Researching Jazz History and the Civil Rights Movement

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by pettinellibass, Dec 9, 2013.

  1. So I recently finished a scholarly paper on the connections between jazz and the civil rights movement, and how both were affected by each other. My topic question is: What were the factors in influencing the views of jazz musicians on musical integration? It is a topic of strong interest to me, and I had some very significant findings. If anyone would like to check it out, just let me know.
  2. One Drop

    One Drop

    Oct 10, 2004
    Swiss Alps
    I'd love to read it.

    My knowledge of the subject is limited to very general articles and documentary histories which touched on aspects of the subject, but that weren't specific to it.

    I've read the autobiographies of Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Holiday, Charles Mingus, and Miles Davis, all of which discussed segregation and racism, and revealed extremely different ways of dealing with and attitudes toward the situations that arose daily and framed their upbringing and subsequent careers.
  3. huckleberry1


    Jul 1, 2013
    Mesquite, Texas
    I studied jazz in musical appreciation class & was fascinated with JellyRoll Morton's playing piano in a brothel. I'd love to hear those stories.
  4. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    What do you mean by musical integration?
  5. By musical integration, I mean black and white musicians playing together without the discriminatory overtones of segregation looming over their heads. In the swing era, many white musicians, like Benny Goodman, received recognition and grew very wealthy from playing jazz music in the big bands they led. However, more importantly, the recording industry tended to favor white musicians more due to the nature of the first jazz recording. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band, led by Nick LaRocca and a group of other white musicians, recorded "Livery Stable Blues" in 1917 as the first recording of jazz. Either way, my point is that the success of white musicians and proclivity of the recording industry to predominantly record white musicians generated animosity and resentment of the behalf of African Americans. However, it is important to note that some white musicians, such as Goodman himself, incorporated black musicians into their ensembles. Nevertheless, resentment still remained from the fact that they were simply white, which is where the racial tensions come in.
  6. Factors in the View of Jazz Musicians Toward Musical Integration
    I. Introduction
    While most people can identify different styles of jazz and renowned jazz artists, providing a cohesive definition for this art form is difficult. The reason for this stems not from a lack of scholarly knowledge, but from the diversity and involvement of jazz throughout American history. Having descended from the folk songs and spirituals of African slaves, the origins of jazz music undoubtedly began in America. Starting in the early twentieth century, the evolution of jazz continued in New Orleans, Louisiana, as African Americans formed brass bands, and altered the rhythm of classical repertoire to create new music infused with syncopated rhythms. Being thoroughly infused with African-American influence, jazz carried the connotation of being acceptable for white dance music, but was ultimately considered inferior to classical music and other musical styles dominated by white Americans. Nevertheless, to repudiate the position of jazz as a quintessential American art form inaccurately reflects American history to a gross degree by negating its integral role in the fabric of American culture.
    The undeniable correlation between African Americans and jazz, particularly during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s and 1930’s and Civil Rights Era of the 1950’s and 1960’s, lent it a controversial element that featured racial division between African-American and white musicians. These historical periods epitomized strained race relations between African Americans and whites because racial tensions were significantly elevated due to the attempts of blacks and civil rights activists to abolish segregation in American society. Jazz operated as a sociological misnomer because it enjoyed a high level of popularity, despite having been created by African Americans, who occupied a subordinate role inferior to white citizens in America. Naturally, the civil rights movement and jazz music share a powerful connection because both were authored by African Americans. Therefore, jazz musicians were strongly impacted by the plethora of different beliefs affirmed by the civil rights activists, such as the freedom and equality of blacks, as well as economic and social factors like the white-dominated recording industry and the taboo of white musicians playing jazz music.
    Many black jazz musicians first began to follow the actions of black musicians such as Louis Armstrong in the 1930’s and 1940’s by opposing racism and segregation through relatively passive methods such as including subtleties of their support for civil rights in their concerts and performances. The second phase that significantly influenced black jazz musicians to support or oppose segregation occurred with the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, from which the assimilationist movement of Dr. Martin Luther King and black power movements led by Malcolm X and other radical activists served as the foremost influences. On the other hand, many white jazz musicians tended to eschew the discriminatory attitude toward African Americans, and tended to either support integration or the dogma of “colorblindness”, which regarded performers based on musical talent rather than racial complexion.

    II. Black Perspectives Toward Integration
    In discussing the attitudes toward integration in jazz music, the civil rights movement greatly influenced many black musicians to regard jazz as an art form exclusively relevant to African Americans. The civil rights movement focused on not only achieving equality for African Americans, but also accentuating and preserving aspects of African American culture. African Americans that supported this philosophy tended to either identify with radical beliefs, such as those of the Black Power movement, or simply felt that white musicians simply harbored no cultural or emotional connection to jazz music. Nevertheless, during the Civil Rights movement, these individuals wanted to establish a set of values and traits that would further legitimize the standing of their race. It was amidst the massive social campaigns of the civil rights movement that many black musicians began to regard jazz as an art form that, if solely considered as the legitimate birthright of black musicians, could heighten the prestige of being an African American in American society. This belief led many black leaders to call for jazz to be solely played by African Americans. As Ron Welburn, an Ivy League professor of African American music, said in his insightful book The Black Aesthetic Imperative, “Black music should not be allowed to become popular outside the black community, which means that the black community must support the music” ( qtd. in Gerard 5). In many ways, jazz music functioned as one of the only culturally relevant elements that black citizens could not only proclaim as their own in American society, but also prevent white performers from stealing, an action that many black musicians scornfully felt had been orchestrated by white musicians like Benny Goodman, who had become considerably wealthy from playing swing music. Indeed, they had been downtrodden and oppressed for so long by the debilitating segregationist system that they possessed few unique cultural aspects that they could designate as a watermark solely indicative of their heritage. Thus, many African American musicians looked with scorn upon Benny Goodman, the “King of Swing”, and other famous white jazz musicians of the 1930’s for gaining recognition from jazz music (Freedom 36). In the eyes of the black community, particularly those who lived in urban environments where jazz was prominent, white musicians that had become wealthy from playing jazz were regarded as unscrupulous profiteers of an African-American art form.
    As bebop, hard bop, free jazz, and other subsets of jazz music came into existence, the belief that black musicians held superiority in playing jazz music over white musicians only blossomed. A style that exemplified this trend was bebop. Bebop emerged “in the early 1940’s, where a group of young, technically advanced African-American musicians. . .gradually developed an ever more complex style of playing. . .It was widely believed that this was done with the intention of keeping less adept musicians (predominantly, by implication, white swing players) from being able to keep up with them” (Shipton 439). Although bebop’s creation did not stem from political motives, the racially grounded beliefs of many black bebop players politicized its significance as a genre of jazz music. Indeed, the creation of bebop demonstrates that while jazz styles were not specifically crafted to alienate white musicians, the beliefs of black jazz artists endowed different varieties of jazz with political undertones. In attempting to preserve jazz’s status as the consummate African American music, black musicians strove to place white jazz musicians in subordinate roles within bebop and jazz, or omit them altogether by refusing to grant them employment. Most bebop groups, with the exception of Charlie Parker, who used white musicians in his ensembles, were led by and composed of African-Americans.
    However, some white musicians willingly accepted this subordination using the following justification: “Because black creativity is esteemed so highly in the jazz world, being accepted as a member of a prominent African-American jazz group bestows upon white musicians a badge of authenticity that their other white colleagues lack” (Gerard 106). Thus, owing to the positions of black jazz musicians like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie above their white counterparts, the hierarchy within jazz music functioned as the opposite of racially segregated American society. The fact that African Americans received respect in the jazz culture generated high levels of support from the majority of the black community to retain jazz as a purely African American art form. This stands as the reason for the insistence of African Americans to keep jazz as a predominantly African-American art form: its structure granted blacks unprecedented control and power of their own niche in American culture.
    Radical black politics also affected the view of African Americans on integration in jazz. The civil rights era encapsulated several movements that, while all stemming from the desire for African American equality, employed different methods to accomplish their individual agendas. Scholars typically concur that the integrationist movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the black power movement led by Malcolm X function as the two primary divisions of the civil rights movement. Unlike King’s integration-based movement, the black power movement led by Malcolm X “emphasized black economic and political self-determination, cultural autonomy, and in some cases, separatism” (Freedom 13). Indeed, the foremost goal of the black nationalist movement was to secure African-American independence through force and, if necessary, violence. This mindset was perpetuated by the credo of “Black Power”, which was utilized by black nationalist stalwarts like Malcolm X to breed public acceptance of their radical beliefs.
    Joe Street, a professor of American history currently teaching at the University of Northumbria in England, explains in his book The Culture War in the Civil Rights Movement that since the promotion of African-American culture constituted a fundamental component of the Black Power movement, radical black leaders began to regard the newly emerging free jazz of the 1960s as a musical focal point for social change (57). Free jazz differed from the established swing, bebop, and hard bop music of the past in that it “abandoned many previous norms associated with the form of jazz. . .Western harmonic melodies, chord structures, even standard rhythms (Street 60). In short, free jazz players wanted to be freed of the traditional chord structures and limiting characteristics of ordinary jazz music, which, by always containing a tonal center, reduced the amount of notes that a musician could play at any particular time. Black nationalist leaders parlayed the self-reliant characteristics of free jazz to the need for African-Americans to shed their conventional roles in American society by building power through independence rather than integration with white citizens. For example, Robin F. Williams, who developed a radio station to disseminate his black nationalist views, likened the refusal of avant-garde jazz musicians to follow traditional rules of jazz to black people refusing to tolerate the secondary position that they held in American society (Street 58). Likewise, Street describes how Amiri Baraka, a prominent black nationalist, depicted free jazz music, which was largely played by African Americans, as a cultural component of the fight against white supremacy. Free jazz pioneers such as Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman, created chaotically energetic music that they permitted black nationalist leaders to use as political fodder.
    While some jazz musicians endorsed and supported the black nationalist movement, other musicians made significant contributions to the integrationist civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Having affected almost every aspect of American society, Dr. King’s crusade, which bonded African Americans from all perceivable backgrounds, is perhaps the most memorable part of the civil rights movement. A multitude of notable black jazz musicians contributed to and advocated for the civil rights movement by creating politically charged albums, as well as expressing their support of the civil rights movement in concerts and other widely publicized events. For example, legendary bebop drummer Max Roach, frequently named one of the most politically active musicians of the twentieth century, composed “The Freedom Now Suite”, which overtly supported the fight for civil rights in both America and Africa by featuring songs that centered around historically relevant aspects of the quest of African-Americans for civil rights (White 10). Interesting enough, Roach’s direct reference to South Africa’s revolt against apartheid as well as the civil rights movement’s revolt against American society further solidified the image of jazz as an art form saturated in African and African-American history and culture. Furthermore, “Strange Fruit”, one of jazz singer Billie Holiday’s most memorable songs, exposed American racism by using the analogy of a “strange fruit” to describe the lynching of black citizens in the South (White 5). Therefore, politically active jazz musicians often used their musical creations to spread their personal feelings and support for the civil rights movement.
    On the other hand, rather than creating albums that shot salvos of encouragement at the civil rights movement, jazz musicians such as Louis Armstrong supported the civil rights movement by protesting against the government’s refusal to quell racism in American society. Most notably, in 1957, Louis Armstrong protested against the inaction of President Dwight Eisenhower in stopping Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus’s from blocking the desegregation of Arkansas public schools by cancelling an upcoming tour of the Soviet Union meant to mitigate Cold War tensions between the United States and Soviet Union, writing to the President, “the way they are treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell” (Hersch 20). Armstrong’s actions, as well as other instances of famous black jazz musicians protesting racist conditions of the civil rights era, exemplify the close relationship of jazz and the civil rights movement. In a separate instance, Dave Brubeck, noted white jazz pianist, demonstrated his support of integration when he cancelled a tour of Southern colleges and universities because they would not allow his African-American bassist, Eugene Wright, to play on stage (Freedom, 62-63). Thus, the connection between jazz and civil rights was so profound that even some white jazz musicians, who often experienced animosity from black jazz musicians, assisted the civil rights movement.
    However, the most universal form of political participation for jazz musicians throughout the Civil Rights Era involved performing at benefit concerts to raise money. A surprisingly high number of jazz musicians were involved in benefit concerts and other events designed to benefit the civil rights movement. Individuals such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, and Charles Mingus, as well as a plethora of other jazz luminaries, commonly hosted benefit concerts to engender support for significant occurrences within the civil rights movement, such as the Freedom Rides of 1961 and Greensboro sit-ins of 1960 (Saying 154). The willingness of many jazz musicians to support the civil rights movement is incontrovertible. Doubly undeniable is the fact that many of the jazz musicians of the 1950’s and 1960’s were meaningfully and passionately involved in the civil rights movement.
  7. III. Colorblindness and its Role in the Politics of Jazz
    Given the Afrocentric origins of jazz, it was indeed shocking to many African-Americans that white musicians hold substantive opinions about jazz music. Just as African American musicians entertained a host of different beliefs about integration in jazz, white jazz musicians expressed a diverse cavalcade of opinions about jazz, little of which entailed elements of white supremacy. Instead of reducing them to subsidiaries, most white jazz artists revered black jazz musicians. From a historical perspective, this statement’s veracity is reinforced by the fact that “there was no higher praise among the white Chicago jazz musicians of the 1920s than to say that a group of musicians ‘played like *******’ (Gerard 105). Indeed, instead of reducing black jazz musicians to subsidiaries, most white musicians have revered them. Nevertheless, given the racial tensions of the Civil Rights Era, white musicians simply wishing to play jazz were often treated with distrust, suspicion, and even hatred befitting the attitude of African Americans toward discriminatory white American citizens. This trend lent a paradoxical element to jazz music: while black jazz musicians were routinely denied access to hotels, bathrooms, and other amenities on tours throughout the South and, in some cases, jazz clubs in the North, white jazz musicians endured reverse racism at the hands of black bandleaders as they searched for employment as jazz musicians. This phenomenon, christened “Crow Jim” after the Jim Crow segregationist laws of the South, was a view articulated by white jazz musicians that were repeatedly refused membership to different jazz groups led by black musicians that they wished to join.
    The cause of the “Crow Jim” effect can be attributed as a combination of several historical and societal factors. Prior to the inception of bebop, many of the most popular jazz musicians, such as Benny Goodman, were white men who had gained recognition as the leaders of popular big bands. This trend stemmed from the conditions of the first jazz recording. In 1917, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, an ensemble composed of cornet player Nick LaRocca and four other white men, recorded “Livery Stable Blues”, which endured such wild success that the recording industry almost solely recorded white musicians for the next five years (Gerard 17). As Gerard further explains, black musicians became bitter not only from LaRocca’s financial profits, but his insistently racist remarks and claims of inventing jazz. LaRocca’s commercial success and the accompanying prevalence of white swing musicians in the recording industry led to the widespread belief that jazz music had been created by white musicians, when its origins were obviously of African-American descent. In addition, the economically depressed times of the 1920’s, which fiscally hampered already destitute African Americans, coupled with the crippling Great Depression of the 1930’s, led many African Americans to apply their general distaste of LaRocca as a generalization of all white musicians.
    Although African-Americans tended to harbor resentment toward white jazz agents and musicians, historically relevant exceptions to this rule, such as Benny Goodman and John Hammond, exist within the jazz vernacular. Goodman, the “King of Swing”, was a virtuosic clarinetist that led an exceedingly popular big band during the Swing Era of jazz music. To some revisionist interpreters of jazz history, Goodman’s popularity elevated jazz as the quintessential American music, but further alienated blacks as the founders of jazz music as a white man that held a prominent role in jazz. However, Benny Goodman’s actions are significant within the jazz industry because “as the predominant white employer of black musicians in the 1930s and 1940s, Goodman was the most visible symbol of racial integration in the music business” (Erenberg 82). His perspective on integration within his ensembles was based on the music created by the players rather than the racial characteristics of the players themselves. As a result, Goodman broke racial taboos between black and white jazz musicians by hiring black pianist Teddy Wilson in 1935 as a permanent part of his big band, and by routinely employing black musicians, like trumpeter Cootie Williams, to perform with him (Tirro 241). Goodman’s commitment to integrating his ensembles and picking his players based on their level of musical ability helped to depict jazz as a “colorblind” style of music that transcended racial boundaries in American society.
    Similarly, John Hammond was a renowned talent scout that specialized in promoting talented black jazz musicians to stardom. Like Benny Goodman, Hammond also advocated the neutrality of race in the jazz idiom. Born to a wealthy white family in Manhattan, Hammond hailed from a conservative, Anglo-Saxon, protestant background, which was often regarded as the antithesis of African-American culture. However, as Lewis Erenberg recounts in his book Swingin’ the Dream: Big Band Jazz and the Rebirth of American Culture, Hammond became a passionate supporter of equal opportunity for blacks within the jazz world:
    Jazz opened up a new world for Hammond, one that gave shape to his growing radicalism. . .as a talent scout, he shared the leftist agenda of unearthing the creators and performers of jazz. . .as a crusading journalist, Hammond used musical journals to protest against the treatment of black jazz musicians in the recording industry. (87)
    The actions of Goodman and other proponents of desegregation helped in establishing a precedent that would eventually culminate in the fair treatment of black jazz musicians within the music industry. Furthermore, white individuals like Hammond that held powerful positions within the music industry exerted their influence to provide a foundation for changing the existing perceptions of black musicians in the jazz genre. As Nat Hentoff, an acclaimed jazz critic and the only non-musician to receive the conferral of NEA Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, stated, “Once the whites who played it and the listeners who loved it began to balk at the limitations provided by segregation, jazz became a futuristic social force in which one was judged purely on the basis of one’s individual ability”. (Hentoff) The paradigms of Benny Goodman and John Hammond function as proof that some white musicians and rather attempted to alter the mold of America’s racially discriminatory society within the 1930s and 1940s.
    While the positive developments in jazz integration by Goodman and others appeared significant, the establishment of bebop quickly rendered these advancements obsolete. While some bebop monoliths, such as Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, did incorporate white musicians into their groups, the significance of bebop within African-American culture superseded visions of racial unity. Bebop was created because African-American musicians “were consciously attempting to create a new elite and exclude from their number all who did not meet predetermined artistic standards” (Tirro 287). Black musicians had grown tired of swing music, which had been dominated and arguably commercialized by the dance bands of Benny Goodman and other white bandleaders. These sentiments made them desire to create a new style of music that was revolutionary in nature and significantly differed from the generic swing music of the 1930’s. Thus, given the fact that bebop was unmistakably the music of African-Americans, talented black jazz musicians were automatically christened for their artistic achievements, and regarded as occupying the vanguard of artistic achievement in the jazz medium. In relating to its polarized racial origins, bebop greatly weakened, and in many cases, invalidated the colorblind perspectives of Goodman and Hammond by manifesting a fear of usurpation by white musicians in the attitudes of black bebop artists:
    If jazz is one of the few cultural activities in which being African American is evaluated as ‘better’ or more ‘authentic’ than being non-African American, a white musician’s appeal to a colorblind rhetoric might cloak a move to minimize the black cultural advantage by ‘lowering’ an assertive African American musician from his or her pedestal to a more ‘equal’ playing field (Saying 203).
    Thus, the culturally black connotations of bebop nullified much of the integrative progress that had been made in the Swing Era of the 1930s.
    IV. Conclusion
    Ultimately, regardless of the perspective from which it is approached, jazz disrupted the stasis of White America beginning in the 1930s. Whereas the efforts of Benny Goodman and other white agents and musicians from the Swing Era enacted progress of a more integrative nature, the development of bebop and free jazz in the 1940s through the 1960s largely favored a separatist approach that proclaimed African Americans as the foremost innovators of jazz music. However, despite the decidedly African-American origins of jazz music, it is important to remember that both white and black individuals contributed to a comprehensive legacy of jazz in the twentieth century, one that continues to grow today. The efficacy of jazz as an agent of change for civil rights is undeniable. By operating as a means of cultural expression for African Americans, along with serving as an advantageous political tool for civil rights activists, jazz music clearly played an integral role in attaining desegregation within the microcosm of jazz and macrocosm of American society. In innumerable fashions, it is an integral part of American history, and continues to impact America as an integrative hallmark of acceptance and self-expression, and as a symbol befitting the unity of the American people.

    Erenberg, Lewis A. Swingin’ the Dream: Big Band Jazz and the Rebirth of American Culture. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998. Print.
    Gerard, Charley. Jazz In Black and White: Race, Culture, and Identity in the Jazz Community. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 1998. Print.
    Hentoff, Nate. “How Jazz Helped Hasten the Civil Rights Movement.” The Wall Street Journal. 15 Jan. 2009. n. pag. Web. 03 October 2013.
    Hersch, Charles. “Poisoning Their Coffee: Louis Armstrong and Civil Rights.” Polity. 34. 3 (2002), pp. 371-392. Print.
    Monson, Ingrid. Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call Out to Africa. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.
    Monson, Ingrid. Saying Something: Jazz Improvisation and Interaction. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996. Print.
    Shipton, Alyn. A New History of Jazz. New York: Bayou Press Ltd., 2001. Print.
    Street, Joe. The Culture War in the Civil Rights Movement. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2007. Print.
    Tirro, Frank. Jazz: A History. 2nd Ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1993. Print.
    White, Alisa. “‘We Insist: Freedom Now’: Max Roach’s Transatlantic Civil Rights Imperative.” Jazz Education Journal 40.2-3 (2007): 47, 48, 50-52. Proquest. 07 October 2013.
    Works Consulted
    Kofsky, Frank. John Coltrane and the Jazz Revolution of the 1960s. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1998. Print.
    McGuire, Danielle L., and John Dittmer. Freedom Rights: New Perspectives on the Civil Rights Movement. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2011. Print.
  8. chuck norriss

    chuck norriss Banned

    Jan 20, 2011
    I'll read it thanks for posting. I'm interested in this. I'll print & read later.