Extraordinary how potent cheap music is…
— Noel Coward
No truer words have ever been spoken (and thanks to WBGO deejay Sheila Anderson for that one, taken from her valuable book The Quotable Musician (Allworth Press). If jazz could only speak for itself. Ever wonder what the art form would say for itself in light of current conditions? Jazz writer Ron Scott, a regular contributor to the Amsterdam News and a contributor to our series of dialogues with African American music writers, Ain’t But a Few of Us, recently heard from the voice of jazz and here’s what the elder statesman of American music had to say about this year’s Grammy Awards.
JAZZ SPEAKS ON the GRAMMY AWARDS
By Ron Scott
This year’s 58th Grammy Award song of the year was “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran. The song title is apropos for the following thoughts the voice of “jazz” was pondering during this year’s awards ceremony. As jazz was heard to remark afterwards…
The host was the multi-Grammy winner, actor and rapper LL Cool J. No doubt he deserved to host the show, but what about my shine in primetime media? Why don’t I get no hosting gig ever, no on-stage gig (well, maybe a few times), no Grammy presenting gig, and no Grammy presentation in primetime… except for maybe a few crumbs here and there… (Herbie Hancock comes to mind).
Sure the music world folks often say, “Jazz is America’s national treasure.” Right… then when the Grammys come around I’m treated like the girl who only gets a date on the staircase in the projects!
Yeah, I’m America’s original music alright. Similar to my little brother hip hop, who also came out of the ghetto. Everybody laughed at him at first, said he was just a fad. They said he’s too flamboyant, too disrespectful to ladies, uses profanity and does drugs. He’s too gangster… multiple arrests and even convictions. Regardless, he kept rappin’ and here we are years later… millions of record sales, and movie contracts, and I’m still in the shade!
Make note, I’m not hatin’ or complaining’… just sayin’. They gave big props to “Hamilton” for winning “Best Musical Theater Album.” Okay, cool the first major hip hop Broadway production.
Yeah, I know it’s all about the paper. Little bro hip hop is making millions, getting all that media attention. While little ole’ jazz, by comparison is just making short money and that doesn’t warrant the Grammy stage during primetime.
But dude, you know I was swinging in the first Black Broadway production Shuffle Along, way back in 1921, and that was written by the jazz musician songwriters Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake. Their songs from the play “I’m Just Wild About Harry and “Love Will Find A Way” are now a part of the Great American Songbook.”
In 1912 when the jazz bandleader, composer and arranger James Reese Europe formed the Clef Club Orchestra and became the first jazz orchestra to perform at Carnegie Hall, that was me in the house swinging along. Bam! That was 21 years before Benny Goodman’s debut at Carnegie Hall, you dig.
I was there during World War I with Lt. Europe, leading the 369th Infantry Regiment (the Harlem Hellfighters) in France, when they gave those swinging jazz concerts for the British, French and American troops.
Yo, when those cats came home and marched through Harlem, stepping proud, playing some mean tune… that was me, daddio. Just thinking out loud, no complainin, no hatin’ just sayin’.
During those horrendous terrorist days of lynchings, I witnessed that strange fruit hanging from the sycamore tree.
Being in “Alabama” with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was no joke, just ask John Coltrane, he wrote the tune. When Nina Simone sang “Mississippi Goddam” and “Old Jim Crow” I was all up in the mix jamming in the trenches.
We were bebopping with Dizzy Gillespie swinging low in his sweet Cadillac as folks jammed to Lou Donaldson’s “Alligator Boogaloo,” long before you got gangsta and spit hip hop.
Hell, baby we started it all coming from Africa; the drum persisted, call and response resisted, the preacher was sweatin’, and Negro hymns from the gospel choir praised the lawd.
While down the block the devil was dancin to the blues, ragtime and jazz. Yeah it all came through me; doo wop, R&B, soul, funk, and rap via Jocko Henderson, Jack the Rapper and Frankie Crocker “the chief rocker.”
Yes, I am America’s treasure sure sounds good, but all of my family is enjoying primetime, and I’m still being treated like a booty call. What is wrong with this scenario?
Hey no complainin’, no hatin’, just saying.
Did you see Kendrick Lamar layin’ down that rap? He’s a hardcore kid, and that big youngster on the saxophone… damn! Those dancers in their African gear… and the drums!, now that was a statement, a musical journey.
That young 12- year old pianist Joey Alexander held down the jazz front with his dazzling performance of Thelonious Monk’s composition, “I Mean You,” and at least Ruth Brown’s posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award was heart-warming. After all she crossed over from jazz to blues and R&B.
Anything else related to Grammy jazz winners was relegated to online views. Here are a few of the winners; Cecile McLarin Salvant Best Jazz Vocal Album, For One to Love, ”Christian McBride “Best Improvised Jazz Solo,” Eliane Elias “Best Latin Jazz Album “Made in Brazil,” and the Afro Latin Jazz Suite featuring Rudresh Mahanthappa under the category “Instrumental Composition.”
Those special tributes to Maurice White, B.B. King and that spectacular Lady Gaga performance for David Bowie were cool, but what happened to the Natalie Cole tribute? Like her father Nat King Cole, her voice is unforgettable and she deserved a tribute.
After all it was Miles Davis who explained the “Seven Steps to Heaven.” Granted, afterwards he was “On the Corner,” drinking “Bitches Brew,” and got involved with those “Water Babies,” but should that disqualify jazz from having some Grammy prime time status?
No, it shouldn’t. “no complainin’, no hatin’, I’m just saying!,” said an indignant jazz.