An Open Conversation With Christian McBride -by Nicholas Payton

“Jazz is nothing but a terminology. BAM is a terminology. It’s just a phrase that’s been created for identification. Think about black people in general in this country. We’ve been called Negro, Colored, Black, Afro-American and now African American. Who decides these terms? Are they bad, good, or neutral? Or, are they just simply terms? Jazz has always been Black American music and musicians who play it no matter what culture they’ve come from need to understand that and I know deep down inside do understand that. To actually start calling it BAM is unrealistic. If you do that, then you’ll have to start calling hip hop Bam. We will have to change Soul music to Bam, Gospel music to BAM and Blues to BAM. Maybe we should drop all terminologies for all kinds of music? I believe musicians have already starting do that. Musicians are the ones to not see no genres or boundaries. I look at someone like Herbie Hancock who sees no boundaries and looks at music like this big palette with all these different colors. It doesn’t matter what people call it all you have to do is agree with it or not and move forward. Jazz has always been Black American music. I am not going to start calling it BAM because I know in my heart that it already is “BAM”. I just think it’s an incomplete strategy to call it BAM because the next generation is going to end up calling it something else and so will the next generation after that. Just like we call the black people of America it changes every generation.”

– Christian McBride

 It Ain’t Just A Word

First, McBride, the j-word is not just a terminology, it’s an idea, an idea that hasn’t served the music, its artists or the audience very well. Besides those who are hip enough to know better, most people in this world want nothing to do with the j-word. I don’t blame them, neither do I. You may know it’s Black music, Christian, but there are quite a few folks out there that have found me wanting to formally declare J***, Black music, a threatening proposal. Why is that? You may think everyone playing this music knows deep down inside that it comes from the Black community, but this is not widely accepted. As you know, the less your music has to do with anything remotely Black these days, the more it’s celebrated.

I’m sure about 90% of your life is consumed with living, breathing, sleeping and eating things associated with that j-word. Words are the basis for communication. We speak in words, we think in words, so to say that J*** or #BAM is just a terminology is false. #BAM is more than music, it’s a movement. All social change has come about as the result of a movement. Think about how powerful it would be to change the name of something that has been in place for about 100 years.

The Evolution of The Nigger

McBride, you give an excellent example of how Black people in this country have gone from being called Negro, Colored, Black, Afro-American to African-American. I’d like to add another name to that list: Nigger. Are these just terminologies, too? Nothing is just a terminology. If what you name something is nothing more than a terminology, then Black people should have no problem still being publicly called Nigger, Negro or Colored. We don’t accept those “terminologies” anymore because they are derogatory and don’t suit Black people. It’s already challenging enough for Blacks to be accepted as equals in this country being called African-Americans (which I don’t like, by the way). How much more challenging would it be to be treated fairly if we still accepted being called Nigger, Negro or Colored?

Like Nigger, Negro and Colored, the j-word has too much of a negative history to ever be socially respected. You talked in this interview about how the music formerly known as J*** doesn’t have the recognition it deserves, I agree, that’s one reason why the name needs to be changed. From the beginning, J*** was the type of music dads didn’t want their daughters listening to. My father and his classmates were not allowed to play Black music in the practice rooms of Xavier University because it was viewed as the Devil’s music. As an educator, I often hear students refer to Classical music as “legitimate” music as opposed to the j-word. Our music is viewed as a bastard orphan largely due to the fact that Black people created it. Years ago “The King of The J Word”, Paul Whiteman, was on a mission to “make a lady out of j***” by combining elements of Negro music with the European classical tradition. This is a trend that has continued to this very day.

Dvorak Believed In #BAM

Fact is, we never needed anyone else to “legitimize” our music.

“In the Negro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music. They are pathétic, tender, passionate, melancholy, solemn, religious, bold, merry, gay or what you will. It is music that suits itself to any mood or purpose. There is nothing in the whole range of composition that cannot be supplied with themes from this source. The American musician understands these tunes and they move sentiment in him.”

“I am convinced that the future music of this country must be founded on what are called Negro melodies. These can be the foundation of a serious and original school of composition, to be developed in the United States. These beautiful and varied themes are the product of the soil. They are the folk songs of America and your composers must turn to them.”  

-Antonin Dvorak

Why #BAM Is Necessary

#BAM ain’t unrealistic. There has never been a more realistic and complete idea for this music, ever. I didn’t create #BAM, #BAM has always existed. I am The Creator of #BAM which means that I’ve broken down the barriers that have separated what was meant to be together. Hate me if you want, but don’t hate #BAM. #BAM is beautiful.

#BAM is The Truth

#BAM ain’t separatist, it’s patriotic. It seems that so many are caught up on the Black part that they forget I also said American. #BAM is the umbrella under which all Black music stands. There is no need to rename soul, R&B, blues, gospel or hip-hop “BAM” because they are already #BAM and no one argues from which community those genres derive. As soon as you say the j-word, people don’t see how soul, R&B and hip-hop are just modern extensions of the music formerly known as J***.

Whitewashing The Black Out of The J Word

Why is it that when you say something is Black, many White people feel offended? I believe it’s because White people are so used to owning Blacks they likewise feel entitled to everything Blacks own, so to say Black American music reminds them they didn’t create it and that we are not willing to be co-opted under the banner of the j-word. The j-word allows the world to forget that the music formerly known as J*** comes out of Black community.

In 2010, Texas legislators were able to convince textbook manufacturers to take out slavery from the then current batch of books, which invariably affects what kids are taught across the country. Any reference to slavery has been omitted from American history and the Atlantic Slave Trade has now been dubbed the Atlantic Triangular Trade. As a result, for the next 10 years, students will be taught that slavery didn’t exist. That’s a generation of children who will be falsely educated because of these racist revisionists. People are literally whitewashing history before our eyes. As we start 2012, the same thing is happening in Tennessee right now. Legal precedents can be lethal. For those who feel secure about the future of Black music, don’t think this can’t happen to us. If we’re not careful, in 20 years, Duke Ellington will be White.

Daddy Warbucks Pumping Us From Behind

I’m tired of our artists and musicians shuckin’ and jivin’ to people for handouts. Our music should be able to stand alone as a respectable art form worthy of appreciation and support because it’s good music. I’m so embarrassed to see cats pandering for money on Kickstarter. It’s a bad look all around.

“If you get a billionaire to say they really love jazz and create a movement to say jazz is cool, it would be cool overnight. We need money pumped behind jazz in order to create a lifestyle because that’s what happened in hip hop.”  

-Christian McBride

The last thing we need is getting pumped from behind by any more billionaires, we’ve endured enough of that. What we need is to separate from the idea that we depend on donors and endowments to survive. It’s a colonialist mindset that indulges that type of negative thinking pattern. If we claim our rightful place as the progenitors of the American popular song, only then will we be cool overnight because people would see that all of the pop music they listen to now is just an offshoot of #BAM. That’ll never happen as long as this music continues to call itself J***.

The music formerly known as J*** has a much longer history than hip-hop. The problem is when you call what we do J***, it separates itself from hip-hop instead of showing the world that hip-hop is just the current version of what J*** used to be. When you drop the name J*** and call it #BAM, it makes what we do relevant again. #BAM gives new life not only to what we do, but also shows the young hip-hop heads that what they think is cool goes back a lot further than the Bronx and DJ Kool Herc, though I doubt many hip-hop fans of today have any idea who Kool Herc is.

The music you call J*** and hip-hop are both from the streets. They are Black, communal musics that serve a social, spiritual and practical purpose. There is no difference between the spirit of J*** and the spirit of hip-hop except the times and the players have changed. The music typically remains unscathed in its natural habitat. It’s precisely the moment Daddy Warbucks steps in and starts pumping money into the art form that all the problems begin. J*** is already dead and hip-hop is soon to follow, if it ain’t dead already. And you think this is what will save the music? That’s exactly what’s killing it.

You must also remember that the j-word was once the preeminent pop music of its time. The 1920s was dubbed The J*** Age. The heyday for J*** has come and gone. No one needed any subsidies, just like hip-hop doesn’t now. J*** died in 1959. That word is not big enough for what most of us do. It’s time to revolutionize and claim our proper place in the canon of American popular music, and as The Savior of Archaic Pop, it’s my duty to see that it happens.

#BAM is bigger than music. #BAM has the same cultural implications the civil rights movement had and the potential to change the world once again as #BAM did in the 20th century.

Great social change has always started with a movement.

You want this music to be cool again? Look no further, the movement has already begun and no “Daddy Warbucks” had to put his hand on a Nigger’s shoulder to validate him to the world in order for us to create a new lifestyle for ourselves.

We need to stop waiting for permission from someone to grant us what we know we deserve, and rightfully claim what’s ours. Life is not a fairy tale. No billionaire is going to drop down from the sky and save us. We must save ourselves.

The movement is #BAM.

Didn’t you write a suite called The Movement Revisited? There’s power in self naming. Two of the Black figures you honored in your piece (Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali) both  understood the strength in shunning a slave name.

What You Call It Does Matter

You say in one part of the piece, “It doesn’t matter what people call it all you have to do is agree with it or not and move forward.”  Then you say, “I am not going to start calling it BAM because I know in my heart that it already is BAM.” If it doesn’t matter what you call it, why do you have a problem calling it #BAM, and if in your heart it’s already #BAM, then why not call it that? It’s like saying you love chicken and in your heart you know it’s chicken, but you’re not going to call it “chicken”. McBride, that makes no sense whatsoever.

#BAM Ain’t A Strategy,

It’s A M o v e ment

#BAM ain’t a strategy. Saying it’s a strategy is like saying there’s some ulterior motive behind it all. #BAM is The Truth. The fact that we are Black American music artists isn’t a ploy of some sort, this is about respecting our ancestors and awakening people to aspire to be their best selves, not just Black people, everyone. That can’t happen if you’re not honest. Every nationality has a music to celebrate its plight and its people in which the world is invited to participate and enjoy. Why can’t Black American people have the same right to nationalistic pride? “Lift Every Voice and Sing!” That’s what #BAM is all about.

#BAM ain’t about me, it’s about we.

We the people….

– Nicholas Payton aka The Creator of #BAM aka The Savior of Archaic Pop



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