Ain’t But a Few of Us: Black jazz writers tell their story #6

Installment #6 in this ongoing series of stories on their development, trials, tribulations and in some cases recommendations from black music writers continues with a contribution from RON SCOTT, who comes from a perspective unique to our contributors thus far.  And that’s because Ron is a regular contributor to what has long been referred to in black communities as "the black dispatch."  Ron’s primary vehicle for his jazz writings is the venerable Amsterdam News, for many decades the New York City community’s most reliable dispatch of news in and around the black community and of concern to black folks.  Ron is certainly unique in that respect as other traditional black dispatches such as the Chicago Defender, Pittsburgh Courier, and (Cleveland) Call & Post have long neglected this art form we call jazz, which is a unique development of the African experience in America.  Per usual we started this virtual conversation trying to learn what motivated Ron Scott to write about serious music.


To be honest writing wasn’t really in my program…  English was my favorite subject in high school.  As a senior I submitted two short poems for the yearbook; unfortunately they weren’t accepted and I was very disappointed.  While in college I continued writing poems as I pursued my goal to become a social worker.  After college I attended NYU graduate school, the school of social work.  While looking for a part-time job I noticed on the school bulletin board a freelance writing position for a soul [music] magazine (Soul Sounds) in Brooklyn.  I went for the interview and was immediately hired; that was the beginning of my career as a music writer.


When you started on this quest were you aware of how few African Americans there were writing about serious music?


At the time I was not aware.  It should be noted that I started out writing about R&B music and later met and became close friends with the writers in that genre; at that time I wasn’t aware of the writers in jazz.  When I started reading the Village Voice on a regular basis I became a fan of Greg Tate and Stanley Crouch.


Why do you suppose that is still such a glaring disparity — where you have a significant number of black musicians making serious music but so few black music writers or commentators?


I view jazz like the NBA (National Basketball Association) — a host of black players but very little representation as commentators, managers, lawyers, promoters, agents or writers.  Unfortunately I feel that institutional racism is alive and well in jazz.  As a point of reference just look at our representation in the major jazz publications like DownBeat and JazzTimes (and what happend to Stanley Crouch at that publication).  Even Amiri Baraka, who has written a wealth of books, including my bible Black Music, is not a welcomed contributor to any of the major jazz publications or dailies.


Do you think that disparity of African American writers contributes to how the music is covered?


Most definitely music is objective, it’s based on emotions, life experiences, societal stimuli, and cultural background.  When black writers aren’t proportionately involved in sharing their thoughts about the music the coverage becomes one-sided.


Since you’ve been writing about serious music, have you ever found yourself questioning why some musicians may be elevated over others and is it  your sense that has anything to do with the lack of cultural diversity among the writers covering this music?


It’s similar to Benny Goodman being called the "King of Swing".  How could that be possible when he played under the time of Fletcher Henderson, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington?  A lack of cultural diversity is a mild phrase for stating the obvious.


What’s your sense of the indifference of so many African American-oriented publications towards serious music, despite the fact that so many African-American artists continue to create serious music?


This is a difficult question, but most of it has to do with black history.  I feel if more blacks were really aware of their history and the role that jazz has played in society they would be more apt to promote the music.  However, the same could be said for the electronic media; just look at the Grammy Awrds.  Where is jazz on their prime-time priority list?  Or radio?… Only one jazz station in New Jersey and not one in New York City, the multi-media capitol of the world!


How do you react to the contention that the way and tone of how serious music is covered has something to do with who is writing about it?


This relates to my answer to [the question about the dearth of black jazz writers].


In your experience writing about serious music what have been some of your most rewarding experiences?


Writing is my life, without it I wouldn’t exist.  My most rewarding encounter is being accepted into the jazz family of musicians and becoming friends with them as well as their family members.  More than anything I am honored and humbled that these music warriors have accepted me into their most significant lives.


What obstacles have you run up against — besides difficult editors and indifferent publications — in your efforts at covering serious music?


Difficult editors and indifferent publications covers it for me.


If you were pressed to list several musicians who may be somewhat bubbling under the surface or just about to break through as far as wider spread public consciousness, who might they be and why?


There are many young musicians who fit into this category, but I would say alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, saxophonist Marcus and drummer E.J. Strickland, and pianist Aaron Diehl.  All are composers bringing their own sound and personal exciting colors to the show.  They aren’t playing safe but taking chances incorporating spoken word and black history moments, connecting the dots…  Aaron, a recent graduate of Julliard, has yet to record his debut album but is already on the radar of major musicians.  He plays everything from blues to stride to straight-ahead and has a strong grasp of the music from a historic perspective.


As we are now in the second half of 2009, what for you have been the most intriguing records released so far this year?


Unfortunately, I tend to listen to the same stuff over and over when I like it, so stuff that just came out this year is still on my "to listen to" list.  But here’s a few: E.J. Strickland In This Day, Gregory Generet (re)generation, Pyeng Threadgill Of the Air, and Frank Wess Once Is Not Enough.

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