Week of 11/16: Abbey Lincoln/Max Roach and Spook Who Sat By the Door

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For Monday the 16th, we finish our discussion of the relationship of music and musicians to the Black Arts Movement with a look at Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach as a case study of jazz musicians responding to the movement.
 
Listen to the Max Roach Quintet with Abbey Lincoln’s landmark We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite (1961) and the Abbey Lincoln tracks . Listen carefully to what Lincoln does vocally, both lyrically (on “Freedom Day”) and the emotion she puts into “Tryptich”, especially the screaming. Think carefully about how that resonates to the times and what sort of statement that makes. Consider also the album’s cover artwork (at the top of this post). It was controversial at the time, got the album banned in several states, and resulted in a release on the relatively small Candid Records label. The album was out of print for a long time and not readily available.
 

 
Read the following (but be sure to do the listening!):

  • Max Roach, “Excerpts from Black World Interview”, in the SOS reader, pp. 185-188
  • Abbey Lincoln, “Who Will Revere the Black Woman”, in the SOS reader, pp. 106-109
  • Ingrid Monson, “Revisited! The Freedom Now Suite”, in JazzTimes.
  • Lara Pellegrinelli’s “A Look Back at the Music of Abbey Lincoln”, Part 1 and Part 2
  •  
    Think about the following:

  • How do Roach and Lincoln reflect the new militancy and changing times in their work and life?
  • Compare them to the other musicians we’ve covered and artists in other areas. What similarities or differences do you see in their approach to art and politics?
  • think carefully about Roach’s answers in the interview in SOS and Lincoln’s perspective on Black women. What does this show about their political sensibility as artists?
     
    Spook_Who_Sat_By_Door_Cover
    For Wednesday 11/18, we’ll turn to film and look at how the Black Arts Movement tried to break into mass entertainment and on to the big screen. As an example, we’ll watch the first half of The Spook Who Sat By the Door, (1973) which was written by Sam Greenlee (the screenplay was adapted from his book of the same title), directed by Ivan Dixon (who co-starred opposite Abbey Lincoln in Nothing But A Man), and features a seriously funky soundtrack by Herbie Hancock. [Note for online course followers: Spook is also on Netflix, occasionally pops up on YouTube, and will be posted here on the Video page. Contact me for access.]

    Wednesday’s assignment is to think about the context of Spook and read/watch the following:

  • Read this short 2003 article (“After 30 Years, Controversial Film Re-emerges”) from NAACP’s The Crisis on Google Books
  • Read Cultural Historian Todd Boyd’s summary of the Blaxploitation film genre on The Root
  • Watch this 4-minute “making of” video on Youtube:
     

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  • Week of 11/11: Black Arts and Music, continued

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    For Monday the 11th, we continue our discussion of the relationship of music and musicians to the Black Arts Movement with a look at jazz musicians and jazz collectives. Read chapter 9 (“Jazz, Artist Collectives, and Black Consciousness”: 149-173) in Listen Whitey!: The Sights and Sounds of Black Power 1965-1975. Skip pages 162-165 (Herbie Hancock, Mtume: we’ll go back to them later).

    Thomas covers a lot of ground in this chapter. We’ll supplement it with watching more of episode 10 (“A Masterpiece by Midnight“) of the PBS series Ken Burns’ Jazz (which is also on the Video page). Pay attention to: 1) Artist collectives (the AACM, Art Ensemble of Chicago) and communal approaches 2) Iconography and visual representations of the movement (clothing, references to Africa, revolutionary issues), and 3) the diversity of musical approaches artists take in responding to the call for “Black Art”.

    Watch the Max Roach Quintet with Abbey Lincoln’s perform “Freedom Day” and “Tryptich: Prayer, Protest, Peace” from their landmark We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite (1961), here seen on Belgian TV in 1964. Listen carefully to what Lincoln does vocally, both lyrically (on “Freedom Day”) and the emotion she puts into “Tryptich”, especially the screaming. Think carefully about how that resonates to the times and what sort of statement that makes. See Listen Whitey pages 150-151.





    Watch Rahsaan Roland Kirk perform “Volunteered Slavery” live at the 1972 Montreaux (Switzerland) Jazz Festival. See Listen Whitey pages 166-168.



    Listen to Les McCann and Eddie Harris’s “Compared to What” from their live Swiss Movement. See Listen Whitey pages 168-169.



    Watch this short (10 minute) documentary on the Art Ensemble of Chicago.



    Watch Nina Simone perform “Four Women” live at the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park. Pay attention to her clothing and hair style as obvious influences of the movement and new Black consciousness. As you watch, think about the lyrics and the narrative she’s telling about the experiences of Black women.



    Optional is the chapter on the 1960s from John Szwed’s Jazz 101 and the liner notes from the Freedom Sounds CD (which has a good overview of the musical trends) on the Readings page.

    On Thursday the 14th We move to music-inspired writing with a focus on John Coltrane’s masterpiece album A Love Supreme. While Coltrane himself was not as overtly political as many other artists of the time, his work (and death) had similar reverberations to that of Malcolm X, with numerous responses from artists working in various forms.

    From the Readings page, please read/listen to the following:

  • Sonia Sanchez’s interview and poetry (pay special attention to “A Coltrane Poem”).
  • Haki Madhubuti’s poetic response to Coltrane: “Don’t Cry, Scream”. (Note: a longer interview with Madhubuti is also on the Readings page. I’m leaving that up if anyone’s interested, but the assignment is just to read the shorter “Don’t Cry, Scream” PDF).
  • Listen to John Coltrane’s classic A Love Supreme album on Youtube while reading. (The entire album is about 32 minutes and is likely on Spotify as well if you want to listen there). Listen at least once, preferably a few times. Even better: listen to it the first thing in the morning as the sun is rising.
  • Watch this live performance of Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things”, which Sanchez references in “A Coltrane Poem”.
  • Think about how Sanchez and Madhubuti try to approximate Coltrane’s sound in their work and play with words on the page in an effort to do so. Also think about what Sanchez says about the wider influence of the music on the work of poets in her interview. Again, be sure to do the listening!.

    Announcements:

  • Ed Bullins’s play In the Wine Time is at the Castillo Theater in Manhattan until November 24th. Recommended and extra credit is available if you’re motivated to write something up in response.
  • Remember also to start working on ideas for those final papers. (Assignment here, if you’ve lost the sheet.) Start choosing a topic and narrowing it down …
  • Week of 11/12: Black Arts Music

    On Monday the 12th, we’ll move to music. Start by reading the liner notes from the Freedom Rhythm and Sound CD (which are on the Readings page a PDF file), and some listening/viewing. On Monday we’ll watch part of Ken Burns’ Jazz, “Episode 10: A Masterpiece By Midnight”, which deals with the 1960s. As you read/ watch, think about how the themes and style of the artists fits in with the cultural and political shifts we’ve been talking about. How does Nina Simone show the changes that the Black Arts Movement brought on?

    Also watch (listen to) the following:

    Sun Ra Arkestra: “Nuclear War”

    Nina Simone: “Four Women”, performed live at the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival in Garvey Park.

    Nina Simone: “Why (The King of Love is Dead)”, performed live in 1968.

    Max Roach Quintet with Abbey Lincoln: “Freedom Day”, performed live.

    Optional is the chapter on the 1960s from John Szwed’s Jazz 101, also on the Readings page.

    On Thursday the 12th We move to music-inspired writing.

    From the Readings page, please read : Haki Madhubuti’s poetry and interview (one PDF file) and pay special attention to his poem “Don’t Cry, Scream”. Listen to John Coltrane’s classic A Love Supreme album on Youtube while reading. (The entire album is about 32 minutes and is likely on Spotify as well if you want to listen there). Read and view the images of the Pathways to Unknown Worlds 2009 exhibit. Also Watch this short compilation of scenes on Sun Ra. What to think about (while trying to understand Sun Ra!) is how he might fit into the Black Arts movement as a distinct character. How does his fascination with outer space fit with the idea of changing times and breaking conventional boundaries of art and politics? How do he and the Arkestra (as his band was/is called) mix futuristic outlook with reclaiming an African past? Don’t worry if you’re somewhat confused!

    On Thursday, we also have a student presentation on music by Shameeka, Guy, Kierra, Alex, and Amanda.

    Optional: See Sun Ra’s poetry in Black Fire, pages 212-219. Also see the excellent BBC documentary on Sun Ra Brother From Another Planet and the fairly wild feature film Ra and the Arkestra starred in and had a hand in creating, Space is the Place (both on Youtube). Finally, Pat Thomas’s excellent book Listen Whitey! (Wexler Library reserve) is an excellent collection of Black Arts/ Power music.

    Remember also to start working on ideas for those final papers. (Assignment here, if you’ve lost the sheet.) Start choosing a topic and narrowing it down …