African Rhythms: The Autobiography of Randy Weston
Composed by Randy Weston
Arranged by Willard Jenkins
Bob Shingleton of On An Overgrown Path writes:
What a difference two words make - http://goo.gl/gd9ao6
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
What a difference two words make
What does "under-represented" mean in this context? Because some minority group doesn't have "representation" in some profession it's assumed to be evil? Perhaps it's simply not part of the culture and it is a self-selecting group. After all, "classical" music is male in origin and culture, so why should there be a lot of women "represented"?
It is disturbing that a comment like that should be made in 2016, even if such sentiments are now - quite rightly - greeted with vociferous protests and Twitter firestorms. That comment was added to a recent Overgrown Path post, but clarification is needed. I have changed two words, and the comment greeted with neither vociferous protests nor a Twitter firestorm. Here is the original wording:
What does "under-represented" mean in this context? Because some minority group doesn't have "representation" in some profession it's assumed to be evil? Perhaps it's simply not part of the culture and it is a self-selecting group. After all, "classical" music is European in origin and culture, so why should there be a lot of blacks "represented"?
Philip Amos was one of just three diehard readers who responded to that affront, and in his response Philip drew attention to how jazz has successfully integrated musicians of all colours. In African Rhythms, the autobiography of the African American jazz pianist and composer Randy Weston, there is evidence of that integration. Randy Weston describes how colours and music genres mixed in the Berkshires in the 1950s when his jazz trio was resident at the Music Inn resort and played to an audience that included Leonard Bernstein and musicians from the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The trio's bassist was the African American musician Sam Gill, who went on to become principal bassist for the Denver Symphony; on his retirement in 2007 he was thought to be the longest-tenured black musician in a major symphony orchestra. In African Rhythms Sam Gill recalls how at the Music Inn:
The classical musicians who were in residence up in the Berkshires during that time also heard something different in Randy. There was one man I remember, an Italian composer, [BS - Luigi Dallapiccola?] who used to come to hear us every night and just marvel at Randy. He would say, "That reminds me of Ravel".
As well as giving a tantalising glimpse of those golden summers in the Berkshires, Randy Weston's memoir tells it like it is, describing the head of a record label in these words:
He was one of those guys you find in the record business who are all too typical: the big smile, the warm personality, and the total lack of artistic sincerity; they hug you one moment and profess their undying love for you and your music, the next moment they dip into your pocket.
But it is the potent mix of pride in being black and anger at endemic racism that makes Randy Weston's autobiography such a powerful read. Largely due to committed activism, the discrimination against women in classical music is, thankfully, disappearing. But let's not fall into the trap of thinking that balancing the male/female ratio is the only equality related challenge facing the art form. As John - one Grammy, no orchestra - McLaughlin Williams explains in his robust response to the comment that started this post:
While there aren't explicit racial obstacles to participation by minorities (any more, that is), in practice the same old barriers are still in place; they just aren't acknowledged publicly. I know so many absurdly talented black classical musicians, many of whom function artistically at the highest levels of manifest accomplishment.
So let's widen the target for the vociferous protests and Twitter firestorms. Because rightful pride comes in many different forms, as Randy Weston explains so eloquently in the introduction to African Rhythms:
My very existence dictates that before the importance of music in my life comes pride as a black man; even if I didn't play music I'd still be fighting and striving for black people. Music has been a way for me to convey that struggle; I've been blessed, gifted by the Creator with the power of music. But before the music came tremendous pride, coupled with anger at what racism has done to my people. That foundation of dignity and strength comes from growing up in a segregated, racist society; growing up alongside people who were considered a "minority." I was endowed with the belief that "I know that no man is better than me," so as a result I grew up spiritual but irate at our collective condition as a people...
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