30 Years in this business has taught me many things. One of those lessons is you cannot sacrifice quality, passion, soulfulness and authenticity on the altar of skin colour. I have endured criticism from black music lovers who feel my band should be black musicians, but!, when I ask them when was the last time they paid for and went to a jazz venue to see a concert, they simply had not (that is just my experience).
My current band members are all white musicians. At no point did I ever ask myself whether their skin colour mattered. At no point did I care what other people black or white thought of them. I was focused and some would say almost ‘laser fashion’ on their abilities. Is the playing authentic and soulful enough to reflect the history of the music they play? Absolutely yes. Do they transport me to a time when jazz was at its best? Yes, they do.
Whilst I would agree with the next man that black musicians are under represented on the jazz scene, given it is a music of black origin, but that begs the question, where does that problem actually come from? In my opinion it is because venues and record labels like any other business have to be focused on profit, otherwise business is not where they should be. That is not necessarily about greed, but it is what pays the staff they employ who need to feed themselves and their families, to pay the rent for their venue or business premises, the accountants, the web designers, the drinks and food suppliers etc etc etc, and some would say more importantly the musicians.
So, the problem could be because the black community are not on the receiving end of the marketing of jazz or blues music. Jazz in particular is marketed at a white middle class demographic, hence why many of the jazz musicians rising the ranks come from white middle class families. No business is going to market to a demographic they know and understand will not buy tickets or buy albums. One could argue that the reason for that lies somewhere within the financial position of the black community, but, even if that is understood, it is clear that if they are not exposed to what is happening in that genre of music, so why would they engage?
In my 30 year experience, the focus from a customer perspective is the quality of the playing. My band is an ensemble of some of the finest jazz musicians I have had the pleasure to work with. At no time would I sacrifice the level of expertise and quality they bring just because they happen to be white. That to me suggests your objective as a band leader, is NOT to deliver the best music you can.
Politics affects all of us, even if you complain about your bins not being collected on time you have an input into local politics at a very basic level, however, delivering the best of a specific type of art should not have barriers put in the way that are politically driven, if it ultimately affects the quality and authenticity of what is delivered as an art form.
I think given the current climate it is simply too easy to look at someone in your field of expertise who is white and find reason to ‘point and blame’. Be that a venue, a musician or a record label.
If your argument is that it is music of black origin and therefore should be played by black musicians, then your love for the music is seriously lacking. I would argue until the proverbial cows come home, that Bill Evans is one of the finest jazz pianists ever to grace this planet. Sacrificing quality on the altar of skin colour in my view is foolhardy, why? Music of black origin, and more specifically jazz has enhanced the tapestry of life across the globe. There should be so much pride in being at the root of enhancing that global cultural contribution. If we need to see more black jazz musicians coming up through the ranks, in my view it is our job to take the time to encourage the exposure of jazz and blues music to young black people, jazz musicians, its history, and it contribution to the world.