This is an open-ended blog ranging from news about my latest gigs and publications
to ruminations about politics, world affairs, culture and whatever piques my interest—or ire.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME: thoughts on Nicholas Payton's anti-"jazz" crusade

Interesting interview with Nicholas Payton in the San Jose Mercury News, talking about his new album "Sketches of Spain" and his views, opinionated as always, on many subjects. I was struck in particular by his vehement objections to using the term "jazz." Interviewer Richard Scheinin summarized his opinion as follows:

"Payton (a jazz-Grammy winner) argued that jazz died half a century ago -- and that the word "jazz" is a racist term imposed on black musicians by white marketers. He prefers to call it by another name: #BAM, or Black American Music."

Payton himself elaborates on this theme in the Q & A:

"Jazz is the white appropriation of black American music. It's a caricaturization of the music that Bolden and King Oliver and Armstrong and others created, and the first documented jazz recording was by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. And as for "Dixieland" -- we know the connotation that "Dixie" has to the Confederate South and slavery. And "jazz," the word itself, is of dubious origin at best...And a lot of the early musicians refuted the title. They didn't want the association with the word." [The whole interview is available at:]

My personal view on all this:

 It is totally pointless to get hung up on nomenclature--what you call a thing. "A rose by any other name..." as Shakespeare put it. Terms like "rock n'roll" and "rhythm and blues" were also coined by white marketers of essentially black music. So what? Are we going to rename those genres too? And if you're going to call jazz "Black American Music," you are implicitly excluding anyone who's not a black American from the club. Stan Getz, Benny Goodman, Dave Brubeck, and Django Reinhart wouldn't have any place under that tent. What if we decided to call Classical music White European Music? Where would that leave Wynton Marsalis's superb baroque trumpet recordings, or the operatic work of Jessye Norman or Leontyne Price? Jazz (a century-old term I will continue to use) is an inclusive music, a music that communicates across racial barriers, cultural boundaries, over oceans and continents. Today it is a world music. If that were not the case, it would have died in the 1920s. Whatever you choose to call it, the only thing that really matters is the music itself. And when Nicholas Payton lets his horn do the talking, all I can say is "Amen."

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