Rewind: “Cry of Jazz” and Restrictions on Black Excellence


Watching Ed Bland‘s short film, Cry of Jazz, this morning reinforced how times have not changed much.

The 1958 controversial documentary-styled film sets on a discussion after a jazz club meeting and the discussions and arguments literally feel like deja vu – white dismissals of black cultural contributions, black suffering, black knowledge and black excellence while ignorantly appropriating (“taking away our souls”) productions of our cultures. This is viewed again as a form of progress, using a color-blindness and individualism approach as defenses.

Other important points from the film:

*Jazz, and black music in general, is based on the contradiction of freedom and restraint, like a stream trying to flow through the cracks of a big white dam.

*Part of Blackness in America is confronting a futureless future and a pastless past, and using music and “through glorifying the inherent joy and freedom of each [electric], present moment of  life,” to transform “America’s image of him into a transport of joy.” It is a constant recreation of the present through a constant creation of new ideas in limited space and denial of a past and future. (Basically our futures are not the same as other Western concepts of future; it is a recreation of the present, times outside of the linear views of past, present and future.)

*”If America had her way, time would vanish for the negro” through its erasing of our past and present atrocities erasing our future.

*Through our music, “we made a memory of our past and a promise of all to come.”

*There is a constant attempt to remove the black element in our music because that is the one well known space where we must be acknowledged.

*Black people need more room to tell our story; what we have is a genteel slavery where we are limited in the stories we can produce and show.

*America has a lack of foresight and is vampiric, materialistic, and cynical in order to feed its own empty void.

*Sun Ra is mentioned towards the end.

Source: AllHipHop

The arguments made in the film still are relevant today as we see in awards shows like The Grammys and The Oscars. Just read Jay Dodd‘s “Why I Will Never Want the ‘Same Love‘” and Brittney Cooper‘s post, “Macklemore’s useless apology: Grammys and the myth of meritocracy:

“But the myth of American progress cannot go forward without black folks occupying the space of the morally and politically retrograde. The cultural theorist and Duke University professor Sharon Patricia Holland argues in her book “The Erotic Life of Racism” that “those who order the world … make time” but “those animals and humans who are perceived as having no world-making effects merely occupy space.”  In other words, black folks merely take up space, but they are not ever able to move forward in time in the American cultural imaginary. Thus it is the movement of black cultural aesthetics onto the bodies of white folks – Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, and Robin Thicke — that reads as American racial progress. When black folks cry about appropriation or point out the ways in which we are being written out of the history of shit we entirely made possible, we are accused of being “stuck in the past,” unable to move forward in time.

This wholesale belief that white folks doing black shit equals progress is the first lie the 2014 Grammys told.

The second lie is like unto the first – namely that white folks have received these awards because of meritorious performance rather than racial privilege.”

I guess some things don’t change, huh?

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