LeRoi Jones, A Jazz Symposium on Blues People: March 4, 1965

The Poetry Center presents a Jazz Symposium on Blues People, featuring LeRoi Jones (a.k.a. Amiri Baraka), Philip Elwood, Richard Hadlock, and John Handy.

Originally Recorded By
The Poetry Center
San Francisco State College
Total Run Time
LeRoi Jones (a.k.a. Amiri Baraka), Philip Elwood, Richard Hadlock, John Handy
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  • Opening remarks in progress by unknown speaker/emcee, introduces radio host and jazz writer Philip Elwood, [poet and jazz writer] LeRoi Jones, and jazz writer Richard Hadlock (00:01)
  • Elwood speaks, citing John Handy's performance earlier the same afternoon; on the unwillingness of people interested in "older jazz forms" to embrace new forms; on "a flow" shared by the poetry reading that afternoon by LeRoi Jones and the music performance by Handy (00:56)
  • Hadlock speaks, on "a feeling of rhythm not heard in most poetry" in Jones?s reading; asks Jones to state the premise of his book Blues People (03:29)
  • Jones speaks, viz Blues People, that "Negro music, jazz, blues, was a reflection of what the Negro himself was at a particular time"; that "the music changed as the Black man himself changed"; on the differing responses of Ornette Coleman and Louis Armstrong; on Negro culture as a separate culture from the mainstream in the U.S. (04:09)
  • Hadlock speaks [some distortion]; that Blues People glosses over "the great glory of jazz, which is the expression of the individual"; that a sociological reading, "along racial lines, loses a great deal of what jazz is about"; on the danger of "generalizing" leading to "odd conclusions...dangerous thoughts" (08:00)
  • Jones speaks, "that nothing in the world exists without the possibility of a sociological or a political definition of how it is existing"; that "jazz doesn?t exist outside the world . . . it is a music that occurs within society, made by people" (09:52)
  • Elwood speaks, welcomes [musician] John Handy to the table; on jazz as formerly "a kind of popular music" versus "the type of music LeRoi Jones is referring to"; that "swing" in Jones?s conception "had very little to do with jazz" (11:45)
  • Jones speaks, agrees that "swing, as, say, characterized by Harry James, Benny Goodman and those cats" was "a totally different experience" (13:43)
  • Elwood speaks, on differing perceptions between audiences, experiencing one kind of music (e.g., Harry James) and calling it "great jazz," while "totally oblivious" to the music of "a Lunceford band, or a Basie band" that would be recognized by others as "closer to the roots of...the important aspects of jazz"; on the notion of "two different kinds of music involved" (13:55)
  • Jones agrees, "That's what I was insisting upon" in Blues People, "that there were two different kinds of music" (14:43)
  • Elwood speaks, asking Jones about perceived separation between "popular music and what is known as jazz" (15:02)
  • Jones questions definition of "popular music"; "do you mean what?s heard over, like, the main stations all the time...popular among white people?" (15:19)
  • Elwood remarks SWAN Catalog's separated categories of popular music and jazz; "Al Hirt, whom I notice, is listed as 'jazz'" (15:27)
  • Jones remarks on Al Hirt, who "plays a kind of popular music"; that "by the time the impulse that makes that Negro music...gets to where an Al Hirt can play it, it's lost its contact with the very sources that give it strength" (15:53)
  • Elwood asks "when did this start, with Stephen Foster writing down spirituals?" (16:16)
  • Jones speaks, "I don?t know what Stephen Foster..." (16:20)
  • Elwood continues, on Foster and "the dilution process" (16:24)
  • Jones responds, "the minute it becomes easy for this kind of music to circulate in White America, it usually means that it's lost a great deal of the force that made it significant in the first place" (16:30)
  • Elwood speaks, "We get trapped there, don't we?"; on record companies' distribution of jazz, with few "Negro record companies" (16:50)
  • Jones speaks, on Black Swan Records, "those preachers and those middle-class Negroes put them out of business" by claiming they were "recording 'low-brow music'"; that Black Swan "started recording Ethel Waters...trying to imitate White record companies," which put them out of business, "their audience didn't dig that" (17:05)
  • Hadlock cautions against drawing causal links between events and music: "I always get disturbed when I hear music discussed in these terms"; on "free jazz" being played since the 1920s; he quotes, in disagreement, from Blues People: "The whole concept of a white person singing blues is a violent contradiction"; that "the first major blues singer," Mamie Smith, "did a lousy job of singing the blues" (17:29)
  • Jones [off mike]: ?She wasn?t a blues singer? (18:48)
  • Hadlock concurs, "But this is what the Negro audience accepted as blues" (18:50)
  • Jones, "It was the first record by a Black person, they didn't have much choice..." (18:56)
  • Hadlock remarks, that to restrict "the real blues" to the "below-middle-class Negro" will "lead to generalizations that are going to be misleading" (19:00)
  • Jones interjects, that "the richest people in rhythm and blues" are "The Beatles, The Rolling Stones" while "that impulse, where it came from, those guys are still walking around on their hands...a Muddy Waters, say, a Mississippi Joe Williams...Chuck Berry, Howling Wolf"; that The Beatles "harness the Beat image" of American rebellion, to "cannibalize that force" into "a good enterprise" (19:18)
  • Hadlock objects, that he's not talking of "pop music" per se, but of "jazz and blues"; Mance Lipscomb, as example, "sings a lousy blues...he's a songster," where Jack Teagarden, also from Texas, can "sing rings around Mance Lipscomb, for blues"; on a New Orleans trumpeter in San Francisco who "can't play the blues" (20:27)
  • Jones remarks, on Negro musicians "whose connection with the blue impulse is very tenuous, unfortunately..." (21:58)
  • Hadlock asks, "But why is it unfortunate?" (22:10)
  • Jones [off mike] calls on Handy (22:14)
  • Handy remarks, "It's more fun listening...the problem is, I haven't read LeRoi's book" [laughter] "Probably he hasn't bought my records either" (22:21)
  • Jones remarks, "That's not true" [laughter] (22:38)
  • Handy addresses the ability or inability of "some Negroes to play or appreciate the blues"; that in the communities "wherever we come from, we're usually Negroes with Negroes, and music is 'just there'" in people's houses; asks if the discussion is focused on "differences in Negro and White jazz musicians" (22:45)
  • Jones remarks, "it began at a different point, but I guess that's what it came down to" (23:50)
  • Handy, on Roy Eldridge failing, in Leonard Feather's Blindfold Test, to be able, as he claimed he could, to tell the color of the player by listening to a record; on the "mixed" basis of his own groups, as "we have a lack of talent in jazz in this area"; that "with the more contemporary kinds of sounds" [Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp cited as exceptional] "I can't tell the difference now, because I think they're all pretty bad" [laughter] (24:00)
  • Jones, "I don't know what you said that for..." [laughter]; "men like Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler represent to my way of thinking the most vital voices in jazz"; [to Handy] "Have you heard Albert Ayler...?" (26:17)
  • Handy remarks, "No, I don't know..." (26:51)
  • Jones remarks on the vitality of music happening in New York, that "there?s not that deficiency" Handy noted in the San Francisco area; "in fact downstairs, under me, in a loft" are "four of the best young saxophonists in America"; cites Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, Giuseppi Logan, Marion Brown (26:54)
  • Handy, on living in New York, hearing Shepp in 1958; that Ted Joans asked him, subsequently in an interview, his opinion of Shepp, when "he'd been playing about a year and a half..." (27:30)
  • Jones, "Have you heard him recently...?" (28:22)
  • Handy remarks on "far-out music" (28:24)
  • Jones, that "it might be far-out if you're far in...they're just playing what they feel..." (28:46)
  • Elwood, on "the development of non-jazz-background music"; asks "What does this sort of experimental music got to do with jazz?" (29:08)
  • Jones asks "...Gunther Schuller...?" (29:23)
  • Elwood, "for instance, Shepp..." (29:28)
  • Jones, "Archie Shepp is as bluesy as any, as Ben Webster..." (29:32)
  • Elwood asks of Ornette Coleman (29:40)
  • Jones, on Coleman coming from Texas, "it?s almost like a scream, it's like being out in the fields...just screaming and yelling, but it's music"; on the mistake of "making a definition of what music is, you can't do that"; that "it has to do with whether a person expressing himself is moving someone...and you can say 'it's bad', but it doesn't matter"; questions Elwood on Shepp (29:43)
  • Elwood recommends Shepp?s new LP on the Impulse! label; asks about this music's connection with "those roots, socio-economic roots" (30:30)
  • Jones, that "he's a contemporary blues player, Archie Shepp" (30:48)
  • Elwood asks of musicians going "on to the Juilliard for additional study" (30:52)
  • Jones remarks on advantages of learning "certain European techniques" (31:00)
  • Hadlock remarks, that "the first phonographic record of jazz [that] was issued started to erase these sociological or geographical differences..." (31:10)
  • Jones interjects, "They're cultural differences" (31:30)
  • Hadlock continues, on The Original Dixieland Jazz Band's first record and its "hundreds" of imitators, who "had no idea what race the musicians were"; citing an essay by Jones in Downbeat, on Shepp's early admiration for Stan Getz, and that Shepp was "conned" away from Getz by his "hippy friends"; on jazz as an "emotional summary of how you feel as a person"; that, regardless of socio-economics, musicians are individuals; that jazz isn't "program music" (31:32)
  • Jones, that "culture is simply the way people live" and expression is different for different reasons; that Shepp also said Getz was who he could hear on the radio at the time (33:48)
  • Hadlock, "That's restrictive radio listening" (34:12)
  • Jones, "That's true" (34:14)
  • Handy remarks, on being raised in California, "in mixed schools and a mixed environment...we learned all the terms: 'Hi guys.' [laughter] Where I come from they say 'What know?'"; on listening as a kid to Stan Getz, Charlie Parker, Louis Jordan; that "I'm from Dallas, and we used to hear Petey Wheatstraw, 'The Devil's Son-in-Law', and Pinetop Smith"; that living and growing up "in pretty much the same kind of environment, they're pretty much alike, Negroes and Whites, I found down south...the rural people were very much alike," although "generally, Negroes will tend to associate themselves, or understand something that another Negro has said or done"; so that "Archie Shepp's friends and my friends" understand that behind Getz is Lester Young (34:17)
  • Jones remarks, on "a Negro who wanted to erase all his connections with his sources...the Ivy League Negro" written of in Esquire, who wanted to "show up faceless, just like any White man" (37:23)
  • Handy, "In defense of Stan Getz..." [laughter; miked speech on stage occludes full remark]; on an over-rated Black musician [name indecipherable] (37:56)
  • Elwood, that jazz and blues could be heard in Negro homes, still today, where "in the majority of White homes jazz is connected with immorality, drinking, nightclubbing, Negroes" [laughter] and that it's rejected (38:30)
  • Jones, "That's what I?m saying, it's a different culture..." (39:01)
  • Elwood continues, asking "how this is handled as far as schooling is concerned"; that the Negro schools are not paying attention to the music (39:07)
  • Jones, "Well, who runs the schools?" [laughter] (39:25)
  • Elwood continues (39:33)
  • Handy speaks [miked speech on stage occludes some of remark] on the lack of attention by Negro classical musicians to jazz; on hostility from Negro audiences to the music, and the migration of the music out of Black neighborhoods; "I felt good when I saw a Black face, in New York, and that's the mecca for jazz" (39:55)
  • Jones, "That's changing" (41:37)
  • Handy, "I hope it's changing..."; that friends in San Francisco go to The Jazz Workshop to see "Jimmy Smith, or Hank Crawford, or Ray Charles" and "unfortunately I begin to think that's the epitome of the average Negro's appreciation...we sort of lost John [Coltrane]" (41:38)
  • Jones remarks that "jazz is a middle-class Negro's use of blues"; so that "people in the ghettos...will be listening to Martha and the Vandellas, Dionne Warwick, or Joe Tex" and not to Shepp or Handy; that "It's up to you people to bring it back home" (42:00)
  • Handy, that "They have to want us, too, before we can go back" (43:00)
  • Jones [aside picked up by mike], "We disagree" (43:13)
  • Hadlock, on the tendencies of "discussions of this kind" to have "problems we have with race and race identification in this country" looming overhead; that his own comments are "mostly addressed to the music," though the problems around race are more important (43:16)
  • Jones [aside picked up by mike], "You can't separate them, though, Dick..." (44:36)
  • Elwood, on problems that arise in representing music, in writing; that "our contemporary jazz scene is more separated from popular music now than it has ever been" at the same time that there is a devoted audience, "both White and Negro," and jazz clubs, in San Francisco, that mostly didn't exist until recently; that "from 1917 to 1957, most people were being put on by an artificial kind of music that wasn't really jazz at all," whereas a "more dynamic" situation now pertains (44:40)
  • Hadlock, on Sidney Bechet and "art in music"; that Bechet was "a very militant guy...this is something that's supposed to be recent, kind of a new spirit now. Sidney had it all way back...and he didn't have to take the name X..." (46:46)
  • Twenty seconds of general rustle from audience and stage (48:18)
  • Unknown emcee, "Well, that seems to be the closing note..."; acknowledges Handy (48:38)
  • Handy speaks, "Coming from a musical family, at least the name [Handy], in American music, does mean something to some people"; on "heritage...being proud of one's background...I'm very much for the particular Mr. X that you were talking about. And I believe in many of the things that he adhered to....A name doesn't mean anything. We've come here, we've been named, they've named our music...they've named us different people. We're 'Negroes' now, too....Personally, I don't give a damn what I'm called, as long as it's not a dirty name." (48:53)
  • Jones [aside picked up by mike], "Negro is a dirty name" (50:06)
  • Handy continues, on naming, and on Malcolm X and others "taking on another name to disassociate themselves from many things that a lot of us would like to forget, and then maybe we can grow from there" (50:07)
  • Hadlock [aside picked up by mike], "That's the point, we shouldn't forget it" (50:48)
  • Jones, on Malcolm X and his "pride in his heritage...in being Black"; that [viz Hadlock's remark on Black militant "spirit"] "also, it's not a new thing," Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner died, "it's not new, no man ever wanted to be a slave..." (50:51)
  • Hadlock [aside picked up by mike], "Nobody's saying that" (51:21)
  • Unknown speaker/emcee closes event [applause] (51:27)

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