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Scott LaFaro: "White Imitator?"

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by Peter McFerrin, Oct 25, 2002.

  1. This thread may get offensive really quickly, and I do not intend to offend any African-Americans with the following statement.

    While doing some research for a paper on Scott LaFaro that I'm writing for my history of jazz class, I ran across a citation for a book by a gentleman named Ortiz Walton, entitled Music: Black, White, and Blue. On page 168, there is a chart comparing "Black Sources" to "White Imitators." Now, some of these are quite obvious: Stan Getz spent much of his early career aping Lester Young, Chet Baker copped many a lick from Miles Davis, and probably the majority of white musicians who ever touched an alto saxophone copied Charlie Parker at some point or another in their careers. (In the case of Bird, however, most black altoists ripped him off, too.)

    However, Walton makes the claim that LaFaro, Steve Swallow, Charlie Haden, and David Izenson were mere imitators of Jimmy Blanton and Charles Mingus. This is difficult to swallow and begs the question: had Walton actually listened to any of the music made by any of the six men he mentioned? To say that LaFaro, in particular, was a Mingus copycat--especially given that a few pages earlier, Walton quotes LaFaro as stating that Percy Heath and Paul Chambers, who were very different players from Mingus, as his primary influences--demonstrates either insufficient aesthetic sophistication or outright intellectual dishonesty.

    Now, this was written in 1972, at the height of the Black Power movement, and academic standards were probably relegated to secondary status in favor of Getting Out The Message. However, when one reads things like the infamous JazzTimes diatribe by Stanley Crouch in which he claims that LaFaro didn't swing, or when Steve Coleman claims at a panel this year that he can hear the differences between white and black players (in front of Nat Hentoff, who showed the foolishness of Roy Eldridge's similar belief in an infamous Down Beat Blindfold Test 40 years ago), it's clear that these attitudes persist today.

    The dominance of the postmodernist doctrine of "emotional truth"--damn the details, I've got a Message!--no doubt inspires much of these notions. If my Africana Studies-major next door neighbor is any yardstick, much of what comes out of black cultural studies departments is of dubious provenance, and is only tolerated because to attempt to counter it would be akin to throwing pebbles at a hornets' nest. (This is racist in and of itself, IMO: when universities allow black crackpots to thrive, legitimate black academics are squeezed out of highly-sought faculty positions.)

    It is definitely true that there is a clear pattern of appropriation by the white music industry of black music. But why stretch the truth to prove something so obvious? I refuse to give into Guilty White Liberal Syndrome and allow the contributions of genuinely innovative white musicians to be denigrated for the sake of Afrocentrism.

    Any thoughts?
  2. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    Then don't give in to it. LaFaro's past caring. The only "denigration" taking place is in the minds of those who buy this ****. Everybody learns their trade at the feet of others. What color those feet happen to be is irrelevant. A great musician is a great musician, period. End of story.

    Let's keep this one clean, folks.
  3. Ari


    Dec 6, 2001
    Do you have a web link for this Steve Coleman comment ? I'd like to hear more.

  4. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    Who are these crackpots that you speak of and in what universities are they located? How does the information from one person amount to "much of what comes out of black cultural studies departments "?

    Everyone has their own opinion of who did what, is doing what, etc, etc. I think you're falling into the trap of taking the view of one black person and assuming that every black person thinks the same way. Are you threatened by what this person said? Why is it so important to you?
  5. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I tend to agree with Phil that one or two people don't speak for a whole community - even if we could define what that community is!

    And I can't see any point in getting upset by something written in 1972 - things change and in Jazz everybody gives and takes lessons from everybody else now and I'm sure they don't make distinctions based on anything other than musical terms - like he's a vertical or horizontal improvisor! ;)

    I think there's no doubt we owe a great debt to a lot of black musicians who were pioneers in Jazz and fought against racism to develop the music and we shouldn't forget that - but everybody can hear the same stuff now and take their influences from where they will - including world music - Israel, Africa, South America, Caribbean etc etc
  6. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
  7. "I'm an African American, you're something I've never heard of, let's blow"

    (Edited because of multiple complaints - CF)
  8. You won't see me disagreeing, but I have been exposed to other instances of Afrocentric theory before knowing my neighbor, and it has always seemed dubious. Things like the Itinerant Nubian Theory (a guy from the Sudan wandered up the Nile, "started" Egyptian civilization, then wandered up to the Euphrates and "started" Sumerian civilization) and the continued insistence that Cleopatra was black (she was, in fact, a seventh-generation inbred Macedonian) seem par for the course.

    As an extension of a previous point, I will definitely say that Afrocentrists don't (and probably shouldn't) speak for all African-Americans. Heavens no.

    I wish I could agree with you more, but in speaking with black friends of mine who are jazzers, these notions pop up from time to time even today. Granted, I can talk out my ass just as well as Stanley Crouch, but when I'm wrong about something, I don't feel the need to fall back on Godwin-style arguments.

  9. Ari


    Dec 6, 2001
  10. "unknown/unknown"

    There's a full transcript of the conference on the JazzTimes website as well.
  11. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    This guy sounds like a crack pot to me, but then again he's one of those people that are on the "Afrocentric" fringe. There are however very astute historians that can really lay this stuff out for you, Dr. Yosef A.A. ben-Jochannan also known as Dr. Ben, is one of them, he has written numerous books on the history of Egypt.
  12. Wonderful, thought provoking post....Unfortunately, endlessly and frustratingly debatable..With no clear resolution.
  13. Outstanding post Peter, I really enjoyed it and the responses. For anyone interested, Eric Nisenson's book "Blue, The Murder of jazz" or Gene Lees "Cat's of any Color" offer tremendous insights into race and music.

    I believe when we refer to anyone who is black or white in music (to state the obvious) we really are only refering to the color of their skin. In most cases their ethnicity, cultural background, upbringing, musical background, economic situation, and influences can be very different from someone with a similar skin color. That's what makes these terms so dangerous, because one person's connotations of what it is to be "black" or "white" are usually different from someone elses. Those that don't reveal what they are reffering to when using these terms are often revealing their own ignorance of how our language works.

    I think it's great when such topics are raised and people question eachother to find out what it is they actually mean, even if they don't really know themselves.
  14. It's a real shame the Louis Armstrong quote had to be sanitized because of some feeble minded PC wimps. The original deragatory version captured something that goes far beyond merely denoting differences in race. In my opinion it underscored the perceived stereotypical differences between the races and the once prevelent belief that the races shouldn't mix, not even on the bandstand. The fact that the speaker, Loius Armstrong, would refer to himself as a "spade" and the person he's addressing as an "ofay" demonstrates the ridiculousness that such attitudes commonly existed. Apparently the people in the original conversation had no problem with such terms and we're able to joke about it as they put them aside. Why anyone 50 or 60 years later would be offended is dumbfounding.
  15. It's understandable why some find the terms offensive, but puzzling to me how some cannot apply a little contextualization to a difficult discussion without having to bleep out words.
    Large chunks of discussion of the Women's movement are left out of discussion in the academic world because its pedagogues feel it reflects badly on their agendas. Much of the same applies to race issues in music, and this is what this discussion was about.
    I certainly didn't mean to offend anyone's delicate sensibilities, but I ask everyone offended to apply some intelligence and context to their interpretations, and ask the moderators to trust our DB TBer's intelligence. Either that, or remove my posts completely and ban me from the list permanantly.

    BTW, congratulations on your new family addition, Chris.
    ps. I suppose I should've added the quote attribution, but I thought that most already knew it. It was indeed Louis Armstrong speaking to Jack Teagarden.
  16. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I only had to edit it because of complaints. If the parties who complained wish to email me and withdraw the objections, I'll put it back.

    Waddaya say, folks? We're all adults here.
  17. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    I for one am glad they bleeped out the "N" word, I find it to be offensive no matter what the context. To me it's offensive when anyone uses it and I don't use it, I don't speak it, I don't write it.
    Seth Miller likes this.
  18. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    This reminded me of the touring show "The Vagina Monologues" - so there were loads of adverts for this all over London and it was interesting to see people's reaction on the Tube, for example? ;)
  19. It wasn't the "N" word.
  20. Bobplaysbass


    Mar 22, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    I was one of the people who raised a complaint and frankly it was because I didn't recognize the quote...as it was misquoted (it did in fact use the "n" word) and not attributed to the source or the context.

    I retract my complaint.

    Now for the gentleman claiming that it was "feeble minded PC wimps" making the complaint, I hope you'll encourage the author of that post to exercise due caution when publishing quotes, especially one such as this. That way feeble minds such as mine can see the point of the post and avoid being confused with wimps.

    Now cut the name calling and go play your bass.

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