Liner notes by Makanda Ken McIntyre
Historically in this country African Americans have been identified by abstract terms, for example, coloured and Negro. This phenomenon is peculiar to the African American for no other group has had the same experience as the African Americans. Africans were slaves, considered chattel, three-fifths of a man, and sub-human. Other ethnic groups, including indentured slaves, were human. Moreover, other ethnic groups were accepted as Irish American, French American, Italian American, White Anglo Saxon Protestant for example. Consequently, there was some sense of history given to other ethnic groups who came to America, except the African American.
The terms Negro, coloured and jazz reflect the utilization of language by the overseer and slave master to perpetuate disenfranchisement within the African American communities. Until recently (the roaring sixties with black is beautiful) there was a hot debate within the African American communities in the Northeast section of America regarding those who desired to be called coloured and those who wanted to be called Negro. During the sixties, however, African American s came to grips with the abstraction that had been laid on them by their overseers and slave masters and elected to be called black Americans. Clearly a move such as this by the largest minority in America should be lauded - albeit in my opinion it is nonetheless a somewhat reactionary position since none of us is either white or black. Nonetheless, the move represents in a real sense a form of self-identification.
The African American musician in America, however, continues to perpetrate the slave mentality by identifying the music born in slavery by the African in America as "jazz". Obviously the vast majority of African American musicians do not feel as though the time has come to pass when they should stand up and define what they are about.
The slave system in America exists today amongst African American musicians. There are those who are ultimately involved with the concept of calling the music "jazz", both in house and outside the house. (That is to say that they declare their acceptance of the slave master's name of the music to both African Americans and European Americans.)
There are those who are wedded to black classical music - in my view another reactionary position since the term classical suggests it is the classical music of blacks vis-à-vis whites. There are those who subscribe to Afro-American music - in my view Afro refers to a reactionary position in terms of a desire to equate Afro with Euro. If one were to deal with the spelling Afri would be more definitive than Afro since Africa is spelled as I spelled it. Further, Afro has become acceptable as a hairstyle - again with no connection with history. There are those who have bought into Jazz Afro American Black Classical music in the name of the music. Obviously this is an attempt to be correct in the eyes of all the people.
The reluctance of the vast majority of African American musicians to name their music is understandable given the slave system and subsequent mentality that prevailed within the system of slaves to survive. Survival is necessary. The African American argues that he must accept the subservient/slave role today to practice his art as a working musician. If he does not go along with the program outlined for him by the recording executive he will not be able to practice his art and earn money simultaneously. The problem is many of the African American musicians have accepted the notion of specialization. That is to say they see themselves as musicians/artists isolated from other occupations. Specialization is a twentieth century phenomenon in this country, it has pigeon holed many of us. Although doctors are trained to deal with the entire human system the phrenologist, for example, is unwilling/unable to deal with the feet, similarly the podiatrist is unwilling/unable to deal with the head. Consequently, each is locked into his specialty. We are led to believe the concept of the "Renaissance" man is non-existent at this time. This, of course, is not true. The fact is there are men who lived and are living during this century who qualify as a "renaissance" man. One such person is Paul Robeson. Those African American musicians who continue to be directed and placed in a box by recording executives are contributing to the demise of the essence, individual emotion and cognitive expression of music in the African American tradition.
Recently the term crossover, and fusion have come to mean something regarding the music. We have seen some of our stellar performers become crossover, and fusion artists. It is true they earn their money and lots of it. However, like the rise of rock music and the infiltration of European American as "stars", earning exceptionally high salaries the reality of crossover and fusion music is to dilute the music in the African American tradition to further abstraction. When, in fact, as I have stated in other essays, music in the African American tradition is all-inclusive; it incorporates its rhythm and timbre and articulation from Africa and the instruments and theoretical aspects including reading and writing from the European American.
Contradictions abound in our lives. Musicians in other societies at all times have been in the forefront. They were the leaders (amongst others) in their societies and/or communities. The African American musicians bear out the contradiction at this point in time. The populace, the common folk, the people have declared themselves as black, rather than coloured or Negro. But the African American continues to wear the yoke of slavery. Perhaps the reason is a good one, for example, survival as a performer; perhaps it is a greater need to have someone else direct his/her future; and perhaps it is due to the fact that there is a paucity of African American business people who have taken an interest. It is common knowledge that African Americans have little control over media, and while African Americans do have control of a newspaper, magazine, and radio station they have a tendency to deal with the media in the same manner as those who control the media, and extol the same artists. In short, it is like the African Americans who are enjoying some success in the business world become European Americanized and forget or don't know music in the African American tradition is in fact a multi-billion dollar industry.
African American business people should begin to involve themselves with the contemporary African American music in terms of exposure. One way to achieve this goal, for those who are already involved in the recording industry, is to sign up one or two contemporary musicians in the African American tradition, give them a decent advance against future royalties, and produce one or two thousand albums. The purpose is two-fold: 1) to expose the contemporary artist to the society, and 2) to insure the artist in terms of financial support for the period of one or two years depending on the length of the contract. The investment is as good as money in the bank/insurance. The businessperson cannot see, since the entire investment should have been approached from the standpoint of failing and, therefore, fall into the category of a tax write-off.
It is commonplace for business to invest in unsuccessful ventures for the purpose of tax write-offs. Several years ago while talking with a Vice President of a major recording company I was informed that one of the larger stockholders was interested in the music and, therefore, periodically the company signed up artists, and paid them fairly well to record knowing beforehand that the recordings were not earmarked to take off, and become hot sellers. The intent was for no success.
The business people cannot lose since they own the tapes. Ownership of the recorded tapes (also known as masters) allows the business people to reissue a recording with or without the permission of the artist. This practice has been operating for decades, in fact it is not unusual to find that when, for example, a contemporary musician in the African American tradition makes it big with a major company, the company that has previous recorded tapes reissues them with a very positive announcement - in short, the company is now prepared to earn money on the investment that initially was earmarked for no success. This policy, unfortunately, all too often is applied to the artist after he/she has died. The publicity usually states to get the best of whomever on so and so label. Consequently, all investments made by business people in the recording industry who record contemporary African American music have the potential to move from the no success/red into the success/black side of the ledger.
Investment by African Americans in contemporary music in the African American tradition has several decided advantages: 1) contemporary music in the African American tradition represents another aspect of the music, it is thought provoking and should be programmed on both radio and television: 2) publicity regarding the involvement of African American business people represents a positive perception for younger African Americans in terms of identification with successful business people who are into the music, 3) African American business people by participating are not only giving younger African Americans a very positive image but also preserving the only culture to come out of this country.
According to all that I have talked with, the instrument that best epitomizes music in the African American tradition is the multiple percussion set - more commonly known as the trap set. Historically the symphony orchestra utilized all the components in the multiple percussion set, however, the utilization was in a compartmentalized manner, that is there was one player for each component. The concert and marching band utilized the multiple percussion set in the same manner as the orchestra. The utilization of the components of the set in the European American orchestras, bands, etc., was in the marching tradition that is the strong accents were on the first and third beats. As a result of European Americans seeing and hearing African Americans play the multiple percussion set in a decompartmentalised context and revolutionizing the accent by shifting it from the strong first beat to the weak second beat orchestras, and concert bands that formerly were in the European American tradition had the flexibility of dealing with both the African American traditions. Consequently when you find the multiple percussion set being played with the accent of the sock cymbal (hi hat cymbal) on the second and fourth beats in a four four time piece of music, you are experiencing music in the African American tradition. There are other elements that are included, but for those who need a basic understanding of a definition of music in the African American tradition, the use of the multiple percussion is a clear indication from an instrumentation standpoint.
The compositions in this album are all originals. They are:
Close My Eyes - composed in 1963, was written as a ballad and has always been performed as such. The form is AAB, that is the first eight measures are repeated and the final section is twelve measures in length.
Coconut Bread - composed in 1975 for the bass clarinet. This is the only piece in the album in the African Caribbean tradition. The form is AA, and each section is sixteen measures in length.
El Hajj Malik - composed in 1963 for Malcolm X, is played within the context that the composition was conceived. The form is the standard AABA. In previous performances I played this on bass clarinet, but for this date I decided to play it on alto saxophone.
Puddin' - composed in 1955. This composition was first recorded as accompaniment to a film produced by an independent producer in the early 1960's. This piece was conceived at just about the tempo played in this album. The form is the standard thirty-two measures broken down to AABA.
Got My Mind Set On Freedom - composed in 1967, is the only alternating time signature piece in the album. The time signature structure for four measures includes four measures of three four time plus one measure of four four time, and is repeated two more times to complete the chorus. The total number of measures is twenty. This composition has always been performed on the bassoon.
High Noon - composed in 1957, and is one of those compositions that can be played as a ballad or the way it is played in this album. Over the years I played this composition on the bassoon and very slowly. Since I did not have an up tempo track in the album I thought this composition would suffice. The form is AABA, however, the sections are sixteen measures in length rather than the standard eight measure sections.
Chasing the Sun - composed in 1956. It was originally in four four time, but for this recording I changed the time signature to six eight. The form is the standard AABA form. That is, the first section is eight measures and is repeated; the bridge/release is eight measures and the first eight is repeated once again to complete the chorus.