After fighting our way through various alarms and imbalances encountered while working on our South Korean visa applications, Billy Hart and I arrived at the JJA Awards ceremony yesterday 15 minutes late, or just in time for Billy to collect his award for drummer of the year and say a few gracious words. At our table was Tina Pelikan, the expert publicist for ECM records, and Amiri Baraka, the legendary poet, playwright, and critic.
Baraka introduced Willard Jenkins, who won a Lifetime Achievement Award. At 78, Baraka proved he was still a bad motherfucker by making everyone in the room uncomfortable by calling out all of America for racial inequality. Afterwards he asked me where I was from, and I said, "Wisconsin." He said he hadn't ever been. I told him that I was from the most lily-white belt in the nation, and joked that they wouldn't let him off the plane if he tried to land there.
I enjoyed Baraka's speech, but his analysis of Willard Jenkins was superficial. He seemed to think that Jenkins's posts about black jazz writers at Open Sky, "Ain't But a Few Of Us," meant that Jenkins didn't know who the canonical black critics are. On the contrary, Jenkins's posts have unearthed far more black jazz critics than I knew about, and certainly Jenkins knows all the older names too. But I doubt Jenkins minded much, it's kind of an honor to be chastised by the old firebrand.
Looking at Billy, Tina, and Baraka around me, I remembered various stages of my early development:
Like getting the live Herbie Hancock Mwandishi LP and Stan Getz The Master in my first forays in modern jazz and just loving the drummer, Billy Hart, which led me to buy all sorts of records that Billy was on, including a Wilbur Little quartet with Danny Mixon on piano — and I heard Mixon live for the first time yesterday at the JJA awards, backing singer Paulette Dozier.
Like the time when I would try to listen to anything on ECM, because that label had a style and sound completely different from everything around it.
Like getting Black Music and more or less memorizing it. How many people were just like me, determined to hear Albert Ayler after reading Baraka? Man, you could not get Ayler records in Wisconsin in the late '80s. Maybe they really did stop them at the border! At last, when I tracked down Vibrations, (the sensational quartet with Don Cherry, Gary Peacock, and Sunny Murray), I fell in love. But would have I been ready for that crazy romance if I hadn't read Black Music first?
I thank musicians on DTM frequently. Today I thank everyone else: the record labels, the publicists, the critics, the managers, the bookers, the fans…There are so many jobs that need to be done well in order to keep this music going. Thank you, thank you, thank you.