Charlie Parker died to play this music. Bud Powell died to play this music. After suffering through the worst holocaust in human history, these brilliant Black artists gave the world a gift. This gift was so potent that not only did it help them leverage some modicum of autonomy, but helped other oppressed peoples of the world find themselves. It even freed the souls of those who uprooted them from their homeland of Africa and enslaved them for centuries in a land not theirs. It is through Black music that White America began the process of healing itself.
I didn’t think back in May of 2005 when I was generously quoted in Stanley Crouch’s piece entitled, “The Colossus,” which extolled the virtues of Master Rollins, that I would have to sit up here today and call out the same publication for attempting to besmirch his character. I hesitate to write this piece because I don’t think this drivel posing as satire deserves any more attention than it’s already garnered, but as Bishop Desmond Tutu has said:
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.
If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
Theodore Walter “Sonny” Rollins is no mouse. He is a man. A man who, like Bird and Bud, has also given his life to Black music that has been categorically reduced to a little thing called “jazz.” Calling Black music “Jazz,” is the oppressor’s way of being able to put on white gloves and sing “Mammy” in blackface, while saying don’t get offended because it’s just “satire.” You might say to yourself that was 100 years ago, but the trend still continues as a more subtle head game in today’s media. As the article says, “Jazz might be the stupidest thing anyone ever came up with.” I agree. It’s the spirit of “Jazz” that allows some people to think it’s funny that some 83-year-old Black musician spent 70 years of his life playing an instrument that sounds like a “scared pig.” Perhaps he did so not because he loved it, but because he was so stupid “he never learned the names of the other instruments.”
Here’s one of the most respected American periodicals posting a picture of a somber-faced Sonny with a piece “in his own words,” rhapsodizing about how he hates music and he’s wasted his life. Where’s the humor in that?
Of course Black people aren’t capable of contributing anything to society more than “noodling around” on their instruments. I mean, according to The New Yorker:
“I really don’t know why I keep doing this. Inertia, I guess. Once you get stuck in a rut, it’s difficult to pull yourself out, even if you hate every minute of it. Maybe I’m just a coward.”
Wow, that’s funny! It’s about as funny as some White people think it is to let their kids run wild in a restaurant or on an airplane terrorizing the other patrons. It’s about as funny as how those kids grow up to be government officials who terrorize Africans or Palestinians. It’s about as funny as that writer in The Onion who called 9-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis a cunt on Oscar night.
It is no irony that this “Django Gold” who wrote this piece is a senior writer for The Onion. And it doesn’t matter to me what color this Django is, it’s nerdy White boy humor. Someone at The New Yorker shouldn’t have left that Django Unchained.
I get that White people and Black people have cultural differences and thus a different sense of humor. Given that to be the case, White people: stick to satirizing those who get your sense of humor. Leave Black people be. You’ve done enough over the past 500 years. Black life in a world of White oppression and supremacy is satirical enough. We don’t need your help adding to it.
Meanwhile in Rolling Stone magazine, a real article came out that reads like satire. Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga are doing a “Jazz” album. Tony goes on in this piece to say about Gaga, “She’s as good as Ella Fitzgerald…”
Nigga, please?! Lady Gaga ain’t fit to wear Ella’s dirty draws.
To top it off, the album has the nerve to be called Cheek to Cheek. How apropos for two people making an ass out of themselves caricaturizing Black music. All due respect to Bennett, but he’s never been a great. He was just lucky enough to outlive all the true greats of his era.
“Jazz is a marketing ploy that serves an elite few. The elite make all the money while they tell the true artists it’s cool to be broke.”
— Nicholas Payton (from On Why Jazz Isn’t Cool Anymore)
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that a White publication like The New Yorker would take veiled shots at Sonny posing as satire. Isn’t that the point of White media? It’s a tool by which to sustain their supremacy and privilege by subjugating all others to the minority class. Blacks have been satirized in the media as Niggers for years. I find it a bit interesting that this week on August 3rd, 1492, Christopher Columbus set out on the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria to begin the age of capitalism and colonization.
Perhaps Christopher Columbus is the greatest satirist of all time. Isn’t he responsible for promulgating the idea that non-Christian people of color were just pawns in the White man’s game? Here’s a dude who’s proclaimed to have discovered America while trying to reach Asia, but actually landed in the Bahamas. Hell bent on selling the narrative that he’d landed in Asia he called the inhabitants, “Indians.” Furthermore to solidify his story, he made the other voyagers sign an oath promising to lie, and if they broke that oath they would have their tongues cut out.
How’s that for satire?
Let me tell you what Sonny really said in his own words:
“I was born black. That means in this world I’m going to have problems. That’s what I have to deal with in this life: being born black.”
— Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop