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Strata: Artist-controlled Music

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m i Strata Records has a rtew release. The simple fact of this statement is the result of a relatively complex history. You see, Detroit 's Strata Corporation, 1 974 edition, is only the a latest. most together incarnation of an idea which began to fire imaginations in the Fifties. Their existence is growing, a glowing response to the cultural rip-off of artists, and the lu communities which bear them, perpetrated for centuries by m the imperialists in power. Ron Knglish. guitarist with the CJQ and the Lyman Woodard Trio and president of the Allied Artists Association of 3 America AAAA), laid it all out on the table in au article oi iginally printed in Detroit's "Tribe" magazine -- "The mechanics of this rip-off are simple, and familiar: take the H young and gifted creators and performers out of the community, and ripoff sóme of the elements of their art; addict the population to the assembly-line "liits" that "keep on coming," each just like the other (because that way they're easier to grind out and "market", i.e., sell back to the people); actively discourage development and innovation by controlling the Communications media and keeping the money in the entertainment (financial) capitals of Hollywood and New York. (Quiet 3S its kept, that's who makes the big money - the companies and their financiers, not this year's starnext year's has-been.) Today, most record j companies catering to Black music are mere cogs in an enorI mous machine which is seeking (througli the technique mentioned above) to monopolize, cheapen and standardize a Black Culture so as to exploit it most widely and efficienti ly " The Strata Corporation and allied organizations mean to I turn all íhis around with a concerted self-determination p fort to control all the aspects of the creation, I ductíon and distribution of their art; I tablishing themselves at the s munity level, which is where the rip-off gin. Historically according ' to, Ron, Detroit has always had an advanced political scene although it was less politics and more a practical response to a lack of gigs during a time of creative ferment that led guitarist Kenny Burrell and other musicians to form the "Musidans Brotherhood" which ran the very successful World Stage during the late Fifties. Even then. however, an additional element was "fuck the clubowners. we can do it selves." Unfortunately, the jazz scène was soon to dry up. A lot of musicians left for New York where proverbially the grass is greener and it wasn't until John Sinclair, Charles Moore, and others instituted the non-profit, cooperative Artist Workshop, 1964-1966, that things got to brewing again. The Workshop was open to all artists. It was a place to exchange ideas and to créate in peace and was essentially an underground phenomenon. It thrived for that two-year span but slowly disintegrated after that because of a combination of pólice repression of the hip community (56 people arrested one nieht for possession of "narcotics"; all except John Sinclair released the next day) and the f act that a lot of the people who would naturally have supported the jazz scène, liad been seduced by the attractive lure of the Beatles instead. In 1 968 people anywhere with visible left leaning (and artists are always suspect) were feeling the effects of government repression. While life was grim on a day-to-day basis. Ron, who observed that jazz seems to flourish during bad times, asserted that there was a "flock of talent in town " at the time. A lot of this flock decided to stay and fight in Detroit rather than split for New York because eventually they found that it's the same fight everywhere. The members of the Contemporary Jazz Quintet, Ron, and others formed the Detroit Creative Musicians Associalion which sponsored Sunday afternoon concerts at the Detroit Ropa tory Theatre and the VFW Hall on the Wayne State campus. It was during this time that the CJQ recorded for Blue Note Records. They discovered that the specific production ideas they's brought to the session had to be iced. A good part of their threehour session time was used to learn the "Blue Note" sound, the rest to record what they'd been forced to learn. It was from this experience and others like it that Detroit musidans realized that the fieht indeed is, as Marx said. u get hold of the means of production. The DCMA folded due to a lack of organizationai sense but the s. . Sttata Corporation rose from their ashes in July ÓM969 with a much broader, clearer 'A cept of what they were about. Their purpose wasis: 1 ) To bring genuine economic stability to the artistic community; 2) To bring artistic integrity to those commercial endeavors perpetrated upon artistic talents; 3) To bring events of cultural relevence to uur contemporary community; and 4) To bring genuine communication and cohesión between the vari us art media by the joint production ot education of other art his awareness. Strata organized ihe events and projects, thereby bringing real forms to each artisan and an expression of Spangier -- drummer director, and tive producer. (He remains a in the organization to this day) "synergy Series" in 1970 with Bud with the CJQ, WDET-FM program conceded hale fellow -- as execuprinci- pal The Series was presented at the Detroit lnstitute of Art and engendered much good feeling. It was decided that tbr both the continued development of the music and tbr the stability of the organization for Strata to tliid a permanent Dlace of their own, and in the summer of 1970 they landed on Michigan Avenue, just west of Tiger Stadium. There, almost continuously for the next 18 months the Strata Concert Gallery brought to Detroit the best of both the national and local jazz scènes induding appearances by Herbie Hancock, McCoy Ty f ï J 1 r . _ a. I_ _ y-i f "v t r ncr, nowaru meas, tne . jy. anu Joe Henderson. And about three months after the move, encouraged by Strata's success. the lbo Cultural Center operted in northwest Detroit and the city found itself blessed with another ousjazz showcase. Ineredibiy, the Strata and the lbo each found themselves losirig money, frightening amounts of it, and on great groups. Ron attributes the poor turnouts to a number of factors not the least of which was the lack of visión and support of the record companies whose artists the Strata presented. The companies almost never came up with the cash to help promote "their" artists through the local media. Also, as concerns those media, there seemedseems to be what ounts to institutional racism crippling their ability to discover - and support indigenous, albeit countercultural, talent. For example, although there are "classical" music concert reviewers and art show reviewers, there isn'í a single person working for either majw or newspaper who regularly, or even sporadically, covers fazz events. (Which partially explains why, by the way, alternative papers like The Ann Arbor SUN or the Fifth Estáte in De' troit spring up). Meanwhile, back on Michigan Avenue, about Christmas 197 1 , the furnace blew up and the building had to be vacated just as Strata was recovering from their financial reverses. WhJle they were looking for a new home, the musicians and friends involved with Strata slightly changed their strategy concerning the implementation of the previously-stated purpose and the non-profit A A AA was formed. With financial help from the Michigan Council of the Arts. the A4 began to present concerts at the new Strata Concert Gallery, 46 Selden Street, just off the Wayne State Campus. The Strat Corporation began to concéntrate on publishing, production, and records. And today, in 1974, the Strata Corporation has effected a beachhead with the establishment of a permanent gallery and a 3-way cooperative with Rainbow Multi-Media and ■ fly Productions (whose 16-track mobile recording unit - the same one used to record The Concert for Bangla-Desh and JCOA's Escaltor Over The Hill ■■ will be kicking out Strata Records fall release) that means the continued realization of purpose No. 4 - affiliation with similarly-oriented groups; organizations dedicated to artistic integrity and commercial autonomy. All of this activity represents the most advanced, complete, cultural self-determination effort in the country, because the Strata Corp.. unlike, sav Grateful Dead Records, controlsa the aspects o(thet production of their art, including distribution Consider also that the joint efforts of Strata and RMM produced the opening of "The Rainbow Room" in the Shelby Hotel in Detroit, where every Sunday 'Today most record companies catering to Black music are mere cogs in an enormous machine which is seeking to monopolize, cheapen, and standardize Black Culture so as to exploit it most widely and efficiently. The Strata Corporation means to turn all this around with a selfdetermination effort to control all the aspects of the creation, production and distribution of their art. ' ' Strata conti nued f rom page 19 aftemoon will be featured the best of Detroit's indigenous blues, jazz, rock musicians and poets and, on the regular nights, the likes of Charles Mingus, who was in town June 26-29, and Luther Allison who appears July 10-13. See you there.