jazz club in Oakland released its much-anticipated 10-year anniversary
CD last month, local jazz aficionados were outraged that no African
American musicians were included.
grew days later when the Bay Area's jazz community learned that
the Berkeley Downtown Jazz Festival had invited only six African
American musicians to perform at the five-day event in August.
the two revelations upset musicians, club owners and fans, some
of whom say racism is at play in the local jazz scene. Anna DeLeon,
owner of Anna's Jazz Island in Berkeley, complained to organizers
when she learned who was scheduled to play at her club during
17 musicians in four bands, and none were black," said DeLeon.
"It is hard for me to imagine how this could happen, how they
could not notice."
quickly as people voiced outrage via email over a problem many
said had been simmering for a long time. Jazz professionals met
to plan a response. Club owners and musicians went on Doug Edwards'
"Music of the World" show on KPFA-FM on May 19. A week later,
Susan Muscarella, who books the jazz festival and runs Berkeley's
Jazzschool, appeared on the same show to respond.
says the situation is being overblown. She said she hasn't finished
booking the festival but has so far confirmed four African American
acts, and it was coincidence that none would perform at Anna's.
Last year, 30 per cent of festival performers were black, she
are outrageous," Muscarella said. "Diversity has always been at
the top of my list. I hold African American heritage in high esteem.
But I do choose quality and not ethnicity alone."
said that holding black heritage in high esteem is not the point.
Inviting six African American artists to a major jazz event that
includes dozens of performers and excluding black artists from
a selection of 10 performances at the East Bay's most prominent
jazz venue is simply unacceptable, they said.
"It is like
going to a Chinese restaurant and there are no Chinese people,"
said Howard Wiley, a local saxophonist. "It is very disheartening
and sad, especially from Yoshi's, which calls itself the premiere
jazz venue of the Bay Area.
we are dealing with jazz and blues, not Hungarian folk music or
the invention of computer programs."
out of the African American experience, and many historians call
it the most significant contribution from the United States to
the music world.
jazz artists, festival organizers and academics say the two incidents
show how African Americans are being squeezed out of the art form
stemming from a much larger dynamic with regard to jazz and what
is becoming a legitimized and institutionalized lack of inclusion
of African Americans," said Glen Pearson, a music instructor at
the College of Alameda and a full-time musician. "Jazz was once
looked at as inferior music from an inferior culture, and now
it has become embraced socially and academically, so there has
been some revisionism."
is like going to a
Chinese restaurant and
there are no Chinese people,"
said Howard Wiley, a local saxophonist.
"It is very disheartening and sad,
especially from Yoshi's,
which calls itself the premiere
jazz venue of the Bay Area."
some music critics believe the African American roots of jazz
and its black contributors are sometimes featured too heavily
in education and portrayals of jazz, such as in Ken Burns' television
documentary series. There were complaints that the PBS series,
"Jazz," focused too much on African Americans, Pearson said.
"I am comfortable
saying that every significant white contributor to jazz studied
from someone of African American descent," Pearson said. "So for
a world-class jazz venue to not include an African American performer
in a 10-year tribute is just so sideways."
years, countless prominent African Americans have performed at
Yoshi's, including Joshua Redman, Branford Marsalis, Howard Wiley,
Abbey Lincoln, Mulgrew Miller, Terence Blanchard, Marcus Shelby,
McCoy Tyner, Shirley Horn and Elvin Jones.
Yoshi's artistic director, said the exclusion was an oversight
and that the club does not have the right to record all the performers
that appear there.
to anyone who feels slighted by the omission of African American
artists on this project, as that was never our intention," he
wrote in an email to concerned supporters. "This compilation CD
was meant to celebrate a milestone for us in the Bay Area and
not necessarily meant to be a representation of all the artists
and music styles ever played at our club."
she and others angry about the CD do not suspect that Yoshi's
conspired to leave out African Americans; they are upset it happened
without anyone noticing.
Area is a jazz mecca, considered one of the top three or four
markets in the country, so for its premiere venue to leave out
African American artists is amazing," said Herve Ernest, executive
director of SF Noir, an arts and culture organization that highlights
African American contributions, and a co-founder of the North
Beach Jazz Festival.
I have perceived and what I've witnessed, there is a certain whitewashing
of jazz both locally and nationally," Ernest said. "I think it
is done from a marketing standpoint and is a response to the largely
white audiences that patronize an establishment."
one of the reasons he founded SF Noir was that he noticed the
jazz festival audiences were 90 per cent white, and he wanted
to try to appeal to a more diverse crowd and put a stronger focus
on black contributions to the art.
gets me upset that people like Norah Jones (who is white and East
Indian) get pushed through with heavy marketing when there are
dozens of African American female jazz vocalists who, in my opinion,
are 10 times better," he said. "I'm not sure if the exclusion
is intended or an honest overlook, but we created jazz and we
are still playing it, so we should not be overlooked."
artists said they see the discussion as positive in that it is
offering a chance to address an issue that has been stewing for
some time. A desire to organize has been lacking, said local jazz
singer Rhonda Benin, but now a number of musicians are ready to
ongoing problem that was brought to a head by these two events,"
said Raymond Nat Turner, an Oakland-based jazz poet. "That set
in motion a chain of emails and unleashed an energy that had been
dormant for years.
had not been communicating have started talking and networking,"
At a forum
at the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music last month, about
35 people discussed how better to support black-owned venues and
artists and recruiting more African American children into the
world of jazz.
"We are becoming
the minority as Europeans and Caucasians take over," Turner said.
attended the forum plan to meet again Sunday to develop a long-term
an African American art form, and they are excluding the very
people who created it and continue to play it," said Benin. "It's
June 2 Update:
Shamed, Yoshi's pulls CD, apologizes