Everyone had always said that john would be a preacher when he grew up, just like his father. It had been said so often that John, without ever thinking about it, had come to believe it himself. Not until the morning of his fourteenth birthday did he really begin to think about it, and by then it was already too late. — James Baldwin*
Join Ayana Mathis for an online discussion of Baldwin’s first novel, Go Tell It On the Mountain. See link below to register.
Yes, as Richard Brody and others have pointed out, JAZZ ON A SUMMER’S DAY—photographer Bert Stern’s indelible documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival—could have been a different kind of film. Sonny Rollins, Mary Lou Williams, Duke Ellington, MaxRoach, and Miles Davis—with John Coltrane in his sextet—were also in Newport that year, but their performances didn’t make the final cut.
Yet the film remains one of the greatest jazz documentaries ever made, a picture of the art form at its peak just as rock and roll was about to replace it as the country’s most popular musical genre.
The performances of Dinah Washington and Anita O’Day alone are worth the price of admission, and Stern’s camera also captures the playing of Thelonious Monk, Louis Armstrong, Gerry Mulligan, Sonny Stitt, Chico Hamilton, Jimmy Guiffre, and Chuck Berry. The great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson closes the film.
JAZZ ON A SUMMER’S DAY is screening now on Kino Lorber’s Kino Marquee. See link below for details.
Since Martin [LutherKing]’s death, in Memphis, and that tremendous day in Atlanta, something has altered in me, something has gone away. Perhaps even more than the death itself, the manner of his death has forced me into a judgment concerning human life and human beings which I have always been reluctant to make—indeed, I can see that a great deal of what the knowledgeable would call my lifestyle is dictated by this reluctance. Incontestably, alas, most people are not, in action, worth very much; and yet, every human being is an unprecedented miracle. One tries to treat them as the miracles they are, while trying to protect oneself against the disasters they’ve become. This is not very different from the act of faith demanded by all those marches and petitions while Martin was still alive. One could scarcely be deluded by Americans anymore, one scarcely dared expect anything from the great, vast, blank generality; and yet one was compelled to demand of Americans—and for their sakes, after all—a generosity, a clarity, and a nobility which they did not dream of demanding of themselves. Part of the error was irreducible, in that the marchers and petitioners were forced to suppose the existence of an entity which, when the chips were down, could not be located—i.e., there are no American people yet: but to this speculation (or desperate hope) we shall presently return. Perhaps, however, the moral of the story (and the hope of the world) lies in what one demands, not of others, but of oneself. However that may be, the failure and the betrayal are in the record book forever, and sum up, and condemn, forever, those descendants of a barbarous Europe who arbitrarily and arrogantly reserve the right to call themselves Americans.
The mind is a strange and terrible vehicle, moving according to rigorous rules of its own; and my own mind, after I had left Atlanta, began to move backward in time, to places, people, and events I thought I had forgotten. Sorrow drove it there, I think, sorrow, and a certain kind of bewilderment, triggered, perhaps, by something which happened to me in connection with Martin’s funeral.
When Martin was murdered, I was based in Hollywood, working—working, in fact, on the screen version of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. This was a difficult assignment, since I had known Malcolm, after all, crossed swords with him, worked with him, and held him in that great esteem which is not easily distinguishable, if it is distinguishable at all, from love. (The Hollywood gig did not work out because I did not wish to be a party to a second assassination: but we will also return to Hollywood, presently.)
Very shortly before his death, I had to appear with Martin at Carnegie Hall, in New York. Having been on the Coast so long, I had nothing suitable to wear for my Carnegie Hall gig, and so I rushed out, got a dark suit, got it fitted, and made my appearance. Something like two weeks later, I wore this same suit to Martin’s funeral; returned to Hollywood; presently, had to come East again, on business. I ran into Leonard Lyons one night, and I told him that I would never be able to wear that suit again. Leonard put this in his column. I went back to Hollywood.
Weeks later, either because of a Civil Rights obligation, or because of Columbia Pictures, I was back in New York. On my desk in New York were various messages—and it must be said that my sister, Gloria, who worked for me then, is extremely selective, not to say brutal, about the messages she leaves on my desk. I don’t see, simply, most of the messages I get. I couldn’t conceivably live with them. No one could—as Gloria knows. However, my best friend, black, when I had been in junior high school, when I was twelve or thirteen, had been calling and calling and calling. The guilt of the survivor is a real guilt—as I was now to discover. In a way that I may never be able to make real for my countrymen, or myself, the fact that I had “made it”—that is, had been seen on television, and at Sardi’s, could (presumably!) sign a check anywhere in the world, could, in short, for the length of an entrance, a dinner, or a drink, intimidate headwaiters by the use of a name which had not been mine when I was born and which love had compelled me to make my own–meant that I had betrayed the people who had produced me. Nothing could be more unutterably paradoxical: to have thrown in your lap what you never dreamed of getting, and, in sober, bitter truth, could never have dreamed of having, and that at the price of an assumed betrayal of your brothers and your sisters! One is always disproving the accusation in action as futile as it is inevitable. — James Baldwin, fromNo Name in theStreet*
Join Darryl Pinckney for a “close reading of Baldwin’s beautiful, blistering memoir of the events that forged his consciousness of race and identity—growing up in Harlem, the murders of MartinLuther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, his long residence in France, his fateful decision to retum to the American South”—presented by the Library of America.
The whole MANIFESTOS series is created this way: I put manifestos that I come across in a research file. And then I translate the text of each manifesto into musical notation. All the letters of the alphabet from A to G are converted directly into musical notation. So if the letter A pops up, then that’s translated into the note A. I also translate H as B flat, which is part of a Baroque tradition… All of the letters that are not notes becoming resting silent beats…
The whole idea, of course, is that the music is not produced subjectively. It’s produced following the system. The uncanny thing is that sound is subjectively realized. That happens because of the notational system; it’s a diatonic scale. The notational system is intuitive to anybody familiar with Western music… The listener finds the music meaningful regarding content and representation but fully understands there is no intention to produce meaning, or that the music is an expression of the artist… Whoever’s listening is making the meaning, because we’ve been trained to make those links. In other words, our cultural learning is producing our comprehension of the sound. That’s crucial to all my work. I’m arguing that the idea of the subjective imagination is an ideology, it’s not a fact. — Charles Gaines*
In conjunction with the exhibition CHARLES GAINES—PALM TREES AND OTHER WORKS, the artist’sMANIFESTOS 3—”a multimedia installation that functions as a systematic transliteration of two revolutionary manifestos into musical notation”—will be performed by pianist RichardValitutto at Hauser and Wirth in Los Angeles.
An interpretation of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1967 speech at Newcastle University and James Baldwin’s 1957 essay “Princes and Powers”—a report from the famous 1956 Sorbonne conference of black writers—this MANIFESTOS 3 premiere will be followed by a conversation with Gaines and a book signing of the artist’s current exhibitioncatalog.