Harold McKinney Interview by James Semark
Reprint from YOU!!
(Introduction to the Artists’ Workshop Society, Part II)
Interview with Harold McKinney,
By James Semark
Appearing in CHANGE/1,
(Artists Workshop Press, Detroit, Fall/Winter 1965 )
(Introducing the Artists’ Workshop Society)
“IT IS A FACT that what recommends us most highly in many parts of the world – in Stockholm; in Frankfort, in Tokyo, in Melbourne – is precisely that product in whose promotion we have been wholly inefficient. There are numerous peoples in the world who are not stimulated or seduced by the presence in Detroit of the Fisher Theatre, Cobo Hall, Ford Auditorium, or by the battery of Yamasaki object edifices of which we are so proud. Yet, there are people who know of Detroit, and who con¬sider JAZZ, not automobiles, or breakfast cereal, or speedboats, as our most significant product. They are people to whom Detroit represents a place to be seen, a place simply to have been, in an historical sense, because Detroit and its nearby communities have played an impor-tant historical role in the history of JAZZ. Detroit has, through some inexplicable combination of “x” factors, been able to produce more than 100 top flight first rank jazz musicians in the brief span of only fifty years. Musicians whose celebrity throughout the world, in the common market of jazz, is as much a common fact, is as solvent and enduring as the fame of the Fords, the Chryslers and the Dodges. Yet, in our output of literature telling the story of Detroit, the contribution that Detroit has made to the heritage of jazz is never mentioned.”
From a release prepared by the staff of the International Institute of Jazz Arts; March, 1963.
There’s something happening in Detroit. An undercurrent? A revolution? The statement above, prepared by Marc Crawford and the Jazz Institute movement, does not represent isolated thinking. It manifests a community idea, a common undercurrent of knowledge, which sprang into being long ago, and is yet growing … today. In the City of Wheels, there is a vast WHEEL taking shape … and slowly beginning to revolve. All of the aware people see it. Yes, there is revolution here, but not a revolution of guns and bombs – ¬or of fear and antagonism. It is a revolution in the minds and hearts of a people.
But the WHEEL is turning faster and faster. Throughout the city, more and more people are organizing and taking common action. The jazz community has always been a barometer of this – ¬an indication of growth. By studying the jazz movement, we can gain insight into the larger revolution. In April of 1965, two active participants (and students) of the jazz movement, Harold McKinney and James Semark, met and discussed its developments of the last thirteen years. This study is a result of that discussion. This study is also the beginning of a vast research project, which will attempt to seek correlative information, initiated by the Artists’ Workshop Society.
Of the initial organization, McKinney has this to say:
“Kenny Burrell formed a group – it must have been in the latter part of ‘53 that they formed this group – it was composed of Kenny, Paul Chambers, Hindal Butts, and myself. We formed the Kenny Burrell Quartet and he was leader, but we had a kind of democratic thing going there, where we all had say so, at least that’s what we tried to have. Of course, you know that musicians are somewhat demagogues in a way – at least egoists, so in those days it was difficult to do it; to stay like that. We managed to keep the group together for a year. During that time, Kenny, who has a very prolific and organizational mind – even in terms beyond music – so he had this dream about forming a music society. I remember we talked about it one night at a drugstore, corner of John R and Forest. After practice with our quartet one night, we came down and sat at this drugstore, and he was telling me about his idea. I told him that I had a similar idea, but mine was not as well developed as his. Naturally, that brought me into favor with his idea. He was telling me, for instance, that Thaddeus Jones was in town, Frank Foster – all the guys who are now in New York – most of the hard core of the Parkerian tradition that was here in Detroit. We sat there and talked about a kind of musicians’ organization that would provide jobs for musicians, which is still needed right now. So, his idea was to have an organization made up of musicians to develop a club, a showplace for the musicians. This is still the current problem for musicians who struggle for a first class presentation.
“So now, here is what happened at the time. We had the idea that the best band would play in the club, until the next band developed a certain amount of proficiency. It’s like trying for the first chair in music school. Kenny thought about the idea of the Thaddeus Jones – Billy Mitchell group, which was current at the time, this being the first group to play. He was going to open the club in a month or two. Anyway, within about a three month period, I had to go to the army, and it greatly curtailed my activities, although it broadened them at the same time – in another sense. When I came back, the New Music Society had been born, and I had become aware of it way over in Germany. We got Down Beats, and they told about the New Music Society. The Detroit Down Beat representative at that time was Donald Stone. I read about it via his connection with the jazz set, and when I came back, it was in full swing, and it might have even been past the bloom. I think it was the thing that developed Detroit artists in the eyes of the jazz world. It was bigger than a lot of people thought it was. Although it wasn’t as big as it should have been, on account that it didn’t work out exactly as to what we had in mind. We tried to have a thing that would support itself and move without any bugs in it, I suppose. It did attract a great deal of attention, because recording companies – there was a new recording company called Transition, out of New York, and my brother got in on it, and Donald Byrd – I think it was one of the contributing factors in his success. Anyway, we were heard as an “artists’ market”, and I believe that this is the concept – really – that has to be taken into consideration, before an endeavor will really be successful.
“What the musicians were trying to do then is what the Artists’ Workshop is trying to do now. Although the idea has developed. You want to show how the idea has developed. This is a constant com¬parison, which will automatically draw a line of development from the New Music Society to the Artists’ Workshop. A constant inter-change in comparisons. The reason why I’m doing it this way is just to show that line. This comparison brings it out better, than merely to trace a step by step thing. This would keep the reader more aware of the differences between each, which would make that line appear, rather than by drawing it.
“In those days again, the idea was to open a club. I think they were thinking about a night club – for musicians – like Minton’s was. That’s where the bop revolution took place. Although I think that the Artists’ Workshop has developed and evolved the idea differently and better, because they have taken it out of the night club setting, a setting which has been a deterrent for development of purely musical ideas without any other consider¬ations. The Workshop also provides a showcase, which is not an end in itself, but a complement to the already-existing scene. While you still maintain jazz as entertainment, you can also experiment, with a lot more freedom. We did not – at that time – ¬take this into account as much, although we did take it into account. We did misconceive the idea by thinking of it still in a habitual way, as part of the night club environment – since that’s where we were raised. I think that you still have same idea – ¬basically – but that it has worked its way beyond the scope of the men in the bebop tradition. Their idea was simply to develop a roster of bands and to develop group activity…”
In the last months of the New Music Society, Harold McKinney and Harold Neal collaborated and formed a newspaper called “Idioms,” which was affiliated with the New Music Society. The purpose of “Idioms” was to give news about NMS and to chronicle its develop¬ment. Again correlating past and present, McKinney says:
“Incidentally, this might be interesting, in terms of the relationship between the Artists’ Workshop and the New Music Society: the similarity of thought about why the organization exists. They say that this paper “Idioms” is “dedicated to the sounds, scenes, and actions that give our thoughts dimension.” This is basically the same kind of thought that the Artists’ Workshop has in its existence. Wouldn’t you say so?”
“Idioms” had photos, illustrations, literary reviews, and most of all news and information about the current jazz scene. If you’ve ever seen a copy of “Idioms” – the layout, the wealth of material – ¬you will begin to realize what a big impetus the New Music Society was to musicians such as Donald Byrd, Yusef Lateef, Barry Harris, Curtis Fuller, and many others.”
After McKinney returned from the armed service, he found that NMS was beginning to disintegrate. He felt frustrated and disturbed, seeing that it was the best thing that happened for the jazz community. He wanted to help save it:
“Factional interests, personal differences, inability of musicians to understand the problems of administration, ignorance of the audience, a lot of different things were causing this disintegration. I have an article that I wrote in “Idioms” at that very time. You were asking why the NMS failed, and you wanted specifics:
An Open Letter to the Members of the New Music Society
Many wonderful things have come from your organization’s drives, ideas, and deeds. Through your efforts you have made a priceless contribution to the evolution of jazz in Detroit. By bringing non commercial musicians together under one heading, through the functioning of the NMS you have: 1. Focused the attention of jazz critics and impresarios on these musicians. 2. Provided proving for these musicians. 3. Provided a means of establishing constant contact with a listening audience…
“…That really sums up the aims of the Artists’ Workshop, too. So you see the relationship there…
…You can be proud of the fact that the New Music Society, which incidentally, is one of the few organizations of its kind in the world, has helped in the building of these same Detroit jazzmen into recognized stars. After leaving your stage, they have begun to forge their names incredibly into Jazz history, thus giving us a place in that same history…
“…and I gave examples such as Kenny Burrell and Flanagan – they bloomed right out of here from that school, and they had already established some respect among musicians in New York, so it was easy for them to get into things in the jazz world. The function of an organization like this, which makes it survive, is that it brings musicians and artists together, which produces such excellence by crossbreeding and crosspollination. What I was attempting to do in the article was to point out what the organization’s problems were, and how and why it was disintegrating. To that end, I dedicated myself to this article:
…You can be proud of the fact that you have helped in bringing musicians closer together with themselves and with listeners, the latter, being very important due to the fact that without appreciative listeners, musicians as musicians are doomed to extinction. This is one of the basic factors inherent in the founding of the organization.
These and many functions yet to be discovered and fulfilled are the promise of NMS’s future.
However, have you noticed, recently, our audiences are dwindling? How you, of the executive board, have kept your president waiting futilely for your arrival to board meetings…
“…The absence of institutionalization and the discipline of it – the absence of organizational discipline was probably what defeated the New Music Society…
One board member admitted to the writer that he’d been absent from the board for a month…
“…This was an indication of the symptoms of how it was falling apart, really…
…Have you noticed, also, how no one seems to have any clear idea as to the organization’s purpose, and how the organization of the sets in the Tuesday concerts is steadily degenerating, even though a new policy was enstated pertaining to said organization?
These facts point to a general degeneration, which in turn point to a cessation of NMS’s activities. This means ultimately, in a word, death. NMS’s death.
It is easy to become so wrapped up in one’s own personal wants and needs, so as to fail to be aware of the little things that point to our collective destruction and could annihilate our chances for gratification of the same personal wants and needs.
Many of you would laugh and say to me, as many of you have, “You are an alarmist.” But the meaning of such little differences has evolved our civilization and has strengthened man’s awareness which makes his means of survival. A little thing like a wart can point to the presence of cancer in the human body…
…Let’s examine more closely, the symptom mentioned: The decline in attendance in this writer’s opinion. The decline is a direct result of the lack of the proper attention to our functions on the parts of the executives, musicians and listening members of the group.
The chief diet for the human ego is attention or being made to feel important. Just because many of you aren’t in the spotlight, you tend to feel that your little task is not important, so you may redirect your drives towards something other than that which will be purposeful in terms of the organization, perhaps something that is of more primitive importance.
Many times this writer heard some of the “cats ” come in and ask if a certain “broad ” has been “on the scene” that night and has left because of her absence…
“…The inspiration for playing again points to the certain motivation that supplanted others. For instance, instead of money, they paired off with the “broads,” and the inspiration the “broad” gave them. This was a tangible reward for their prowess. Some musicians will tell you that they played for that…
…Upon examination, this, you can see that this is not purposeful in terms of the New Music principle.
If you are a part of our audience, your presence and sincere attention as a listener is just as important to the organizers and performers…the simple truth in that principle is self evident…
“…If the previously stated principle isn’t applicable to what you came here for, then you’ve got to bring that truth out, yourself, and try to rectify it…
…If any of you find it difficult to determine the over-all purpose of NMS’s accomplishments and functions; some were mentioned in the beginning of this letter, namely:
1. To focus attention of the Jazz critics and general public on our strivings.
2. To provide a means of establishing constant contact with a listening and appreciative audience.
“…This is the point that I was leading up to; in terms of NMS. What could we do to correct it?
…The New Music Society must necessarily have 3 types of members in order to operate successfully. There must be:
1. Listening members
2. 2. Performing members
3. Organizing members.
Decisions you make at NMS activities must necessarily be determined primarily by which role best fits you. To be more specific, this writer would like to offer a diamond-studded music to the world and to art.
“…That was the solution that I offered for their regeneration… The main thing was that it died for the want of an adequate body. A child dies at birth if there’s some physical deficiency. And this is one of the most important things that the New Music Society did, that it left a void. There was a void before, but it was a nothing void, it wasn’t a something void. But this merely demonstrated what could be done and why the need was there. Musicians had a market. Musical development increased, considerably – that’s one way that the “Detroit sound” became well known in jazz. It was here all the time, and so were the musicians, but it crystallized and became institutionalized under the New Music Society. The music was there, but all you had to do was turn a light on it. It never could die, even though the organization itself did die. The idea was still alive, because it was made practicable. It set forth a trend, a tendency.
“The basic problem was, as always, selfishness. Selfishness brought about by ignorance and selfishness brought about by the complete insecurity in which they lived, which kept them from focusing on the right objectives.”
* * *
Drawing on his capacity for social awareness, Harold McKinney discusses how the jazz scene has been related to the times, in the past and at present:
“…It points to how the town was at the time. Then too, in regards to musicians and creative activity, it was at an all-time high. The war and the economic boom increased this kind of activity.
“I mention this to show how the jazz idea has related to the social environment, and to point a way as how any present endeavor could succeed: consider the social environment around you, all the time you’re doing what you’re trying to do. Perhaps the same spirit that inspired the economic boom – it inspired the musician’s creative activity. Perhaps never the twain could meet; I don’t know…I think with human ingenuity, it could.”
McKinney feels that when the potential of this city is ultimately realized, the jazz field will be taken over from New York…
“The setting is here; the town shows evidence of the development of it. Towns go through cycles of development just as a person’s individual ego. You first have a sibling ego and everything you do is copied after “mamma,” which is New York, the chief influence in the U.S. among jazz musicians. (Most of your centers of development in music are still there, such as the giant corporations that market it.) Detroit was once a highly regimented industrial town. The same thing was true in New York, but it wasn’t as organized as here, because the institutional forms of organization in society hadn’t become as well developed as they are, today. Those same forms have taken a step further, here. The way people make money: industry. One aspect of it is that it went from a sibling stage into a fully developed industrial stage, and this is where the regime of the city developed. Two or three families controlled its development, for a long, long time. This brought about a more tightly organized industry than New York. I’m bringing all that in to show how – now, the fact that we’ve gone through this big recession – and this was due to the fact that so much revenue has gone out of Detroit, because of political and economic conditions. The town has been reduced in population. This big, physical plan had to be altered to some degree, in order to boost and increase the amount of revenue that came in, to provide it with a different source of income. This will eventually move it away from a “one-folk’s town” concept and give it a more cosmopolitan development. When you get away from the money playing such a terrific part in the development of a town, naturally the taste of all this international flavor will have to influence everything. This will automatically breed a more cosmopolitan setting. This is the way that I look at it. All of these things have to do with the way the musical culture evolves in Detroit.
“This latitude of community development will also have an effect upon the various musical interests in town, such as the antagonistic difference between the union and the musician, or the recording companies – commercial marketers of music, and the esthetic. Now, due to the existence of Berry Gordy and some others, the marketing resources are coming here. He started out very mundane and criticizeable, in the sense of the type of music that they marketed and developed for the lay public. But there’s no place where you can market avant-garde things, even to the development of mine, you see. Just like I took myself around to Berry Gordy and to some of the other studios, and they wouldn’t touch it, because, “Well – that’s New York, man.”
“It’s an infant industry here – that’s the reason. They’re trying to establish the industry, and after it becomes well-established, then they will get the backing. Then they can afford to scrape up a few hundred thousand dollars on an avant-garde or artistic venture. So the New York of tomorrow could very well be here – Detroit. We’ve had the sibling stage, and now for the second stage in its development, the collective Detroit ego taking on its own identity. Yes, there were times when it was “mamma’s town.” Tomorrow, it will belong to the world. The New York star is descending and Detroit is developing, rising on the horizon.
“Artists have never really been able to conceive and realize success in this culture for one reason: they never thought of the integrity that has to exist between the material aspects of culture and the aspect of the esthetique. Most artists have the romanticist or idealist point of view, you see. Therefore, when it comes down to selling the music, or selling ideas, or selling anything , it runs counter to tradition which they are developed in. They conceive of their art wholly differently than the businessman. But before this artistic movement becomes a success, it must be coordinated into a business development. Contrary to many artists – especially artists I mention here – I have developed a respect for the business aspect of it. If a way were to be found to develop this aspect, then the music would have a chance to develop better, because of the sustaining value of marketing. Also, it balances the artist’s needs with society’s demands, which brings about security.
“All of the experimentalists tend to be too abstract because they are developing individual languages. There is no language which is individual, really. To be a language, it must communicate. The more individual it is, the less it communicates, and the less it communicates, the more it violates the basic principles of language–less able are artists to be an influence. There has to be a kind of experimentalist or thinker, but he must accept the slot that’s naturally there for his idea. Just like Charlie Parker. If you realize the innovation this man made, you will realize that it’s beyond an esthetic (although the esthetes have a tendency to be provincial in that respect). But Bird wasn’t. Here’s what he did. He had an economic concept for presenting his material. All the modernists who develop jazz have an economic concept of it, but this concept was born during a desperate era. First of all, they said they were ‘tired of the old thing.’ It looked like music was just being rehashed, the same old tired ideas, same old beefstew. Secondly, the old music wasn’t profitable for them. It had become too institutionalized, lacked flexibility and mobility, and definite people suffered from it, such as the generally unfavored groups in the Establishment. It’s a complex thing. Those are the pressures and dynamics of development that shaped the styles of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, who are still regarded as ‘patron saints’ of the moderns. They’re still influential as the leaders of jazz, until another ground has been broken. This can be done, providing that the musicians – providing that all the forces that go into such a change have a deep and abiding respect for the marketing aspect of the music. Not merely from a point of view of difference, but from a point of view of making a better product. Charlie Parker brought the music from a purely emotional thing, into an intellectual thing, where the ideas were refined intellectually, rather than an emotive emphasis. Before bebop, the emphasis was on ‘not what you say, but how you say it,’ but with the advent of Bird, the concept shifted to ‘what you say.’”
“Compared to previous methods, the New Music Society conceived of jazz presentation in more material ways. Musicians could work, and there would be a place to market their ideas, so to speak. The same basic need was there, the need to expose and to keep the jazz idiom alive. You’ll find that the music emerged away from where the public thought it would go – to the bar room or wherever it was – which was the marketing place at the time, into an element which was needed, the intelligensia. So now we’ve moved from the bar room to the intelligensia, and the music has moved into its proper perspective among the scholastic disciplines, developing ideas – a musicology – for a brand new musical culture. Elements of European culture were developed this way. But in those days, it was such an individual thing, and ‘you did yours and I did mine and don’t forget it.’ The New Music Society realized that there had to be some sort of internal cooperative going to produce the kind of group feeling that it needed, but we weren’t ready for it at the time. Bird had this thing going, with ‘every man for himself.’ It was a little too big for us at the time, although I think that musicians nowdays – because of the pioneering efforts done in those days – move beyond it. You move the scene beyond, to a point where such an idea becomes feasible in the eyes of everyone else. By daring to work it.
“Now, we are moving into a new era of pan-world culture, and jazz is just that assimilation. This generation around the Artists’ Workshop, the university set – is inevitable. The New Music Society didn’t see it that way too much – they saw it but as a remote possibility. There was a time when everything was going right for them, and they couldn’t conceive anything beyond their own immediate objectives.”
* * *
In retrospect, Harold McKinney discusses his own playing, and his role in society as a musician:
“Out at the club where I work right now, I have to descend to a level of music that I would not otherwise choose. However, I am one of those musicians who thinks that it’s good to keep in touch with the people, and this influences my growth. My music must have a direct root on the source of idea supply, and this involves , having some of the language of the musical vulgate in my thinking. My problem is, I believe, that there’s too much of it. I would like to make a clearer and better compromise in favor of my ideals, so that I do not seduce my ideals. I constantly try that, although this is a standard which is difficult to achieve. Still now, I’m adjusting to the artistic standards imposed on me. Trying to get out from under the puritanical aspect of it. I’m still trying to get out from under that hammer: Bird – comparing myself subconsciously as a follower of Bird, a Parkerian. I’m still trying to move beyond that, and this is the curse I think, that this blessing put upon us.
“During the times of the New Music Society, I was what some lay people would call a “beatnik” type. But time has tempered me because of the necessities around me. I hope never to be tempered to the point whereby my ideals become so diluted that I can’t produce music of high artistic quality. This is a constant fear with me, and I suppose with every musician, although some unkowingly fall prey to it, by constant concession to the degree that they can no longer recoup any concepts, only money. They say ‘Make that money,’ but it’s more than ‘Make that money,’ and this is why most of the Workshop-oriented, or the intellectually-oriented – they veer away from money and marketing because of the danger in being overtaken by the money-aspect. But if you learn…to pray…when I say ‘learn to pray’ I sound religious…and I am. But not with the same conventional point of view. When I say ‘pray’ I mean that when you learn to keep in contact with the deep insight within you – the Master as it appears to you – the basic or the radical as it appears in you – the fundament of growth as it appears in you – the Master wishes as they appear in you, then you can retain a hold, no matter what idea of an idea you have. There’s a place for all of it there. Making money is a necessity. Now to me, I don’t want to make so much that it will enslave me, but I want to make enough to – now here it is: you must develop a philosophy for making money…and why? That philosophy, to me, should be for the promotion of our ideals. To better effect them… EFFECT..them rather than just think about it and get lost in the money. That’s why I say the prayer, the personal contact with your ideals – constantly – your artistic ideals which are definitely deep rooted in your worshipping of a whole. Do you see? The whole reality, whatever it is. Now let’s get back to how it can be lost. It’s by not having enough contact with the right sources of it, in society. That’s why church is important, believe it or not.”
* * *
After the demise of the New Music Society, the musicians felt a void, and they felt a need to be together. The old- fashioned jam session continued to flourish, and the after-hour party sessions helped fill the void, for a while. After 1959, these too began to disappear.
McKinney describes an attempt of musicians to set up another form of organization, after the New Music Society, but even more closely related to the economic problem:
“The object was to have a money-saving club, to establish a credit union, which was another step in the process. Money was an essential aspect of the New Music Society, along with the inablity of NMS to conceive of a market and set up business rules with which to work. Maybe the musicians tought of it consciously or unconsciously, but nevertheless they decided to set up this credit union (MINK). And it did last for a while. They saved some money, and at Christmas time they decided to disband, and each drew something out. It was like a Christmas saving club. At Christmas time they had a little money to spend for their folks, and they had accumulated some money, not a lot.
“Still, musicians in Detroit have tended to be that way – organization minded…”
The void is there, but it is a void full of ideas, potentials. Experience with organization, experience with the economic problem. This was not forgotten. Newer, and better organizations came along to fill the void. McKinney tells about this:
“When I came back from school, there was a group that had formed, by the name of UNAC – the United Negro Advancement Council. It was an idea that I liked. Idea of the Negro developing the same kind of industrial community, as is found in the white community, so that we can be able to stand on our own feet and help our our own. That was the idea of UNAC. I think it was the same basis as the New Music Society if you take the race factors out of it. And the UNAC people knew about the NMS. Maybe this idea was sharpened by their scrape with the New Music Society, who knows? These people I had known and bumped into because of the same vibrational process that creates groups out of people. I’d bumped into them a hundred thousand times, and always come up with the same group of people. That’s how this thing got together. We didn’t intend to, but just ran in the same circles, perhaps. This is related to how the idea of community organization is still a strain running through our social development, wlthout our control, really. Just the reason why we sit here, today. How did I get to know you? The same thing.
“The United Negro Advancement Council first started out by giving baskets and sending kids to summer camp. Somehow or other, they had so many volunteers and workers that this organization exploded in their faces. It was so beautiful.
“But UNAC decided that they were going to put themselves on a salary, and probably the idea was honest, but nobody else appreciated it. They may have been thinking one thing: “If we get making a salary, we can make our living doing it, and do it, better.” They could have been thinking that way, who knows? They found that this was a good way to make money, and they needed it, but it got to the point where honesty became the question. Therefore, automattically, without those values of trust, with out the trust of the rank and file, these organizations deteriorate. The word “trust” denotes a basis for cogent relationship. However, UNAC left its mark, because during that time, we secured a radio program. and maintained it for a considerable length of time.
“UNAC was a force in the social movement and the revolution that by now has confronted the white community. The civil rights battle is the kickoff for an American revolution which is now beginning to take shape all over the country, in the form of protest by pressure groups. Protest has become the classic means of operation within the framework for social development. Now you have campus groups protesting Vietnam, civil rights, so many valid reasons for protest. The “far right” is merely a reaction to this protest movement. The Negro has become a developmental force in what is happening, now.
“You can always look to the Negro for the pilot expression in American culture. In Negro communities, it may appear many times in a crude form. It’s the avante-garde thing, but still a crude form in the Negro community. There will be people who recognize it, and they will come along and formulate it into a more material thing; give it a body, an institution. You can use the Negro as a barometer to where the culture is going, to where the tendencies are reflected. It’s like bock beer, the stuff at the bottom. We are at the bottom and we happen to be black. It’ s always dark down there. I brought that out to show how we are in touch with the roots of our cultural formation, from our vantage point.
“Also, I find that integration is much more free on a Negro level than on a white level. Actually, our superculture comes from an assimilatton caused by conflict between the two groups [black and white]. Negroes are much more free, by choice or not by choice. In order to make money, they have to go into the mainstream of American economic life, which is controlled and participated in largely by whites. Negroes are forced to conform to the standards therein. Poor white people, also, have a compulsory yoke, but it’s a different kind because the social mobility is there, which is the main outlet, the developmental factor in all people. You have to have social mobility, because different people in different areas have different forms of knowledge, as well as different revenue sources. Negroes are ahead, in terms of cultural development, of most American groups. His nose is to the grindstone, so to speak, so it’s got to become sharp. The grindstone at his nose has a more significant bite because of the pressure nudging him up to the stone. The Negro is much more involved in cultural evolution than any other group, because the standards are outside of him. This is where all egos develop, by meeting standards and surviving under conditions that he feels adverse to.”
* * *
APPENDIX: conclusion of the survey by James Semark.
By reason of the habit-energy stored up by false imagination since beginningless time, this world is subject to change and destruction from moment to moment; it is like a river, a seed. a lamp, a wind, a cloud; while the ego-self (Vijnana) is like a monkey who is always restless, like a fly who is ever in search of unclean things and defiled places, like a fire that is never satisfied…
(Guatama Buddha, from the Lankavatara Sutra)
The above quotation is appropriate at this point, since I am going to discuss another element in this study, related to what Gautama said about the monkeys and the flies.
By the early 1960’s, the jazz community idea was expressing itself in more tightly organized forms. The most ambitious attempt was made by the Jazz Institute movement, headed by Marc Crawford. From the same pamphlet quoted at the beginning of this study, Crawford set forth his five-point proposal:
“As ‘the world’s first public relations Counselate for Jazz,’ IIJA believes that there is no reason why:
(1) Detroit could not be the nation’s first city to pay homage to the nation’s only uniquely American form of art, by the erection of a National Jazz Archives, a project whose very proposal would enlist the interest, respect, and efforts of a hundred countries.
(2) Detroit could not become the nation’s first city to enact a “Jazz-Artist-in-Residence” program, a commitment that would give the lie to the frequently reiterated comment that “Europeans take jazz so much as an art form – as what it really is; much more than we do, in our country.
(3) Detroit could not become the convention grounds for the first large-scale assemblage of the International Jazz Press which might be staged in conjunction with the annual Detroit-Windsor Freedom Festival celebration. It could hardly fail to be an event worthy of nothing less than coverage by Intertel and Telstar.
(4) Detroit could not become the headquarters for the publication of the most professional, most authoritative,most widely read and circulated periodical on jazz. In their support of this venture, Detroit concerns with national or international interests, and the city of Detroit in terms of global attention and increased tourism, stand only to gain in stature and prestige.
(5) Detroit could not sponsor a mobile music lab devoted to the commission and presentation of Music of Our Times – contemporary experimental extended works by Michigan artists to be toured on a determined circuit of colleges and universities, and the most notable works to be showcased in a special presentation by the Detroit Symphony then taped for broadcast by the Voice of America and filmed for telecast overseas. Films and tapes of unusual interest could be made available either as features or in competition in connection with such events as the “Two Worlds Festival” of Spoleto, Italy, or the German Jazz Festival of Dusseldorf.”
Crawford’s idea was real and workable. He devised a three-step plan which would have, if carried out, made Detroit a jazz utopia and a leading world cultural center. The first phase was establishment of the (then proposed) African Gallery in the Detroit Institute of Arts, for which Crawford was primarily responsible. Through his own energetic work in this locale, and with the support of many African dignitaries, this project was a success. Detroit would have a display of African artifacts which would help the Negro community in affirming its cultural identity. Next, Crawford began organizing the International Institute of Jazz Arts. If the Institute could have been successful, it would have propelled itself into the third phase of Crawford’s scheme. While Detroit was competing for the Olympic Games, it could have had strong representation from the jazz interests in this city. Such representation could have tipped the balance in favor of Detroit. This is how this city could be, with the Olympics here and an active Jazz Institute.
My first impression of Crawford’s activities came from Harold McKinney’s account of a jazz panel discussion at Mr. Kelley’s Ballroom, in January, 1963, in which Crawford was moderator. McKinney relates:
“The discussion was supposed to have been with Don DeMichael, George White, Myron Wahls, another lawyer, and myself. We got to talking and the question was, ‘Is conformity killing jazz?’ To me, I got to working with the subject. I said, ‘Now how can I really dedicate myself to this?’ After I got past the topic and thought about the word ‘conformity,’ I thought, ‘What do you mean?’ A definition of terms was proper. I busted the door down and said, ‘How can they talk about that when they don’t even know what jazz is?’ I’ve studied argumentation and debating, and there is a batsic procedure in getting the fullest out of argument. There’s a statement of purpose, and then there’s a definition of terms, and some points involved. It must be covered, and then a conclusion or summary. This is academic, but there is value in this in being more effective in dealing with these people. Each man on the panel wade a statement – everybody gave some aspect of the business. There were some points in my statement that I made, that Marc Crawford didn’t want to hear. He cut me off. It was downright crude, childish…‘You’re not talking about the subject, etc.,’ but yes I am. The first thing that should be defined is ‘what is jazz?’ Is conformity killing jazz? This question has become distasteful to me because this question presumes standards which are not accepted.”
Crawford had an ideal setting: aggressive leadership, a staff, and the availability of the Minor Key to hold mass meetings. Among the most impressive functions held by the Institute was the first meeting at the Minor Key. A spirit of brotherhood prevailed at that meeting, the likes of which I’ve never seen before or since. People were spontaneously organizing committees – membership. publicity, the musicians’ committee. Any beneficial idea won immediate acceptance. For the moment, everyone believed the idea that the brotherhood was here, that it was safe to have confidence in the other fellow and work with him towalrd a common goal.
It was too good to be true. The Institute could not retain the membership that it held at that meeting. The following week, I asked Crawford if he was sure that he had a vote of confidence from the membership. He derided this idea – “confidence” wasn’t necessary. Apparently he felt he could dazzle his membership with Telstar and Intertel. From there, the Institute disintegrated. The committees evaporated, and Crawford and his staff became more and more out of touch with the musicians who were the backbone of the organization. The musicians had their own commitment, at least, and held to it. The musicians divided themselves into three groups, the advanced, the intermediates, and the novices. Each of the three groups held its own special program, culminating in a showcase at the concerts. The musicians met weekly in the basement of the Northwestern School of Music and Dance, and they jammed and exchanged ideas in the spirit of the New Music Society.
In the last five years, jazz has been beset with a type of people who are able to influence the music, either because they have the economic reigns or the promotional reigns. Their pattern of behavior is wholly predictable. They are “like a monkey who is always restless, like a fly who is ever in search of unclean things and defiled places, like a fire which is never satisfied.” These people have never been in touch with the root source of the music, the fascination with the organic growth of the music, itself. They assume that the music is in a state of stasis (for them it has to be, in order to project a consistent promotional image). They kill the golden goose before it can lay an egg. Clubowners – agents – promoters – a&r men – these are the ones responsible for creating the static circumstances in jazz today, a situation which the creative musician has to crawl out from under.
Crawford’s style was not that extreme, and his ideas were certainly sincere and laudable. But he came to jazz from a public relations involvement, and failed to make his beginning with the organic development of the music. He said to me, ‘I don’t hang out with you guys,’ and it was true. His experience with the Institute would not have been so disappointing, had he let the musicians teach him something about themselves, thus establishing a two-way rapport that would have been more healthy.
Summary: this study has attempted to show evidence for a trend in Detroit. This trend is a uniting force, a brotherhood, a growing confidence in Common action. By hard work, irritative and antagonistic factors in our civilization can be eliminated. However this brotherhood has been faced with two difficulties:
1) Lack of efficient and trustworthy internal organization
2) External influences that distract organic evolution of the common ideal.
Has the common ideal reached maturity – has it reached a level of superiority over all detrimental factors? Correlative information will be sought, in the months to come.