Jazz Scholar Ingrid Monson Interview

Jazz Scholar Ingrid Monson Interview


>>From the Library of
Congress in Washington, D.C.>>Larry Appelbaum: Good
afternoon, everyone. And welcome. My name is Larry Appelbaum
from the Music division here at the Library of Congress. It’s my pleasure to say sitting
to my left is musician, scholar, and educator Ingrid Monson. Some of you will know that
Ingrid is Quincy Jones professor of African-American music
at Harvard University. She has served as interim dean
of arts and humanities at Harvard and chair of the Department
of Music. Ms. Monson is an award-winning
author. Her books includeFreedom Sounds:
Civil Rights Call Out to Jazz
and AfricaandSaying Something:
Jazz Improvisation and Interaction
. Both books belong on the shelf of any serious student
or scholar of jazz. I’m pleased that she’s with us. She’s here sort of
under the auspices of a jazz scholar program — part
of the Library of Congress’ effort with the Reva & David
Logan Foundation. I hope you will help me
welcome Ingrid Monson. [ Applause ]>>Larry Appelbaum: Nice to
see you again, as always.>>Ingrid Monson: Nice to see you.>>Larry Appelbaum: Yes.>>Ingrid Monson: I first want
to say that I was just delighted to be invited to come to the
Library of Congress and be here for two weeks in residence. I’ve wanted to come and work on the Max Roach papers
for quite some time. And you just made it easy.>>Larry Appelbaum:
You’re on sabbatical –>>Ingrid Monson: Yes.>>Larry Appelbaum: — right now. So nice timing.>>Ingrid Monson: Perfect.>>Larry Appelbaum: Yes. So you arrived earlier this week,
and I know you wanted to look at Max Roach; is there something
in particular you’re hoping to find and what are you discovering so far?>>Ingrid Monson: Well, I’m very
interested in this collection partly because I wrote a great deal about
Max Roach inFreedom Sounds. I interviewed him for it. I interviewed Abbey Lincoln
and a number of related people. And I went through the documents
that were available to me then. But his archive was
not available then. So one of the key things I want to
look at is what’s in the archive that can enrich the
story I’ve already told or correct the story
I’ve already told? And so the first box I got
out on Monday were the scores to the “Freedom Now Suite.” You know, and the care with which
these scores are put together is really interesting. And every part of the
suite has a score. And they’re very detailed, including
drum parts and things for tryptic, which is the middle movement. And then I learned that there was
originally an overture written for it that I’ve never heard. And it’s there in the box. And that there were some other
songs that were being, you know, considered between he and Oscar
Brown, and there are some scores for that material as well. So already I have an
expanded sense of what — you know, their process
of trying things out. There’s also a lot of correspondence
that relates to “Freedom Sounds” and it also relates to
something else that I wrote about in my bookFreedom Sounds, which was about this Ira
Gitler’s review of Abbey Lincoln’s “Straight Ahead” in 1961,
which just shall we say –>>Larry Appelbaum:
Stirred controversy.>>Ingrid Monson: — stirred
controversy is to put it lightly. And there was this huge debate
about racial prejudice in jazz in the early 1962 inDownbeatin
which they had a panel discussion and some very uncensored
things were said. What I found in the correspondence
just in the last couple of days is that at the time that Ira
Gitler’s review came out, which would have been
sometime in November of 1961, they contacted a lawyer. And there’s a handwritten thing
of Abbey responding to Ira Gitler.>>Larry Appelbaum: Who
contacted the lawyer? Was it Abbey and Max or was it –>>Ingrid Monson: I
think Abbey and Max. I haven’t figured out exactly the
chain, but there were two attorneys. And a very stern letter
was sent by an attorney to Ira Gitler in November of 1961. So this — so the availability
of materials like this just enriches what you’re
able to see and what you’re able to know about this amazing
career that Max Roach had.>>Larry Appelbaum: Since
you’re talking about the “Freedom Now Suite”, can you talk a
little bit about the context of what that work meant for the time
in which it was created?>>Ingrid Monson: It was an
extraordinarily important work. He and Oscar Brown began to
work on it in 1958 or 1959. Now, Sonny Rollins had done
something he called the “Freedom Suite” in 1957, but that
was a completely instrumental work. But he worked with Oscar Brown. Clearly Max had this vision
for this multimovement piece. I mean, I think it’s often forgotten
that Max Roach was a composer. And so he had this vision
for a multimovement piece. He wanted lyrics, he had
Oscar Brown write lyrics. He wanted Abbey Lincoln to sing. He got in touch with
Babatunde Olatunji. He wanted to do something
that included Africa. And evidently, one of the
debates between Oscar Brown and Max Roach had to do with did
Africa come first in the suite or did Africa come at the end? And those of you who know the
work know that it comes at the end in “Tears for Johannesburg”
and “All Africa.” and it speaks to independence. And right when this was
being composed is when a lot of African nations gained
independence — 16 of them in 1960. And African diplomats
began to be in New York. And guess what? They went out and heard jazz and got
to know people within the community. So Max took it from being a story
of Africa to the United States to a story that was really
the United States to look at contemporary Africa in a
pan-African kind of sense. They were able to do
it as a statement. I also interviewed Nat
Hentoff about this. And the reason it was recorded
is because this was the year that Nat Hentoff ran Candid Records and he could really pretty
much put out what he wanted. It was an independent label. And he wanted Max to be able to
say what he — you know, his piece. And he knew that Max Roach was,
you know, politically engaged, and the lyrics refer
to A. Philip Randolph. And so they made a
statement with it. And the cover, if you’ve
never seen it, has a picture like a
lunch counter sit-in. So the lunch counter
sit-ins happened this year. So a lot was going on in the
world when this came out. The first live performance
was a benefit for the Congress of Racial Equality in early 1961. And, of course, it
immediately caught the attention of the jazz world, that people were
standing up and saying something. And Nat Hentoff described
the time as that you just had to stand up and say something. You weren’t content to
just sit in your seat. And –>>Larry Appelbaum: What was the
response at the time to this work?>>Ingrid Monson: Well, the
response, as I remember, there were some people — Dan Morgenstern wrote a really
nice review of it and liked it. And it included dancers
in the original program. And I guess Maya Angelou
was one of the dancers. And some other publications it was
dismissed as, “Oh, this is some, you know, new age, cool thing
that people in New York maybe like but nobody else does.” You know? So that it was too
highbrow and it was too gloomy and was not optimistic enough.>>Larry Appelbaum: Or
in a generational sense, many older critics might have said,
“Hey, musicians should play music, they shouldn’t be making
political statements.”>>Ingrid Monson: Well, right, and
that was certainly one attitude about that to make a
political statement was in some corners considered
to be beneath art. But overall, I think in jazz
people always felt compelled in this time period that they
had to prove that jazz was art. This generation of musicians
really fought that battle from bebop into the 1960’s. We now take it for granted
that it’s an art music, but it wasn’t considered that then. And so there was an ambitiousness
to create a larger work to show that this isn’t — you
know, that there’s a — we have a larger creative
vision and we’re going to do it. And the thing that got talked
about most in the reviews of the piece was the subset
of tryptic called “Protest” where Abbey Lincoln does a kind of stylized screaming
over drum accompaniment. And I looked at all the reviews
of it and none of the rest of the pieces really talked
about it; all they did was focus on the screams as if that were
not musically contextualized in an extremely rich way.>>Larry Appelbaum: So what have
you found so far about Max’s vision for the work and how it might
have changed through performance?>>Ingrid Monson: I haven’t
addressed that question. I want to listen to this
recording you told me about, that they evidently
performed it in Iran.>>Larry Appelbaum: Yeah.>>Ingrid Monson: I’ve
got to hear that.>>Larry Appelbaum: Yeah.>>Ingrid Monson: I’ve got
to take a closer listen to the German performance.>>Larry Appelbaum:
I’m just curious, how many people sitting
here have heard this work, the “Freedom Now Suite”? Okay. Sometimes it’s called
“We Insist Freedom Now”?>>Ingrid Monson: Well,
the full name is “We Insist Freedom Now Suite,”
Max Roach’s “Freedom Now” suite. But among musicians and
things it’s always referred to as the “Freedom Now.” But the official title
says “We insist! Freedom Now Suite.”>>Larry Appelbaum: So when
you initially interviewed Max about this, what was his
take all these years later? What was his description of what
he was trying to do as explanation?>>Ingrid Monson: Well, I
think he was very proud of it. It was interesting, he
seemed to feel nostalgic about Abbey Lincoln
when I spoke with him. He was doing — he was
working with Baraka on his autobiography at the time. And he was a little bit evasive in
terms of giving me lots of detail. But I went and I told him that
I talked with Oscar Brown. And he said that they had this
disagreement about, you know, the politics of the time and that
Oscar Brown was more moderate and Max was moving in a more
nationalist kind of direction and pan-Africanist direction. And he basically said,
“Oh yeah, we, you know” — he was not giving me a
lot of detail about it in my own interview with him. He kind of said, “Well, you know,
I’m working on this autobiography. I can only say” –>>Larry Appelbaum: He’s
saving it for the book.>>Ingrid Monson: — “so much.” And, of course, they didn’t
finish the autobiography. But here in the archive are the
interviews that they did around 1995 and some drafts that
they were working on. So that’s another thing that
I’m taking a look at here.>>Larry Appelbaum: When
Ingrid talks about Baraka, she’s referring to Amiri Baraka –>>Ingrid Monson: Amiri Baraka.>>Larry Appelbaum: — with
whom they were collaborating on an autobiography. So if — and I may end up asking you
this question again in another week or two — if Max were here
with us today, what would you like to ask him these years later?>>Ingrid Monson: You
know, these years later one of the things that’s overwhelming
the last couple of days is I’ve gone through a number of
his business papers. And it’s very clear to me that he
was deeply involved in the running of his own affairs, had very
clear conceptions of his works. So — and in the archive
are these yellow notepads where he’s written these elaborate
letters in longhand in pencil and that later before
they’re sent, then, he’s given them to
somebody to type up. So then there’s a typed
version of it, too. But he goes back and
corrects things. And he was right on top of the
details of how he was going to be represented in
pamphlets and things that publicized his appearances. Very involved in fine-tuning
contractual issues. And I think he worked very hard to get paid what he
thought he was worth. And so it’s clear that he was a
tough negotiator with these things. But there are also drafts in there
of plays that I think he wrote or play-like — you know,
multimedia kinds of projects in which he very carefully sketches
out the drafts, writes a rationale for it, what his overarching
artistic goals are. So you see an artist at work
and you realize that one thing that an artist like him
does is has a vision and works extremely
hard to make it happen. So there he is, you know, the
logistics of all the instruments that need to be hired, the
scoring, the staging, the lighting. I would simply want to ask him
more about this and how he moved from the administrative
side of his career to the creative side and back. But he was not hands-off at all.>>Larry Appelbaum: We can say
he was a disciplined person?>>Ingrid Monson: Very.>>Larry Appelbaum: Would
you say controlling?>>Ingrid Monson: Well, I
didn’t know him well personally to say that, but yes,
he probably was.>>Larry Appelbaum:
There’s evidence of that.>>Ingrid Monson: When
you’re artistically committed and you want things a certain
way, you’re going to push until you get what you want kind of. So I see that’s on there. But we’d have to ask his family. I mean, I have a certain impression
from interviewing Abbey Lincoln, who I think found him
very controlling.>>Larry Appelbaum: The vision of
the work that comes from both Max and Abbey, were they in sync
or do they have differing ideas of what they were trying to do?>>Ingrid Monson: It
was interesting, when I interviewed Abbey Lincoln
for my book, she invited me to her apartment and we
talked for three hours. And I arrived ready
to take down the story of the revolutionary heroine — that’s the story I
thought I would be getting.>>Larry Appelbaum:
Maybe we should just — for those who may be
watching this webcast –>>Ingrid Monson: Yes.>>Larry Appelbaum: —
just talk a little bit about who Abbey Lincoln
was and the context.>>Ingrid Monson: Abbey Lincoln was
a fabulous singer and was married to Max Roach during the ’60s. She was involved with
him from the late 1950’s, and then they were divorced in 1970. But it was clear that she was really
his deepest muse, it seems to me. And when I interviewed her, she wanted to distance
herself from all that. She kind of said, “Well,
Max made me do that. Max made me do the screaming. That wasn’t my idea.” And it was really hard to sing
against those arrangements. And –>>Larry Appelbaum: She
was also an actress?>>Ingrid Monson: She
was also an actress. And she later, in what, 1964
doesNothing But a Man— this filmNothing But a Man. If you’ve never seen
it, she’s amazing in it. And thenFor the Love of Ivy. But I think the thing to
remember about the two of them is the speaking
out had a price. So if you look at their
recordings in the 1960’s, Abbey Lincoln didn’t do another
recording under her own name after “Straight Ahead” until the 1970’s. And Max had more recordings,
but he wasn’t — he wasn’t lionized in the 1960’s.>>Larry Appelbaum: And do you
attribute this to the price that they paid in commercial terms?>>Ingrid Monson: I think
they were coded as difficult. They were coded as difficult. And so some people simply
didn’t want to deal with them. And that’s how the music industry
froze out outspoken artists, “Oh, so-and-so is difficult.” And Abbey Lincoln, when I spoke
to her, talked about, you know, coming into her own in the
’80s in writing her own songs and her own artistic musical
vision and viewed her old self in the early 1960’s is when she
was trying to please Max Roach.>>Larry Appelbaum: As an actor or
actress tries to please a director?>>Ingrid Monson: And as a wife
often tries to please a husband.>>Larry Appelbaum: There are
some intimate, very personal bits of correspondence between them. Of course, in the Max Roach
collection we have the things that Abbey wrote to Max; we
don’t necessarily have the things that Max wrote to Abbey, although
those may be at the Institute for Jazz Studies where the
Abbey Lincoln papers reside. So are you planning to go
visit IJS to see those papers?>>Ingrid Monson: Of course.>>Larry Appelbaum: See
the other side of the coin?>>Ingrid Monson: See the
other side of the coin. And yes, it’s complicated. But when, you know, to go back
to when I interviewed Max, in the middle of this I was
showing him the magazine copy of the racial prejudice
in jazz interview. And it has this picture
of Abbey Lincoln, who is just glaring at Ira Gitler. And –>>Larry Appelbaum: The jazz critic.>>Ingrid Monson: The jazz critic. And Max looked at that picture and
he laughed and he kind of said, “Oh, she was really something.” You know, “Look at Abbey, ha ha
ha, she was really something.” So there was this admiration
and sort of nostalgia. And I interviewed Ira Gitler, too,
I wanted to give him the chance to take back everything
that he’d said [Laughs].>>Larry Appelbaum:
So what did Ira say or what did you ask
him specifically?>>Ingrid Monson: He
didn’t take anything back. I was disappointed that he
didn’t take anything back. But, you know, he knew them. They had a longer history with him. And I think one of the things
we need to remember about how when things got incendiary
around race in the 1960’s, just as maybe now things
are getting incendiary, is people will say
these horrible things about one another in a public event. You know, but they invited
Ira to their wedding, which happened afterwards. So they had a longer history with
one another in terms of interacting within the, you know, jazz world. Dan Morgenstern told me
the same thing one time. He said he was on some panel in
1970 or ’71 and he was, like, the only white person
representing kind ofDownbeat. And there was a whole discussion
about jazz and exploitation. And, you know, Max was there
and he sort of got called out. And then Dan said, “Well, when
it was over, Max came up to me and said, ‘You know,
Dan, it’s not personal. You have to remember
it’s not personal. And, you know, can you give me
a ride to the Upper West Side?'” And so they got in the car together
and went off and were talking. But they had a longer
relationship than the public event. And I think that was true
for a number of people.>>Larry Appelbaum: So if it’s
not personal, what is it, really? Is it just discourse? What is it?>>Ingrid Monson: Well, now
we’re getting into my book. How I coped with trying to
tell this story and to try to develop some kind of
framework for talking about hard interracial
conversations was to say on one level there’s
discourse, there’s rhetoric — people say all sorts of things. There’s what people say
and then there’s practice, it’s what people do. And then underline it all as
kind of a structural situation, the economics of the music
business and the long, long duray of structural
racism in the music industry. So yes, the discourse could
get really, really polarized. And at the same time people went on and they had their ongoing
interracial collaborations with various people. You know, think of Archie Shepp. So Archie Shepp was also somebody
who had a lot of, you know, strong discourse around 1965 or so. There was a certain pressure
on musicians who wanted to show that they were conscious and
self-determining to not have so many white people
in the band, you know? There was a certain pressure. So in the middle of all this
Archie Shepp’s got Roswell Rudd in the band, and Roswell
with was him the entire time. It was sort of like, okay, I
may be making general statements about the nature of race relations,
but Roswell’s okay with me. You know? So I think that
there were a lot of, like, individual personal
relationships that cut across some of the difficult conversations. And I think for the white people who
were part of those conversations, they learned something;
they got better.>>Larry Appelbaum: So when
Max says it’s not personal, but then you see the photograph
of Abbey glaring at Ira, was it personal for Abbey? Or was that just her
being an actress?>>Ingrid Monson: No,
she was really — you know, it was caught at a moment
that Ira had said something to her that really made her mad. And she did not spend
much time with him. But she also told me a story of
running into Ira in a bar, like, 20 years later and having
a kind of conversation. I don’t think she — I think
Max sounded more forgiving to Ira than Abbey did. But she also met him 20 years
later and they knew one another.>>Larry Appelbaum: Now, we’ve
been talking about Max Roach a lot because that’s been the
focus of your time so far.>>Ingrid Monson: Yes.>>Larry Appelbaum: But are
there other collections you are particularly interested
in, and what do you hope to find in those collections?>>Ingrid Monson: Well,
thanks to you, you’ve been showing me these gems
from all sorts of collections. I feel like I could stay here
for six months, you know?>>Larry Appelbaum:
I wish you would.>>Ingrid Monson: Okay. And there’s so many
wonderful things. You were telling me about
Bruce [inaudible]’s collection. I’m very interested in
the economic picture, probably where there’s a lot of talk
about unfair record deals and stuff. And it’s very difficult to
get hard economic information, except from musicians
who kept their contracts. And Max Roach has done this. And evidently Bruce [inaudible],
there’s all sorts of — so you can find out what
people got paid, what the terms of their contracts were so you
have a better idea of, you know, the economic picture for
musicians at the time. So I’m very excited at
looking at those materials. I’m interested in copyright
issues also. So I want to make a trip
to the copyright division. I’m interested in the whole
problem of what was used as a copyright deposit before 1978
when it had to be a written deposit. And I learned a lot about this
because I was an expert witness on the Marvin Gaye side of the
case in the “Blurred Lines” thing, and it was all about the other
side trying to say that the extent of the composition was only what
was notated in the lead sheet. There’s a way in which — so this idea of the popular song
being simply a melody and chords and the words, it descends from
the fact that lead sheets became, you know, the standard copyright
deposit for people who are trying to — often were making
music either orally or only partially with notation. So –>>Larry Appelbaum: But what made
those two songs popular was not the chords or the melody,
it was the groove.>>Ingrid Monson: Exactly, amen.>>Larry Appelbaum: And how
do you document the groove?>>Ingrid Monson: Okay,
here’s the thing is — so there’s this idea that,
you know, with copyright, if the lead sheet just had
the melody and the chords, people would say, “Oh, the
rest is just arrangement,” as if anything that’s played by the
bass drums and piano is generic. Okay? Here’s this whole
idea of what is generic. And I think, “Well, you know,
if grooves are just generic, how come they change all the time?” And you can — you know,
in the way I teach, you can really almost do a
complete history of different styles of music based on the
changes in the grooves. So somebody was inventing
those together. And if they became popular, then
other people started imitating them, and then they became generic. But creating a groove
is a composition — in my view is a compositional act. And that’s what I argued
in the Marvin Gaye case, is the particular set of
parts that we were going on, he was playing them all on that
recording, was not something that was generic and
was previously seen. So –>>Larry Appelbaum: But can one
register for copyright a groove?>>Ingrid Monson: No, as
far as I know you can’t.>>Larry Appelbaum: Yeah.>>Ingrid Monson: So there’s a way in which the copyright has not
served this kind of music well.>>Larry Appelbaum: And you say you
worked on that or you were consulted for that case; what
exactly did you do? Did you testify? And if so, what –>>Ingrid Monson: I did, yes.>>Larry Appelbaum: What
was your point of view? Is it what you were just suggesting?>>Ingrid Monson: Right. I worked — it was me and another
musicologist named Judith Finell. And we started out first
by just transcribing and comparing and finding –>>Larry Appelbaum: By the
way, how did they find you? I mean, how did you
get tapped for that?>>Ingrid Monson: I’m not
sure how they found me. Somebody told them to call me. And so I talked to them. And I had heard the pieces,
and I agreed, you know, with their side of the case.>>Larry Appelbaum: By the
way, what was their side of it? You agreed that what?>>Ingrid Monson: That
“Blurred Lines” ripped off from “Got to Give it Up.”>>Larry Appelbaum: Okay. Does everybody know those songs? I mean, those are — okay. So I know Marvin Gaye did the
original, who did the copy? Who did the second?>>Ingrid Monson: Robin
Thicke and Pharrell.>>Larry Appelbaum: There
we go, two big names. Okay, I’m sorry to interrupt.>>Ingrid Monson: But we
shouldn’t get delayed on that. So to have the — to be able to
look at the copyright deposits and just get a sense of what
some of the jazz people put in for their copyright deposits,
probably some people put in more elaborate scores
than others. So I’m interested in the
economic and the legal questions. And then just, you know, you open
these files and you may think that some collection might not
have anything relevant to you, and then you start
looking at what’s in there and you get a new view
of the person. You know, I feel like I’ve
gotten a new view of Max Roach by looking at these papers. On the one hand you
feel like you’re digging in somebody’s personal materials;
these things were in his house. And so you feel a little bit
like a voyeur in that, you know, you need to have some care with
how you’re looking at this. And it’s a treasure to fill in
the kinds of details that you see from what people saved
and organized. But seeing his handwriting,
you know, it just — it gives you a very personal feel
of this man engaged in his career. I mean, he was serious,
very serious.>>Larry Appelbaum: So when you
write about any of these artists, any of these musicians,
do you feel an obligation or responsibility to their legacy? I mean, we know that people have
certain mythologies about Max Roach. They don’t want to hear the
rough edges or the warts. They don’t want to read that stuff. So I’m wondering, do
you approach this as a historian, as a musicologist? How do you tell the story,
be true to the story, but to what extent are you
concerned with the legacy of in this case Max
Roach or Charles Mingus?>>Ingrid Monson: Well, I think
this is really the challenge of doing biographies. I haven’t done a biography
of a jazz musician.Freedom Soundswas
not a biography. And part of the reason was is I
wanted to tell a broad history. And I wanted it to not be just
the story of one musician but more of a portrait of a kind of
conversation that took place across a broader community. And I wrote in that book that I
really fight against the tendency to make everybody a genius and
say only glowing things about them because I don’t think that
serves their legacy, actually. Because the nitty gritty of the
story is all the things they had to do to be who they are. And what you see in this Max Roach
archive is the tremendous amount of work put into conceptualizing and handling business
and conceiving work. So I want people to understand
what people had to go through. Unfortunately, when the narrative
becomes too much one of genius, people sit back and sort of think,
“Well, it was just handed to them. It was preordained, they
were talented and, you know, in the right place at the right
time and they became legendary.” And I think there’s a much
more important story with all of these musicians about a process
of self-making and that music — playing music itself is
an act of self-making. It takes practice and discipline. Organizing a successful
performance career also takes a kind of discipline and hardiness that is
lost when all people do is focus — you know, in some earlier jazz
histories all they did was focus on Charlie Parker high on heroin or some outrageous thing
Charles Mingus said when he went to a restaurant and
intimidated the owner. And all of those are colorful. You don’t want to leave those
details out, but people can really, you know, make a fetish of
some of the war stories.>>Larry Appelbaum: And that’s
only one part of the story?>>Ingrid Monson: Yes.>>Larry Appelbaum: And so what
are the other parts of this story, aside from the struggle
that everybody — I mean, everybody struggles
with something, especially creative artists. So what else is there? If it’s not genius, if it’s not
struggle, if it’s not pathology, where does this creativity
come from, do you think?>>Ingrid Monson: You’d
like a psychoanalytic –>>Larry Appelbaum: Well, I’d like
some kind of answer or speculation.>>Ingrid Monson: Well,
I feel about people who are really artistically
creative and especially composers in creating new works,
they need to do it. There’s a compulsion to do
it: You’re driven to do it; you like the process of doing
it; you like the result of it; and you need to do it to feel okay. And I think what’s driving that
interest for somebody, I think, varies for musicians to musicians. I think some of the issues are
part of your historical time, some are about the personal
struggles you’re going through. I mean, in addition to dealing with
your career and practicing and, you know, everything, people have
personal lives, and families, and cousins, and health problems
that are part of the whole human mix that everybody has to contend with.>>Larry Appelbaum: Indeed. So when you are teaching your
classes — and I’m guessing — first of all, tell us a little bit about what specific
courses you do teach and then what your experience has
been with your students as far as what they want to learn,
or what they expect to learn, or what their mythologies might be.>>Ingrid Monson: I’ve done
two large lectures courses. One is called Jazz Freedom in
Culture and the other is called from R&B to Neo Soul ,which is
more about R&B and popular music. And they have counted for
general education at Harvard. And so they tend to
be the kind of classes where I get a couple
hundred students in them or a hundred students in them. And I’ve taught some version of
these courses throughout my career. And what I learn in teaching it —
I never do it the same way twice because I feel like your
challenge is to communicate with the students in front of you. And their viewpoints
on stuff have changed. They come with different
preexisting narratives about jazz or about Motown.>>Larry Appelbaum: Can you give
some examples of these narratives?>>Ingrid Monson: Well, the genius
narrative in jazz and we start with Louis Armstrong and we
want to hear all the geniuses; we’re not interested in people that we don’t already
know are important, okay?>>Larry Appelbaum: So
the great man approach.>>Ingrid Monson: There is
a kind of great man kind of thing that people have. And then they think they
understand about the politics of it. They think, “Well, there was
the Civil Rights Movement and there was black power, and
nothing has happened since.” Okay, this has changed since
Black Lives Matter emerged into the spotlight
a couple years ago. And I found as the
students got younger, they had a very sanitized
vision of the history of the Civil Rights
Movement that, I don’t know, they got watching a
documentary or something. And, you know, I try to show
them documents and things, too, and materials that I know will
give them a more nuanced figured. Because the part I
couldn’t stand was when — there’s such a romance
about black power, which is incredibly important. But I make an argument in my book that self-determination is people
wanted whether they supported Malcolm X or Martin Luther King —
everybody wanted self-determination. And I quote Bernice Reagon about,
look, marching non-violently in your town was an act of war in
the South in 1960 or 1961 or 1962. So I try to show the commitment
and the bravery, you know, from different regions
of the movement in there and not have them just say — because you find some
of the students come in and they’re only interested in black
power is everything else is some kind of compromise. And I don’t think that’s a
full story, and I want them to have the tools to, you
know, think about that. And, you know, I do a similar
thing in terms of talking about popular music and I try
to give them as much information as is available to me for them
to think about the importance of popular music —
who identifies with it. You know, there’s always the issues
of appropriation, exploitation, what are ethical relationships to
black music if you aren’t black. And the other thing I say is, you
know, this music is something. When I say I teach a popular course
to [inaudible] oh, popular music. That must just be an
easy A for everybody. And I really feel like the
issues raised by the history of African-American music in terms
of American race relations are as deep and complex and profound
as you could teach in any course. And I try to get my students to feel
more comfortable talking about it, writing about it, reading about it. And some people are resistant and
some people totally embrace it. And I just use myself as a
lightning rod for ambivalence. Sometimes I go, “Look, I’m the
white Quincy Jones professor of African-American music. You can ask me any question
you want about that.” And so we get into, you
know, everybody talks about their own relationship
to these things.>>Larry Appelbaum: And we
are in just a moment or two — we’re going to give you a chance to ask any question
you want about that. But I’d like to ask a kind of
naive question, sort of open-ended. Can you talk a little bit about — because I know your study has not
just been in jazz and popular music, you have a deep and abiding
interest in African music.>>Ingrid Monson: Yes, I do. And in fact, I’m finishing
a book right now about a musician from Mali. You know, I’m tried as
an ethnomusicologist. And I really wanted to
do a project in Africa. First of all, if you love
jazz, it’s very easy to fall in love with music from Mali. You like instrumental improvisation,
socially engaged topics? Mali is fantastic. But also, I could see my students
being curious about the relationship to what it means to identify
within African diaspora and the complexity of
what that history is. And so I felt like I wanted
to know at least one music on the African content
from that point of view. And so I’ve spent time in Mali. The musician I’m writing
about is a guy named Neba Solo who plays a pentatonic balafon. He’s Senufo, and his music is
really, really interesting. I sort of — to my jazz fans I say
he’s kind of like the Charlie Parker and the John Coltrane
of the Senufo balafon. He took it and he had an imagination for modernizing the village
tradition that he was raised with. And it’s amazing.>>Larry Appelbaum: Well, this leads
to my naive question, which is: What do you really feel is African
about African-American music?>>Ingrid Monson: Well,
this is a long question, and people have answered
it in all sorts of way. But I approach it by trying
to look at the history of the slave trade here
and where people came from. There’s been this fluorescence of
work on the 18th and 19th century in African-American history that
I think has been really important. And one of the things that
it’s shown is that one of the early layers
of where people came from was what was then called
Senegambia or Senegal/Mali area. And people in New Orleans, there were balafons,
the wooden xylophones. And other parts of the continent
then later were from Congo Angola. So I want to look deeply
historically about it. And one of the bees in my bonnet
when I talk about African music is that you cannot — you know,
sometimes I say to my students, “Well, you’re not going to
be leaving this course saying that the African part of the
music is the rhythm only.” Okay?>>Larry Appelbaum:
That’s the cliche.>>Ingrid Monson: This
music has melody. The drum parts have melody. In fact, you can’t play these
complex polyrhythms unless the drums are tuned to different pitch levels
because they would all blend. And there’s a Nigerian music
theorist named [inaudible] who talks about mellow rhythm
as being the shape of the drum parts and
the drum ensembles. And, you know, some
of the early recording of drum ensembles didn’t include
the people who were singing, okay? So you get this idea that people
just played drums alone all the time when most of the time there’s
singing and often a ritual purpose. And then there are
instruments in Mali that have harmony,
pentatonic harmony. The Mande jeli tradition has
heptatonic seven-note scale and they have harmonies and tunings. The Zimbabwe mbiras have
fantastic tuning and compositional, you know, harmony qualities to it. So I want people to understand
the music is just like — it’s comprised of all
the musical variables that include melody,
rhythm, harmony, timbre. And in many African musics, since
people speak tone languages, you can literally play words
in an instrumental fashion.>>Larry Appelbaum: So when you
listen to popular music today or jazz for that matter or
anything, can you identify from listening what is
the African element?>>Ingrid Monson: Well, I often put up on the board Olly Wilson’s
Heterogeneous Sound Ideal
that he wrote I believe
in the ’80s, early ’90s. And he had this wonderful
point of view of trying to identify what things were in common throughout
African diasporic music. And part of it had to do with — I won’t be able to
recall his language — about the nature of grooves,
about call and response, about a preference for a dense
texture and different timbres — not a homogeneous timbre
but heterogeneous timbre — layers of riffs and
repeating elements at different architectonic levels. You know? And I love
teaching Count Basie that way. You think it’s just a riff, but,
you know, let me play “Volcano” and show you how these are
organized and layered together. So one of the things — I really
feel strongly about this — is repetition is not a bad word. So I tend to rely on this call and
response, multilayered ensemble. And these interacting lines can
be rhythmic, they can be melodic. And you hear it all over
— you know, so grooves. Grooves are really
important in this.>>Larry Appelbaum: Indeed in
life, actually, not just in music. Now’s the time when we can open it up for any questions
that you might have. And Mike has a microphone
that he can wander. And I think David has a
question up towards the front.>>Very interested to know in
regards to the recording made for Nat Hentoff’s Candid
label, how was — how were the funds raised for that? Who paid for that recording?>>Ingrid Monson: I would have
to go back into my interview with Nat Hentoff on that,
but somebody who is a friend of Nat Hentoff funded
him for that year. And it was somebody who had the
money, but I don’t know who it was. I have it in my notes. I’d have to read it. But that’s a good question. But Nat talked about
it as, you know, “Look, I was really lucky this guy
let me do whatever I wanted.”>>Larry Appelbaum: Nat was
not the owner of Candid, he was the A&R person
for that period of time.>>Ingrid Monson: Yes, yes. Do you know who the owner was?>>Larry Appelbaum: I do, but his
name has slipped out of my head. I have it on my desk,
strangely enough. James?>>Yeah, you mentioned when you
were talking about Max Roach — this goes back to the African music
thing — you mentioned Olatunji. And he seems like — to somebody
like myself who doesn’t know a lot about African music, he seems
like this kind of towering figure for the United States and its
relationship to African music, as if this “Drums of
Passion” album was put out and then suddenly everyone knew
about African music somehow by this one record, and that
was sort of a catalyst for jazz, and popular music, and Bob
Dylan to mention him in songs, and all that sort of thing. And I was wondering if you
could just say a little bit about Olatunji’s influence on
American popular music at that time? And also, if for someone like myself
who’s basically otherwise ignorant of this situation, if there
were other African performers who were making that
kind of influence that maybe don’t have
the name recognition now?>>Ingrid Monson: Well, it’s
interesting because Olatunji, that record “Drums of
Passion”, you know, went huge. But there was a community
of people that were involved in either African or
Afro-Cuban music. And Max Roach and Charlie
Parker talk about going back into the ’40s there was an
African Academy of something that Dizzy Gillespie where they went and they heard people were playing
Latin music of various kinds. You get Art Blakey in the early
1950’s working with Sabu Martinez, and clearly some Afro-Cuban
musicians were involved in Santeria. So he does “Orgy in Rhythm”. There’s this piece
called “Dinga” which is — you know, really includes
a chant to Elegua in it. Candido Camero.>>Larry Appelbaum: Camero.>>Ingrid Monson: Camero. I always get that wrong, Randy
Weston talked about Montego Joe. There was a whole community around
this that were exchanging the ideas. And, you know, look at the
percussion section on Uhuru Afrika, and then “Freedom Now” had this
contingent of Latin players on the “Freedom Now Suite.”>>Larry Appelbaum: And
did we mention Chano Pozo?>>Ingrid Monson: Oh,
we forgot Chano Pozo.>>Larry Appelbaum:
With Dizzy Gillespie.>>Ingrid Monson: Unforgivable with
Chano Pozo was huge in the ’40s with “Cubana Be, Cubana Bop.” Machito did a number of things
with — you know, that crossed — you know so there was interest
among musicians in all this. And The Pleiadian was really popular
in the ’50s, and jazz people used to go to that, you know,
and listen to it, too. So people were listening
to each other earlier than one might anticipate. Because I remember when I started
the research in this, I thought, well, the kind of on the ground line
that most people were saying was, “Oh yeah, the African
stuff came in the ’60s.” And that’s really wrong. And Randy Weston talked about how
in the Brooklyn he grew up in, there were a lot of Garveyites, you
know, and people from the Caribbean who were deeply involved
in many of these things. And then Robin Kelly gave
me this amazing thing from, like, 1958, Adurahman. I’m not going to get
it quite correctly. But there was, like, a little
African cultural center in Brooklyn.>>Larry Appelbaum: There was also
a bassist named Ahmed Abdul-Malik –>>Ingrid Monson: Yes.>>Larry Appelbaum: — who had played with Monk and he
had played with a number of others. And yeah, there’s all
kinds of things happening. I guess one follow-up
to that question is to what extent were
these integrated fully versus just exoticizing what
people were already doing?>>Ingrid Monson: You know, this
stuff becomes a judgment call. Because, you know, often
Babatunde Olatunji got critiqued in Nigeria for, you know, not
really knowing the tradition to the level he should have in
order to be performing this stuff. So he went back to
Nigeria and his ancestors and relatives gave
him a very hard time because people are very fussy
about their own culture. And, of course, you had an
American audience where, you know, white people have long been
fascinated with things African and exotic and wild rhythms. So the way in which it was marketed
seemed to feed right into that. And so you get people — but you get
people in the ’60s who are trying to seriously study Africa —
Youruba culture, Mande culture — to really know about religion. And you get cultural nationalism
and people are really trying to look at a basis for an African socialism. They’re looking at Julius
Nyerere, the Us Organization, Maulana Karenga, who then
develops then Kwanzaa. And they’re really, you know,
trying to make some serious study of not only African music but
the culture, and religion, and values that they
saw underlying it.>>Larry Appelbaum: And, of course, in the culture it’s
more than just Africa. I mean, we can see an analog with
fascination with India, for example.>>Ingrid Monson: Oh,
yeah, the other.>>Larry Appelbaum: The other. Okay. Who else has a question? There you go.>>Thank you, thank both of you. You kind of started with the comment
several times to the question of appropriateness across
race and appropriation. You’ve been in this for a while now.>>Ingrid Monson: A long time.>>How has both the ways
you have been confronted about being a white person
dealing with this and the ways that you have developed your
rationale and response to that, how has that changed over time?>>Ingrid Monson: Well,
it’s interesting because if you had asked me
when I was in graduate school — if you said to me I was going
to end up at Harvard University as the Quincy Jones professor,
I would have just laughed. I thought, okay, I
was good in school, so should be able to
get some kind of job. But the surprise has been — I decided that I wanted
to work on jazz. And I knew from having
been in the jazz world and having African-American
mentors and friends — and I’d like to mention that Richard
Davis was extremely important to me at the University of
Wisconsin in Madison. I learned a lot from Richard Davis. I learned a lot from working
with Don Byron in the 1980’s. And we were always
talking about these issues. So there was no way when I went to
graduate school that I was going to shove this issue under the rug. I knew it needed to be dealt with. And so I tried to — I chose
ethnomusicology because I wanted to do something from
musician’s point of view. So my first book is
about the rhythm section from the musician’s point of view. And I interviewed all these
rhythm section players, which was really fun. And I took drum lessons for a year because that was the only instrument
I felt like I was totally lost and I needed to understand more. And I love doing this. And people had the most
amazing things to say. And I had a good time, you
know, trying to craft things that I felt honored
their point of view. Mostly when I came into the field
of ethnomusicology as a professor in the early 1990’s, my African-American colleagues were
glad I was saying what I was saying because it didn’t have to be just
them bringing up race over and over. And they were more supportive to me than I would have thought
they should have been. I gave a talk — then I started
to, you know, call out — in some of my work, I have called out certain problems
of white liberalism. Okay? So I wrote an article
that was called “The Problem With White Hipness”
that was inThe Journalof the American Musicological
Society
in about 1995. And when I was preparing that piece,
I presented it at a conference. And I presented it and
the first person to jump up was Portia Maultsby
from Indiana University, an African-American scholar
of African-American music who is now retired from
Indiana University. And I thought, like, well, I’m either in trouble
or — I wasn’t sure. I thought I was probably in trouble. And she got up and she said, “Everything she said
was true” [Laughs]. Kind of because I was calling — so I felt like people had some
appreciation for what I was trying to do and felt that I was a voice
in the field and that I consistently within the field advocated
for opening the doors for more scholarship on
African-American music and more African-American graduate
students then becoming professors. Students, I — before I was hired
at Harvard, they asked me to come and be a visiting professor in 1999. And I came and I was in the middle
of writingFreedom Sounds. And so I did a little seminar
with our students on jazz and the Civil Rights Movement. And it was a predominantly
African-American class. And we just had the most lively
conversation, which included one of the students coming to me, “What
are you doing as a white person, you know, teaching this?” You know? And I remember writing
on the board, “Black power — what is it, how are
you going to get it?” And really having a
discussion about it. And we had lively conversations. And any time in a class where I feel
like the students get to know me, I feel like we can try
to find common ground. But that doesn’t mean
everybody’s happy. So I gave a talk one other time,
I happened to be on a panel that had all white people on it and
I was talking about black music. And an African-American scholar who
I didn’t know at the time got up and started saying, I don’t know —
and I was talking about Miles Davis and John Coltrane,
“You didn’t mention that they were African-American.” You know? I thought I was speaking
to an audience that, you know — and kind of went off on me. And so I said, “Well, I’m sorry.” I’ve always taken a
humble thing, like, I’m sorry I didn’t
meet your expectations. And the next thing I
knew, Melanie Burnham from Indiana University was
standing up and saying, “Well, we appreciate what she does.” You know? So I’ve had both things. You know? So I think it’s a
completely normal reaction to be totally suspicious. And lately my student — you know, so the last time I taught my
R&B [inaudible] soul class, I started out my first
lecture saying, you know, “Some of you might be
wondering how I got to be the Quincy Jones professor
of African-American music.” And I explained I was hired by an
African-American Studies Department that included a lot
of African-Americans. And I said, “But nevertheless, at
this point in time it’s feeling kind of awkward being up here
performing white authority [Laughs]. Being the white talking head.” And I said — in this opening thing
I said, “Well, I want to assure that I’m not Rachel Dole is all.” Okay? I don’t remember,
you know, okay, she’s the one — and
they cracked up. You know, she was the one
who pretended to be black and claimed she was black. And I said, “I know I’m white and
that’s a particular positionality.” And I think all of us — and I try to take account of
that positionality. And we’ll have conversations
based on that. And, you know, I went over some. I think some people still, you
know, would rather have it taught by an African-American faculty
member at this point in time. And I certainly think,
“Well, I’m not that far from retirement kind of.” But I also want my students to think that we need all points
of view on this. And I think African-American
music infuses our entire culture. And when studied properly, I think it gives you an incredible
ethics lesson on the history of race in America on issues of things
people say in stupid ways about dancing, and partying,
and their stereotypes. And things come up in our
conversations in the sections of this course in which people
put each other on the spot. And that spot of being put on the
spot and accounting for your point of view, I think, helps people grow. It’s not a thing to be avoided. I feel like I’m so happy that
I’ve been confronted on all sorts of things because I feel like studying this stuff
has, you know, enriched me. It’s made me a better person
by sort of suddenly going, “Oh, I didn’t think of it that way. And the next time this happens
I will think of it that way.”>>Thank you.>>Larry Appelbaum: That’s —
well, we have time for one more. Go ahead.>>Yes. You mentioned Max
Roach and jazz messenger. But anyway, you know, we as a
people are well familiar with drums. You know? We used to have — in Africa ancestors had what
they called the talking drum, communicating.>>Ingrid Monson: Yes.>>Yeah. So we was, you know,
from Art Blakey, he went to Africa and he stayed over there for
quite a while to learn some of the rhythm of the ancestors. So [inaudible].>>Ingrid Monson: Well, I actually
wrote about Art Blakey and his trip to Ghana, which was in about 1947. And he claimed in his
interviews that he didn’t go to study the drums, but I can’t
believe he didn’t play the drums while he [inaudible]. And he said he was
interested in religion. But I think saying
that he was interested in religion was another way to say
he was also interested in the drums. And so I was fascinated
with Art Blakey. I was fascinated that in 1953 he
did a record with Sabu Martinez, and he called it “Message
from Kenya.” And it was right at the time of
the Mau Mau stuff going on in Kenya where the British were
killing people and suppressing Mau Mau
resistance to colonial rule. Right at the time of the
independence of Ghana in 1957, he does, what is it,
“Orgy in Rhythm.” It was, like, right at the time. And the independence of
Ghana was widely covered in African-American
newspapers at the time. So I really viewed Art Blakey as
being really, really, you know, ahead of in terms of thinking
about the role of the drum and the many things
you could do with it. So then I was baffled later in 1970,
he gives an interview and he says, “Our music has nothing
to do with Africa.” And I asked Randy Weston about that. And Randy kind of said,
“It’s in the music. Don’t pay any attention
to what he said about it. You can hear it in the music.” So yeah, I think people were
deeply interested in trying to learn as much as they could. And it was harder to do that then.>>Larry Appelbaum: Did we
have any last questions? If not, I want to close
and ask one quickie. You’re giving a talk here next week, what will the subject
of that lecture be?>>Ingrid Monson: It
is called “Miles Davis and John Coltrane as
Living Ancestors.” And I’m going to talk
about relationship to African stuff in there.>>Larry Appelbaum: So
that will be next Thursday?>>Ingrid Monson: Yes.>>Larry Appelbaum: We invite
you all to join us for that. For now, please help
me thank Ingrid Monson. [ Applause ]>>This has been a presentation
of the Library of Congress. Visit us at loc.gov.

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