The written histories of Jazz are replete with myth, confusion, misinformation and, occasionally, outright lies. And I am certainly in no position to do it ‘right’; in fact I have no intention of doing the research to even begin the subject.
But what have done, and continue to do is to read the various books I come across in the Manieri collection in the Anacortes Library. Over the years, I’ve probably read 50 or 60 books from that collection and other places.
I just finished one of the more interesting and well written – and controversial.
The title is taken from the classic Basin Street Blues:
Is the street,
Where all the dark
And the light folks meet
Where the Dark and the Light Folks Meet; Race and the Mythology, Politics and Business of Jazz, written by trumpeter Randall Sandke, is well documented – but hardly objective.
Though, in fairness, it is highly unlikely that the subject of the book can be approached objectively. Part of the reason is that so much of the early history of Jazz is hidden in the mists of time. Indeed, Sandke, who interviewed many of the early musicians from the early years in New Orleans, Kansas City, Chicago, New York and other places notes that memories did not always match, some had accepted as truth what is in fact myth, e.g., it is highly unlikely that Buddy Bolden made his living as a barber as maintained by so many.
Nevertheless, does a quite credible job of laying to rest several widely accepted ‘facts’, among them:
Jazz rhythms are based on those of West Africa; in reality, West African music is polyrhymic – which almost never appears in Jazz, and certainly not in any of the early Jazz recordings.
Jazz developed in Storeyville; in reality, early Jazz was to be found all over New Orleans.
Black musicians were systematically paid less than white; Sandke cites numerous comparisons contradicting that ‘fact.’
He does the same for the ‘fact’ that all early Jazz musicians were black.
If you love Jazz, pick up Where the Dark and the Light Folks Meet; you’ll be glad you did.