(This blog post is a transcript and adaptation of my tweets from October, 12, 2011)
Here’s a link to the piece I’ve taken issue with:
Props to the selected, but were there no African-American pianists worthy enough to find in all of New York?
It is Jazz, right?
Not that someone should make the list because they’re Black, but I find it interesting that none made it in all of NYC. What about Lawrence Fields, Sullivan Fortner and David Bryant? I guess being a first call pianist on the New York scene means nothing anymore. If they wanted to add a Black female, what about pianist and composer Courtney Bryan? I mean, I could see if we were talking about Des Moines, Iowa, but you mean to tell me you can’t find one Black cat who plays Jazz piano in NYC? It’s really hard for me to not to say “You couldn’t find no Nigga pianists in New York?”, but I won’t.
So someone who, not too long ago, had no idea how cats knew when to start and end their solos gets to decide the top Jazz pianists in NYC? For those who wonder why I speak about racism so much, things like this piece are the reason. I’m not calling Ben Ratliff a racist, but it’s about the subtle ways racism injects itself into our culture. Racism is not about hating Blacks, it’s about who has the power to decide who gets what. Nate Chinen recently wrote an interesting piece about the lack of female critics, but what about Black critics? Why are the top two writers for Jazz music at the New York Times White guys? Jazz is still an African-American art form, right?
I don’t believe Ben Ratliff is a racist, but I think institutional racism allows him to imagine a world of Jazz with no African-Americans. No one argues where Gospel, Blues, Soul, R&B or Hip-Hop comes from. Why is it debatable that Jazz is of the Black experience? To be clear, this music known as Jazz is not ours. Blacks created it, but it belongs to everyone. Yes, the Blues has permeated the world, but it still comes from African-Americans. I don’t believe it was intentional, I think it’s institutional. Just by law of averages, a Black should’ve slipped in.
The bigger issue is why does the New York Times not have at least one African-American writer covering an African-American art? This NYT piece is an abysmal blunder. It’s tantamount to a list of best Mariachi bands with no Mexicans.
“Best.” . . . “On the rise,” semantics really. Point is, there are no Black-Americans on the list for a Black-American art form.
I consider myself to be quite in touch with who’s on the scene, but I never heard of any of the four besides Fabian. Ratliff really had to reach for this list. It’s also an institutional sensibility to make lists as such. While I am no Obama supporter, institutional racism is also what allows us to have an African-American President Of The United States who’s politically powerless because he can’t get policies through. Critical acclaim has no bearing on the artists but it goes a long way with music promoters and what’s left of record labels.
Someone made the comment to me, “White guys sent white guys to the moon. That doesn’t mean we all know how to do that.” True, but if Black guys had an opportunity to send four cats to the moon, you can best believe at least one would be Black.
And what about Black critics? Remember when Stanley Crouch got let go from Jazz Times? That’s what they thought of Black critics.
Again, no slight to those mentioned on the list, but I believe there should be some African-American representation. This is the type of thing that only happens in Jazz.
JAZZ: (Ewww, that’s such a dirty word!)
In no other genre of music in the Black diaspora would you find a list of the most accomplished and not find one Black.
Yeah, Eminem may be lauded as #1 on a lot of Hip-Hop lists, but he’s the White hope amongst a bunch of N*****.
Fill in the blank.
- Nicholas Payton