Ain't But a Few of Us: Black Music Writers Tell Their Story, Willard Jenkins (Ed.) - Duke University Press

Extremely well guided along, introduced and contextualised by editor Willard Jenkins the premise of the book and title are explained within Jenkins' memoir of an introduction: ''Yes, this is a book about one important sector of the music industry, …

Published: 22 Nov 2022. Updated: 13 days.

Extremely well guided along, introduced and contextualised by editor Willard Jenkins the premise of the book and title are explained within Jenkins' memoir of an introduction: ''Yes, this is a book about one important sector of the music industry, examined from a race perspective; it is a book about race examined from the viewpoint of those who write about jazz and in many cases also chronicle other jazz-informed music… The title is a straight lift from the colloquial speech that black jazz musicians and fellow travelers along the African American trail have employed across the ages. The first time I heard it uttered, it stuck. Before or after some long-forgotten performance, the late vibraphone innovator Milt Jackson uttered the phrase in warmly greeting his fellow jazz master and bop-era survivor, the saxophonist Jimmy Heath - as in, “Man, ain’t but a few of us . . .” (presumably, from their era left). So it was that the phrase became a compelling sobriquet for what is to follow.''

The story is explained by different cohorts of writers whether grouped into academic authors, freelancers, self publisher entrepeneurs and others. While some of the contributions get too involved in establishing the writers' credentials and potted versions of their CVs and career highs and lows there are many serious points made in a wide variety of ways. Key points among these are made by A. B. Spellman, author of the classic Four Lives in the Bebop Business (1966), the late music journalist, author and musician Greg Tate and the Thelonious Monk biographer Robin D. G. Kelley. Firstly, Spellman who relates 'When I first started writing about jazz, of course I was aware of the shortage of black writers covering the music. There was me, LeRoi Jones (not yet Baraka), some of the belles lettres pieces of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray, and not much else. I’m not sure why that’s still such a disparity: the number of significant black musicians making serious music versus so few black writers on the subject… There are more conservatory-trained African Americans now than there ever have been, but they don’t write. Black jazz musicians don’t write either - and they should!'

Tate thinks 'the lack of black music writers is because, by and large, music editors aren’t interested in diversifying their writer rosters. Hip-hop music, when it was younger and fresher, marked the first time in African American history where the majority of writers covering it for the Voice, the Source, and Vibe were black. The ratio there flipped once corporate interests took control over the creative aspects of that music—so that now, at many major hip-hop publications, the writers are non-black.'

And Kelley recalls 'a poem the late Jayne Cortez used to perform, where the line was, ''They want the oil/but they don’t want the people.'' Of course, she meant this literally as well as figuratively. It applies to the music, too, indirectly. For many black intellectuals, the music and the people, the music and the context, the music and the community are inseparable. Once you separate these things, it is easy to make the case that jazz transcends race and history - it is a way of claiming jazz’s universalism, but based on a skewed definition of universal as ''without connection.'''

These ideas that African-African writers often choose to write on other subjects than jazz (Spellman's); that editors don't want to diversify enough in terms of a racial mix (Tate's); and most crucially of all - that jazz is more broadly sociological than some would like to admit (Kelley's) - seem key. At the end it's worth pausing to consider what the response of the main US jazz magazine editors would be to such discussions. Writer after writer in sometimes impassioned and certainly exasperated fashion point out how under-represented African-American writers are on staff at magazines and major publications. They need answers. The discussion, and you would hope a process towards some kind of change, begins here. SG

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The Ostara Project, The Ostara Project, Cellar Live ***1/2

A feelgood but hardly indulgent celebration of spring the vocals soaked 'Storms and Oceans' written by Ostara's co-leader bassist Jodi Proznick rewards prolonged attention as the arc of the piece allows plenty of closely arranged ebb and flow …

Published: 22 Nov 2022. Updated: 14 days.

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A feelgood but hardly indulgent celebration of spring the vocals soaked 'Storms and Oceans' written by Ostara's co-leader bassist Jodi Proznick rewards prolonged attention as the arc of the piece allows plenty of closely arranged ebb and flow between the Cherise-like vocals of Joanna Majoko and the horns and rhythm section of the ensemble.

Euphonious throughout, melody has not been exiled to another space or place, The Ostara Project was recorded at a Vancouver studio earlier this year.

Proznick surfaces very pleasantly in a deft bass solo towards the end while 'Bye Bye Blackbird' sounds brand new at the beginning before Majoko's soulful rendering of the lyrics gives the game away but still makes you forget how familiar the Ray Henderson and Mort Dixon song in the canon since first being recorded in 1926 and so luminously rendered in the 1950s by Peggy Lee on Songs from Pete Kelly's Blues remains. Yet another strong release from Cory Weeds' valuable centrist Cellar Live operation. The Ostara Project, photo Cellar Live/Bandcamp