Making Changes

On The Future Of Jazz Among Black Folk

Every year, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation throws a concert and panel discussion as part of its annual conference. It’s notable not only as a musical event — this year’s show features drummer Terri Lyne Carrington’s take on the classic album Money Jungle, featuring vocalist Lizz Wright, as well as alto saxophonist Antonio Hart’s quintet with special guest Jimmy Heath — but also as a cultural one. In this century, anyway, it’s become surprisingly uncommon to see documentation of black jazz artists performing for primarily black audiences.

By the time you read this, the concert will be transpiring or over. But earlier in the day, many of its star musicians and a few distinguished authors assembled for a forum in a cramped Washington Conference Center boardroom. Around 100 to 150 people — the majority African-American, in business attire and middle-aged — were in the house for a discussion titled “If You Really Are Concerned: An African-American Agenda for Jazz.” It took its title from a Billy Taylor song, the last stanza of which goes:

If you really are concerned, then show it
If you really want to help, you can
But you’d better start right now
By making changes when you’re able
Or your world will disappear

As one of the panelists, writer and consultant Willard Jenkins, said in his prefatory remarks, every time African-Americans are gathered to talk about jazz, the room sighs, as if it’s lost control over something which emerged from its community. “Nothing has been stolen — we’ve given it away,” he said. “And we’ve given it away through our neglect.” Continue reading