Indigenous Roots of Jazz

On this day, many people in the United States celebrate "Columbus Day" and his so-called discovery of America. Going back deep into history, and using common sense, one discovers that this not only NOT true, but it was also the beginning of the colonization, plundering, and mass murder of the indigenous people's of the Americas. Most don't know that after the many atrocities committed by Columbus, he was arrested and imprisoned after his return to Spain. Shortly after he was pardoned and released. 

Today, many more people in the US are inclined not only NOT to celebrate "Columbus Day", but actively work toward replacing this day as "Indigenous People's Day". 

"What does this have to do with Jazz?", you might think. My answer; a lot more than you may think! 

Sometime last year I was asked to give a talk on the "African Influence in Jazz", which I honestly could not 100% agree with as a statement. I will try to explain myself here.

History (His-story) books keep telling us that jazz is a "synthesis between European harmony and African rhythms". Not only is this grossly over-simplified, but it is outright incorrect. In any society, music, art, and cuisine, among other things comprise the culture of a given country, city, neighborhood,etc. If we are to look back at early north America, before the founding of the United States we see a society populated by European invaders, Native (Indigenous) peoples aka "Indians", and very few "Africans". I place "Africans" in quotations due to the fact that Africa is a continent of peoples with various phenotypes. Plus, "Africa" is not a name that was given to the continent by its native peoples, but that's a topic of discussion for another time. I say "very few" Africans because modern examination of the records of so-called "slave ships" tells us that a maximum of only 15% of all captured and enslaved Africans were ever taken to North America as part of the Atlantic Slave Trade.

So, the basic question is; If jazz was created out of the meeting between Europeans and Africans in America, how is it possible that the "Indians" didn't contribute to this music, if they were also part of the society? 

My answer; They DID contribute, heavily! They were purposely left out of the equation!

Indigenous peoples in the Americas had build cities, towns, monuments, "pyramids", developed agriculture, developed tools, medicine, had their own religions and philosophies. And today, we are left to believe that they all lived in Teepees, and just made baskets, moccassins, and "dreamcatchers". In a word, Arts & Crafts, but somehow they didn't influence the local music?! 

The truth is, as I understand it, the European settlers were dead set on displaying the "Indians" as savages in every wake of life. Many treaties were made, all were broken by the settlers, land stolen, indigenous peoples were enslaved, their languages suppressed, their children separated from their parents and their entire tribes and communities. Any and all evidence of their flourishing culture were destroyed or hidden (parts of the Grand Canyon are off limits for visitors).

But what about "Jazz"? 

Jazz bassist Oscar Pettiford contended that; “the importance of the American Indian to jazz has been underestimated if not completely overlooked.” He also maintained “the 4/4 tempo, ...came directly from the American Indian; that, though it existed in European music, it was not used in the same way; and that African rhythms, ...were of very different rhythmic nature.” Oscar Pettiford's mother was full-blooded Choctaw (Chata) and his father was half Cherokee (Aniyunwiya).

Most of the jazz musicians we celebrate today were of Indigenous American ancestry. To list a few more;

Clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, part Cherokee
Drummer Max Roach, of Tuscarora ancestry
Saxophonist Jim Pepper, Creek and Kaw ancestry
Saxophonist Charlie Parker, Choctaw ancestry
Pianist Thelonius Monk, of Tuscarora ancestry
Saxophonist Charles Lloyd, of Cherokee ancestry
Pianist John Lewis, Cherokee and Comanche ancestry
Saxophonist Jean Baptiste "Illinois" Jacquet, Sioux ancestry
Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, Cheraw descent
Pianist / Bandleader Duke Ellington, Cherokee ancestry
Trumpeter Miles Davis, Cherokee ancestry
Trumpter Don Cherry, Choctaw ancestry

Among them are a slew of musicians of other genres;

Singer James Brown, Apache
Guitarist Jimi Hendrix, Cherokee ancestry
Guitarist Chuck Berry, Cherokee ancestry
Singer Tina Turner, Cherokee and Choctaw
and many more.

Today, millions of these "Indians" are misclassified as "African American". 

Yes, certainly, there has been an African influence on jazz. Looking at the works of;


Saxophonist John Coltrane "Africa Brass Sessions", as well as "Kulu Sé Mama" (Afro-Carribean), "Bahia" (Afro-Brazilian) and his work with Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji. Coltrane also delved into (East) Indian Music, and worked together with Ravi Shankar.
Dizzy Gillespie's "Afro-Cuban" jazz recordings, and his famous jazz standard, "A Night in Tunesia".
Pianist Randy Weston and his various recordings.
Saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and some of his recordings.
... just to name a few.

I profess that so-called "Black Music" is "Indigenous American Music", and "African" music is a part of it, for sure, but not necessarily, it's base.
Here are some links of note on this topic:

Native Roots of Jazz - Bobb Fantauzzo
Native American Influence in the History of the Blues - Joe Gioia

In the spirit of this day, I'd like to say...

Happy Indigenous People's Day!!!

 

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