- Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call Out to Jazz and Africa
In Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call Out to Jazz and Africa, ethnomusicologist Ingrid Monson argues that jazz music and discourse about jazz during the civil rights era are inseparable from the racial politics of the time. Though writers such as Amiri Baraka and Franz Kofsky have turned to “free jazz” as the primary musical site for political expression in the period, Monson asks that we look and listen for politics in other, often more commercially popular forms of jazz, especially hard bop as performed by Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, George Russell, and many others. In this way, Freedom Sounds complements work by previous researchers of black popular music in the decades following World War II, even if (as I discuss below) Monson rarely positions herself in direct dialogue with those who have covered related territory in blues, rhythm & blues, soul, and even jazz.
Monson’s great strength is her ability to map the changing political, social, and musical landscape through the perspective of musicians as they interact with activists, the media, and culture industry brokers. Through interviews, archival research, and analysis of recordings and performances we [End Page 770] are given a sense of how performers—black and white—experienced structural differences based on race and how their musical aesthetics embody the tensions of the period. Musicians contributed to public discourse about racial inequalities by discussing racial-musical relations, performing in events and on recordings with explicit racial dimensions, and creating music that articulated a broad range of racial subject positions.
In chapter 2, “Jim Crow, Economics, and the Politics of Musicianship,” Monson discusses the lives and livelihoods of musicians in the context of the struggle for integration (which culminated in a series of legislative acts starting with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954). Desegregating institutions such as the American Federation of Musicians and all of its local chapters happened ploddingly and with much dispute. Similarly, many concert promoters—especially, but not only, of venues in the Jim Crow South—only agreed to book mixed-race bands and organize performances for integrated audiences after musicians such as Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck began canceling shows in segregated theaters. Yet, if jazz was increasingly understood as a black music performed by diverse musicians and appreciated by diverse audiences, control of the performance venues, record labels, and publishing houses that made up the music industry remained overwhelmingly in the hands of whites.
In subsequent chapters, Monson presents a series of case studies that explore musical and social interactions through the lens of race. African American jazz musicians negotiate their relation to Africa and the diaspora through travel (State Department jazz tours), musical collaborations (Art Blakey with Sabu Martinez and other Afro-Cuban percussionists), and Afrocentric creative endeavors (Randy Weston’s Uhuru Afrika, Roulette SR–65001 , LP). Civil rights activist organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) work together with Clark Terry, Max Roach, Thelonious Monk, and other musicians to promote their cause, raise funds, and present music that celebrates blackness. Black and white jazz musicians debate with the white critics of the leading jazz periodical Down Beat about racial exclusion in jazz, both in the sense of the advantages that white musicians had in the music industry and in the hiring practices of African American musicians who adopted the progressive stance of “black power.” This episode is particularly revealing, as it demonstrates the diversity within racial categories, with Cecil Taylor clashing with fellow black musician Cannonball Adderley, and critic Nat Hentoff expressing radically divergent racial politics from his colleague Ira Gitler. At every turn, individuals situate themselves within and against the confines of racial categories.
Operating within a largely inflexible racial hierarchy, black and white musicians created “a sphere in which radical redefinitions of the self could take place—redefinitions that helped many musicians and their devoted audiences to break out of the socially imposed niche that U...