Tag Archive for Great Man theory

HR 57: Conyers’ Love Supreme

hr57-1reduced Rarely does a Congressional resolution become the basis of a monumental piece of improvisational big-band music. In addition to Alan Silva and the musicians of the Celestrial Communication Orchestra, we can thank the inestimable House radical John Conyers for this. If H.Con.Res.57 serves no other purpose (and it’s possible that it indeed serves no other purpose), it supplied the lyrics to the multi-sectioned masterpiece called HR57, found on the H.Con.Res.57 Treasure Box, which is surely the most important federal jazz policy-related piece of music ever recorded.

Ironies abound in relation to this work, many of which are explored in Ka-ching, but one that isn’t is the simple fact that the music of Alan Silva and his compatriots likely lies beyond the scope of Conyers’ jazz appreciation, and in the true jazzocratic manner, may not even be considered jazz at all by his lights. It’s not clear exactly what “jazz” he’s referring to when Conyers calls this music a “national treasure,” but it may well not be the jazz that is frequently preceded by “free,” which I use in Ka-ching as an umbrella term for all aspects of the avant-garde. As Matthew Goodheart points out in his voluminous liner notes to disc III of the Treasure Box set, there is a Great Man theory of jazz history, just as there is of any history; a theory whose “direct-lineage iconography,” he contends,

is an attempt at conscious control over the forces that establish culture. It is a framework that establishes institutional authority over creative expression: creative expression is then validated according to the precepts of that authority. And those precepts are nowhere more evident than in the question, “Where is the next genius coming from?” or “Where do we go after Coltrane?”

Later in the essay, Goodheart explains that those questions belong to a panel discussion, “Jazz: Setting a New Standard—Coltrane, Bird and Beyond,” hosted by Conyers, and apparently presented on his Web site back in 2001, or perhaps earlier, which Goodheart calls “essentially a discussion on ‘genius.’ ” He notes, “In the whole discussion . . . there is no mention of anyone involved in the type of music Silva creates.”

Anarchism: Daniel Carter

AnarchismRarely does one see an interview with a jazz musician, even a free-jazz musician, the chief subject of which is anarchism. How refreshing to discover that Daniel Carter was interviewed by Nils Jacobson of All About Jazz—the interview, which appears to be from 1999, does not seem to be available on the AAJ Web site, though it can be found elsewhere online—whose first question was, “Tell me about anarchy.” And Carter, who has read widely, but at the same time quite candidly and disarmingly admits that he has not read deeply, proceeds to tell him about anarchy at great length, as he engages in what, in the context of this site, might be called a political discourse of improvocracy. In what I gather is the introduction to the interview, titled “Daniel Carter: Underground Anarchist”it appears after the interview online, but it clearly is setting up the interviewJacobson writes,

Daniel Carter is not exactly a household name. The saxophonist/trumpeter has been making improvised music for decades, but he still remains largely unknown. Obscurity did not arise because he intentionally kept a low profile. Quite the contrary: he’s worked with some of the most influential figures on the avant-garde music scene, such as Cecil Taylor and Sun Ra. In order to better understand the Carter phenomenon, one must appreciate his commitment to functional anarchism.

Some of Carter’s observations in this interview, strung together for political effect:

There’s this idea that the idea of democracy and anarchism (in its ideal sense) are not so far away from each other. . . . The idea of people freely associating, and deciding for themselves individually and collectively, what it is they want to do, rather directly . . . [this] might even be more of a democracy than democracy . . . as we know it. . . . What we need is more true decentralized grassroots democracy. . . . You wouldn’t have to look to any wild, crazy anarchist who would want to totally innovate the government. Just the majority of the people . . .

On the subject of collective improvisation and the leader/sideman binary that is endemic to mainstream jazz:

I just think that if the music is essentially people improvisingpeople playing spontaneouslythen how could it be under somebody’s name? . . . Most of the groups I’m in are collectives. Sometimes they’ve started out otherwise, and I’ve fought for them to be under a collective name . . . some name that would be inspirational or aspirational for the whole group. . . . It seems to me that spiritually and energetically, it should work better for the group to do it that way.

On the intrinsically jazzocratic Great Man theory of jazz:

I agree with Kwami Ture, [aka] Stokely Carmichael. Like Kwami Ture, I don’t believe in the great man theory, even though I’m talking about these great guys. Because with every great man (and they don’t even hardly allow great women), they don’t seem to have gotten anywhere without thousands and thousands of the so-called “little people.”

And on the inadequacy of local government support of the arts in the cultural capital of America:

Why, in New York City, one of the world capitals of the music, and a veritable nation in itself (New York City has as large a population as some of the smaller nations of Europe) . . . why on earth can’t we get some consciousness in a city like New York, some responsibility on the part of city government, to look out for its musicians, its artists, its writers, its dancers, its painters?!

This last is part of Carter’s discussion of direct musical communication, speaking of grassroots anarchism, in which he recounts his experiences with a collective improvising quartet called Test, whose chief performance venue is the street and the subway.