enjoying hard bop or "looking for approval" or some such patronizing nonsense...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I appreciate reading and discussing different viewpoints on all sorts of things, especially from people whom I intellectually respect (i.e. Amiri Baraka).

Oh, I don't think anyone's questioning the wisdom of reading what he has to say.

I'd merely suggest that he has very, very 'strong opinions' (it's a long time since I read the book so I'm working off vague memory). And, in my experience, people who promote one cause by denigrating another tend to be working from an ideology which they then make the facts fit. Given the turbulent times he was living in, that's hardly unexpected.

We don't live in those times (though many of the issues remain unresolved) and can thus be a bit more detached about things he felt the need to man the barricades over.

It's just a case of reading the past with caution and an awareness of wider context. I respect Richard Wagner intellectually - doesn't mean I accept a lot of what he argued in his polemics.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you respect him, then I suppose I can see why it's important to you. I guess my question is would it change how you feel about listening to the music.

By way of example (but probably not a good one), one of my passions is reading about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. If a certain noted author in the field such as Michael Burlingame dismissed a book, I probably would not read it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree that hard bop played itself out by the mid-1960s, but that doesn't explain the animosity Baraka felt for it in 1963.

Sure it does.

In 1963, Cecil & Ornette had already been around long enough to have made an impact past being "novelties", Albert Ayler's name was beginning to get out there (and his music heard a little), Trane & Elvin were really beginning to get in gear, lots of things that had been fermenting were starting to come to the surface, none of which had too much to do with putting on a suit & tie, running the changes with a "bluesy" virtuosity, and saying "We sincerely hope you do enjoy".

And that's just in the music...

You gotta remember, Baraka was a "radical", musically and socially. His patience for the status quo was next to nil, and having real, viable options at hand just made it more so.

No, I don't think the timing explains it. Sorry. If Blues People had been written in 1959 I think he would have been just as dismissive of the genre. Even before the free jazz era, Baraka was looking for musical rebels, and the hard boppers definitely weren't that.

Sorry, but read his 1959 essay about his homeboy Wayne Shorter in Black Music. or, in the same book, his near-ecstatic review of the Monk/Rouse/Warren/Dunlop group. For that matter, read the book in chronological, rather than as-published, order. From 1959 to 1967, the "militancy" makes almost exponential leaps, as it did in the real world.

Now, you can say that neither Monk nor Shorter were ever typical "hard bop", and that is correct. But that also goes to the point that Jones' discomfort was not so much with the music of Hard Bop as it was the relative lack of truly original thinking in most of that music, not the basic stylistic elements of it. And that lack was much more glaring in 1963 than it was in 1959.

The jazz "landscape" in 1963 was quite different than it was in 1959. Hell, in 1959, Cecil was still playing "tunes" for the most part, Ornette had just come to New York, and Trane had just begun to look at modal playing (and that thanks to Miles - Trane was still very much into changes and all their permutations). If you were going to look for "rebels" in the jazz world of 1959, it would have been in the general milieu of Hard Bop (or else in a few other places that were not relevant to LeRoi Jones' world). Where else and what else where the hip players playing? But in 1963...whole 'nother world. Fundamentally, profoundly different.

And truthfully, I don't even know if LeRoi Jones even writes Blues People in 1959. I don't know if his mind is even in that place yet. Think about that!

I think the ideas for Blues People had been percolating for him for some time. And his earlier championing of Monk certainly says nothing about hard bop, because Monk is not hard bop, never was hard bop, and if anything probably has more in common with Cecil than with most hard bop pianists. I mean, if we are talking about hard bop, then the big names in the late 1950s are Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley, Jimmy Smith, Art Blakey, Horace Silver, and so forth. Not Monk. Not Shorter.

There's no denying that Baraka's politics changed in the early 1960s (and changed radically) from affiliation with the Beats to an emerging Black Nationalism, but that journey is not one away from hard bop, because it was never associated with hard bop to begin with.

I appreciate reading and discussing different viewpoints on all sorts of things, especially from people whom I intellectually respect (i.e. Amiri Baraka).

Oh, I don't think anyone's questioning the wisdom of reading what he has to say.

I'd merely suggest that he has very, very 'strong opinions' (it's a long time since I read the book so I'm working off vague memory). And, in my experience, people who promote one cause by denigrating another tend to be working from an ideology which they then make the facts fit. Given the turbulent times he was living in, that's hardly unexpected.

We don't live in those times (though many of the issues remain unresolved) and can thus be a bit more detached about things he felt the need to man the barricades over.

It's just a case of reading the past with caution and an awareness of wider context. I respect Richard Wagner intellectually - doesn't mean I accept a lot of what he argued in his polemics.

The other thing to remember about Baraka is that he was very mercurial at times. Something he might denounce one day he might feel differently about another day. He's a very restless writer (which is part of what makes him a great writer, I think), but it also means that the statements he makes one year he might refute a few years later. Just something to keep in mind. It would be interesting to know what Baraka thinks about hard bop today.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I enjoy and appreciate all of the relevant responses.

It is understandable how Baraka's political priorities informed his experience of the music. Yet I still find it ironic that while Hard Bop musicians saw the music as more "authentically" Black and as a conscious return to its African-American roots (a reemphasis which would in-and-of-itself have been a type of protest to the current White/capitalist paradigm), a radical such as Baraka would see the same sentiments as regressive, if not an example of the "modern minstrelsy" of which he speaks . It definitely hints of the nuances of the role of jazz within the larger racial, civil discourse at the time and about the obligations a Music might have for social or political statement, or whether that obligation should ever trump the aesthetic value of the art itself. ...No argument in there, just a few thoughts.

Edited by spangalang

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

'Authenticity' is a quagmire. It oversimplifies the diversity of response within any community. Causes no end of silliness in folk music academia.

An organ trio playing soul-jazz and a collective playing free jazz strike me as just different expressions with equal validity. Not everyone's going to like both (though some will!). Of course, in the white heat of the 60s it very much did matter 'which side you were on'.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Could his viewpoint be as simple as "If white people enjoy it, it's not a valid form"?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It is understandable how Baraka's political priorities informed his experience of the music. Yet I still find it ironic that while Hard Bop musicians saw the music as more "authentically" Black and as a conscious return to its African-American roots (a reemphasis which would in-and-of-itself have been a type of protest to the current White/capitalist paradigm)

not quite convinced of that... the one thing which i took home from rosenthal's book was that hard bop was something along the lines of: while bebop was the music of a small bunch of people, the hard boppers developped similar ideas along many more trajectories, some of which may have incorporated thoroughly filtered versions of more "black roots" (horace silver, bobby timmons) while others didn't (art farmer, gigi gryce, frank strozier)... don't think you can simply say hard bop is bebop plus spirituals... and i think it's deeply misguided to see any bit of "protest" in horace silver that wasn't already present in bird... and i have often wondered how it influenced the music as a whole that so many hard boppers (Griffin, Mobley, Coltrane, virtually anyone) played R&B in the early fifties, and whether that was the only music they played (or just the only music they recorded) and how it influenced their later music...

more "homie" liner notes for a hard bop album by leroi jones are those to groove street by larry young

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

'Authenticity' is a quagmire. It oversimplifies the diversity of response within any community.

hence my scare quotes. smile.gif

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Could his viewpoint be as simple as "If white people enjoy it, it's not a valid form"?

That would disqualify pretty much every kind of African American music there is, including hip hop, funk, soul jazz, free jazz and on and on and on.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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

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

"Tomb" seems about right.

Haha! You both are correct ... when you are 300 pg into a book and have yet to put any kind of meaningful dent into it, both "tomb" and "tome" are appropriate.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There's no denying that Baraka's politics changed in the early 1960s (and changed radically) from affiliation with the Beats to an emerging Black Nationalism, but that journey is not one away from hard bop, because it was never associated with hard bop to begin with.

See, I think that's altering the reality of "then" to fit with the perception of "now". Jones' interests of that time were definitely with "hip Black Jazz" (my phrase, not his) and to selectively remove "Hard Bob" from that definition is to overlook the reality that all sorts of musics were in general viewed as being "hard bop" of some fashion at the time.

So, yeah, you include Benny Golson, but you also include Trane. You included Donald Byrd but you also include Miles. You include the Jazztet, but you also include Miles' Quintet/Sextet. Etc. And you include Wayne Shorter (with Maynard Ferguson, no less!) and Sonny Rollins (the archtypical "Hard Bop Tenorist" in the eyes of many for quite a long time, up to and including the present, but especially in 1959).

You can't apply a definition based on a retroactive codification to the realities of a time when that definition was not yet anywhere near as narrowed down and codified as it later became. That's altering the question to fit the answer.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In that benighted time of 50 years ago most of the best or hippest jazz critics--LeRoi Jones, Spellman, Hentoff, Martin Williams, Max Harrison, most Jazz Review reviewers, etc. etc.--liked to piss on hard bop. By their standards Rollins, Coltrane, Miles Davis, and possibly Clifford Brown were not hard bop. 2 of the best critical exceptions were Jack Cooke and Michael James.

Aren't you glad we're now more sophisticated than that?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In that benighted time of 50 years ago most of the best or hippest jazz critics--LeRoi Jones, Spellman, Hentoff, Martin Williams, Max Harrison, most Jazz Review reviewers, etc. etc.--liked to piss on hard bop. By their standards Rollins, Coltrane, Miles Davis, and possibly Clifford Brown were not hard bop. 2 of the best critical exceptions were Jack Cooke and Michael James.

Aren't you glad we're now more sophisticated than that?

And yet to most other people, critics and listeners alike, these "exceptions" were hard bop, perhaps even the best examples of it!

On the one hand, the Miles quintet with Trane & Sonny with Max & Clifford were considered defining moments of Hard Bop (and with Miles. the Walkin' album was considered a pivotal/birthing moment). And then all of a sudden they're not. Why? Because the children were not up to the level of the parents? That disproves familial ties? Those bad kids, they can't be yours, they just can't be!

I don't like hamburger but I love steak, so...steak must not be beef, because hamburger is beef. If I like it, it can't be something I don't like, because my taste trumps realtiy. And I got print space to prove it!

That's critics also changing the question to fit the answer. Once again, Karma runs over Dogma.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm trying to remember what esteemed critic it was who referred to the Miles Prestige Quintet sides with Trane as "the Hot Fives of Hard Bop"...that too was an after-the-fact quote, but it goes to show how selective categorization tells more about the categorizer than it does the category...

[ADD: I think it was Dan Morgenstern who referred to those Miles albums like that.]

Edited by JSngry

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Could his viewpoint be as simple as "If white people enjoy it, it's not a valid form"?

Could his viewpoint be as simple as "If white people enjoy it, it's not a valid form"?

That would disqualify pretty much every kind of African American music there is, including hip hop, funk, soul jazz, free jazz and on and on and on.

In addition to Face of the Bass' judicious comment, I can say from personal experience that is really not it at all. Baraka just assessed, from a political-socio-music (!) analysis that hard bop was a retrograde musical form, and time has proven him right. The paradox is that hard bop dominates current jazz, and current jazz continues to sink from public view (remember that "jazz is not cool" thread?) It's not that jazz/hard bop is not cool, it's just not alive. It's an empty form that feeds on its own tail.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

btw, for the best insight into Jones/Baraka, read Hettie Jones book, "How I Became Hettie Jones." (she's his white ex-wife). Jones was also, in his early days, a good poet (I have one of his Evergreen Press collections around here somewhere), He's a smart guy, but to reiterate, he frequently lets his ideology beat reality, Blues people is a brilliant mess.

Edited by AllenLowe

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.