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An Introduction To The Blues And Jazz Festival

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To this day, I'm not convinced that it wasn't as much divine intervention as blind luck that tripped me onto the black track that would roll me, slowly at first, then ever more surely, straight to the people and culture that gave birth to the music that I have listened to, and sung, and danced to, and loved ever since I first became aware of it.

Of course, I grew up in Detroit, a distinct advantage what with CKLW (co-sponsor of this year's Festival) and WKNR and other whistle-stops on the AM line constantly feeding us the strange, beautiful fruit of hometown heroes like Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Temptations, and The Supremes, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Jr. Walker and The All-Stars, and The Marvelettes. So that even as I wondered, in jr. high, would my school "go down" the way my friends said it would if "Negro" students were allowed to enroll, my body knew that the people who made this energetic, intelligent, thoroughly exciting music were all right.

In fact, it was at that point that I began to examine (and to reject) the culture I would naturally have inherited as a white boy in 20th century America. As LeRoi Jones, critic/playwright/author, has pointed out, "Music (art for that matter . . . or anything else if analyzed) summons and describes where its energies were gotten. The blinking lights and shiny heads, or the gray concrete and endless dreams. But the description is of a total environment." My youthful (intuitive) analysis was that black music and the culture it summoned and described was simply more humanistic, more life-affirming, than traditional Euro-American culture. It was Andy Williams versus Stevie Wonder at my house and it was no contest.

And a few years later, The Beatles and the Stones, Canned Heat, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, The Butterfield Blues Band. Janis with Big Brother and others would lead me directly back to the original blues genius whose tunes the rockers had covered. I had to find out who Chuck Berry was and what he, through the Beatles, meant when he admonished Beethoven to roll over and "dig these rhythm and blues." I began to investigate and knocked up on Little Richard and Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, Slim Harpo, and dozens of others. But this was all pretty much a journey through uncharted territory for me. You couldn't hear blues on the radio in Detroit (except for a brief period in '67-'68) and you didn't find the artists themselves appearing weekends at the Grande Ballroom or at big shows at Olympia.


Then one day, about the middle of my high school career, this strange kid walked into my Chemistry class whistling what he told me was a Charlie Parker tune. Jumpin' jazz music! I was in deep trouble. Who the hell was there who could tell me more about this great stuff? I managed to find out about "Jazz Today" with Bud Spangler on Detroit's Public Radio station, WDET-FM. But I repeat, it was mostly through my own random efforts at education and enlightenment that I learned, and I wonder to this day as to the nature of the forces that guided me.

All the foregoing is by way of pointing out what a miracle and a blessing, what a service, is the event you're now attending. The Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival 1974 presents as wide a slice as you'll find anywhere of the dazzling rainbow of music available to people on the planet today. See, Rainbow Multi-Media, which produces the Festival, realizes that it was no accident that one's way back to blues and forward to jazz was (and is) so difficult.

There are, of course, social/economic/political reasons for this. People working for the major record companies, radio personalities, rock critics, will tell you (if you challenge them) that pure blues or hard-blowing jazz is just too "far out" for people. That these musics (this music) have "no commercial potential." That you've got to give the people what they "want." This attitude betrays an arrogance and ignorance, a contempt not supported by fact. People simply can't get to music they never have the opportunity to hear. But bring the esoteric marvels of a Sun Ra to Ann Arbor and listen to the ecstatic crowd response preserved on the record of the 1972 edition of the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival (on Atlantic). At last year's Festival I watched as unknown/unheard giant after giant, Victoria Spivey to Count Basie to Ornette Coleman sent his/her love streaming out to the young audience only to receive it right back a thousandfold.

The real reason we don't hear enough Great Black Music in our towns is the white establishment's fear that we'll hear this music and never come back home quite the same to their schools and factories (what's the difference there?), their churches and society functions and their wars. "What if they gave a war and nobody came," right? Pat Boone's energy-drained, insipid version of Little Richard's maniacal "Tutti Frutti" back in 1956 was one of the first desperate lures illustrative of this fear. Even today we find the Osmonds pushed as a sickly antidote to the Jackson 5 and we're still not fooled. And the wave of outright repression and covert subversion we suffered in the late Sixties was the direct response of those in control to the ever-materializing possibility of the establishment of the vision we heard in song - towards a world where all the people in it would share in the collective control of the planet's resources and wealth and live in harmony and happiness.

The latest, most obvious attempt at repression was the Ann Arbor City Council's denial of a site for the Blues and Jazz Festival in the parent city. The Republican majority (six old white men who can't dance) who voted as a negative bloc realized that the successful presentation of an event of this nature, along with the dozens of other alternative institutions established in Ann Arbor they likewise don't support, lends credence to its organizers and contributes to unity in the progressive community, a community that is openly about the dissolution of reactionary, Republican control. Ironically, Republican hatefulness will turn against them in the end. The Blues and Jazz Festival's exile has precipitated RMM's association with CKLW (and with St. Clair Community College) which means the "validation" and dissemination of the beautiful message of blues and jazz music to more people, especially young people, than ever before possible.


Anyway, John Sinclair, poet/revolutionary and Creative Director of Rainbow Multi-Media, has written describing the source of various elements of the just-mentioned vision as based on Black Music "which has brought us to a black culture where we learned about the sense of community, of brotherhood and sisterhood, that black people had developed as a powerful survival technique during their generations of oppression. And we learned how music can be a first term in people's lives from them too, how a whole culture I can be built up on a strong musical foundation, and how the music can sustain a whole people and keep them together even under the most oppressive conditions, as the blues and its later variations had sustained black people all those years. We learned that a people's culture can help them to withstand the most vicious assaults on their very existence, that it can help them not only to preserve their humanity but also to raise it higher and higher levels, and that it can express their hopes and aspirations in a way that will inspire them not only to resist their oppressors but to strike out against them when conditions demand it."

In addition, the manifestation of what LeRoi Jones calls "the New Black Music," music resented at the 1974 Festival by Sun Ra and His Arkestra and by the Cecil Taylor Unit, is a model for a whole new thing. "Whole" is the key word here. These musicians make no distinctions between their music, their religion, their lifestyle. And this unity is in the ancient African tradition from which all the music you'll hear at this Festival has sprung. Music and dance were activities that informed every important tribal ritual and to this day the religious impulse, the worship of spirit is at the root of all Black art. Sun Ra and his various Arkestra have lived and played and prayed together for twenty solid years, the whole thrust of their existence one for overall liberation. They are free humans, free musicians, and they make free music. They don't, like so many others, stop being warm as soon as they get from behind their instruments, don't rein up all the strength and knowledge they play with some super hip "attitude" off the band stand. They aim to get this music to you to help you free yourselves so you can join with them then to help to free the rest of the people.


And, as we have been taught by other liberation fighters, we cannot deal with personal or cultural freedom without dealing with economic freedom, or the people's control of the means of production. Sun Ra initiated what was one of the first economic, as well as musical, self-determination programs. And the Festival's Saturday afternoon show "New Detroit Jazz" features artists all associated with Strata Records, an arm of Detroit's Strata Corporation. These artists are the Strata Corporation, and thus control all the aspects of the creation, production and distribution of their music. This total control is essential because the entertainment conglomerates which control the music and record industries have demonstrated time and again that their only concern is money. Their idea is to standardize, to dilute, and to cheapen indigenous creative voices so as to make them more "marketable." The disintegration of the music of the so-called "San Francisco Scene" is a classic example of a particular community's strongest artists being bought up and made into national "superstars," thereby effectively separating them from their people -the source and strength of their music.

Rainbow Multi-Media, the non-profit corporation which organized this Festival, is another self-determination effort and conceptualizes the Blues and Jazz Festival as an infinitesimally small step towards a non-exploitive social order. RMM's profit status, however, does not mean that the company shies away from economic competition and financial success. It's just that the net proceeds go to finance the communalistic vision to which I've already referred several times and not to buy some fat cat a Cadillac.


The Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival was originally conceived as a revival of the original Ann Arbor Blues Festivals of 1969 and '70. The organizers of the Blues Festival meant to introduce great blues artists to a white audience that was more than ripe for the music. Under the sponsorship of the University of Michigan, the Blues Festival survived for two years and was a spectacular artistic success. Unfortunately, due to economic mismanagement the 1970 event lost $30,000 and the University abandoned the idea of a 1971 Ann Arbor Blues Festival.

Peter Andrews, current president of Rainbow Multi-Media, and John Sinclair (then just released after having served 29 months of a 9.5-10 year prison sentence for possession of two joints of marijuana) conceived of the idea of an event that would cover a wide range of blues and jazz artists. The combination seemed both culturally and economically sounder. The idea was that high-energy music, whether rock and roll or blues or jazz, is what people go crazy to hear, what they need to hear. The program was designed to lead people directly from one familiar idiom (blues in some cases, jazz in others) to an unfamiliar, though closely-related musical form.

That design informs the 1974 edition of the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival too-James Brown and Sun Ra didn't end up on the same Friday night bill by mistake. Both their musics are stops along the same continuum. And Leroi Jones, in 1966, saw the distance coming together- "The Rhythm and Blues mind-blowing evolution of James-Ra and Sun-Brown. That growth to include all the resources, all the rhythms, all the yells and cries, all that information about the world, the Black ommmm, opening and entering." In 1974 Sun Ra, agreeing that it would be a good idea for them both to appear on the same bill, saw it like this - "James gives the people what they want. I give them what they need."


So. The Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival series is about making it easier for us to get to the historical and cultural heritage we've been kept from, through the presentation of some of the most exciting and creative musicians of all time. But it's about more than that, more than having a good time once in a while. In order to create a situation on this planet where everybody can have a good time all the time, we have to get down to the business of dealing with the economic/political/cultural forces which now prevent that state from occurring. We have to deal with the present - and the future - on every possible level, and we need all the culture we can create and sorb to keep us going through the next years of struggle. We need particularly to absorb as much of the black experience as we can, and that experience is reflected most precisely in a large and beautiful part of the sonic rainbow which is ours to use as soon as we gain access to it- and this Festival makes that a little easier.

Pianist/Composer/Dancer Cecil Taylor has said, "If you take the creation of a music and the creation of your own life values [italics added] as your overall goal, then living becomes a musical process. It becomes a search to absorb everything that happens to you and to incorporate it into the music." Please have a good time with the music and your friends but don't let that good time stop for you after you leave the amphitheater. Take the music with you, spin the tune that's your life and love ever richer and deeper, ever further, and the song will never end. 

-- Bill Adler



People working for the major record companies, radio personalities, rock critics, will tell you that pure blues or hard-blowing jazz is just too "far out" for people. That these musics have "no commercial potential." This betrays an arrogance and a contempt not supported by fact. People simply can't get to music they never have the opportunity to hear.



A few years later, the Beatles and the Stones, Canned Heat, Paul Butterfield, Janis with Big Brother and others would lead me directly back to the original blues geniuses whose tunes had been covered by the rockers. I had to find out who Chuck Berry was, and what he, through the Beatles, meant when he admonished Beethoven to roll over and "dig these rhythm and blues."