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Music Making History: Africa Meets Europe in the United States of the Blues. In Nikongo Ba'Nikongo, ed., Leading Issues in Afro-American Studies. Durham, North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press, 1997, pp. 189-233. Copyright © 1997, Carolina Academic Press. Reprinted with permission.

Music Making History:

Africa Meets Europe
in the
United States of the Blues

William L. Benzon

Abstract: European-American racism has used African America as a screen on which to project repressed emotion, particularly sex and aggression. One aspect of this projection is that whites are attracted to black music as a means of expressing aspects of themselves they cannot adequately express through music from European roots. Thus 20th century expressive culture in the United States has been dominated by an evolving socio-cultural system in which blacks create musical forms and whites imitate them. It happened first with jazz, and then with rock and roll. The sexual revolution and the recent floresence of blacks in television and movies suggests that white America has had some success in using black American expressive forms to cure its affective ills. The emergence of rap, from African America, and minimalism, from European America, indicates that this system is at a point where it is ready to leave Western expressive culture behind as history moves to the next millenium.

Introduction: Music in Society and Culture

After emancipation . . . all those people who had been slaves, they needed the music more than ever now; it was like they were trying to find out in this music what they were supposed to do with this freedom: playing the music and listening to it -- waiting for it to express what they needed to learn, once they had learned it wasn't just white people the music had to reach to, nor even to their own people, but straight out to life and to what a man does with his life when it finally is his.
--Sidney Bechet, Treat It Gentle

I went to the depot and set my suitcase down
The blues overtake me and tears come rolling down
--Blind Lemon Jefferson, Easy Rider Blues

When I am elected President of the United States, my first executive order will be to change the name of the White House! To the Blues House.
--Dizzy Gillespie, 1964 presidential campaign

The cultural character of the United States of America has been dominated by two interacting cultural systems [1]. One of these derives from Europe and the other from Africa. The European system dominates in matters of intellectual and scientific culture and, despite the birth of modern democracy in the American Revolution, I think we need to concede the point in political matters as well. The United States may well be the first modern democratic state, but that democracy, and the state apparatus, has deep roots in Europe.

When we turn to expressive culture matters are quite different. In some expressive domains, literature, architecture, and perhaps even painting, the European influences have dominated though most of American history. But in other domains the cultures of sub-Saharan Africa have had a profound, even a determining, influence. Sport is one such arena (Ashe, 1988, cf. Early, 1989, pp. 115-195, 208-214). Religion is another. With its dramatic conversions, speaking in tongues, vigorous song, and theatrical preaching, the fundamentalist strain of American religion took the impress of African America almost two centuries ago (cf. Bloom, 1992, pp. 48, 238; Philips, 1990, p. 231, Small, 1987, pp. 88 ff., Williamson, 1984, p. 38). Throughout the nineteenth century minstrel shows were a major form of popular entertainment and carried the African influence in comedy, song, and dance (Chase, 1966, pp. 259-300, Crouch, 1976, Handy, 1941, Southern, 1983, 228 ff.,Watkins, 1994). This influence came to full force in American popular music of the twentieth century, where the African-American element drives the train. Whether or not that influence has been so profound that we should remove the United States from the honor roll of Western nations is not clear to me, though I think it a reasonable possibility.

This New World dialog between Africa and Europe has not, of course, been an equal opportunity affirmative action interaction. Throughout American history white racism and domination have undermined the egalitarian and democratic ideals which have otherwise been so important in the nation's history. Thus the determinative effect which African America has exercised in expressive culture has been against the grain of political and economic power. That raises a question: How and why is it that a racist European America has allowed African America such cultural power? This is as deep and important as any question one can pose about society and culture in the United States of America (cf. Morrison, 1992).

To begin our exploration we need to make a clarification prompted by the current movement for multicultural education, a major purpose of which is to combat racism by fostering respect for diverse cultures. That purpose rests on a weak premise, for the most vicious racism is not primarily about culture. Such racism is, in Elisabeth Young-Bruehl's (1996) terminology, an ideology of desire; it is an active psychosocial formation whereby the racist attempts to alleviate his or her own psychological conflicts by hating and dominating members of another social group. The fact that members of the hated group may eat different foods, wear different clothes, sing different songs, dance different dances, and worship different gods is, at best, a secondary aspect of prejudice; such things give the racist something to hide behind when justifying his or her actions and attitudes, but they aren't what motivates the racism. We need to be clear on this matter for we are going to be investigating both cultural interaction and racism. What interests me is how a certain social and psychosocial phenomenon, racism, has resulted in a certain multicultural process, European Americans learning to make music and to dance like African Americans.

I also wish to make a point about the fundamental importance of rhythm and music in human life. Recent work on expressive culture by David Hays (1992, pp. 189-190, 196-197) and on dance and military drill by William McNeill (1995) suggests that muscular bonding, to use McNeill's term, is essential to human society. By muscular bonding McNeill means a sense of community and solidarity created by moving together in groups, groups which dance together or engage in military drill together. If Hays and McNeill are on the right track, and I am assuming they are, then music and dance are not secondary matters, subordinate to speaking, writing and calculation in cultural importance. On the contrary, they are the necessary foundation of social cohesion and health; they have causal force in society and can foster social change. Thus the African American achievement in those arenas is as important as any cultural achievement by any group, any where, at any time. The fact that so many European Americans have adopted and adapted African-American dance and music for their own is a social and cultural phenomenon of the highest importance.

Nor is this phenomenon limited to North America. For African-American music has by now influenced culture all over the world. As Eldridge Cleaver observed almost three decades ago in Soul on Ice (1968, p. 203):
And although modern science and technology are the same whether in New York, Paris, London, Accra, Cairo, Berlin, Moscow, Tokyo, Peking, or São Paulo, jazz is the only true international medium of communication current in the world today, capable of speaking creatively, with equal intensity and relevance, to the people in all those places.
Since then soul and rock and hip hop have made the world tour as well. People the world over have adopted and adapted African-American expressive practice to suit their own needs.

2. Improvisation and Composition in Cultural Style

In her seminal study of Patterns of Culture, Ruth Benedict (1934) argued that each culture exhibits a pattern by which its various customs, beliefs, and attitudes are integrated. Cultures are not miscellaneous grab-bags of traits, they are patterned wholes. European and African America do have cultural differences. My purpose in this section is to explore those differences through examining music. However, in the time-honored manner of those who infer the existence of fire from observations of smoke I assume those music differences reflect differences in the structures and processes in the societies which produce the music (see Small 1987).

My thinking on this topic begins in my experience as a musician who has performed in both European styles, symphony orchestra, concert band, brass band, and African-derived styles, jazz, rhythm and blues, world beat. It is obvious to me that these are two very different musical worlds. At times I am astounded as I attempt simultaneously to contemplate them both. It is a rich world indeed that is home to such musics. At the same time I wonder: if these musics are so different, what does that difference imply about the cultures from which these musics originate?

In one view, human nature is everywhere the same. Different cultures are just different "languages" for articulating and expressing that same nature. That is not my view. To be sure, the human biological heritage is much the same from group to group. But that biological heritage includes a nervous system which takes over two decades to develop (Benzon and Hays, 1988. pp. 314 ff.) and which is, especially during the early phases of that development, open to environmental influence. Nurture thus has plenty of opportunity to influence human nature. Because of that we must consider cultural differences to be intrinsic, not extrinsic. One does not "wear" a culture as easily and superficially as one wears a suit of clothes nor can one move from one culture to another as easily as one moves from business to casual attire.

Expressive culture is essential to organizing the biological seeds of desire and feeling into a way of life (Geertz, 1973, pp. 80 ff.; Hays, 1992; Benzon, 1993a). Expressive differences reflect different ways of shaping actions to meet desire, of interpreting the feelings which accompany those actions and desires. Thus the differences between European and more-or-less European-derived music and African-influenced music betoken different cultural styles. To get a sense of those styles, let us begin by comparing the two musics.

Note that, while my argument is about the interaction of African-American and European-American music in general, I want to confine my discussion in this section to a comparison of jazz and classical music. I have two reasons for this: 1.) There are many genres of both black and white music in the United States. Discussing them all would be complex, but that complexity would not appreciably alter my central points of contrast [2]. 2.) Jazz is the only form of African-American music which has developed to the same level of sophistication as classical music (see Benzon, 1993b). Classical music thus represents Western culture at its most sophisticated while jazz represents an equally sophisticated African-derived culture.

Let us begin with feeling: Do the two musics provide cultural stylization for the same range of emotions? The most relevant work on emotion in music has been done by Manfred Clynes (1977) as part of a general investigation of emotional expression. Clynes has found basic temporal patterns, pulsations or rhythms, through which we express our feelings. He calls these patterns essentic forms . His investigations have involved people from both Western and non-Western societies and he has found the same patterns in all his subjects. This suggests that the essentic forms are biologically given and not cultural conventions. While the set of essentic forms seems to be open-ended, there are seven basic ones: love, grief, awe (or reverence), joy, anger, hate, and sex.

Although these essentic forms are biologically given, whether or not they are incorporated into music depends on the codes of a culture's stylization--to use the term favored by Albert Murray. A given culture isn't obligated to codify the full biological legacy of humankind; or, to give the matter a different spin, no culture can work out all the possible ramifications of human biological possibility. African America has included sexuality directly in the codes of its music while Europe (and European America) has done so only indirectly, unless, of course, following the example and tutelage of African America. To say that jazz is comfortable with sexuality is not, of course, to imply that it is obsessed with it. Jazz embraces a full range of emotional expression, with sexuality taking its place in that range. And, correlatively, to say that classical music cannot deal with sexuality is not to say that the essentic form for sexuality never appears in classical music, only that its appearance is not routine.

Now, in saying this, we must confront a problem, for sexuality is at the center of racist stereotyping. In talking of the sexual nature of jazz are we thus falling into a racist trap? No, and for two reasons. In the first place, the racist places a negative value on sexuality while I am implying either a neutral or a positive value (take your pick). More deeply, the racist thinks he is talking about biological nature; he is asserting that folks with dark brown skin, flat noses, and tightly curled black hair are hypersexual and out of control because it is in their blood. I am not making any assertions about "blood" (that is to say, about genetics); I am talking about culture. Certain folks have chosen to give public shared expression to sexuality by allowing sexually expressive rhythms in their music and dance. Getting these rhythms into that music and dance requires the kind of discipline and control which comes from patient and dedicated practice and has nothing to do with the wanton license running riot in the racist imagination. It is one of the paradoxes of expressive culture that the highest expression of such discipline comes in performance which is effortless and free. On this matter, however, jazz and classical music come out the same. Regardless of the differences between their emotional patterns, both require discipline and both come alive only in freedom and ease.

Thus we need not feel the anxiety of political correctness in asserting that the sexuality which is so very obvious in jazz--to both its devotees and its detractors--is not at all obvious in classical music. In saying this I should note that, while Clynes has investigated music, he has not, to my knowledge, done a comparative study of the appearance of the various essentic forms in various musics. Nor have I done so. Thus in talking about the presence of sexuality in jazz and its absence in classical music I am only giving my subjective estimate of what is going on in these musics. It is not, however, a wildly idiosyncratic estimate.

In discussing these matters with friends some have lobbied strongly on behalf of the sensuousness of "Là ci darem" from Mozart's Don Giovanni , which is lovely music; but how common is this in classical music? I've recently become fond of a passage about a third of the way into the Arietta of Beethoven's C minor Sonata (No. 32, Op. 111) where, after anticipatory probing, the music breaks into marvelous waterfalls of jazzy descending right-hand figures ending in rocking chords which are met by rolling ascending left-hand figures [3]. When I played this passage for a friend, without telling him what he was listening to, he said it sounded like someone trying to bridge the gap between Mozart and Fats Waller. While classical critics are able to note the jazz affinity here, they are clearly uneasy. Thus Wilfrid Mellers in his study of Beethoven and the Voice of God (1983) notes that "the metre becomes a boogie rhythm, rendered seraphic. This is not a joke" (p. 259). Of course it is not a joke, but the fact that a distinguished critic feels impelled to talk like that is a sign of how atypical, and threatening, sexuality is in this music. Sexuality is there. But as an exception, not a common occurrence. Then we have the famous Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, which is very passionate, but it isn't overtly sexy; the sex is thoroughly sublimated, with no release, only exhaustion. No doubt there is much sublimated sex in the romantic composers, but there is a difference between getting it straight and getting it tricked out in disguise, no matter how fine the cloth, how even the stitching, how elegant the fit. With the twentieth century the finery is peeled away; Ravel's Bolero is notorious, as is Stravinsky's Rite of Spring . Here the sexuality is overt, but both are late in the evolution of classical music, at the end of its major development, and their eroticism did not become a standard practice. A bit closer to the bone, those Europeans who didn't have the time or opportunity to learn the sophisticated stylings of the classical masters didn't have even sublimated sex in their music. They had no sexual stylization at all. That is, there was to publicly affirmed sexuality. When the opportunity came, those who wanted it learned it from African Americans.

I don't think we are dealing with a simple matter of rejecting sexuality. It is a more pervasive rejection of the body. Consider:
Even the greatest Western music, on the order of Bach and Mozart and Beethoven, was spiritual rather than physical. The mind-body split that defined Western culture was in its music as well. When you felt transported by Mozart of Brahms, it wasn't your body that was transported. The sensation often described is a body yearning to follow where its spirit has gone . . . The classical dance that grew from this music had a stiff, straight back and moved in almost geometrical lines. The folk dances of the West were also physically contained, with linear gestures. The feet might move with wonderful flurries and intricate precision, but the hips and spine were kept rigid. (Ventura, 1987b, p. 86)

The liveliest dances of Beethoven's last quartets no longer incite the feet to dance. Instead, the "heart inside dances." Beethoven found a new way of uncoupling the motoric output from the expression of essentic form by allowing inner forms to dance without corresponding motor outputs. . . . In his music the meaning of essentic form appears no longer as a communication directed at motoric outward expression. (Clynes, 1977, p. 85)
Ventura, writing an account of the migration of musical techniques from West African ritual to contemporary rock and roll, makes a more sweeping statement than Clynes, but they move in a similar direction. Classical music is somehow decoupled from the body, while African-American music is not.

We can see a minor consequence of this attitudinal difference in the rhetoric of critical censure. In criticizing the performances of particularly expressive musicians, such as the late Leonard Bernstein or the contemporary violinist, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, classical critics sometimes question the propriety of the body movements and facial expressions of the performer, implying that such movement is mere self-indulgent exhibitionism [4]. Whatever role a musician's body movement has in enabling in his or her expressiveness, it is not clear why comment on that physical style should enter into a critical assessment of the performance. Would the same music have been acceptable if it had been delivered of a musician stiff of spine and serene of face? It is one thing for opponents of a musical style to criticize the body language of its performers, as opponents of rock and roll castigated Elvis Presley for his peripatetic pelvis, but the critics of classical gestural gyration are friendly to the music. On the other hand, I have never read a jazz critic make similar remarks. Thus, for example, while many critics didn't like what the late Miles Davis played in his last two decades, none of them ever complained that he moved in an unseemly way (for an example see Crouch 1990a). The physically expressive classical musician seems to violate that uncoupling of body from music which Clynes talks about. But, since jazz is comfortable with the body, comment on the performer's movements has never been part of the jazz critic's arsenal of opprobrium.

This rejection of the body, in turn, translates into a musical technique which relegates rhythmic complexity to a secondary, if not tertiary, role. Relative rhythmic simplicity may well have been a precondition of the harmonic development which has been so important in classical music, for that development requires a precise vertical alignment of different instrumental lines which would be difficult to achieve if each part were rhythmically complex (Rockwell, 1983, p. 51). This was a precondition consistent with the overall rejection of bodily experience which has marked Western culture. However, when jazz musicians confronted classical music, that harmonic language was fully developed and they had no difficulty adapting it to the rhythmic intricacies of bop. African America thus discovered the miracle of linking the harmony of the spheres has to the rhythms of the body.

Important though the basic pulse and rhythm are, jazz and classical music differ in many other ways. This is not the place to attempt a full comparison [5]. But one other difference demands attention, that between improvising and composing. Though there were limited opportunities for improvisation in classical music, especially in the Baroque and early Classical eras (cf. Neumann, 1986), it had become a thoroughly notated music by the early nineteenth century. Improvisation has always been important to jazz, even in the carefully crafted arrangements of the big band era. With the evolution of bop-style jazz, improvisation reached new sophistication and complexity (Benzon, 1993b, Schuller, 1989, p. 845).

If you think of improvisation as composition on the fly, then it is difficult to see how it could compare favorably with the carefully worked and reworked compositions of classical composers. However, the notion of jazz improvistion as spontaneous creation out of nothing is a romantic myth, a kissing cousin to natural rhythm. What happens on the bandstand reflects hours and months and years of study, thought, and practice, with musicians working out several approaches to improvising on each and every tune they play (Berliner 1994). Yet, in one important respect, classical music is arguably the more sophisticated music. Jazz has not been able to create the large-scale architectures that classical composers have--Collier (1987, pp. 145 ff.) and Schuller (1989, pp. 148-153) have discussed this question in relation to the extended works of Duke Ellington. However, composition and improvisation are but means to an expressive end; their particular devices are subordinate to that purpose. It is a mistake to judge one set of technical devices as though they were functioning in the manner of another and rather different set of devices. What is relevant is how effective these devices are in achieving their expressive end.

In this context, the end is what David Hays (1992) has called a reorganizational epiphany. When Leonard Bernstein (1993, p. 284) says "By the time I come to the end of Beethoven's Fifth, I'm a new man," he is talking about reorganization. Over time such experience helps lessen psychological conflict, bringing about greater and greater psychological coherence. Given that both bop jazz and classical music achieve this end, their different techniques for achieving it must reveal much about their respective cultural patternings [6].

Unfortunately, I am not prepared to offer an explanation of how jazz and classical music achieve epiphanies, but I am willing to do a bit of beating around this particular bush. Trust is fundamental to the process and psychoanalysis provides the clearest example of the role which trust plays in affective reorganization. The patient trusts in the good intentions and competence of the analyst and is thus willing to expose and express deep psychic hurts. This allows the analyst to guide the patient in working through inner conflicts to achieve more effective ways of dealing with the world. Trust is the womb in which reorganization grows. Similarly, I speculated in a paper on narrative (Benzon 1993a) that the reader trusts a novel's narrator, which is the novelist's device for guiding reorganization. That trust allows the reader to experience imaginary events which might otherwise provoke too much anxiety. When those events are resolved at the end of the novel the reader has been changed a little, and in the direction of being more capable of dealing with the conflicts embodied in the novel.

I can offer two illustrations of what musical trust is about and from that work toward arguing that jazz and classical achieve that trust differently. I've logged many hours playing rhythm and blues in bars and nightclubs and have been puzzled about people's reluctance to dance to an unfamiliar tune, even if it has exactly the same beat as a familiar tune which had them happily dancing only minutes before. It is as though the unfamiliar melody makes it difficult for people to trust that basic beat won't suddenly, in the middle of the tune, shift into some crazy Balkan eleven/eight meter, making chaos out of smooth well-rehearsed four/four dance moves and transforming the dance from a romantic opportunity into a survival test. At a more sophisticated level, consider this anecdote told to me by a semi-professional jazz musician (Joe Wheeler, personal communication). He was playing piano in a lounge on New Year's Eve; the piano's action was thick and he struggled for half an hour until someone requested Thelonius Monk's "Round Midnight." For some reason, unexplained, his technical struggle disappeared and he began playing with imagination and liveliness well above his normal level. He continued that way for the entire evening, playing so well that he attracted the attention and admiration of the musicians playing for the dance in the adjacent ballroom. The fact that he was able to play so well for an entire evening indicates that he had the musical knowledge in his head and fingers. What he didn't have was sure access to the attitude, the behavioral mode (Benzon and Hays, 1990b, Hays, 1992), which allowed him fluently to implement that knowledge in performance. Getting into the mode is a matter of trust, of having faith in one's ability, and in the music itself.

But, classical music and jazz have different ways of engineering that trust. In classical music creative responsibility has been divided between composers and performers. Composers create the overall structure and provide the fine texture while performers bring the music to life, providing the breathing nuance--recall Clynes' essentic forms--which binds texture and structure into living experience. When a classical performance begins, both performer and audience "know" that, in some sense, the work is already finished, existing in some ideal realm of composed Platonic essences. Trust is invested in that transcendent realm and all are moved. In contrast, the jazz musician, and audience, invest their trust in the immanent process though with the music grows and evolves. There are few composed essences in the jazz world; the improviser starts with a framework and from that constructs the music. As a practical matter, both classical and jazz musicians can experience states of ecstasy, of standing outside oneself as the music flows, but I'm willing to bet that, if we could trace the paths of neural energy implementing that ecstasy, we would find interesting differences between the two [7].

The classical style of compositional essence parallels Western philosophical preoccupation with absolute truth, a preoccupation which has been severely stressed by the evolution of science beyond the certainties of the nineteenth century and by deconstructivist and postmodern thinking. The gap between the imagined musical essence--represented by notes on pages of paper--and the physical process of performing the music mirrors the Cartesian split between mind and body which has dogged Western metaphysics since the seventeenth century. Jazz immanence doesn't propose such a gap between the music itself and the process of performing the music. There is no gap between the ideal and the real, between musical space and performance time. In jazz the music and the performance are indistinguishable. Jazz can live and thrive on constructions which exist only in the act of creating them.

And, with this contrast, we return to our major theme, composition and improvisation as the organizing patterns of Western and African-American culture, respectively. It is not difficult, for example to see a thematic similarity between classical music and football, on the one hand, and jazz and basketball, on the other hand (on games and cultural style, see Roberts, Sutton-Smith & Kendon, 1963). Football involves highly specialized players organized into elaborately structured units, enacting preplanned plays, and directed by a quarterback representing the coach/composer. Basketball uses a smaller number of players, whose roles are less rigorously specialized, and involves a free flowing style of play which is quite different from football. A football game is composed while a basketball game is improvised. African-Americans dominate basketball but, while they are prominent in football, they have been kept from the key role of quarterback, the director of the coach's composition.

Similarly, it is not difficult to see a likeness between classical music, football, and the hierarchical structure of large corporations, the ones that are now "downsizing" and "delayering" to cut costs and gain flexibility. When we consider jazz and basketball in this context, what comes most quickly to my mind is the advice of current management gurus about the need for a very fluid corporate structure, one which changes quickly and has multifunctional workers organized into relatively flat structures. Thus Tom Peters (1992) uses the carnival as one of his key metaphors. Carnivals run lean, quickly adapt to changing markets, and have employees who play multiple roles. Carnivals, and the corporation of the twenty-first century, are improvisatory. Likewise, when Michael Maccoby (1990, pp. 474-475) talks of the need for "corporate men and women who can work interdependently within a corporate structure that stimulates and rewards individual initiative and continual improvement" he describes a pattern of vigorous individuality in service of a group creation which is a fundamental requirement of jazz. Duke Ellington's sidemen were all individualists who played their best music in Ellington's band; leaders such as Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, and Miles Davis were known for so successfully fostering the growth of their musicians that many of them went on to become leaders themselves. Jazz culture stresses the importance of finding your own voice, your own style, even to the basic sound a player gets from his or her instrument. In contrast, classical culture stresses adherence to an ideal sound and is doubtful about individuality, even from virtuoso soloists. Thus it is no surprise that the business world is beginning to see books with titles like Leadership Jazz (DePree, 1992) and Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity (Kao, 1996).

These improvisatory corporations thus exhibit a pattern which reverses that which Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (1988, p. 122) finds in various important African-American novels (e.g. Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God , Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man ). These novels use a Western literary form to express African-American content. The high-tech corporations have an African-American style with a white technological content. Unfortunately, few of these corporations are African-American enterprises. Between the informal mores and prejudices of the corporate world and the unfortunate relationship between much of African America and the educational system, the corporate world remains largely European American. However, to the extent that these more fluid corporations are run by relatively young men and women, they are run by people who have, for example, grown up listening and dancing to rock and roll and have thus been significantly influenced by African-American expressive style--a topic we'll return to later in this essay [8]. What I'm suggesting is that this new corporate style has not been created out of thin air. Rather, this new corporate style reflects a new personal style, and that personal style owes a debt to expressive devices developed in African America. If black folks hadn't invented jazz early in the century, then white folks would have been too stiff to have begun remaking their corporations in a more flexible manner as the century comes to a close.

One final contrast suggests itself. Classical music is the expression of a fully formed culture. Europe was under no pressure to conform to any standards other than its own. Jazz, however, is the creation of people under constant pressure to conform to conditions imposed on them. As Martin Williams (1983, p. 256) asserted, "Jazz is the music of a people who have been told by their circumstances that they are unworthy. And in jazz, these people discover their own worthiness." There is a sense, then, that jazz is the most advanced creation of a culture which has not been able to fully reveal and realize itself. Whether or not the next century will see that realization is question as open as it is exciting [9].

Society, Psyche, and Culture in North America

Cultures have interacted with and influenced one another at many times and places throughout human history. Much of this is no doubt aimless and opportunistic drifting and mixing in which songs, stories, tools, technologies, social customs, etc. move from one group to another. Much of the interaction between Africans and Europeans in North America has, no doubt, been of this kind. However, over time the United States has evolved a social structure which puts a strong selective bias on the process. There is order and purpose to the cultural interaction between black and white society. In a way which defies existing categories of socio-cultural analysis, groups of people are influencing and reacting to each other on the group level [10].

Let us start with an analogy, courtesy of the old television program Star Trek . One episode centered on a being called an empath. If a person was ill or injured, the empath could touch that person, and through the touch, absorb the trauma into herself and thereby cure the person. The empath, however, was limited in her ability to absorb injury. That limitation provided the episodes's tension; for the Enterprise crew had more injuries than she could safely absorb. European America has used African America as such an empath, a circumstance which is at the heart of the standard canon of American literature. One of the books we find there contains a story about a poor white boy who flees his alcoholic and abusive father in the company of a slave. As Toni Morrison points out, in Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn "Jim permits his persecutors to torment him, humiliate him, and responds to the torment and humiliation with boundless love" (Morrison, 1992, p. 57). Huck and Tom inflicted their grievances on Jim and he absorbed them. The overall question is whether or not European America can be cured before African America is destroyed.

3.1 The Cultural Psychodynamics of Racism

I take it as given that Western culture is one of emotional restraint and repression. This repression, so my argument goes, is at the core of the psychodynamics of racism. We can begin with a curious and disappointing passage in Chapter 9, "Revolution," of W. E. B. Du Bois' Dusk of Dawn (1940, pp. 770-771). Du Bois says: "My own study of psychology under William James had predated the Freudian era, but it had prepared me for it. I now began to realize that in the fight against racial prejudice, we were not facing simply the rational, conscious determination of white folk to oppress us; we were facing age-long complexes sunk now largely to unconscious habit and irrational urge..." And that was it. He acknowledged the relevance of psychoanalytic thought, but did not use it in developing an analysis of racism. Subsequent intellectuals haven't done a great deal to write the discourse Du Bois only implied (for more implication, see Ellison, 1972, pp. 100, 311) [11]. Economics has become a routine intellectual instrument in the examination of racism, but psychoanalysis has not.

Still, enough has been done to serve our purposes. Freud argued that, in general, much behavior is driven by unconscious desires. Moving beyond the individual psyche, he argued, perhaps most explicitly in Civilization and Its Discontents (1962), that Western civilization is built on a foundation of emotional repression. Racism is a society-wide manifestation of that repression. The basic point is simple: many of the characteristics racists have attributed to blacks are simply the repressed contents of their own hearts and minds which they have projected onto African Americans (Baldwin, 1963, p. 95 ff.; Gay, 1993. pp. 69 ff.; Morrison, 1992, pp. 37 ff., 51-52; Young-Bruehl 1996). In particular, the heightened sexual desire and potency, and the greater emotionality, which whites have insisted on seeing in blacks has more to do with unconscious white desire than it does with black behavior [12].

In an essay originally published in 1947, Talcott Parsons (1964, pp. 298-322) explored the dynamics of aggression, arguing that Western society is so structured that aggressive impulses are often generated in situations where they cannot be directly expressed, creating a need for ethnic and national "Others" who can be scapegoated. Calvin Hernton explored the sexual dynamics of racism in a study originally published in 1965 (and reprinted in 1988). Erik Erikson made a general theoretical statement in the final chapter of his Identity: Youth and Crisis (1968, pp. 295-320). He argued that no culture has been able to adapt the full biological range of human desire and feeling to its patterns. Each culture cultivates some characteristics at the expense of others. The neglected characteristics may then coalesce into a negative identity which members of a given society will often project or displace onto members of some other society or culture. Joel Kovel (1984) has undertaken an investigation of American racism in which he argues for different psychological processes in the North and the South. Most recently, Elisabeth Young-Bruehl (1996) has undertaken a psycho-social analysis of prejudice--including antisemitism, sexism, and homophobia in addition to racism--in which she identifies various kinds of prejudice and attempts to identify the historical conditions which give rise to them.

Such psycho-social mechanisms have shaped Europe's encounter with the peoples of Africa. Winthrop D. Jordan (1974) has shown that Europeans were disposed to see blacks in the image of the emotionality and sensuality they were rejecting in themselves. In the late Renaissance blacks were likened to beasts; in Bacon's New Atlantis (1624) the "Spirit of Fornication" was depicted as "a little foul ugly Æthiop" (p. 19). Jordan notes that Englishmen "were especially inclined to discover attributes in savages which they found first, but could not speak of, in themselves" (22-23; see also Gilman, 1985). Thus before the European settlers of North American had any substantial contact with Africans, they had a lascivious place prepared in their minds through which to understand and interact with them. Shakespeare's Caliban was to be a lens through which the people of a whole continent would be viewed and interpreted.

Joel Williamson has taken this psychological line in examining the lynchings which once plagued this country, especially in the two decades straddling the turn of the century (Williamson, 1984, 117 ff.; see also Brundage, 1993; Du Bois, 1940, pp. 730, 747, 772; Fredrickson, 1988, pp. 172-182; Harrington, 1992, pp. 157-162). Many of the victims were black men often accused of some sexual offense against a white woman; in some cases the offense was real, in many it was not. Further, many of these lynchings were extravagant public exhibitions with wide-spread participation. That is, it wasn't a matter of a few drunken thugs breaking into the jail at night to get the offender--perhaps with the tacit approval of the sheriff--and then hanging him from a tree for all to see in the morning. Sometimes lynching preparations would go on for days, with newspaper articles about the alleged crime and the impending punishment, and with railroads offering special excursion fares to take people to the scene. The actual lynching would then take place in broad daylight, with thousands of people in attendance, vendors attending to the needs of these thousands, with photographers and reporters recording it all for posterity. People might take fingers of the victim as souvenirs. It was not unusual for tens or hundreds of men each to fire a bullet into the hanging body or bodies. Such public exhibitions seem much like the public tortures and executions of medieval Europe and obviously had the full approval of the local and regional community, with at least the tacit approval of national authorities. Williamson concludes that African-American males were being used as scapegoats for European-American discontent and that, while some of that discontent was certainly generated by current social displacement, some also stemmed from sexual and emotional repression [13].

The thrust of these various studies is the same: racists are punishing others for their own sins. Western civilization has not created adequate means for directly incorporating a satisfying range of human emotion and behavior into its cultural practices. Consequently, it has been forced into racism as a one means of dealing with the resulting repression and self-hatred.

However, if the lynching is the prototypical scene of racist violence, there is a contrasting prototypical scene of racism, one which is not dominated by physical violence. Consider those night clubs, such as the Cotton Club, where the performers were black but the clientele was exclusively white. Why did all those white people seek black entertainment? No doubt most of them came for the erotic floor show, but some of them were interested in the music. Why? The question is not a new one, and the answer is obvious--in the same way that the applicability of Freud to racism is so obvious that it has been little discussed. European Americans have liked African-American music because it has expressive powers which are lacking in European and European-American music (Crouch, 1990b, p 83; Keil, 1966, p. 49; Small, 1987, p. 154; Williams, 1983, p. 254). In particular, as we've seen above, African-American music is comfortable with sexuality, while European music is not [14]. People may have come to the Cotton Club to see black bodies enact jungle pseudo-rituals on stage; but they left with the expressive sound of African American music boring into their brains.

In an important variant of the Cotton Club scenario, a white child--no doubt a descendant of Huck Finn--sneaks into the club to hear the black musicians play jazz. This variant was featured in Michael Curtiz's movie Young Man With a Horn (1950) where young Rick Martin idolized Art Hazzard--this movie was, in turn, based on Dorothy Baker's novel, of the same name, based loosely on the life of Bix Beiderbecke, the first major white jazz musician. More recently, Hollywood producer George Lucas (responsible for the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies) created a two-hour episode of his television show The Indiana Jones Chronicles in which young Indiana gets jazz lessons from Sidney Bechet (cf. Murray, 1970, pp. 101-102). I take this scene as a metaphor for the role of jazz (and African-influenced music in general) in the white world. While the jazz club is ostensibly a place of entertainment, it also functions on a deeper level as a school, one in which the teachers are black and the students are white. They are learning a cultural stylization of emotion which is more adequate to their needs than the one they learned at home, in school, or in church. Where the lyncher, and his descendants, is desperately trying to preserve the restrictiveness of his culture, the white jazz fan, and his descendants, is trying to break free from that restrictiveness by learning elements of a different culture [15]. In the night club scenario, Africa is the teacher and Europe the student (cf. Asante, 1987, p. 59).

Unfortunately the psychodynamics of racism doesn't end here. The need for projective psychological relief is an equal opportunity affirmative action agent of social destruction. Black Americans have demonized whites even as they have been demonized. The Black Muslims provide the most obvious example, with Elijah Muhammad's story of the evil Mr. Yacub who created a race of "blond, pale-skinned, cold-blue-eyed devils--savages, nude and shameless; hairy, like animals, they walked on all fours and they lived in trees." These white devils then turned a black "heaven on earth into a hell torn by quarreling and fighting" (Haley, 1965, p. 167; for different examples, see e.g. Crouch, 1990c, pp. 200-202, 231-244; Early, 1989, pp. 199-207; Young-Bruehl, 1996, 481 ff.). Considering that African Americans have legitimate grievances against European Americans, the problem of sorting out the justified anger from the projective demonization seems hopeless. From that hopeless confusion Dr. Martin Luther King, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz--aka Malcolm X, Detroit Red, Malcolm Little--struggled to discriminate right from wrong and thereby exercised moral and political leadership which gave hope to millions.

3.2 Tertium Quid: The Artist and Negative European Identity

Europe was not, of course, limited to projecting its negative identity onto Africans. People of other races also bore this imprint, which is the central circumstance, for example, of E.M. Forster's A Passage to India (cf. JanMohammed, 1985). But we need not look solely to prejudices directed from one ethnic group to another. The romantic stereotype of the artist, as developed by and for the middle-class during the nineteenth century, also embodied Europe's rejected affect. Thus, behind the much-discussed topic of black self-hatred we find the topic of white self-hatred.

We can see this romantic conception emerging in the Western imagination with Goethe's publication of The Sufferings of Young Werther in 1774. To be sure, Werther wasn't an artist in the sense of being vocationally dedicated to art, though he liked to paint and sketch. He was a love-addict who committed suicide because he would never be able to have the woman he loved; she was married to another. He serves as an archetype for the artist because he was a man of intense feeling who was alienated from his society. As such, he proclaimed that "I have been drunk more than once, my passions have never been far from madness, and I regret neither; for, at my own level, I have come to appreciate why all extraordinary people who have achieved something great, something apparently impossible, have been inevitably decried by society as drunkards or madmen" (Goethe, translated by Steinhauer, 1970, p. 33).

The attitudes embodied in this book coalesced around the figure of the artist as a bohemian creature who dressed differently, thought differently, was given to vehement proclamations, perhaps a bit of debauchery, and who was, in general, somewhere between eccentric and crazy--the van Gogh and his ear syndrome. Thus, in his very influential Silence (1961, p. 127), the avant-garde composer John Cage approvingly quotes Rilke's remark that he had no interest in being psychoanalyzed because "I'm sure they would remove my devils, but I fear they would offend my angels." That is, madness is not just something which afflicts artists, among others, but rather it is the source of their creativity.

The trope of the rebellious artist, consumed with feeling, is a vehicle through which Western culture reminds itself of the affective life it has forsworn. The Western artist feels what the ordinary citizen cannot. Through identifying with the artist, the citizen gets access to those emotions which are otherwise held in check. The solid citizen dresses severely, works hard, and feels little or nothing; at leisure this good citizen reads a novel, attends a play, or an opera (perhaps La Boheme ) and there encounters the artist who feels all that the citizen must deny. In that encounter the citizen gets safe and vicarious access to a richer emotional range. When the artist self-destructs the citizen is reminded that emotion is dangerous. Thus the citizen is safely returned to the daily routine of emotional repression and drab dress.

The self-destructiveness of Western artists, so convention tells us, is simply the price they pay for their intense feeling. As long as we believe that they must pay that price, we accept our less intense, but safer, lives. We accept our repression because we believe it to be the only way to a secure life. We cannot tolerate the possibility that a life of strong feeling is not self-destructive but, on the contrary, could be deeply creative, nurturing, and sustaining. It is thus no accident that the artists in Western movies, novels and plays generally die. That is the only way we can tolerate them. The idea of a mentally balanced artist, whether painter, dancer, jazz musician, etc., doesn't make sense. Most Westerners would not be prepared to recognize such a person as a real artist. Western culture's emotional repression is thus no more hospitable to its own artists than it is to blacks. It must scapegoat both [16].

The artist, the creator of expressive culture, thus serves as a tertium quid between European-American and African-American culture; it is a cultural position within European-derived culture through which white folks could permit themselves to learn from social outsiders of African-derived culture . The formal and informal institutional arrangements of white society place black society in the role of expressive outsider, a point brilliantly allegorized in Robert Zemeckis's film Who Framed Roger Rabbit . In the film's Los Angeles there are two worlds, that of human beings, and that of Toons, classic cartoon characters from Betty Boop to Elmer Fudd. The Toons and their world are consciously modeled on white stereotypes of blacks (Harmetz, 1988). The Toons are born entertainers; they sing, they dance, they tell jokes, they act in movies. And they are obviously outsiders, a whole society used by the humans to provide for human expressive needs.

Because European-American society came to assimilate African-American culture to the general role of the romantic artist, it has been possible for African Americans to pursue their own expressive imperatives while at the same time providing entertainment which European Americans not only like, but are willing to imitate. The system is deeply flawed; but it has been remarkably creative. Thus, over time, an economic arrangement, chattel slavery, has spawned a side effect which has transformed, not only American culture, but world culture, for African-American music is heard and emulated on all continents (Rothstein, 1991, p. 32, Wiora, 1965, p. 158-160). The enslavement of Africans was justified by an ideology which mistook relative cultural simplicity for inherent inferiority and allowed Europeans to use Africans as a projective screen on which they viewed the same aspects of themselves which they had projected into their own artists. Over time that projection has evolved into a socio-cultural vehicle though which whites have adopted some of the expressive traits of those original Africans and their descendants. Thus, in a cultural sense, those Africans have become ancestors of us all.

3.3 Africa in America

Let us proceed with another text from W. E. B. Du Bois. This one is from The Souls of Black Folk (1903, p. 3), chapter one, paragraph three:
After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.
One consequence of this double vision is a concern for "uplifting the race" which looks toward European-American standards (cf. Harrington, 1991, pp. 209-211). Thus Du Bois himself disapproved of jazz (1940, p. 702)--what would you expect from a middle-class man educated to the culture of Harvard and the University of Berlin?

However, African America has not been completely dominated by the European gaze. Africa survived, albeit highly transformed. And it is around this African core that black Americans forged a cultural identity of their own. The scholarly recognition of this African core begins in 1941, when Melville Herskovits published The Myth of the Negro Past . At the time his thesis was a novel one--that American blacks had retained substantial traits and practices from African cultures. Herskovits, and others following in his wake, documented so many retentions that it is difficult for serious thinkers to continue denying the African influence [17].

Music is one of the most obvious cases; but it is by no means a simple one. For the slaves were often forbidden to perform their native music. In particular, the drums were widely banned in North America and, as a consequence, West African rhythms did not survive there (Gillespie, 1979, p. 318, Oliver, 1970, p. 56, Southern, 1983, p. 182), though they are prevalent in the Caribbean and in Latin America, where the drums were not banned. What did survive was a strong rhythmic pulse and a tendency to superimpose groups of three notes over a ground beat based on binary patterns (Schuller, 1968, Collier, 1978). Similarly, the blues scale, with its microtonal "blue" notes, seems to reflect both African and European tonal practice, though it doesn't exist on either continent (Schuller, 1968, 44 ff.).

Most importantly for our purposes, the eroticism of African-American music is taken over from African music. This is an eroticism linked to religious ritual (cf. Jones, 1963, p. 92). Michael Ventura (1987a and 1987b) has given a succinct historical account of the route from African religious ceremony through New World voodoo to jazz and on to rock and roll, the point being that there is a comparatively recent historical linkage between African religious practice and African-American musical practice. For voodoo is a syncretic body or religious belief and practice in which West African deities are disguised as Christian saints. Voodoo ritual draws fairly directly on typical West African rituals (Mulira, 1990).

New Orleans is central to this development [18]. It was an exception to the general ban on drumming; for slaves were permitted to practice their rituals, drumming and all, in Congo Square. Thus African ritual practice stayed alive well into the 1880s (Hobsbawm, 1993, p. 5). Since many whites watched the ceremony, Congo Square was, in effect, a precursor to those later clubs with black entertainment and white clientele (but see Starr, 1995, pp. 39-40). At the same time many Creoles were learning European music; for example, there was a Negro Philharmonic Society in the 1830s (Collier, 1978, p. 59; 1993, pp. 189 ff.). New Orleans was thus the scene of a most intimate mixing of African and European musical practice.

The resulting musical hybrid is one in which the sacred and the sexual are closely connected. This connection is not, of course, unknown in European culture. But it is one which was emphatically rejected in prevailing doctrine, with celibacy ordained for Catholic clergy while Protestants sects generally taking a dim view of the body and its evil pleasures. African-American music embodies a different view, with a rich interplay between African-American sacred music and various secular forms--blues, rhythm and blues, soul, jazz [19]. Consider, for example, the remark by the great bluesman, B.B. King, that "Gospel singers sing about heavenly bodies and we blues singers sing about earthly ones" (Smith, 1988, p. 149). He clearly differentiates between blues and gospel, but implies that there is an abiding link as well. The outrageous androgynous Richard Penniman (Little Richard) has moved back and forth between preaching the gospel and singing rock and roll, and he's hardly the only African-American musician/preacher, though he's the best known (Keil 1966, pp. 147 ff., Lincoln and Mamiya 1990, p. 362). Similarly, soul music, with Ray Charles its prophet, Aretha Franklin the queen and James Brown the king, is based in gospel music (cf. for example, Peter Guralnick 1986; Harrington, 1992, pp. 194-202)--a connection made in Robert Townsend's film, The Five Heartbeats , in which one of the musicians is a preacher's son and another overcomes his self-destructiveness by being born again. Between black popular music (and dance as well), with roots in black religion, and white derivatives from it, much of contemporary America's stylization of sexuality and secular love is derived from West African religious ceremony.

It is around this core of religious and musical practice that African America has forged a sense of cultural integrity and link to the African past. Black pride and cultural awareness was not invented in the nineteen sixties; it has a long history (Stuckey, 1987; Murray, 1970, 171-188). One telling index of this awareness is the question of the name to be used in designating African Americans, an issue which has been discussed and debated among African Americans since the early nineteenth century (Stuckey, pp. 193-244). Playing the blues is a facet of African-American expressive culture. Knowing that the blues has a history, and that that history is yours, is an aspect of cultural nationalism. Such cultural nationalism often comes into defensive play when European Americans adopt versions of the blues for themselves.

4. Music in the Making of History: Blues Train to the Future

Now we are ready to enter into the heart of my argument, which is that the psycho-cultural blues train outlined in the previous section has been a driving force in twentieth-century American culture. When I say "driving force" I mean explicitly to assert that it has brought about change in the world, change not only in music, but in the persons and societies conditioned by the music.

The job of examining this blues train and understanding how how its systems interact in American culture began with Blues People , by Amiri Baraka, then writing as LeRoi Jones (1963), and has been followed by Charles Keil (1966, pp. 43 ff.) and Nelson George (1988). They have uncovered a pattern of interaction between African-American and European-American musical culture which goes like this:

  1. ) African-Americans create a musical style.
  2. ) European-Americans adopt the style for their own use.
  3. ) The most adventurous African-Americans abandon the style and propose a new one.

This has happened successively with minstrelsy, ragtime, traditional and swing jazz, rock and roll, and perhaps most recently with hip hop.

The first step is no more mysterious than any other manifestation of human creativity, though, as we have no recordings before this century, most of the initial cultural crossing is invisible to us. By now there should be no mystery about the second step. Whites adopt the style because it has stylistic resources they admire, allowing them to express aspects of their experience which are not easily accommodated by musical forms deriving from Europe. Or, since we want to avoid thinking in terms of music as expressing a pre-existing human essence, the African-American style shapes a cultural style more adequate to their biological nature than does the prevailing repertoire of European forms.

However, the white adaptation often seems anemic and lifeless--"white-bread" is the colloquial term--and, because it is generally more commercially successful, this is a source of resentment. And so, the theory goes, blacks propose another style in an effort to reclaim the music, to construct and affirm a unique ethnic identity. This part of the analysis is inadequate. The resentment is real, and it certainly is part of the motivation for stylistic innovation; African America has a strong need to protect the integrity of the expressive language it uses to construct public affirmation of its values. But too much emphasis on resentment and cultural possessiveness tends to deny black music a life of its own, to see it as primarily reacting against white borrowing [20]. Thus, when Baraka talks about the bop style of jazz as being a reaction to white swing music (Jones, pp. 181 ff., Baraka, 1990, p. 66-67) he misses the fact that jazz has a developmental imperative rooted in its own dynamics (Benzon, 1993b, cf. Keil, p. 45). The fact is, as Stanley Crouch (1990b, 71-72) has noted, Baraka's resentment of whites leads him to devalue the music he ostensibly defends, reducing it to a defensive reflex and thereby denying the fecundity of its ultimately African roots and demeaning the freedom and dignity it achieves.

When one style of music becomes thoroughly known, the best musicians seek the challenge of creating a new style and a significant portion of the audience will be happy to follow them, for boredom afflicts us all. This is one kind of process when the new style is more sophisticated than the old, as was the case when jazz moved from traditional to swing, and then from swing to bop (Benzon, 1993b). Just why living systems of all kinds evolve toward more sophistication and complexity is not well understood, but that it happens is obvious (cf. Benzon and Hays, 1990a; cf. Csikszentmihalyi, 1993). However, we also see evolution from one state to another with no increase in complexity. Much of the stylistic change in music is of this kind. Independently of the imperatives of ethnic identity, such stylistic change would occur through a combination of boredom and the free flow of cultural ideas made possible population movement and by the various twentieth-century media.

As for the weakening of the music at the hands of white adaptors, there is nothing surprising in this. However much white audiences and musicians may admire black music, they are have a different cultural background. When creating their own music they will borrow as much as they can and suit it to what their background will permit them. As John Rockwell has noted (1983, p. 167) this is a free choice, not something imposed on the white public by nefarious music moguls (cf. Ressner, 1990). And, in the last analysis, we have to acknowledge that some white adaptors--Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, the Beatles come to mind--have made music that need apologize to no one.

4.1 The Blues: "Trouble In Mind"

European Americans readily acknowledged the expressive gifts of their African slaves (Chase, 1966, pp. 76 ff.) In the eighteenth century the Rev. John Davies of Virginia wrote a letter to John Wesley in which he observed that "the Negroes, above all of the human species I ever knew, have the nicest ear for music. They have a kind of ecstatic delight in psalmody" (Chase, p. 80). African Americans provided a rich variety of music for themselves, and at the behest of their white masters. For our purposes it is enough to acknowledge that this music, black and white--spirituals, work songs, dance tunes, "coon" songs, etc. (for historical sketches see Collier, 1978, 3-55, Chase, 1966, pp. 232-323, Southern, 1983)--existed and that whites enjoyed and used it. But one genre requires special attention, that is the blues.

The blues did not come directly from Africa, but it certainly has African elements (Oliver, 1970). Just when it crystallized as a specific form is not certain, though the late nineteenth century is a good guess (Collier, 1978, p, 37; Palmer, 1981; Southern, 1983, pp. 330 ff.). More important than when and where is the matter of why: Why was the blues born? In Blues People Baraka suggested that the blues evolved when African Americans took their new-found freedom and confronted a society which had no place for them as free men and women (Jones, 1963, p. 55):

With the old paternalistic society of the South went the simple role of the Negro in the Western world. Now the Negro was asked to throw himself into what was certainly still an alien environment and to deal with that environment in the same manner as his newly found white "brother" had been doing for centuries....The post-slave society had no place for the black American, and if there were to be any area of the society where the Negro might have an integral function, that area would have to be one that he created for himself.

While the older musical forms, the dances, hymns and spirituals, the work songs, and so forth, continued, a new musical form was needed to meet and fulfill the expressive demands presented by the new social and moral situation confronted by most African-Americans. That form became known as the blues, and the blues came to be the foundation of much of African-American secular music up to rap and hip-hop. The blues is to African-American music what the sonnet is to English poetry, a basic form, to be mastered by all with aspirations to excellence, which has been put to the most various expressive uses [21].

Thus, while often sorrowful, sadness is not the defining essence of the blues (Murray, 1976, pp. 57 ff.). The blues is more abstract and general than a particular emotional tone. Blues music is often joyful, ironic, confrontational, witty, and worldly wise. It is also a highly individual form of expression, both in lyrical content and in performance presentation; a solo performer told about his or her own experience (Jones, 1963, pp. 65-76; Levine, 1977, pp. 222-223). In the more technical terms of musical device and structure, the blues is a set of expressive conventions and strategies--12-bar AAB form, I IV I V I harmony, call-and-response, the blues scale--within which African Americans have articulated a full view of life as generations of musicians improvise extensions, emendations, expostulations, emancipations, and ecstatically lubricious transubstantiations. As Dizzy Gillespie so often observed, before there was the universe, there was the blues.

While most early blues performers appear to have been male, in the second and third decades of the twentieth century a blues known as the classic blues emerged as a distinct genre, mostly performed by female vocalists, of which Bessie Smith became the best known. W. C. Handy, known as the Father of the Blues, collected and arranged many of these songs, with the "Memphis Blues", "St. Louis Blues" and "Beale Street Blues" among his best-known. The blues has developed many forms throughout the twentieth century, varying between regions, adopting electric instruments after World War II (Keil, 1966), and functioning as a cultural well from which other musical forms could draw inspiration and ideas. One of these forms became know as jazz, which began consolidating in the teens.

4.2 Jazz: "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing"

If the blues is one tributary feeding into the jazz delta, then ragtime is the other. Straddling the turn of the century, ragtime was primarily a piano player's music and was strongly influenced by dance forms and the military march (Collier, 1978, p. 51). Scott Joplin was the best known exponent of the music, and his aspirations went far beyond what he was able to realize in his lifetime--his opera, Treemonisha , wouldn't receive a full performance until 1972, fifty-five years after Joplin's death in 1917 (Collier, 1978, p. 51-53, Schonberg, 1981, pp. 160-163). Just when jazz finally emerged as a distinct style is uncertain. But it was going strong by the mid-teens.

New Orleans, or traditional jazz, is relatively simple in its devices, but, catalyzed by Louis Armstrong, it quickly evolved into the more sophisticated styling of swing. Jazz became the popular music of the second quarter of the century, naming first the Jazz Age of the twenties, and then the Swing Era of the thirties. Americans of all ages and ethnicity danced to the beat of the African diaspora. Jazz also traveled to Europe, where it was treated with aesthetic and intellectual seriousness it did not enjoy at home. In time, jazz conquered the rest of the world (cf. Wiora, 1965, pp. 158-159).

Jazz attracted the attention of classical musicians (Ansermet 1919) who began to incorporate some of its devices into their music as they had drawn on various European folk traditions (Bernstein, 1993, pp. 49-64, Hodier, 1956, pp. 245-263, Schuller, 1990). By this time the classical tradition had taken its central techniques to their limits and many composers were casting about for new inspiration, new scales, different compositional devices, and more rhythm (Benzon, 1993b; Kramer, 1988; Wiora, 1965, p. 194-195). At the same time, European artists such as Pablo Picasso were responding to African sculpture (Arnason, n.d., pp. 120-122; Clifford, 1988, pp. 196-200; Ogren, 1989, p. 146: Soyinka, 1987, p. 769) and Sigmund Freud was diagnosing the emotional ills of Western culture. Europeans were ready for a change and jazz give it to them.

Popular though jazz was, it did not receive universal approval (Ulanov, 1952. pp. 107-108, Ogren, 1989, pp. 103-104, 156 ff.; Stowe, 1994, pp. 30 ff.). In particular, it was denounced for its sexuality. For example, a group of New York citizens formed a commission that complained about "slow jazz, which tempo in itself is the cause of most of the sensual and freakish dancing" (Collier, 1983, p. 121). In 1926 the city of New York passed the first in a series of regulations intended to restrict opportunities for live jazz performance, though the regulations were never stated in those terms (Chivigny, 1991). At one point, Duke Ellington was moved publicly to deny that jazz was responsible for a rash of sex crimes [22]. This disapproval, of course, did not keep whites from listening to the music nor from playing it; white teens and young adults followed the black and white swing bands (Stowe, 1994, pp. 43) and white players swelled the ranks beginning in the early twenties (Collier, 1978, pp. 123 ff.; Peretti, 1992) [23].

The net effect was an influx of African-American musical ideas into Tin Pan Alley and Broadway--for awhile black musicians and dancers thrived on Broadway (Douglas, 1995; Rose, 1989, pp. 46-80; Stearns and Stearns, 1994; Watkins, 1994). White swing bands, from Benny Goodman to Sammy Kaye conquered popular music, with the great black bands of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Jimmie Lunceford and others playing to a more restricted house (Stowe, 1994). Inevitably, the white bands played sweeter and less expressively than the black. European America admired and desired the particular expressive vitality of jazz, but there were limits to how deeply it could accommodate itself to that expressiveness. Meanwhile the most adventurous jazz musicians--including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk--invented bop during the early forties. Jazz is a music which slipped the yoke of racist oppression and, in bop, created a style which elevated improvisation to the same level of sophistication European classical music had achieved (Benzon, 1993b). Bop was Art with a capital "A". As A. B. Spellman (1970, p. 193) observed, "The bebop era was the first time that the black ego was expressed in America with self-assurance."

Bop artists went beyond their immediate tradition and explicitly searched other musics for techniques and inspiration. In the late forties Dizzy Gillespie (1979, pp. 317 ff.) hired a Cuban drummer, Chano Pozo. Since the drums had not been banned in Cuba, African rhythm survived there intact; when Gillespie brought Pozo to his band, he thus reestablished contact with African rhythm. Art Blakey traveled to Africa in 1948 and 1949 and brought African techniques and, later on, drummers back to America (Brown, 1988; Weinstein, 1992, pp. 50-51). In 1956 Dizzy Gillespie became the first jazz musician to go on a world tour sponsored by the U. S. State Department (Gillespie, 1979, pp. 411-427). His band was organized by the same Quincy Delight Jones, Jr. who would later become a vice president of Mercury Records and win fame and fortune as the producer of Michael Jackson's most successful albums (Ostransky, 1988). In the sixties Elvin Jones continued investigating African polyrhythms and studied Indian rhythms as well (cf. Feather, 1966, p. 169); he moved the drummer from an accompanying role to one of full collaboration with the horn-playing soloists. John Coltrane investigated Indian music to expand the possibilities of melodic improvisation in jazz. Jazz musician have have continued to search the globe for musical ideas.

However, this increased sophistication had a cost, for it demanded greater sophistication from the listener than swing and traditional jazz. With sophistication in short supply, the jazz audience shrank and jazz ceased to be a strong and direct force in popular music. The blues continued to evolve independently of jazz and, in the late thirties and early forties small "jump" bands developed as an offshoot of the big bands (Keil, 1966, pp. 61 ff.; Collier, 1978, 449; Ventura, 1989b, pp. 88-89). This music would become that grab-bag called rhythm and blues and it would emerge on the far side of World War II and the Korean War as the seed bed and inspiration of rock and roll.

From the beginning, jazz had a white audience (Collier, 1983, pp. 88 ff.; 1993, pp. 219 ff.), an audience it would keep throughout its history to the present day. I am unaware of any figures from jazz's early days, but the following figures concerning interest in jazz, based on a 1982 study by the U. S. Bureau of the Census, are worth examining (Horowitz, 1990, p. 5):


Number of Adults

Attend Live Events

Watch on TV

Listen on Radio

Listen to Recordings



















While the percentage of black people is larger than the percentage of white people in all categories, the number of whites is so much larger that, in absolute terms, the white jazz audience is larger than the black; the percentages for "other" are between black and white in three of four categories while the absolute numbers are smaller than either. If we consider just those who attend lived events, the category implying the most substantial commitment, we have 2,620,500 blacks and 12,901,950 whites, almost five times the number of blacks. Just when the absolute number of white jazz fans became larger than the absolute number of blacks is not known; but these 1982 figures do not reflect a dramatically new situation. Similar percentages must have existed for decades. The inspiration and major innovators are black, but the audience has been largely white for most of jazz's history.

4.3 Rock: "Roll Over Beethoven"

Simultaneously the mid-fifties gave us the civil rights movement and the birth of rock and roll. Both shocked mainstream America. The civil rights movement produced protest music which, in the sixties, would merge with rock to become a generalized music of political and cultural protest. It also provided a paradigm for political action which inspired the anti-war protests of the sixties.

As for rock and roll, its roots are in the rhythm and blues of musicians like Big Boy Crudup, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, and Bo Diddley with musicians like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Bill Haley taking it into the white world (Ennis, 1992; Guralnick, 1994; Palmer, 1990; Puterbaugh, 1990; Ventura, 1987b, pp. 89 ff.). And there it was soundly denounced by older whites for its lawless sensuality (Martin and Segrave, 1993; Schipper, 1990); considerable political effort, including Congressional hearings, was marshaled in an effort to rid America of this nasty music. Once again the morals of America's youth were being undermined by sexy music--writing in 1987 (pp. 68-81), the conservative scholar Allan Bloom gives a reasoned, if not reasonable, account of this rejection of rock and roll.

Unlike the swing era, however, this time music became a generational issue (Ennis, 1992, pp. 283-312; Hobsbawm, 1994, pp. 324-327; Palmer, p. 46). In the twenties, thirties, and forties, young and old alike, black or white, danced to much the same music. But rock and roll split the European-American world into youths and elders. Those who reached adulthood by the beginning of the fifties did not, by and large, dance to rock and roll, which thus became a music for adolescents (see Early, 1989, pp. 99 ff.). And as those adolescents grew older, and their younger siblings moved into puberty, rock and roll became the expressive catalyst for a generation of cultural and political protest. By the mid-sixties, many of the best and brightest sons and daughters of the European-American middle class were joining the civil rights movement, protesting the war in Vietnam, chanting and meditating, taking hallucinogenic drugs, proclaiming and acting on sexual freedom, growing concerned about the environment, revising gender roles, and, in general, trying to create what became journalistically known as the counter-culture. All of this activity was reflected in the lyrics of rock and roll and energized by its beat. White middle-class youth had adopted black rhythm as the expressive catalyst for their assault on the culture they had inherited. They danced to a different drummer and dreamed of forming a new society grounded in those rhythms.

Rock and roll developed and became polymorphous, with many of the most important performers coming from England (Ennis, 1992; Gilmore, 1990). In various ways, the Beatles harmonically and melodically, Bob Dylan lyrically, and Jimi Hendrix with his outrageous jivometric guitar virtuosity, rock achieved a level of musical and lyrical sophistication comparable to the best of Broadway and Tin Pan Alley and of swing-era jazz. In the mid-fifties Bo Diddley had introduced what came to be known as the Bo Diddley beat into rock and roll; that beat was a standard West African rhythm which made its way here via the Caribbean. Other musicians mated rock with every conceivable musical style (Pond, 1990). One strain, heavy metal, substituted anger for the sexuality which rock had inherited from African America.

Meanwhile, the civil rights movement developed a more militant side and black cultural nationalism proliferated and became more visible to white America. As African-American cultural nationalism became national news, the musicians continued to produce new music. Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Stevie Wonder and Co. gave us soul; George Clinton funk; and Ray Charles did everything. The electric urban blues of musicians such as B.B. King flourished and was recognized and adopted by European Americans. Jazz musicians confronted the same limitations of harmonic structures which classical composers encountered early in century and developed an avant-garde that espoused jazz free of all rules and structures (see Benzon, 1993b; Collier, 1978, 454-478; Litweiler, 1954). In some of this music, anger came to replace sexuality at the music's expressive core. At the same time, the foundations were laid for "classicizing" jazz. In the late sixties Rahsaan Roland Kirk began performing the whole history of jazz, from traditional New Orleans, through bop, to free jazz (Barkan, 1974), while the avant-garde Art Ensemble of Chicago made reference to that entire history, though not actually performing in those various styles (Rockwell, 1983, pp. 164-175). This effort would bear fruit in the eighties when a whole new generation of jazz musicians, led by the New Orleans trumpeter, Wynton Marsalis, would embrace older, more conservative, jazz styles as their primary expressive vehicle, consciously proclaiming that jazz has a history which performers must keep current through the playing of all its styles, not just the most recent ones.

On the whole, my sense is that this crossing of African- and European-American music was more extensive in its effects than that of the swing era. That it helped drive a wedge between the so-called baby boomers and their elders is the surest sign of this. And the broader cultural exploration catalyzed by rock and roll was more extensive than that of swing. Neither oriental religion nor drug use were new; nineteenth century European musicians, poets, and intellectuals experimented with opium and hashish and knew Hindu literature, philosophy, and mystical practice. But the sixties and seventies saw members of various Eastern religious sects soliciting contributions in every airport and hallucinogenic drug use became common recreation. None of this is directly African American, but African America provided the music which became the dominant and most widely shared expressive vehicle for all this activity. Blacks showed how to slip the yoke of repression and young whites proceeded to sew wild oats in every field they could find.

Finally, hidden in the background, the computer came of age. Computer courses began appearing in colleges during the middle sixties. I can remember my freshman year at the all-male Johns Hopkins when one of my classmates generated considerable interest with a female nude printed by a computer in a pattern X's and O's; that was 1965. Over the years some students would become captivated by computers and become hackers, living for computing the way their Dionysian counterparts lived for sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Hacking developed into a counter culture of its own (cf. Levy, 1984, Turkle, 1984). Yet, it shared a theme with the more publicized world of the flower-bedecked hippies: mind-expansion. The hippies sought mind expansion in drugs and meditation; the hackers sought it in doing vastly clever things with computers, even attempting to make the machines think Personal computers and video games were invented in the late seventies and some of the hackers went into big business, and some of those had counter-cultural dreams of changing the world through computers. During the middle eighties computers would meet reggae and rock and roll in the world of science fiction, yielding cyberpunk [24]. And yet, as we'll see in the next section, African rhythm remained just around the corner.

4.4 Rap: "U Can't Touch This"

As the United States rolled into the late seventies African America proposed a new music: rap, or hip-hop (George, 1988, 1992; Costello and Wallace, 1990; Gilroy, pp. 1993, pp. 33-34, 103-110; Rose, 1994; Samuels, 1991). In the late seventies black performers such as Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie became so successful in modifying their music to more effectively cross over to white audiences that a vacuum began to develop in popular music, which no longer satisfied the expressive needs of the black audience. Rap emerged to fill that vacuum. While rap, like all genres, has its antecedents, e.g. the tight rhythms of James Brown, the verbal games and poems of the street corner, it has features which make it a new point of musical departure:

  • It employs a technique of musical collage which depends on an extant library of recordings.
  • It is the most insistently rhythmic of the black genres, reducing melody and harmony to a minimal, and mostly background, role.
  • It also has the most elaborate lyrics.
  • It often substitutes anger for the sensuality which had been basic to earlier forms.

The joint effect of these factors is that rap does not follow directly from the blues and gospel base which had been the cradle of African-American basic musical expression throughout this century--a point we will return to later. Rather, rap looks to verbal combat, oral narrative, and rhythm as its points of departure.

On the first point, rappers use fragments of extant recordings to create a background for the foreground rapping. This began in a multiple turn-table technique in which one performer created a background of fragments from various sources while creating a strong rhythmic pulse through scratching a record with a turntable needle. With the advent of digital recording technology this evolved into an elaborate and sophisticated technique of digital collage. That makes it the first musical genre the existence of which depends on modern recording technology. It is one thing to make full use of recording technology to facilitate creating music which, in principle, could have been made otherwise; that has been going on in popular music at least since the Beatles recorded Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in the mid-sixties. Synthesizers and multitracking are enormously convenient; but, for the most part, music made with this technology could have been made more conventionally by different means. But the rappers take fragments from various different recordings and electronically combine them into a background which thus becomes a kind of archeological record of, mostly pop, mostly--though not exclusively--black, music. Technology has become intrinsic to rap's creation, not just a means of preserving and distributing the music.

Ironically, this most technological of musics is also relentlessly rhythmic. The rapper weaves his, or in some cases her, words over the hi-tech background which is not only highly rhythmic but, at times, is even anti-melodic and anti-harmonic because the combined fragments are not in the same key. The resulting tonal clash works against even the fragmented melodies and harmonies to emphasize the rhythm. No other form of black American music is so insistently rhythmic as rap. Jazz rhythm may be more complex and sophisticated, but jazz also has considerable melodic and harmonic play. Rap has little beyond the rhythm--and the words. If, in the contemporary symbolic universe, the computer stands for disembodied mind, then rap rhythm violently links that mind to back the rhythmic body.

Such a move has deep roots in African-American culture. For example, after the Titanic sank, blacks began reciting a poem about that sinking in which a black boilerman, Shine, escapes despite attempts to keep him on board by offering him money and the sexual favors of a white woman, the captain's daughter (Jackson, 1974). In the popular mind, the Titanic was a symbol of technology triumphant; it was supposed to be unsinkable. Shine triumphed over that hubris and, in rejecting sex, countered white notions of black sexuality (cf. Jackson, p. 36). Charles Keil (1966, p. 175-176) discusses this "nonmachine tradition" in his analysis of the concept of soul, a tradition which led many jazz musicians to form an ideological resistance to the electrical instrumentation of rock and roll. It is almost as though the rhythmic insistence were necessary to reclaim rap from the dangers of its intrinsic technological commitment.

Then, we have the words; among other things, they boast, and they finger the whiteman as a source of evil. Rap has more words than any other form of American music, except, perhaps, for the talking blues. Those words are manipulated as much for rhythmic effect as for what they say. Those words have, more than anything else, brought African-American verbal virtuosity (see Abrahams, 1970, Jackson, 1974) to mass public awareness--note that the Titanic poem mentioned above is in this tradition and is thus a precursor to rap. Between the words and the rhythm, rap is the most relentlessly and consciously Black, as in Not-White, form African America has produced. It is also the angriest. We have noted that avant-garde jazz musicians and heavy metal rockers created music steeped in anger. Avant-garde jazz has never had a large audience, while the heavy-metal audience is almost exclusively white, as are its musicians. Rap is the first mass-audience black form based on anger, giving it an ambivalent relationship to heavy-metal rock, one of its sources of musical samples (Costello and Wallace, 67-68, George, 1992, p. 130). It is not clear what to make of this fact.

The mainstream media has, of course, focused on this anger as expressed in the genre of "gangsta" rap, objecting that it is sexist, racist, and excessively violent. Once again, as in the case of jazz and rock in prior generations, the nation's moral health is said to be imperiled, in this case by the misogyny, anti-white attitudes, and all-around violence of the gangstas. Whatever merits this line of criticism has, we should note that the misogyny was not invented by the gangstas. It is widespread in American society, certainly in those conservative circles most offended by rap (hooks, 1994, p. 116). Further, such criticism is focused too exclusively on only one segment of the hip-hop market and is oblivious to the fact there are oppositional forces within the hip-hop world. Thus, for example, female rappers will put out music explicitly criticizing and challenging sexist lyrics (Rose, 1994, pp. 146-182). The anti-white attitudes are no more defensible than is white racism, but one has a sense that much of the criticism and dismay has as much to do with an ethnocentric inability to understand how black people could possibly resent white society as with any consistent moral reasoning. Beyond this we can note that the general anger has been with us all along. Expressing it is, no doubt, a positive step. But, to the extent that that anger is motivated by a desire for an expressive culture which is Black beyond any possibility of White co-optation, that anger runs up against the relentless social psychodynamics of racism.

For, as relentlessly black as rap has been, since the mid-eighties its largest audience has been white, and male (Samuels, 1991, cf. Harrington, 1992, pp. 376-382). One is reminded of Gerald Early's (1989, p. 138) remark about a passage from Norman Mailer's account of the Ali-Forman bout in Zaire where Mailer "expresses a very simple and very old idea here, namely, that the black male is metaphorically the white male's unconsciousness personified." The hidden psycho-social logic of racism has operated so that the anger black rappers express on their own behalf, and against whites, matches the anger white males feel--perhaps about themselves, or their elders, or both-- but are not so willing to express. The anger which drove the rapper to create something which is, among other things, ethnically his, allows whites to feel their own anger though the rappers' performance while getting the vicarious thrill of an imaginary trip to the archetypal exotic Black Jungle Ghetto much as, half a century ago, their grandparents went to the Cotton Club to view erotic stage shows danced to hot jazz.

Yet, rap has not so far spawned a significant group of white rappers. Whites do perform it, but the majority of the performers, for both the white and black audience, remain black. Thus rap is not following the pattern set, first in the swing era, then rock an roll, when the large white audience was served by white performers who imitated black models.

This suggests that the psycho-cultural dynamic of musical expression is undergoing a fundamental change. If, following Baraka, we think of the blues as an "expressive contract" between free blacks and white American society, then hip hop may represent a new aesthetic contract. The old contract was in force up until the Reagan presidential administration in the 1980s. This contract was based on a fundamental hope for the future and a belief in the possibility of social justice. All of the secular music of African-America was produced under the terms of this contract, as were the white imitations and reconstructions of black music. One aspect of this contract was that there would be little criticism or even mention of white racism in song lyrics. But, as hope began to falter in the 1980s, a new expressive contract became necessary. Hip hop has emerged as the vehicle of that contract and pointed commentary on white racism is now an explicit part of America's expressive culture at the broadest level.

Meanwhile, the European-American division of the culture produced an art music which both had a large following and was not oriented toward nineteenth century classical music. Called minimal, presumably because it had little or no harmonic movement, the music of musicians such as Philip Glass, Terry Riley, and Steve Reich was strongly influenced by various non-Western musics, including, jazz, Indian, West African, and Balinese gamelan (Rockwell, 1983, pp. 109-122, Glass, 1987, Page, 1992, pp. 66-83, 118-121). With its roots in the sixties, this music emerged to full public view in the eighties. While other music in the European tradition had taken elements from African-American, and other non-Western musics, and put them to classical use, this assimilation had never been very deep. At its core, such music remained European in outlook. The minimalists absorbed non-Western lessons so deeply into their music that it must be considered a new departure from its founding expressive tradition just as hip hop is a departure from its founding tradition. Where classical music had a narrative intent Philip Glass talks of the fundamentally meditative nature of his music. It achieves this aim through cyclic repetition of melodic fragments (cf. Sprenkle, 1986). Though this repetition the minimalists are restoring rhythmic complexity to the European tradition, thereby moving that tradition beyond the bounds of Western culture.

Thus, at the beginning of the nineties the North American crossing of Africa and Europe leaves us, on the one hand, with rap, which is a rhythmically intense point of departure from/within its African-American tradition of basic expression, and, on the other hand, with minimalism, a rhythmically intense point of departure from/within its European-American tradition of art music. There are hints that the classical world is loosening up; Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg has recently observed that "The rules are less strict now, so we can appreciate the music more" (Roca, 1992, p. 6). Meanwhile, serious young men in Armani suits have been leading a strong jazz classicist movement based on styles from swing through bop to sixties modal jazz and the jazz avant-garde has been raiding popular dance forms for rhythmic foundations on which to improvise spiky towers of sound. Aging rockers from the sixties continue to record and to tour while rock critics have been writing obituaries for a decade. Clearly, it is time for another spin of the evolutionary dice and Africa and Europe prepare to cross into the next millennium.

4.5 The Pattern So Far: "Freedom Over Me"

The critical question is, of course: is this process moving in some direction or is it just drifting in cultural space? One aspect of this question concerns the evolution of musical culture; the other aspect is whether or not there has been any change in the underlying psycho-social dynamic. Is the psychological pressure of racism easing up? And, if so, can we reasonably attribute some of that change to the social dynamics of expressive culture?

In the first phase of this musical evolution, jazz and swing, white America simply picked up on the music black America created and proceeded to develop its own version. At its best the white version has had lasting value; but, on the whole, it is in the black music that we find the most compelling players and performances. In the second phase, rock and roll, white America again picked up on black music, this time rhythm and blues. Rock and roll precipitated a generational split and, developing more richly than white swing had done, became the central expressive medium for a generation of social, political, and cultural protest and experimentation. Black music provided a catalytic vehicle for a generation of white Americans, moving them away from the Europe-dominated mainstream; it provided for occasions of muscular bonding, to recall William McNeill's (1995) phrase, which could solidify social networks among those seeking alternatives to middle-class American business-as-usual.

Beyond the music, the black protest of the civil rights movement provided an immediate precedent, example, and training ground for white anti-war protest; it was a source of social legitimacy and tactical example. I want to go out on still another speculative limb and argue that the civil rights movement owes a debt to jazz. I suggest that the political protests of the fifties and sixties are, in part, an indirect effect of the first phase, the jazz phase, of this overall expressive evolution; the musical expression of the 20s, 30s, and 40s had effects in society which help enable the political expression of the 50s and 60s. Bop is important here, for with the creation of bop, African America created a rich and powerful art music, one which operated on very different principles from European classical music. That cultural achievement catalyzed a self-assurance without which the civil rights movement would have been difficult, if not impossible.

Organized political protest cannot be fueled by anger and outrage alone; it requires communal cohesion guided by a sense of dignity and of real possibility. The achievements of bop musicians contributed to that sense and that possibility (cf. Kofsky, 1970, Hobsbawm, 1993, pp. 229-247). To be sure, the civil rights movement got much of its leadership from the church, which is so central to African-American society (Lincoln and Mamiya, 1990)--a centrality which is being viciously high-lighted by the racist burnings of black churches which have been occurring as I prepare this essay in the summer of 1996. But, as we saw above, the link between secular black music and the church is a close and intimate one, albeit often strained. Whatever the direct contribution of bop, and later, jazz musicians to the civil rights movement, the indirect effect--working through those who heard the music, and even those who only talked to those who heard the music--was surely significant. As Frank Kofsky (Kofsky, 1970, pp. 56 ff.) pointed out, when Charlie Parker played "Now's the Time" he was talking politics. How many of those who sang "We Shall Overcome" got to that point by listening to Parker tell them the time was ripe?

Then we need to consider the white counter-culture of the sixties. Its music, rock and roll, was directly influenced by rhythm and blues, which in turn evolved from earlier swing and blues. But the possibility of going beyond mere adolescent friskiness required the political climate of the civil rights movement, itself indebted to the spirit of jazz self-assertion. Thus black expressive energy influenced the counter culture both directly through rhythm and blues and indirectly through the civil rights movement.

With the emergence of hip hop the cultural dance takes a new turn. The black music which rock and roll took as its starting point followed naturally from the music which proceeded it. But rap represents a new point of African-American departure. Its anger is of its own time, but its expressive confidence, its willingness to break with the past, is a legacy of bop's assuredness and power. Similarly, bop is behind the minimalist wing of classical composition, providing paradigm and inspiration as an art music based on principles radically different from European art music. Rap anger and minimalist meditation inform the furthest extensions of the stylistic interaction between Africa and Europe. Only time will tell whether these are the catalytic engines of new cultural forms steaming across a new savanna of human possibility.

Beyond the music, what has been so far achieved? Is there any evidence that European America is being cured of its psychosocial ills? Racism is still strong, and the projective psychodynamic which drives it still functions. However, that dynamic may be weakening; at least some whites have learned their lessons well and racist attitudes seem to be on the wane (Sniderman and Piazza, p. 1993). There is reason to believe that the sexual revolution has not been mere hype (Efron, 1985, pp. 7 ff.). For example, unmarried couples can now cohabitate openly and freely, something unthinkable in the Father Knows Best era and before. Attitudes have changed as well. In an interview with Peter Whitmer (1987, p. 127), the avant-garde novelist William S. Burroughs remarked:

[Skeptics about the 60s] don't seem to realize that forty years ago, four-letter words did not appear on printed pages; that when I was in my twenties and thirties [he was born in 1914], the idea that a Mexican or a black or a queer was anything but a second-class citizen was simply absurd. These were tremendous changes. Then, of course, the end of censorship.

Certainly there is much more writing and talk about sexuality. Much of it is superficial, such as that on television talk shows. But the talk exists, and that in itself is progress. In particular there is a great deal of talk about the ugly consequences of misguided sexuality--e.g. child abuse. Such talk, which deeply questions the integrity of family dynamics, would have been impossible fifty or a hundred years ago. Before we can change our behavior and our hearts, we must be able to talk, from the heart, about that behavior. These changes in behavior and attitude have such strenuous opposition that we cannot confidently predict the future. Yet, if the talk continues, behavior may continue changing as well and the inheritors of the Western cultural legacy may create a more emotionally satisfying culture, one which need no longer need to use racism as a way of dealing with emotional conflict.

We need also to consider the revised appearance of African Americans on television and in the movies (Gates, 1989, Harrington, 1992, pp. 353-376). The 1977 miniseries Roots, based on Alex Haley's book, became the most highly rated program in network history. Blacks are no longer confined to subservient, marginal and low life roles--maids, butlers, hookers, and hustlers--a circumstance indicating greater white willingness to see blacks as people, not merely as projective screens. Denzel Washington's portrayal of Don Pedro in Kenneth Branagh's 1993 film of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing is a particularly striking example of color-blind casting. Bill Cosby took a black brush to the American Dream and created the most popular television show of the eighties [25]. Spike Lee catalyzed a sepia revolution in cinema, creating mythically compelling depictions of black street-life and rage (Do the Right Thing ), the incendiary subject of inter-racial sex (Jungle Fever ) and the polymorphic life of Malcolm X. Fears that Do the Right Thing would provoke riots (George, 1992, p. 35, Lee, 1991, p. 15) proved to be white projective paranoia, and, while some films did provoke largely black-on-black violence (George, 1992, pp. 152-156), that was different in kind and considerably less lethal than the rise in lynchings following the 1915 release of the thoroughly racist Birth of a Nation (Du Bois, 1940, pp. 729-730). African-American expressive genius is thus moving into a visual arena where one cannot pretend the blackness away--as one might pretend it away while listing to a record or the radio (for a chronology of expressive progress since 1971, see George, 1992, pp. 9-40).

To be sure, this cultural progress tragically parallels social conditions which, for many African Americans, are worse than they were twenty or thirty years ago (Hacker, 1992; Kondracke, 1989; Vann Woodward, 1989). But we should not allow the one face of this disparity to blind us to the other. The cultural progress is real, and so is the social regress. History works in mysterious ways and, if we are to influence its path into the future, we must take full note of its complexity, contradiction, and paradox [26].

5. Conclusion: Stepping Out on a New Savanna

Let's work our way to the end of this essay by considering a passage from Charles Keil's classic study of Urban Blues (1966, p. 197):
Freedom cannot be given, dignity cannot be granted; but a deeper understanding of another way of life--perhaps even a profound respect for cultural differences--is possible. In the world of today and tomorrow it is necessary for survival. No nation on earth has yet achieved a lasting and productive cultural pluralism . . . The problem of the Negro in America is inextricably meshed with the problem of America in the world; and, as many confused prophets before me have noted, anything can happen, ranging from catastrophe to a golden age.
That is the issue before us. The United States is a single highly diverse society, but it is culturally plural. At the heart of that society is a psycho-cultural engine which has crossed expressive practices of European and African ancestry. That same engine has killed many many people through direct and indirect racist violence. The question is whether or not the positive effects of the emerging expressive culture will be able to keep ahead and even gain on the effects of destructive violence. I know of no way to reason toward a strong conclusion on this issue. We simply do not have intellectual tools suitable to this task.

The full assimilation of African Americans to European-American culture is not a viable option. As long as emotional repression remains the norm in European-American culture, some means are needed to relieve that emotional strain. For too many whites, racist scapegoating remains an important source of strain relief. These people can't permit assimilation as it would threaten their emotional stability. On the other hand, African-American culture has positive features absent in European-American culture. Those who value this culture can't assimilate without destroying that expressive virtuosity and the social practices and values which nurture and support it.

The grimmest possibility is that this social engine will simply collapse and the United States will destroy itself in an orgy of "ethnic cleansing." Less grim, but by no means acceptable, is that the system will achieve some steady state in which expressive genres come and go, but the underlying psycho-cultural engine remains intact--I am reminded here of the centuries during which the Chinese dissipated psychological energy through binding the feet of their girls and women, a practice which may have killed ten percent of its victims (Fairbank, 1992). The only acceptable possibility is that a new social order will evolve in which expressive practices allow people to mature without such a heavy burden of emotional repression. In such a society assimilation would not be an issue.

The point of this essay is that fragments of such a society have already been evolving through the interaction between African and European America. That evolution certainly has further to go and success is not certain. The possibility of success will surely increase if we become more aware of the psychological and social mechanisms driving this evolution. European America can afford that awareness only by acknowledging that Western culture is not eternal. The Western way has never been the only route to truth, love, beauty, and justice. And surely the political, scientific, and aesthetic ideals of the Western legacy will flourish more fully in a society freed of emotional repression and its correlative racism. Similarly, African America needs assurance that history is not a grand white conspiracy against peoples of color. Only with freedom and dignity thus assured can it grow beyond the mentality of victimization to assume the leadership responsibilities which the twenty-first century offers.

The West, as a particular set of cultural practices, ideas, and attitudes, is temporally bounded; it had a beginning and it must have an end as well (cf. West, 1993a, pp. 124-136; 1993b, pp. 116 ff.; 1993c, pp. 5 ff.). While it is common to place ancient Greece, Rome, and Israel within the bounds of Western culture, that intellectual reflex is anachronistic. That the West owes much to those cultures is certain, just as it is certain the West owes much to the mathematicians and natural philosophers of the Near and Far East. But were any Westerner to journey back to any of those cultures, she would surely find it exotic and alien. For example, the Greece we identify with elegant white temples is a dead Greece. In the days when those temples hosted the ceremonies and celebrants of a living religion they were painted in strong contrasting colors (Gombrich, 1951, p. 63). The contrast between pure white, on the one hand, and on the other, vivid blues and reds and yellows, is surely both a metaphor and a metonymy for the difference between ancient Greece considered as a Western nation and Greece as it actually was lived. Western culture originated in the cross-cultural flux of people, ideas, and attitudes in and between Europe and the Near East from the twelfth century through the European Renaissance. But the emergence of Western culture was not a priori inevitable and we should not pretend that it was by so casually assuming that Greece, Rome, and Israel were Western nations. Some of their culture traits survived in the West, and many did not [27].

The Renaissance fixes the boundary at the beginning of Western culture, with its emotional repression and its correspondingly ambivalent interaction with Africa. What begins in time must also end in time. Western culture began to disperse at the turn of this century while simultaneously African America began driving the 20th Century Blues Unlimited into the forefront of cultural evolution.

While we continue to refer to modern physics, astronomy, chemistry, and biology as sciences, those disciplines have a theoretical and experimental style which differs as much from seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth century practice as that classical style differed from the natural philosophy which preceded it (Benzon and Hays, 1990b). Science continues, but the most advanced theorizing and experimentation is more sophisticated in kind and deserves a different name--one, I might add, more felicitous than a prefixed mongrel like "post-science." Similarly, the expressive regime of Western capital "A" Art--classical music, realistic painting and sculpture, the novel, and so forth--began to collapse at the turn of the century (Hays, 1992, Benzon, 1993a, Benzon, 1993b) with the most adventuresome workers seeking new forms. Political and economic institutions continue, but they are under great stress.

Even as the West is dying, post-Western culture is emerging and we are living, some even thriving, in it. Post-scientific thought, in physics, astronomy, chemistry, and biology, not to mention computing and other fields, is, by definition, post-Western. To think of it any other way is to misunderstand the course and nature of cultural evolution. With musicians--and athletes, dancers and preachers as well--as its unacknowledged legislators, the African-American blues train and its various crosses, with European America, Europe itself, Asia and Latin America, and Africa itself, is of an era following Western domination of world history. These emerging cultures have strong African roots, but they are no more African than Western culture has been Greek, Roman, or Hebrew. They also have strong European roots. They are hybrids. Neither African nor European, they are emerging to sing and dance the united states of the blues on the new savanna of the 21st century.


1. This essay is a revision of "The United States of the Blues: On the Crossing of African and European Cultures in the 20th Century," Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems 16 (4) : 401-438, 1993.

One of the difficulties of writing this piece is that I have had to refer to African and European Americans as though they were and are clearly distinct and more or less internally homogeneous groups. In fact, of course, the boundaries are not clear and there are significant regional, class and ethnic differences within these two broad groups. Still, so much about American society and culture has depended on the destructive fiction that black is black and white is white that I have reasonable confidence that the my argument can serve as a useful reference point for studies which incorporate a realistic demographic diversity. I should also note that I do not assume that all white folks are racist, or that black folks automatically acquire some mysterious moral virtue because they have been racially oppressed. [Back]

2. For an enumeration of the various genres of African-American music, see Berendt (1975, p. 5), Keil (1966, pp. 217-224), Maultsby (1990, p. 186). For more recent genres, you can consult George (1988, 1992). [Back]

3. It is worth noting that Beethoven notated these rhythms using time signatures he did not use in any other of his some thirty-odd piano sonatas, a fact which underlines how exceptional these rhythms are in classical music. The Arietta consists of a theme, five variations, and a coda. The theme and first variation are written in 9/16 time; the second variation is in 6/16, the third in 12/32, and the remaining variations and coda are in 9/16. The second and especially the third variations are the jazziest. [Back]

4. Harold Schonberg (1967, p. 357) notes that Bernstein's podium choreography was a source of contention. In an interview with Tim Page (1992, pp. 124-125), Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg expressed irritation at "the implication that I sat around with my publicity agent and decided to play the way I do to attract attention. Do they think this is a joke? . . . And I've tried to play the violin without any facial expressions. I did a whole concert last year . . . and I spent the whole time concentrating on keeping my face straight. And I heard a tape of the concert afterwards, and it sounded as if I'd gone to sleep."

Expressive body movement is intrinsic to African musical performance (Blacking, 1974, pp. 109-111, Wilson, 1990, p. 29) and certainly remains in African-American performance. Given that Bernstein liked both jazz and rock, and that Salerno-Sonnenberg went to a Philadelphia school where she was one of only two white girls (Epstein, 1987, p. 85), is it possible that these classical performers have assimilated a measure of African style? [Back]

5. The literature on jazz has many comparisons between jazz and classical music--and other musics as well. But I don't know that a full comparison has been assembled in one place. Schuller (1968, pp. 6-66) and Dankworth (1968, 3-45) provide useful summaries of jazz practice with respect to rhythm, melody, harmony, timbre, form, and improvisation; those are the things which need to be compared with classical practice. Andre Hodier's (1956, pp. 139-157) discussion of "Melody in Jazz" is the best place to start making the comparison explicit; other chapters in the same book are useful as well (chapters 3, 10, 12, and 14). Paul Berliner's (1995) Thinking in Jazz is the best account of jazz improvisation by far. Erich Neumann's (1986) study of improvisation in Mozart is a useful point of entry to the study of classical improvisational practice. My essay on "Stages in the Evolution of Music" (1993) sketches a general comparative framework for understanding levels of musical sophistication and situates both jazz and classical music in it. [Back]

6. I'm in no position to offer an explicit account of how bop jazz and classical music achieve epiphanies. But I am willing to offer some speculation which gets part of the way there. My speculation begins with the common observation that music is much like mathematics; you take a small number of well chosen rules and procedures and use them to create elaborate and sophisticated structures. These rules and procedures belong to what David Hays has called gnomonic structure (1992, p. 199; cf. Benzon and Hays, 1988, pp. 308-312, Benzon, 1981, pp. 252-256). The gnomonic rules are not linked to time and space. When enacted, however, those rules can generate complex structures of episodes, and the episodes do unfold in time. The note by note sequence of a performance is enacted by episodic structures.

To understand a performance in its totality you need mentally to recreate the particular gnomonic rules and procedures which generated that performance (cf. Hays, 1992, Benzon, 1993b). To understand what is going on note by note, moment by moment, you need to empathetically enact the episodic process which generates the notes. If the performance was improvised, then you need to recreate the improviser's procedures. If the performance was based on a composed text, then you need to recreate the composer's procedures.

It is my impression--I have no explicit quantitative evidence--that, minute by minute, bop improvisation (and later) tends to be denser in texture, less redundant, than most classical music. The rhythm is very active and has a more deeply branching phrase structure, to borrow a concept from linguistics, than a classical line of similar duration. The melodic lines tend to be angular and irregular, and the interaction between the soloist and the accompaniment is very rich. Classical compositions may often have a greater number of distinctly different voices playing at a time, but, in the small scale, the individual lines and their interaction tend to be more regular and predictable than jazz improvisations. The upshot of this--and here the speculation quotient is even higher--is that a seven-minute bop performance may well make information processing demands comparable to those of a somewhat longer classical composition.

We have experimental evidence that our sense of temporal duration depends, not on what happens during a given interval, but on how much storage space we devote to the memory of what happened in that interval (Ornstein, 1969). In particular our sense of duration for an interval can decrease if, after that interval, we learn a more efficient way to encode that experience in memory.

Let's return to the listener trying to understand a musical performance. The listener is listening to the unfolding structure of musical episodes and trying to infer the gnomonic rules on which the music is based. That inference cannot be complete until the last note. At that time the listener can "erase" all that he or she remembers of the elaborate episodic structure and replace it with the considerably more compact gnomonic structure. A considerable temporal duration has must been collapsed into a small one; in effect, the experience has been outside time. Improvisation and composition are two ways of achieving this.

Even granting provisional validity to this speculation, this temporal collapse does not quite add up to reorganizational epiphany. Even more speculation is required--though experimentally verified fact would be better. The overall point of this argument is simply to suggest a way we can begin to understand that composition and improvisation are different means to the similar expressive ends. [Back]

7. Leonard Bernstein talked of completely forgetting "who you are or where you are and you write the piece right there . You just make it up as though you never heard it before . . . I always know when such a thing has happened because it takes so long to come back. It takes four or five minutes to know what city I'm in, who the orchestra is, who are the people making all that noise behind me, who am I? It's a very great experience and it doesn't happen often enough" (Epstein, 1987, p. 52). Karen Chester (personal communication), who currently produces Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg's recordings tells me that Salerno-Sonnenberg sometimes gets similarly lost in her playing. The jazz musician Ira Sullivan said "I feel that I'm at my best when I can free myself completely from the effort of trying to put something out and feel more like I am the instrument being played--like opening the channel to God, or whatever it is. I suddenly get the feeling that I'm standing next to myself, but I'm not thinking that this is me playing" (Spitzer, 1972, p. 14). Jenny Boyd (1972, pp. 157-186) has collected a number of anecdotes, mostly from rock musicians, and Mickey Hart (1990) tells anecdotes about drumming and ecstasy. My own experience indicates that these various anecdotes, however interesting, lack descriptive nuance. These experiences are difficult to talk about, but we can do better. A systematic set of interviews with a variety of musicians--different styles and levels of accomplishment--and with attention to detail would be very illuminating. [Back]

8. I have some direct experience on the relationship between high-tech improvisatory management style and rock and roll. In the early 90s I spent two years writing technical documentation for MapInfo, Corp., which makes software for analytic mapping. Sean O'Sullivan, one of the young founders and formerly chairman of the board, would end many of his electronic mail communications with an exhortation to "rock and roll." Half a year after I left, he resigned to pursue a career in rock and roll. To accommodate to its rapid growth MapInfo revised its management structure at least two times in the two years I was employed there. Change was explicitly recognized as being essential to survival. [Back]

9. When I originally wrote this section I had imagined, for example, that there was an "improvisational" philosophy still to be created, one which might well avoid the problems faced by current philosophy. Since then I have been reading Cornel West's (1989) history of pragmatism and suspect that pragmatism might well be that philosophy, or at least it may be the beginnings of that philosophy. If so, that suggests an interesting visual metaphor for the symbolic stratum of American culture. Imagine a double-helix--the structural form of DNA--in which one strand is jazz and the other pragmatism. Just what are the links connecting the two strands? [Back]

10. Such a social mechanism hasn't existed in all societies where whites have dominated blacks. European culture has mixed with African culture elsewhere, particularly the Caribbean and Latin America, but not so fruitfully; this difference requires an explanation. The music of the Caribbean and South America has been strongly influenced by African rhythm; in fact, African rhythms survive there in purer form than they have in North America, presumably because the drum wasn't banished there as it was in North America. But Latin American has not produced a musical culture as fecund and sophisticated as jazz (Murray, 1976, p. 63; Crouch, 1990b, p. 79). Significantly, Latin America has not been as intensely racist as the United States (Fredrickson,1988, pp. 189-205). Without intense racism, the socio-cultural mechanism I describe wouldn't function.

Fredrickson has attributed this difference between British North America and South America to the fact that, unlike Britain, Spain and Portugal were essentially feudal societies--in terms of the theory of cultural ranks (Benzon and Hays, 1990) Britain was an emerging Rank 3 culture while Spain and Portugal were still Rank 2. In his view, the feudal mentality could easily accommodate a wide range of social statuses, with slaves merely being at the bottom. The British, however, were moving toward a capitalist system in which there was a wide gulf between the industrious and "worthy" middle class, and a "worthless" lower class. Belief in a radical difference between black slaves and whites gave lower-class whites a scapegoat for the feelings of inferiority produced by this work ethic while, at the same time, the egalitarian milieu of North America forced the Southern aristocracy and white middle and lower class to seek solidarity in their mutual difference from black slaves (cf. remarks by Kenneth Clark in Terkel, 1992, pp. 334-338). [Back]

11. I am certainly in no position to explain why Du Bois did not elaborate on the connections he saw between psychoanalytic theory and racism; however, since I fear that many other intellectuals have similar misgivings, I want to think about the matter. A recent remark by Charles Keil may provide a clue. The remark is a brief note which Keil originally wrote to Steven Feld in response to a long letter in which Feld discussed issues of sexuality, personal tragedy, and racism which occurred to him while thinking about the music of Aretha Franklin. Keil says to Feld, "I really appreciate the candor, the courage to jump into the song and sexuality issues that I've been afraid to write about too!...Maybe we should get together a group and try to think-talk our way through issues that are too weird and threatening to handle in scholarly or meditative isolation" (published in Keil and Feld, 1994, p. 223). Keil simply found these issues too anxiety-provoking to write about; perhaps Du Bois felt the same way. One cannot do effective intellectual work in a state of continuous and strong emotional arousal or anxiety. Where the subject matter provokes a strong emotional reaction, you must develop conceptual strategies which allow you to keep in touch with the subject matter while providing the detachment necessary for thought. It is a difficult balancing act.

However much the link between sexuality and racism has been neglected by intellectuals, it has been intensely studied by writers in such works as Richard Wright's Native Son , William Faulkner's A Light in August , Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man , Ishmael Reed's Flight to Canada , E.M. Forster's A Passage to India , and Jean Genet's play The Screens. [Back]

12. It would be a mistake, however, simply to view racism as individual psychopathology. As Elisabeth Young-Bruehl has observed (1996, p. 32), "many people have prejudices instead of the conventional forms of various pathologies, somewhat as people have perversions instead of neuroses if they act on their forbidden desires rather than repressing them." Psychopathology generally makes it more difficult for people to interact with others in ways which meet their needs. This is not generally the case with racists. On the contrary, their racist actions make it easier for them to interact with individuals in their own group , other racists, by displacing or projecting conflicts onto the objects of their racism. Racism is a social mechanism which allows individuals to deal with psychological conflicts in ways which do not threaten the group. [Back]

13. Lynchings were sporadic eruptions. While there were 156 lynchings in the peak year of 1892 (Williamson, p. 117), these were dispersed over a wide geographic area; lynchings would be relatively infrequent in each local community. Thus they are fine for an occasional quick and intense communal release; but lynchings would not alone be able to vent the pressure of continuous emotional repression. The institution of patrol, which began in the seventeenth century and continued into the nineteenth, is a different matter. It involved continual policing of blacks by white men (Williamson, pp. 18-19). By the nineteenth century many able-bodied Southern white men were obligated to spend some of their time, week by week, patrolling the streets and roads at night to see that blacks were in their proper place. Patrols had the power to judge and punish infractions. Such continued vigilance would provide a continuously available way of working off repressed impulses. [Back]

14. In her biography of Josephine Baker, Phyllis Rose contrasts European exoticism with American racism (1989: 44): "Exoticism is frivolous, hangs out at nightclubs, will pay anything to have the black singer or pianist sit at its table. Racism is like a poor kid who grew up needing someone to hurt. . . . The racist is hedged around by dangers, the exoticism by used-up toys." What she means by exoticism is thus similar to what I mean in talking about the Cotton Club as a scene of racism. Whatever qualms I have about her term--I think talking about "exoticism" makes it a little too easy to lose sight of the fact that it is a form of racism, depending on the underlying psychodynamics of racism--her general discussion is an excellent one. [Back]

15. I offer the segregated nightclub and the lynching mostly as metaphors, each indicating a particular pattern of racist socio-cultural action. I find them to be useful conceptual tools, ways of summarizing two different complexes of attitudes and mechanisms, each conditioned by racism. But what is the underlying difference between these two scenarios, what is it that causes them to be different? One possibility is that the nightclub and the lynching are structured by two different kinds of racism. As the lynchings were mostly in the South while the nightclubs were in the urban North, perhaps Joel Kovel's (1984) distinction between (Southern) dominative and (Northern) aversive racism applies. We might also want to think about Elisabeth Young-Bruehl's (1996) distinction between ethnocentric prejudice (the nightclub?) and an ideology of desire (the lynching?). [Back]

16. Krin Gabbard (1995) has an essay on Spike Lee's Mo' Better Blues which is worth reading in this context. He points out that, in general, trumpet players in jazz movies generally have their musical wings clipped, as it were, before they end the movie easing into domestic bliss. [Back]

17. The publication of Herskovitz's book did not, however, end the idea that whatever culture African Americans had was, on the one hand, a response to poverty and oppression, and, on the other, taken over from white America. When Nathan Glazer and Patrick Moynihan published their classic Beyond the Melting Pot: The Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians, and Irish of New York City (1963), they credited the Jews with Broadway (p. 174) and the Puerto Ricans with Pablo Casals and "a passion for music and dancing" (pp. 129-130). That New York City was also the jazz capital of the world was never mentioned. When Charles Silberman published his 1964 Crisis in Black and White he was able to state definitively that "the Negro has been completely stripped of his past and severed from any culture save that of the United States" (p. 109, cf. pp. 167, 185). For recent review of some of the debate about African origins, see Holloway (1990, pp. ix-xiii) and Philips (1990, pp. 225-228). [Back]

18. While New Orleans is certainly the geographical focal point for the cultural mixing which produced jazz (Blassingame, 1979, pp. 36 ff.; Buerkle and Barker, 1973; Chase, 1966, pp. 301-314; Collier, 1978; Hobsbawm, 1993, Ventura, 1987a, pp. 36-42), it is certainly not the only city where blacks created a distinctively African-American music. Ross Russell (1971) makes a strong case for the independent creativity of Kansas City while Scott Brown's (1986) biography of James P. Johnson chronicles the role of New York City as an incubator of black piano virtuosity. [Back]

19. Of course, this secularization of church music and its use for social dancing is not universally accepted. As Albert Murray (1976, p. 139) has observed, many "condemn all the good-time slow dragging, belly rubbing, hip grinding, flirtatious strutting, shouting, and stomping expressly because they regard such movements as not only sinful acts, but sinful ceremony to boot, which they seem to be clearly convinced is even worse." [Back]

20. While I understand how black people can feel that white people have stolen their music, this issue requires a bit of analysis. Cultural practices are not like bars of gold that can have only one owner. If you steal my golden eggs, then I no longer have them; I have lost something. If you play my music, you haven't taken anything from me; I can still play my music. When whites play black music they are not thereby depriving blacks of that music. In this context, the only sensible attitude is that the achievements of any culture constitute the common heritage of the human race. One need not be an Englishman to benefit from Newton's physics, a Moslem to benefit from al-Khowarizm's mathematics, nor black to benefit from Louis Armstrong's music.

However, when whites claim to have invented jazz (cf. Collier, 1978, pp. 124 ff.; Peretti, 1992, pp. 71, 187 ff.)--that is a kind of theft. It isn't clear to me, however, that the phenomenon of second-string white musicians achieve greater prominence than first-string blacks always represents cultural theft. The white musicians get the prominence because the more numerious white audience prefers them. One can question white taste, but that taste isn't an agent of cultural theft. However, as Paul Levinson has pointed out to me, in the 1950s a number of radio stations refused to play black "race" music, prompting record companies to issue white "covers" of the black records. That appears to be a kind of theft.

This leads to a broader economic issue, one which, it seems to me, is deeper than the income disparity between prominent second-string white performers and less prominent first-string blacks. Consider whatever expressive arena you will--jazz, all of African-American music, all of African-American entertainment, art, and sports. Add up all the money consumers spend on tickets, cover charges, recordings, magazines, biographies, videotapes, etc. Divide this into two piles, money spent by blacks and money spent by whites. Now consider the money made by all involved in producing the music, or sports, whatever--fees and salaries for performers and managers, salaries for those in the media, and so forth. This sum should equal that which consumers put in to the business. Divide this amount into two piles, that made by whites and that made by blacks.

Now compare the money consumers put into the business with the money the producers take out. If black producers take out less than black consumers put in, then the result is a net transfer of wealth from the black community to the white. As I don't know whether anyone has actually made such a calculation, I can't say whether or not white society has been able to use black music, entertainment, and sports to impoverish the black community. But, if the calculation worked out in that way, that would surely be a most serious kind of cultural theft. I have unhappy suspicions about how this calculation would work out; though perhaps a decade-by-decade breakdown would show that, as blacks have gotten more control over their business affairs, the amount of theft has been going down. That's progress. [Back]

21. Charles Keil has recently speculated that the blues might not be as black as we think (Keil and Feld, pp. 198-200). The earliest blues recordings, made back in the teens, were made by whites; thus to the extent that those early recordings played a role in spreading the blues about, it was a white version that spread. It wasn't until about 1920 that we had extensive black blues recordings and it wasn't until the late 1920s that a black blues recording was a hit with blacks. If this speculation turns out to have merit, it might force some revision of Baraka's speculations about the origins of the blues. [Back]

22. I don't know exactly when Ellington gave this particular testimony, but I am sure that he gave it. The September, 1989 issue of down beat was an anniversary issue, with sections devoted to the 30s, 40s, etc. Each section contained pieces down beat printed in that year. The section for the thirties (p. 22) contained the story of Ellington's denial, but gave no publication information. [Back]

23. There have been and are very fine white jazz musicians--Jack Teagarden, Benny Goodman, Stan Getz, and Phil Woods come to mind. However, the primary innovators, the musicians who have made the deepest contribution to the language of jazz, have been overwhelmingly black. It is not clear why so few whites have made it to the top ranks, but two possibilities come to mind: 1) That no white musician can know the culture deeply enough to make a seminal contribution. 2) That white musicians have the option of going into classical music, an option effectively closed for blacks (cf. Harrington, 1992, pp. 228-234), and that is where the very best of them go. [Back]

24. One way to trace the links between the counter-culture of the sixties and the computer culture would be to follow the work of Stewart Brand, whose The Last Whole Earth Catalog published in 1971 quickly became something of a counter-culture bible. Brand published subsequent updates and established a quarterly magazine, The Coevolution Quarterly , which became The Whole Earth Review . In 1984 Brand published the Whole Earth Software Catalog , a guide to personal computing. More recently Brand (1987) wrote a book about MIT's Media Lab. More recently, Paul Levinson has reminded me, Brand had a role in founding Wired , a computer culture magazine with a graphic and verbal style deeply indebted to the sixties rock culture. Cyberpunk was defined by William Gibson's 1984 novel, Neuromancer (1984), in which video games meet reggae. The Mississippi Review devoted a special double issue to cyberpunk guest-edited by Larry McCaffery, Volume 16, numbers 2 and 3. For a brief chronology see Ravo and Cash (1993). David Porush has commented on cyberpunk's cultural and neural imperatives (1987, 1991). For a look at a journalistic fellow-traveller, pick up an issue of Wired , or better yet, of Mondo 2000 , which features garish art direction, guidance on "smart" drugs (i.e. drugs which are supposed to enhance mental performance) and digital media, and interviews. [Back]

25. This development certainly merits more attention than I am competent to give it. But I would like to offer some praise for Bill Cosby. Cosby's Huxtable family embodied widely shared values and aspirations which we might as well call The American Dream--interesting and remunerative careers for mother and father, attractive children, familial harmony, an elegant home and nice clothes all around. Previous African-American families on prime-time television were quite different. Fred Sanford (& Son) was a junkman living in the ghetto. George Jefferson (& family) was very successful, but also very insecure in the status attendant upon his material success. His insecurity may well be closer to reality than the Huxtables' easy self-assurance, but prime-time TV is mythology, not sociology. The myth is that everyone has a right to what the Huxtables have. That, by the way, these particular people are black, simply puts African-Americans at the center of this myth.

As a statement of the situation of black America The Cosby Show was certainly inadequate, and was criticized on that account (cf. Zoglin, 1987, p. 60, Gates, 1989, p. 40). But it is quite clear that Cosby never intended a full sociological treatment of contemporary African America. He was interested in mythologizing and, as mythologist, he was brilliant. As an example, consider the scene where, in honor of the forty-ninth wedding anniversary of Cliff's (played by Cosby) parents, the whole family performs to a record of Ray Charles' "Night Time is the Right Time." Cliff and his son Theo mime along with Ray's voice. Nice enough, and, from Cosby, some brilliant comic understatement. But the real focus is on the women and girls, who take the roles of the Raelets. All of them, from mother Claire to young Rudy, swing their hips and sing. The song's statement is very simple and basic: The night time, is the right time, to be with the one you love. And the way those ladies move makes it quite clear just why the night time is so right.

The attitude, the ethos, thus being expressed is absolutely scandalous in the context of conventional middle-class values. That children and grandchildren should honor their elders, yes that is fine. But such a performance is hardly an honorable one. We should remember that, thirty years ago, when Elvis took his swinging pelvis to the Ed Sullivan show, his motions were censored. Now the same movements appear on a wholesome family TV show as a gift from granddaughters to admiring and loving grandparents. Such a thing would have been shocking on those stalwarts of fifties television, Father Knows Best or Ozzie and Harriet .

Such stylish and easy sensuality was central to The Cosby Show . It was most consistently present in the way Cosby moved and talked, but the other members of the family showed it in varying degrees. It was also present, of course, in the music, which included Stevie Wonder, Frank Foster and the Count Basie Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington and John Coltrane (Cliff and Claire end one episode slow-slow-dancing to a recording of Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood"), Joe Williams (jazz singer who played Claire's father), and Art Blakey. This style is, in the cultural psychodynamics we've been tracing, both a racist stereotype and a viable and vibrant cultural style. As stereotype it appeared in the various low-life characters--pimps, hookers, pushers, hustlers, thieves, and so forth--to which African-Americans have generally been relegated in movies and TV. Cosby's genius is to move this style into the middle-class, away from stereotypical low-life characters. Not only is he saying "African-Americans can be middle-class" he is also saying that "The middle-class can be sexy." [Back]

26. While I think about musical sophistication as distinct levels of cultural rank, a theoretical approach I have developed with David Hays (Benzon and Hays, 1990b; Hays, 1992; Benzon, 1993b), in the interests of readers unfamiliar with that theory, I have avoided it in the body of the essay. For those familiar with that work, or interested in becoming familiar with it, here is my sense of how the various musical genres mentioned in this essay fit into that framework:

  • Rank 1, Basic Expression: traditional jazz, most blues, rhythm and blues, most rock, rap.
  • Rank 2, Entertainment: swing-era jazz; fusion; some blues; the polystylistic Ray Charles; some rock, including the Beatles starting with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band , Bob Dylan, the Jimi Hendrix of Electric Ladyland , Frank Zappa, the Greatful Dead, the Talking Heads; the Broadway musical; singers such as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand.
  • Rank 3, Art: European classical; bop, and modal jazz.
  • Rank 4, Beyond art, candidates: such jazz as the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the World Saxophone Quartet; minimalist classical.

This classification should be treated cautiously and it is certainly subject to criticism and revision, both in the basic theory and in the application of that theory to music. Note particularly that the common stylistic designators--jazz, blues, pop, etc.--do not line up precisely with cultural rank.

This scheme reveals that the most active crossing from African America to
European America took place at Ranks 1 and 2. It took a long time for Rank 3 European music to absorb African-American influence. When it finally did so, the result appears to be a music (minimalism) which has a foot in the next rank of cultural evolution. [Back]

27. Despite much vigorous criticism of Eurocentric accounts of history and of non-European peoples the notion that there is such as thing as Western culture has not been given much critical examination. "The West" is one essence which seems to have escaped current critiques of essentialism. Some preliminary steps toward such a critique can be found in James Clifford (1988, p. 272), Eric Wolf (1982, pp. 5-7), Marshall Hodgson (1993, pp. 6 ff, 255 ff), and in Cornel West's (1993c, pp. 120-121, 125) remarks on the concept of Europe. I have been much concerned about the biological metaphor implicit in talking about entities such as French culture, Samoan culture, or Western culture as though they were analogues to biological species and have concluded that this way of thinking is nonsense (Benzon, in press). [Back]


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This essay was written out of the conviction that the twentieth century owes as much to Daniel Louis Armstrong--aka Satchmo, Pops--as it does to Albert Einstein. I would like to dedicate it to Pops, to Rahsaan Roland Kirk and John Birks Gillespie, ambassadors from the United States of the Blues, and to Dave Dysert, who taught me jazz fundamentals. I am grateful to Ade Knowles and Druis Beasley Knowles for over a decade of fine music making, friendship, and conversation on these issues. Art Efron has been an example of a thinker who has been driven to make emotionally tough arguments out of a sense of decency and truth. Bruce Jackson taught me the importance of African-American narrative tradition and was the first to encourage me to put my trumpeter's mouth in my writer's fingers and say what I know about black music and American culture. David Porush back-stopped my judgment of Beethoven and made insightful comments about rap and technology. David Hays, Paul Levinson, Martha Mills, and Fabrice Ziolkowski gave the manuscript a critical reading. I remain chief repository of factual error, interpretive misjudgment, and signifying monkey-shines.

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