Content[ edit ] The reprint begins with a reminiscence by the author, then aged 65, titled "Blues People: Looking Both Ways", in which he credits the poet and English teacher Sterling Brown with having inspired both him and his contemporary A. Baraka does not here discuss the impact his book has had. The original text is divided into twelve chapters, summarized below. He argues that slavery itself was not unnatural or alien to the African people, as slavery had long before existed in the tribes of West Africa. Some forms of West African slavery even resembled the plantation system in America. He then discusses a brief history of slavery, inside and outside the United States.
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Shelves: museblack , chipublib , read-in "This book should be taken as a strictly theoretical endeavor. Theoretical, in that none of the questions it poses can be said to have been answered definitively or for all time, etc.
In fact, the book proposes more questions than it will answer. One has the work citations and the bibliography, but what I am considering is a chapter matched outline of books, films, and albums that one should study in order to garner an even deeper understanding of the material that is being discussed within that chapter. At certain times, it has the language of a diatribe as Baraka decries the varying periods of blues and jazz innovation which inevitably lead to mainstream acceptance and the eventual commercialization which eliminates the emotional nuance of a formerly "negro music".
At other times, it reads as a doctoral thesis with Baraka casting forth a jargon heavy exultation of the changes brought by the geniuses of strings, woodwinds, and keys that gave birth to blues and jazz movements in ragtime, dixieland, brass, swing, bebop, cool, hard bop, avant garde and other musical forms of that ilk.
I had an initial criticism of his coverage of "The Modern Scene" at the time of reading because the chapter was so voluminous compared to how neatly Baraka had broken down the other chapters, but I had merely to remind myself that when the book was composed, he was awash in the fresh memory of that modern musical movement whereas I am looking at the work of Coleman, Coltrane, and Rollins with an eye towards the past as one of the new antiquities of music.
It stands to portray that where initially the newer innovations made in jazz music are derided and given little appreciation, they are in time shelved and then rediscovered to be given their glory in the future. In a sense, the present era keepers of jazz classify certain forms as "anti-jazz" and toss them aside only to have the future keepers of jazz say "Hey. That was genius.
Only the cool that was cool yesterday is acceptable to the mainstream when initial innovators have already moved on to something new. In that respect, the attention given by Burns to the swing era and more classical Dixieland styles, his lack of attention to more modern and progressive forms is symbolic of this sort of navel gazing in practice. That does not mean that the documentary is without historical merit, but one should always be aware that everyone has an angle and even when they are trying to be objective, they inevitably shine the prism brightest on the corner of the room which they like the best.
Blues People: Negro Music in White America, by LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka)
Blues People: Negro Music in White America