Voices and Freedoms: The Intro Show

The Video/Audio below is an excerpt from the Intro Show to my radio series Voices and Freedoms: A History of Jazz, based on my 1976 book of the same name.  The 16-part series played across the nation for five years in the late 70’s/early 80’ and holds its relevance—or is even more so—today than it was back then.  The excerpts present about 6 to 8 minutes of the original 30-minute broadcasts. The link above takes you to information about the book and our plans to re-release it and provide access to the full-length original shows. Go HERE for a complete list of shows and links to all excerpts.

 

My first book, Voices and Freedoms: A History of Jazz, came out in 1976, and even before the ink was dry the idea of a radio show was proposed and we began work on it at the University of Virginia.  The show would promote not just the book but the university’s entire Department of Continuing Studies.  The radio engineers weren’t welcoming at first.  “See that line,” said the head engineer, Eric, pointing to a heavy painted stripe on the floor at the entrance of the control booth.  “You’re on that side.  I’m on this side.  You don’t cross over, ever.”  I had to earn my chops, had to prove to them I had some radio talent, radio know how.

I didn’t.  But I’d always wanted a radio show.

At Cal State, Hayward—Hay U, we used to call the place, which is now Cal State East Bay—a few fellow graduate students remarked that I seemed to be the least dedicated of them all because what I really wanted to be was a DJ.  I grew up listening to great Bay Area radio stations and, as I write, I have before me a parody book put out by Terry McGovern, one of the most popular DJ’s on KSFO, AM 560.  Called Listen to the Loud, it spoofs the poet Rod McKuen, whose ultra-mushy, ultra-sensitive poems were so popular during the day.

I’m much better on the radio, or narrating something now, but listening to these jazz shows now, I have to admit I wasn’t very good.  I’m clearly reading a textbook, not just speaking naturally.  I must have been good enough, however, because Eric and the other techs soon extended their good graces to me and heartily invited me to cross the control booth line any time I wanted.  Before long, UVA radio’s producer, another Rod, Rod Collins, was running down the stairs at the radio station shouting, “You’re playing in Poughkeepsie!  You’re playing in Poughkeepsie!”

“Where?” I asked. “Ever heard of Vassar?  Huh?” he replied, looking bug-eyed at me as if I were an idiot. With Vassar leading the way, many other stations on the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System would be picking up the series, too.

Freddie Hubbard and Julian Bond join me on the broadcast as I attempt to set up the whole series.  The Intro Show focuses mainly on the book’s unusual title.  People have often referred to it as “Voices of Freedom,” but it’s Voices AND Freedoms.  Perhaps the freedoms part is easiest to explain.  In the book and radio series it means first the growing freedom of forms that jazz would take as it progressed from its earliest brass band musical influences to the free jazz movement and beyond. It also meant the freedom struggle, primarily of American Black people.  Looking back, I’m somewhat startled to see how I was already writing and speaking deeply about a topic that has occupied so much of my academic and social change efforts over the decades.  That’s why I believe the book is perhaps as, or even more, relevant today as the struggle of Blacks for their freedom and the freedom of other people of color—and even white people—seems to have reached another crucial break point.

The voices part refers to jazz’s obsession with the human voice.  Early in the book, and in what you’ll hear in the excerpt of the Intro Show below, I say this: “The sound of the human voice is more precious than we know.  It breaks out in laughter, in words bitter or sweet, shy or commanding; it sighs, cries and groans; it lapses into silence, which can be one of its most expressive moments. And jazz has always been obsessed with it.  Though basically an instrumental music, jazz tone, concept, and feeling derive mainly from the vocal milieu of black folksong.  When jazz musicians play, they speak, growl, moan, mutter, croon, confess the blues, shout, whisper: they treat their instruments as extensions of the human voice…The human voice is one of the most human things about us.  It is evidence of the presence of a living creative human being, and in a deep sense that’s what jazz is about: it’s about the enduring, free presence of such human beings.”  Learning to hear the human voice indwelling in jazz is the easiest way to understand and relate to the widest variety of jazz music, from the most constricted songs of its early history to the wildest, freest songs it produces today.

Go to the Training and Teaching Diversity main page.

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Blues: Tone, Form, Attitude

This short article accompanies the release of excerpts from my radio series Voices and Freedoms: A History of Jazz, based on my 1976 book of the same name.  The 16-part series played across the nation for five years in the late 70’s/early 80’ and holds its relevance—or is even more so—today than it was back then.  The excerpts present about 6 to 8 minutes of the original 30-minute broadcasts. The link above takes you to information about the book and our plans to re-release it and provide access to the full-length original shows. Go HERE for a complete list of shows and links to all excerpts, and watch and listen to the Video/Audio below.

 

After Emancipation, as blacks sought greater equality, many whites grew more bitter and fearful, and—though slavery was certainly the most extreme form of segregation—segregation throughout the whole of society seemed to begin in earnest.  Legally, it culminated in the 1896 Supreme Court decision in the case of Plessy vs. Ferguson which upheld an 1890 Louisiana law requiring railroads to provide “separate but equal” accommodations for white and black passengers.  The Court said that recognition of color differences had “no tendency to destroy legal equality,” that the Fourteenth Amendment was not intended to enforce “social, as distinguished from political, equality or a commingling of the races upon terms unsatisfactory to either,” and that if the enforced segregation “stamps the colored race with the badge of inferiority,” it is solely because “the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.”  Justice John M. Harlan cast the lone dissent, thereby presaging by nearly sixty years the Court’s 1954 decision in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education, Topeka.

At about this same time, in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, as segregation gained legal status, a great burgeoning of blues occurred.  Born and bred in the South, it flowed northward in a migratory pattern that is a study in itself.

Show Number Three of Voices and Freedoms looks at blues in three ways: As a tone of voice, as a musical form, and as an attitude towards life born out of a need to survive in an increasingly segregated society.  This excerpt touches on all three.

The blues actually does deserve to be called, as it often has been, a “secular spiritual.” It was a unique and powerful blend speaking about tragedy and comedy at the same time.  Blues came from a people who for hundreds of years, says Ralph Ellison, “…could not celebrate birth or dignify death and whose need to live despite the dehumanizing pressures of slavery developed an endless capacity for laughing at their painful experiences.”  He calls the blues a technique for survival (read more about that HERE). Spiritual people often labeled the blues “devil music,” but actually both helped Blacks survive, the spirituals in their way, the blues in theirs.

Go to the Training and Teaching Diversity main page.

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Wherever I’m At

The Chicago Literary Hall of Fame is publishing its first book.  Wherever I’m At is a fabulous collection of poetry, which officially launched just this past June 13th at the Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago. There will be more events, like the panel I’m moderating at the Chicago History Museum on the evening of July 12th, where I’ll be talking to contributors Haki Madhubuti, Vida Cross, Yolanda Nieves and Virginia Bell.  Below is a one-minute/eight-second VIDEO ad I did for the book.  I say:

“Hello, I’m Richard Guzman, and I know a few things about Chicago anthologies because I did two big ones: Smokestacks and Skyscrapers with David Starkey, and Black Writing from Chicago on my own, and I’m here to tell you that you have to get the new anthology from the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame…All poetry, and as exhilarating a collection as I’ve ever read, by some of the most distinguished writers in America—all prized up with Pulitzers, all granted up by Fords and MacArthurs. One even wrote and read a poem for a Presidential Inauguration…But whatever they’ve won, wherever they’ve read, Wherever I’m At—that’s the book’s title—Wherever I’m At, they’re all in Chicago somehow, Chicago as a vibrating, planetary point, Chicago as a portal into the total, wide inner and outer universe…It’s for everyone, wherever you are, and every place you find yourself, but the book also returns you here to a city as real as steel and Lake Michigan and pedestrian tunnels under Lakeshore /slash/ DuSable Drive. It’s a beautiful, beautiful trip.” (Pieces of my video are incorporated into a six-minute-plus promo video you can watch HERE.)

Fragment of a photo by John Brzezinski.

I’ve been close to the CLHOF since the Hall’s founder and still-executive director, still all-everything-impresario Don Evans called me more than a dozen years ago and asked me to be on the first committee of people nominating great Chicago writers for induction.  I’ve done some of those induction speeches—for Fenton Johnson and Marita Bonner, for example—and after a few years of prodding, I joined the Board of Directors earlier this year, with the proviso that they can throw me out with no hard feelings if I fail to pull my weight…which I’m still not doing these first few months.

The book is co-edited by Don Evans and the late Robin Metz, who started the project many years ago, brought Don into it, and which Don finished after Robin’s death.  At least 15 wonderful photos and pieces of artwork adorn the book, two fragments of which you see at left.  And to end here are just a few fragments of poetry among many, many striking passages grabbing my attention the first time I read through Wherever I’m At, starting with the fragment that gave the entire book its name: “wherever I’m at that land is Chicago.” And “The neighborhood contains / The Midwest Mambo Club / and two stores named / Hosanna. The School of / Metaphysics used to be / located over Harry’s Bar….”

Fragment of a painting by Kerry James Marshall.

And “My memory is a soft cloth / rubbing the pieces together. / We still live inside this wound / on Division Street….” And “Here a spirit must yell / to be heard yet a bullet / need only whisper to make / its point—sometimes I imagine / you right before your death / with an entire city in your ears.” And “He’s a sucker for poets and writers, / hides his artistry behind lions, / spits poems in bars, / blows solid blues.”  And you’ve just got to parody Carl Sandburg: “Candy Maker for the World, / Deep Dish Pizza Baker, Seller of Futures, /Trader of Fortunes, Strider of the Magnificent Mile, / Soupy, Stalwart, Honking, / City of the Proud Suburbs.”  So many striking you on virtually every page, but for me none more than from one of my favorite poets, Mark Turcotte, whose poem “Hawk Hour” brings the anthology to a close.  His prose poem begins, “In this city time unwinds in unnatural ways.”  “It’s bad for the body,” he continues towards the middle of the first paragraph. “Even here at the corner of Sheridan and Pratt, the lake and its waves only a block away, I cannot measure my dying.”  The flows are all wrong. The city breaks his clock and all the natural clocks of nature. The poem ends with the speaker at the Loyola Station where he crawls up the escalator, but at 90 miles an hour!  Then at the top—spewed out at 95 mph—he suddenly lingers “in a shadow that drapes itself across my eyes. I catch my breath, I stand upright. Above me the shape of a hawk drowns out the rush of the next ten trains and with its beating wings reaches out to stop the sky.”  “Chicago” is the French version of “Stinky Onion,” Shikaakwa, in the Miami-Illinois language. What a great, spectacular choice to end with the Native-American sensibility Turcotte brings.

Don Evans always points people to this website as a great resource on Chicago literature. Go to the Chicago Writers list and the Black Writers list to most easily access much of my writing on this subject.

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