Maybe it was meant for me to read this interview. A few days ago, I stumbled across an interview late tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon did with DownBeat magazine in 1972. Gordon had just won the DownBeat Critics Poll (which is indeed an auspicious honor in jazz) and he was speaking with a reporter about what the honor meant to him as well as about his experience living in Europe.
The end of the interview really caught me off guard because it just so happens to touch on the exact subject matter that has been causing controversy within various parts of the jazz community.
Here is exactly what was said at the end of the DownBeat interview:
JA: What do you prefer to call your music—jazz or black music?
DG: “What I’m doing—I prefer to call that jazz, because to me it’s not a dirty word. To me, it is a beautiful word—I love it. And, I mean, if I were to call it black music that would be untrue, because there are a lot of other influences in there. In jazz, there is a lot of European influence harmonically. Many of the harmonic structures of bebop come from Stravinsky, from Handel and Bartók, so to say “black music”—I don’t know what that is, unless it would be some African drums or something.”
As soon as I read those words, I thought “What a great way to sum up exactly how I feel about the word jazz and Black American Music.”
For those who have not heard about the whole #BAM issue, jazz trumpeter Nicholas Payton wrote a controversial blog post last November explaining why the word jazz is racist terminology and why the word “Black American Music” or #BAM should be used in place of jazz. (Check out my blog post for a more in depth discussion about it)
As expected, the blog post turned into an ongoing debate that has not yet ceased, but has continued to stir up conversations as well as arguments regarding the racial correlation to jazz music.
As I stated in my previous post about the issue, jazz is just a word; we should move past the racial connection to the genre, and instead accept the fact that this music is composed of many ethnic facets, not just by African Americans.
It”s easy to blame Payton for the whole racial debate about music,but in actuality, this issue is hardly new. It has been going on for years, ever since the genre was created! As you can see from Gordon’s interview, he was fully clear on his opinion about the matter.
This issue of whether the word jazz is racist even got me all fired up and ready to discuss the issue whenever its mentioned. Even though I may not agree with Payton’s position about jazz, I am glad this discussion is continuing to be viewed from a critical perspective. It has caused me to dig deeper into the lens of jazz and look for answers regarding the foundation of the word and its connection to various cultures.
Stay tuned for more discussions about # BAM….and maybe even an interview with Mr. Payton himself.
Click here to read the entire Dexter Gordon interview from DownBeat.
Discussions about BAM
- All that BAM(the Nicholas Payton profile, by Doug Fischer)
- Video Interview with Nicholas Payton
- Nicholas Payton plays BAM, not Jazz