and I'm not sure that it's ready to be expressed, but maybe ... (but then there's that running-out-of-time thing to consider now.)
It seems to me that it's an important insight -- one of those things that occurs as original thought -- one of those things that seems so obvious that surely some wiser person has already thought of it, right? And one day I'll read it in a book written by some genius and "aha!" will rise to the sound of trumpets, but I'll never own it, just accept it as confirmation of some universal something that I've known all along down deep, but that others have as well, and that I should have realized ... .
It's that Jazz is a black genetic attribute. It is born with blackness and colors everything we do, think, act upon, how we interpret life as we live it as a people. It's something that can be learned, copied, and expropriated, but that cannot be fully understood by others as a basic element in everything we (black folks) think, touch, feel, or express.
It begins with a fundamental difference between white and black cultures. I seem to have always known that white culture rewards all that has gone before and sets its standards by what are assumed to be expressions of past perfection. Therefore great musicians (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, et al) provide the standards by which all of today's classical artists are measured by and against -- to assess their level of "greatness".
With black culture it's just the opposite. In our world greatness is measured by novelty, newness, originality, innovation, spontaneity, improvisation, so we're always leading in the creation of language, dance, music, the arts in all its forms, and they're (whites) always following. We've always been out there at the edge of change. As soon as others catch up, we've moved on and are busily creating the next art forms!
We have little to value in our past -- a past that includes slavery, Reconstruction, rejection on a world scale, scarcity and poverty, Jim Crow, struggles against social injustices, environmental degradation of our communities, the deconstruction of families, etc., so we have little to be nostalgic about, and little to look forward to, except for hope.
Has it occurred to anyone that there is very little in world history for non-Europeans to want to recall? That history in any of its forms bears unbelievable pain and shame for millions, and so much to regret over which we were powerless for generations? That the struggle has still not been won?
White culture is constantly busy researching, studying the past, writing the new rule books (there are always rule books), and codifying and adapting what others have created. While black culture is trying painfully to avoid anything connected to a heart-wrenching past. We're in a constant process of dropping the old and "doin' it!"; creating the new.
When the nation's public schools still had music departments with student bands and orchestras and instruments to lend, our legendary Jazz players were finding their way into the theaters, clubs and cafe's, "Houses of ill repute," and creating Jazz; "America's greatest art form", that bled out across our borders and out into the world. Their art was being expropriated by white sidemen, singers, rock&roll artists, who covered our songs and arrangements for huge profits while young black musicians went begging and with scant recognition. Their creations ever used as "raw material" with which to create the nation's "newest and greatest art form."
As public education began to suffer crippling budget cuts, our young were left with nothing more than their mouths and bodies with which to produce their sounds and beats. And despite all, with few instruments at hand, they made their music with their body parts, and later with scratching on turntables! Those young created the irrepressible rap and formed the Hip Hop world, which has become a universal culture that now dominates the arts in all its forms, and where it only recently emerged fully mature to re-energize the Broadway stage with "Hamilton", and to redefine greatness!
One cannot look at these historic photographs of the painted masks of "primitive" African warriors and not see in them the inspiration provided to 20th Century visual artists, Pablo Picasso and/or Modigliani, and a myriad of other European modernists who plundered black culture without credit, and for great profit. The African influences in European modern art are inescapable.
For me, it's all Jazz!
(How am I expressing it in my life and late-blooming career? More tomorrow.)
Note on photos: These are taken from a book published in 1976 of the works of the famous and infamous photographer/filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (1902-2003) of Berlin. These are the People of Kau from the book of the same name.
In the 21st Century, in an era of body piercings and tattoos of every description, would one consider these "primitives" behind or a full century ahead in the development of the arts? The fact that their remote African village was in the middle of a rain forest would surely make their use of mud as a decorative profoundly important, environmentally practical, and purely and sacredly natural.