Updated: Jun 7
Oscar Peterson said “Racism comes in all colours and forms. Having endured discrimination first hand, Oscar Peterson finds himself combating a new shade of racism as well. When Herb Ellis joins the Oscar Peterson Trio in 1953, Peterson gets hate letters from black musicians and fans condemning him for playing with a white guitarist. Peterson dismisses the comments saying he has no time for what he calls "stupid racism." He maintains that he hired Ellis on the basis of his musicality and the person he is on the inside."
‘Stupid racism’ is very real, and something that requires an individual to engage their brain in a way that allows them to consider that assuming somone should not be employed to play music of black origin in this case jazz, because of the colour of a man’s skin. To do so in my view is ‘stupid racism’ as Oscar puts it , because an assumption is being made that the musician in question could not have studied the history of the music he chooses to play or that he plays it with the authenticity it deserves. To make an assumption based on the colour of a man’s skin alone is surely what #blacklivesmatter is fighting against.
I received a call from a white jazz musician this week with whom I have created many fantastic jazz recordings. During our telephone conversation he asked me “Aydenne, what is White Privilege*?, I don’t know anybody apart from you that I can ask to explain it honestly”. My response was “ an example of white privilege would be to imagine you have two 25 year old males with a similar exterior profile apart from their skin colour. Both of them go into a shop to buy a bar of chocolate. One will go in and out of the shop without incident and the other will get followed around the shop just in case he is going to shoplift. The white privilege is that it is very unlikely that the white guy will be followed around the shop in case he shoplifts”.
I have always hired jazz musicians based on their musicality and authenticity, but, I have also considered their knowledge of the history of the jazz musicians they claim to celebrate. I am not talking about having a degree in any specific area, but, an acknowledgement of how the songs they love to play were written and performed by musicians who at the time suffered racial segregation to such a vile extent.
Hymn to Freedom
I am very proud to have recorded Oscar Peterson’s ‘Hymn to Freedom’. A song that carries with it the weight of 'freedom'. A freedom that even after 70 years after the civil rights movement began, is still being fought for.
Oscar Peterson said: “I wrote ‘Hymn to Freedom’ because my then dear friend and manager Norman Granz wanted something for a record date that had a true blues feeling. I sat down, started to play, and we recorded it with the trio. The lyrics were only added later. So, at the time, it wasn’t intended to be an anthem. After it was adopted by the civil rights movement, I felt very honored–and I’m still very honored and moved every time I hear it.”
I recorded ‘Hymn to Freedom’ with a white jazz musician who wanted to record this song for himself, because of how he felt about the racism Oscar Peterson faced having read about his life in many books. So assumption based on skin colour is never going to be right. Education and conversation will always in my view produce better results.
The answer to the question this blog poses to me is YES! , if, appropriate and not handled with ‘stupid racism’ as Oscar Peterson puts it.
How do you begin to celebrate jazz without acknowledging that the musicians who wrote, sang, and performed so many of the jazz standards we admire, could not enter the building through the same door as the audience they were due to perform for, simply because they were black?.
Finally, we come back to where we began, an understanding of what #blacklivesmatter means, which should be to educate and chip away at systemic racism so that in this context, an understanding of the history of jazz whilst making a living from it becomes second nature.
"You have to decide who you are and force the world to deal with you, not with its idea of you." James Baldwin
VIDEO WATCH LIST:
James Baled win "Black Lives Matter" - Speech
Martin Luther King. Jr - "I have a dream Speech"
Martin Luther King. Jr - "Riots are the lanugage of the unheard"
Black Lives Matter & The Question of Violence | Gary Younge