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Free Jazz/Black Power

Free Jazz/Black Power

Philippe Carles
Jean-Louis Comolli
Translated by Grégory Pierrot
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Free Jazz/Black Power
    Book Description:

    In 1971, French jazz critics Philippe Carles and Jean-Louis Comolli co-wroteFree Jazz/Black Power, a treatise on the racial and political implications of jazz and jazz criticism. It remains a testimony to the long ignored encounter of radical African American music and French left-wing criticism. Carles and Comolli set out to defend a genre vilified by jazz critics on both sides of the Atlantic by exposing the new sound's ties to African American culture, history, and the political struggle that was raging in the early 1970s. The two offered a political and cultural history of black presence in the United States to shed more light on the dubious role played by jazz criticism in racial oppression.

    This analysis of jazz criticism and its production is astutely self-aware. It critiques the critics, building a work of cultural studies in a time and place where the practice was virtually unknown. The authors reached radical conclusions--free jazz was a revolutionary reaction against white domination, was the musical counterpart to the Black Power movement, and was a music that demanded a similar political commitment. The impact of this book is difficult to overstate, as it made readers reconsider their response to African American music. In some cases it changed the way musicians thought about and played jazz.Free Jazz / Black Powerremains indispensable to the study of the relation of American free jazz to European audiences, critics, and artists. This monumental critique caught the spirit of its time and also realigned that zeitgeist.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-084-6
    Subjects: Music, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. preface: … and in 2014
    (pp. vii-ix)
    Philippe Carles and Jean-Louis Comolli
  4. free jazz/black power: an introduction
    (pp. x-xviii)
    Grégory Pierrot

    Jazz is commonly regarded as having gone through several cycles. It rose from its roots in the blues to early development in the ragtime form, commercial explosion in the 1920s and settled into mainstream popular music prominence in the late 1920s, early 1930s swing era. Jazz experienced its first radical turn in the early 1940s with bebop, the genre brought about by the likes of John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie and Charles “Bird” Parker. Formally turning away from the danceable, entertainment format of swing, bebop gave jazz at large an increased level of respectability, brought it a step closer to Western...

  5. translator’s note
    (pp. xix-xix)
  6. translator’s acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-2)
  7. Introduction (1971)
    (pp. 3-8)

    The appearance and fast development in the USA of so-called “free jazz” and its difficult entry in France have provoked a veritable trauma in the small world of jazz criticism.

    From the start, there was somethingintolerableabout this music for many listeners, and even for music specialists. The music was shocking, to say the least: it hurt, quite literally. Ten years later, after Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, Don Cherry, Pharoah Sanders, the Chicago Art Ensemble, its shock power remains intact. Free jazz still triggers violent reactions, rejection, insults, and derision.

    Some free jazz...

  8. Part I: Not a Black Problem, But a White Problem

    • 1. Jazz Today
      (pp. 11-24)

      In 1960, saxophonist Ornette Coleman, considered by all critics and by the great majority of jazz aficionados as an “avant-garde” musician and composer of difficult, unpleasant, “hermetic” music, recorded with a double quartet—an exceptional formation—a 36’ 23” piece entitledFree Jazz. This was collective improvisation music, deliberately played outside of the stylistic norms and structures of both “classic” jazz (1920–40) and what was then considered “modern” jazz (coming from bop, cool jazz, etc.). The piece was a scandal, at least musically speaking, and only in the very small world of jazz aficionados, musicians, and critics. Since Ornette...

    • 2. Economic Ownership of Jazz
      (pp. 25-30)

      In its first stages, jazz was only known and played in black neighborhoods, red light districts (New Orleans’s Storyville) and black cabarets and dancehalls (in Chicago and New York). The rare ethnomusicologists interested in it then recognized it, at best, as a limited andextra-artisticfolk music. At worst, they saw it as an evocation of primitive savagery, an exotic oddity. For the few whites who could hear it, jazz was a special kind of mood music, associated with sexual debauchery and race mixing. Associated early by its very name (“jass” was slang for sex) to orgies both shameful and...

    • 3. Cultural Colonization
      (pp. 31-46)

      The appearance and development of the free jazz movement led many musicians to refuse to call their music “jazz” (see Cecil Taylor above, and Charles Tyler: “I think jazz will free itself from being jazz, or at least from what the public thinks jazz is”¹). This shows the distance gradually taken by jazz itself and jazz musicians from what has long passed—and still does pass—for “jazz” to the white public, American and European critics, historians, etc. “Jazz” in quotation marks refers to a long period in this music’s history in which the commercial interests of white capitalism, their...

    • 4. The Blind Task of Criticism
      (pp. 47-50)

      Along with jazz, the contradictions inherent to jazz criticism have taken—and overwhelmed—center stage as “issues,” “quarrels,” and “theses.” Toxic red-herrings such as these have contributed to the misunderstanding of jazz as much as to the understanding of it. Through these devices, critics presented their stories as history, their fiction as truth, believing that they were writing about jazz when in reality they were inscribing jazz within criticism, outside itself. In spite of their opposition to one another, and the noise of their quarrels notwithstanding, the different schools of criticism remain accomplices in that they are all connected to,...

  9. Part II: Notes on a Black History of Jazz

    • Three Preliminary Remarks
      (pp. 51-52)

      a) In these “notes on a black history of jazz,” we propose to point out a certain number of facts and historical data that areusuallyleft out of jazz histories. In other words, we will simply note the musical facts featured and extensively commented upon in these histories, or rather we will attempt to put them in relation to all the things that determine them, directly or indirectly: historical, economical, social, and political axes. We hope to show that what has usually been considered mere backdrop to black music, what has usually been neglected and repressed, has often played...

    • 5. What the Blues Say
      (pp. 53-76)

      All the histories of jazz published to this day consider the blues, ballads, gospel songs, and work songs as so many testimonies of black life in the United States. Yet only Paul Oliver,¹ A. B. Spellman,² and LeRoi Jones³ distill from these documents the fact that black revolt, begun almost four centuries ago with the first slaves, is the essential trait of the history of black Americans.

      Though forgotten, denied, or reduced to mere “accidents,” manifestations of black resistance were numerous long before the word “jazz” appeared. There was resistance on the first slave ships crossing the Atlantic, when shipments...

    • 6. Black Music before Jazz
      (pp. 77-98)

      Before LeRoi Jones, Alain Locke,¹ a black scholar representing both the black bourgeoisie (its concern for respectability, its understanding of the differences between black and Western art as differences in degree, its intellectual inferiority complex) and a certain black intellectual elite (bent on valorizing black cultural contributions, cataloguing all black creators, alluding to the innumerable obstacles met by black artists in American society, etc.) had through his research underlined the importance of black music in the United States. But it is only with LeRoi Jones that the appearance and evolution of the African American musical phenomenon began to be studied...

    • 7. In the Margins of Jazz History
      (pp. 99-148)

      This, then, will not be about telling, repeating what is called “the history of jazz,” cataloguing once again the musicians, orchestras, records, or styles that constitute it. We will instead attempt to recover, to bind anew the ties that always existed—though often went unnoticed—between the American social field, the ideology that dominates it (and what other ideologies are dominated within it), and the diverse musical (and non-musical) manifestations of black Americans. Except by LeRoi Jones and, to a lesser extent, the German Joachim Ernst Berendt, the history of jazz has not been studied for what it is: a...

  10. Part III: Contradictions of Jazz in a State of Freedom

    • 8. Free Fragments
      (pp. 151-167)

      What is most striking in listening to free jazz compositions is their polymorphism, the multiplication/collision/juxtaposition at all levels and in all senses of material, codes, sources, worlds, and modes used, or referred to, by musicians. Everything happens with these jazzmen as if they had decided not to abstain from anything they could desire or need, at any stage in the creation process.

      Compared with “jazz,” a great mass of exogenous elements float on the surface of this music; it emphasizes the impression of a mix, underlines in fact the contradiction that preceding genres and forms of jazz tried to mask...

    • 9. Music/Politics
      (pp. 168-180)

      In Chapters 5 and 6, we isolated certain points where Afro-American music interacts with the economic and social structures of white capitalist America and therefore with the political history of black Americans, which is itself produced by these structures as their repression and/or remnants. We have attempted to show how some jazz “styles,” musical forms, and aesthetic choices have been linked to specific moments in extra-musical fields (economic conditions and their translation in ideological terms into political consciousness and cultural trends). From the beginning, black musical productions haveplayedinto the themes and ideological modes of white bourgeois American society,...

  11. Preface to the 1979 Edition
    (pp. 181-182)
  12. Preface to the 2000 Edition: Free Jazz, Off Program, Off Topic, Off Screen
    (pp. 183-194)
    Philippe Carles and Jean-Louis Comolli
  13. Notes
    (pp. 195-226)
  14. Discography
    (pp. 227-241)
  15. Works Cited
    (pp. 242-250)
  16. Index
    (pp. 251-256)