Alex the musician breaks it down for the bohos in The Cry of Jazz
Ed Bland died on March 14 at 86. Here’s a piece from Dangerous Minds’ archives by Ron Nachman on Mr. Bland’s legendary short film The Cry Of Jazz.
With the supposed “national conversation on race” now devolved into a debate about who’s allowed to use the N-word, it’s instructive to have a look at Chicago musician and historian Ed Bland’s 1959 film polemic The Cry of Jazz.
Co-written by Bland alongside urban planner Nelam Hill, novelist Mark Kennedy, and mathematician Eugene Titus, the half-hour-long Cry… is fashioned as an impromptu lecture by jazz musician Alex (backed by two fellow male African-American friends) to two male and two female white bohemians lingering after a jazz appreciation salon. Cut in to the lecture is footage of both Chicago inner-city life at the time, and early performances by Sun Ra and his Arkestra. As you’ll see below, the conversation—though generally civil and high-minded—gets frank and heated in a way that few would imagine it did back in the day.
In his recent introduction to a screening of the film, critic Armond White contends that Cry of Jazz has been “lost” because it’s retained its provocativeness. He also contended that it was a response to the romanticism of Norman Mailer’s essay “The White Negro” and a dramatized snapshot of the “tension and fractiousness” inside the bohemian community of the time.
Jazz is dead because the experience and suffering of American life on the Negro have to die. The spirit of jazz is alive because the Negro’s spirit must endure.
—Alex, from The Cry of Jazz
In strictly musical terms, Bland’s pronouncement of the death of jazz is both trenchant and puzzling. In one way, it seems literally true—the year 1959 saw the passing of Sidney Bechet, alongside the deaths under more tragic circumstances of Lester “Prez” Young and Billie Holiday. But Bland’s death warrant is also rather undercut by the release that year of canonic albums like John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, and—ironically enough—Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come.
“Jazz is dead because the experience and suffering of American life on the Negro have to die,” says the Alex character. “The spirit of jazz is alive because the Negro’s spirit must endure.” With the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Little Rock in the background and the Woolworth sit-ins and Civil Rights Act in the offing, Bland outlines key sono-sociological points that would inform the freedom principle behind the soundtrack of both the civil rights and black power struggles.
Through melodic improvisation and the ever-present conflict in rhythm, the Negro makes an artform that insists on a deification of the present, and which—among other things—is an unconscious holding action until he is also master of his future.
—Alex, from The Cry of Jazz
There are tons of other highly memorable quotes in The Cry of Jazz. Do yourself a favor and check out this little-known but significant piece.
The Tea party, that supposedly populist political movement who never saw a tax cut for a billionaire it didn’t like BECAUSE FREEDOM, doesn’t really seem to quite “get” pop culture, even as they try desperately to emulate it, in ham-fisted efforts to appear hip.
Take for instance, Tea Party Patriots: A Movement On Fire! an odd exercise in far right, endtimes-themed agitprop that was screened at the recent conservative Republican confab, CPAC. The clip is a slickly produced, but paranoiac nod to both V for Vendetta and The Hunger Games that seems to be advocating for a decidedly non-democratic overthrow of the government. I picture inbred morons with Mountain Dew mouth watching and thinking “I would totally do that… if I could just lift myself off this couch…”
What “side” do these fucking planks pretend to themselves that they’re on, anyways?!?! Imagine what these folks would do if they were able to “take back” their country…
In The Hunger Games, the 1% live in obscene, preposterous luxury while the miserable proles are forced to work themselves to death and if they’re really unlucky, they get to participate in a spectator sport reality show (Sound like any country you know of, or maybe live in?). I don’t really think the Tea Party Patriots see themselves the same way that others see them, do you?
Heroes or zeroes, this is how the Teahadists are trying to appeal to young people. Imagine the flies this shit will attract! Superb!
FUN FACT: In 2011, Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler was arrested at LaGuardia Airport in New York and charged with criminal possession of a weapon when he presented a Delta Airlines agent with his Glock!
Ultimately, the thing that Tea Party Patriots: A Movement On Fire! reminded me of was this brilliant sketch from That Mitchell and Webb Look:
Since he was so often forced to finance his own work, Orson Welles was a man who didn’t tend to turn down a lot of paying gigs, even if that saw the storied director of Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons participating in utterly embarrassing shit that was way beneath his dignity. How else to explain The Late, Great Planet Earth and Nostradamus: The Man Who Saw Tomorrow, films that aren’t even mentioned on his IMDB page?
But certainly a career lowpoint was reached in 1978 when the deep-voiced Paul Masson wine spokesman hosted Caesars Guide To Gaming with Orson Welles, an industrial film for Caesars Palace, where one of Hollywood’s greatest cinematic geniuses provides tips and insights into playing blackjack, roulette, craps, baccarat, and even slot machines, for prospective guests of the hotel casino. Orson Welles and Caesars Palace, what could be classier?
In one of her very few televised appearances, Nico performs “You Forget to Answer” on French TV’s POP2 program in 1972. The songs’s cryptic lyrics convey the despair the avant garde ice queen felt over hearing of the death of her former lover Jim Morrison and how she was unable to reach him by phone on the day he died. It would eventually appear on her 1974 album The End, which takes its title, of course, from her infamously doomy cover of the already infamously doomy Doors’ original.
Talk about low budget, it looks like they’ve got her singing in a rec room or something, here, but still, once she gets started, it’s like she blots outs everything else and pulls this remarkable, spine-tingling black musical shadow from deep within her desolate junkie soul.
In case it passed you by, last November Universal Music Group put out an expanded 2 CD edition of The End and it sounds a lot better than the old CD does (comparing the two, it sounds like the earlier “budget” disc that Island put out in 1994 wasn’t even mastered for CD). I’ve gotten massively into this album over the past few months, playing it from start to finish on headphones in the darkness (the way it was obviously meant to heard) dozens of times.
Produced and arranged by John Cale and featuring Brian Eno (doing some astonishing things on his VCS3 synthesizer) and Phil Mananzera, The End is clearly not for everybody—or even most, or even many, people when you get right down to it—but to my ears, the new deluxe set, with outtakes, OGWT performances (audio only), Peel sessions and her controversial take on “Das Lied Der Deutschen” from the June 1st, 1974 concert (If Jimi Hendrix could play “The Star Spangled Banner,” why couldn’t Nico perform the German national anthem?) makes for one of the most satisfying releases of the past 12 months.
Below, Dangerous Minds pal Danny Fields tells the “meet cute” story of how he introduced Nico and the Lizard King at The Castle in Los Angeles.
One of the most influential bands ever to come out of the Eastern Bloc, Hungary’s legendary Omega have been at it since 1962, the same year the Rolling Stones first got together. Give or take a couple of early members departing and a period of inactivity during 1987-1994, they are one of the longest-running acts in rock history and with one of the most stable line-ups.
Omega’s sound has obviously changed over their five decades, travelling light years from their early Beatles-influenced pop songs towards something kinda like early Status Quo fuzz box guitar meets the Moody Blues classical rock (or sometimes like a Slavic version of schlager), then a prog rock sound in the 70s that gave way to harder rocking wail (and even disco) by later in that decade. The 1980s saw them develop a spacerock thing that continues to be their signature sound.
Since Omega recorded songs in both magyar and in English, and regularly toured in England and Germany (The Scorpions are known to be big fans) they are one of the most popular groups to originate from the Communist bloc.
In any case, it’s more Omega’s early material that I like the best, so that’s what I’m going to post here. I hadn’t thought about this band in years until one of our readers, Kjirsten Winters, reminded me of them. I was shocked by how many amazing vintage clips of this band exist. Feast your eyes and ears on Omega…
Start with the mind-bending “Tékozló fiúk” (“Prodigal Sons”) from 1969. Play it LOUD!