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  1. AG: There are some gigs for example that, no matter how great a white musician might play, they might not end up doing. But not for racial reasons, just for social reasons: because they might not happen to be friends with so-and-so, or maybe so-and-so doesn't feel close enough to them to take them on the road. Obviously these social factors are very important when you are doing gigs—especially when you are putting together a band. Sometimes you want not just the best musicians, but you also want the best musicians who are fun to hang with. If you’re black, the law of social averages here is that most of your friends are also going to be black. The musicians you know and as a result the people you play with might also therefore mostly be black. That being said, maybe you would happen to have a white friend, or maybe there is a white guy you know who is cool with you and your friends, who you’re down with for whatever reason, and who also happens to be a great musician. You might call him first for a gig. For example there are lots of black guys whose bands I might be in simply because I’m their friend, not even because I am the best player available. Or it might just be because I happen to be home when the phone rings. It’s not like they are calling the white guy because he’s the piano player, they might just be calling the white guy because he’s their best friend. It happens to be a nice interracial friendship. At this point, I feel like I have had a lot of shared experiences with people both black and white.
  1. AB: That is probably extraordinarily unusual, even in New York City…

  2. AG: But I don’t think it is so unusual in the jazz world. I feel fortunate that I have had a lot of long-standing musical relationships with some black friends of mine. I feel close to them on a personal level, even though I may come from a totally different background. I don’t think it’s that rare. I don’t know, man…my perspective might be skewed but my sense of it is that there are a lot of interracial bands in New York City, almost every band I go to see is mixed.

  3. AB: Do politics ever come up? You play this music in this little space that you create, but the real world keeps impinging on it because you are not playing music in a vacuum. During the sixties, it was quite fashionable to be overtly political and [Charles] Mingus did a lot of very explicitly political music. How do you feel about that today? Do you seek to do that?

  4. AG: There is no question that it was absolutely integral for those people to make that music in that time. It was probably a social responsibility of everyone living in that time, but not, I think, a musical responsibility. There was a social and moral responsibility for everyone living in a segregated America, especially those playing African American music—whether they be white or black—to speak out against discrimination, racism, and segregation in all its forms. And to the degree that those things still exist today, it remains our social responsibility to speak out against them. But do we have to do it in a musical context? No, but some people are going to choose to make their music more overtly political and other people aren’t. Other people are just going to try to take a lower profile. America has made so much progress, despite what naysayers might claim, that it is possible for a Tiger Woods or a Michael Jordan to be somewhat apolitical. Even for most rappers today to be apolitical, just to talk about money and clothes…

  5. AB: …Well, a lot of people argue that that is inherently political anyway because they fetishize clothes and money, perhaps because they were denied them…

  6. AG: That’s not the same thing. You’re saying their rap has political implications, you’re saying it has sociological implications. But they’re not making an overtly political point…

  7. AB: OK, I should be clear about intentional political statements versus statements that can be read or interpreted as political.

  8. AG: But we are talking about social or moral responsibility. In the 50s, those rappers would have been morally corrupt if they had had their position of authority and not done something with it to speak out against the gross injustice around them. We have a lot of political problems in this country today, and I don’t think that it’s more important for jazz musicians, or musicians in general, to speak out against those things than for anyone else to do so. It’s all of our social responsibility, no matter what we do, to speak out against injustice in our country and try to make our country a better place. Taking that a step farther, maybe trying to make the world a better place. I don’t think that there is in anyway a requirement that music be political, in any sense.

  9. Of course there was a lot of great music that came out of that time of upheaval. I sometimes think that if perhaps the political issues of today were more pressing to all of us, myself included, then we might actually all be making better music. I don’t know if there is a direct connection between the quality of the music that was coming out of the 60s and the political situation of the 60s. Music in that day might have been more urgent in some kind of way. That’s not to say there’s not a lot of great music being made today. I would never say it was an artist's responsibility to be political in his art itself. Racism was institutionalized across the country in the 60s in a way that it is not now. The problems are pressing and they remain, but they are much harder to get a handle on, and they are much harder to attack symbolically through music. They are better attacked through the ballot box, through legislation. Music can raise consciousness but it is not so easy to hammer away at what remains of the Klu Klux Klan through it…

  10. AB: The Civil Rights movement in and of itself didn’t really collapse but it lost a lot of its steam when confronting very difficult, elusive problems. Martin Luther King Jr., for example, was fighting wars on poverty and housing discrimination at the end of his life, which were more difficult to find. You had to go through housing department records and find out that they weren’t giving loans to the right people, things like that. It just became even more complicated, I guess.

  11. AG: And I think the more complicated problems are the more difficult to address through music. It’s really inspiring once in a while when somebody like U2’s Bono uses his stature as a musician and a public figure to come out and tackle some of these very difficult issues away from the bandstand. We jazz musicians tend to be intelligent, politically aware people but not as informed on a daily basis as we could be, and also not as involved in the world outside of our music as we could be.

  12. The other thing I was going to say about race and music: I think one reason there was increased hype about race in the late 80s, or whenever it was, was that there were a lot of young musicians getting opportunities and being put in a forum where they could express themselves. And I think that young people in general are immature in their views about race, insecure about their racial identity, and about other people’s racial identities. I remember when I was in music school in ’91, to me race seemed like such a much more pressing issue: can you play with this guy, can he play with you ’cause your black, white, black, or whatever. In retrospect I think ten percent of that was a true reflection of the jazz community in general because of the fact that a lot of these young lions were still insecure and inexperienced and creating this climate where race was talked about a lot. But I think that eighty percent of that perception, in my experience of being young and thinking race, was due to my own insecurity. It is sort of stuff you imagine is going on, a whole bunch of imagined bullshit in each one of our heads—at least some of our heads, unfortunately. But after a while, as you get older you grow out of that stuff. As soon as you are more secure in who you are, everyone around you is also more secure in who they are and everyone’s getting along fine—and suddenly you realize this person that you thought was vibing you really wasn’t. You see that they were insecure themselves and they were just vibing everyone, black or white. It had nothing to do with race. People were using race as a kind of scapegoat for their own insecurity, their own unhappiness, and their own inability to succeed. As soon as you ignore that stuff, you start to do well and you start to see that everyone really is out to find out if you are a great musician or not. They’re not going to judge you one way or another on who you are or your skin color. No matter where you come from.

  13. AB: I knew this guy who would come to New York and walk everywhere regardless of the neighborhood. Sometimes it was probably not so safe but his point was—particularly in places like 125th St. in Harlem, which is the main drag—he would walk there and he’d be the only white face. He said part of the problem is that if everyone just walked there it wouldn’t be a problem. It’s like you were saying, the ideas in your head take over and replace a kind of reality on the street, which is very true for that example…

  14. AG: Yes, exactly…

  15. AB: I like jazz as hopeful, jazz as the model of liberal humanism, or democracy…

  16. AG: I buy it. It’s my experience.

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Berish: Dissections and Intersections

Review Essays

Carson: El Niño

Courtier: Long Road to Freedom


Grigg and Murphy: Opera’s Second Death

Niebur: The Film Reader

Jorritsma: Amandla!

Conference Report

Garrett: Criss Cross