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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 16, No. 7

Book Notes + Blue Notes

by Marc Chénard / April 1, 2011

Flash version here

Where the Dark and the Light Folks Meet

Randall Sandke—Studies in Jazz Vol. 60

Scarecrow Press, 2010 ISBN 978-0-8108-6652-2

247pp.+bilbliography & index

The latest in an ongoing series of publications sponsored by the American Institute of Jazz Studies, this tome, written by jazz musician Randall (Rande) Sandke, has raised some controversy since its publication in the fall. The author, best known as a traditional swing-style player (though he harbours some more experimental proclivities) has dared to re-examine the well-mined terrain of race relations in jazz, coming to conclusions that have ruffled a few feathers in the critical establishment. In twelve chapters, the musician-cum-jazz-scholar takes apart one of the music’s most persistent ‘myths,’ namely, that African-American jazz (and its artists by extension) evolved in an insulated manner, bereft of any foreign (i.e. “White”) influences. Quite the contrary, he contends, as there were sustained contacts between the races from its earliest days, and even a fair degree of mutual admiration between both musical communities. Citing the earliest critics and many of their followers, most of whom were/are White middle-class Americans of liberal convictions, the author blames them for misrepresenting jazz history, their agendas motivated by a will to redress the wrongs perpetrated on oppressed citizens of colour. From that basic tenet, he makes his case, at times with some convincing evidence backing his claims, quoting several Black American musicians who go as far as refuting the connection of their music to Africa, something the author contends never succeeded (p. 43) because of rhythmic incompatibilities. Much later on (chapter 10), he goes on to compare annual incomes of bands of the Swing Era, also including wages paid to current-day artists, to make the point that disparities in earnings between Blacks and Whites have never been as unfavourable as believed. While the author does not deny that Blacks in America were given short shrift in many areas, he nevertheless argues that these inequities were distorted, a position he outlines in his opening chapter, “Good intentions, Bad History.” This book goes against the grain, but history, like most music, is an art of interpretation.

(c) La Scena Musicale