Black & Blue

allen lowe’s madly-intriguing preview of an upcoming talk: the blues as “a vertical sound in a horizontal world.”

When I interviewed Wynton Marsalis not too long ago I asked him about his recent negative comparison of hip hop to old time minstrelsy – isn”t that the point, I said, for artists to take control of the means of oppression, to make it their own through manipulation of stereotypes in their own favor? Think Fats Waller, think Louis Armstrong…

He informed me in no uncertain terms that minstrelsy was nothing but an instrument of racial, social, and political degradation; and that I was just an ignorant academic, cloistered in my own narrow (white?) world. The blues, he said, was everything, minstrelsy nothing. And Louis Armstrong was god’s creation through the medium of the blues.

This led me to thinking: Was Armstrong really a great blues player? Was Marsalis really a blues player? Do jazz musicians know anything about the blues? Or do they proclaim their love for something that, in their hands, remains a shadow of its former self?

And I concluded: Louis Armstrong’s was a minstrel soul. But the blues is a haunt. Sometimes it comes in the form of reality. Sometimes in the form of fantasy. If you love it you accept it for what it is (not what you want it to be): part minstrel creation, part deep Delta, part pop, part everything else out of the genius of African American creations: a vertical sound in a horizontal world, a piece of consciousness as racially skewed as the rest of America.

Allen Lowe, “Looking at Down from Up: Blues from Blackface to Whiteface (or: All the Blues You Could Play By Now if Stanley Crouch was Your Uncle),” description of upcoming talk at EMP 2010 Pop Conference

Allen Lowe’s website. Continued: Culture Rover #380: Black & Blue, Part Two.

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