Saturday, July 3, 2010

Jazz: Why I Love and Write About Jazz..all music really!

7/3/10 3:46 p.m.

Last night, I had a great playing DJ by posting jazz and videos on my fb page. A friend of mine asked me when was the last time I played violin and suddenly I recalled being a 14 year old Jr. High School student ( these days its called Middle School) playing my violin all day on Saturdays in my bedroom. The first album that popped into my mind was "Birds of Fire" by the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Jerry Goodman was the violinist for the band at the time, before Jean Luc Ponty joined.

I remembered playing "Miles Beyond" over and over and "Birds of Fire" in an attempt to become more accurate at playing fast runs. Prior to playing jazz-rock, which was called "Fusion" at the time, I played classical violin. I was in elementary school and began taking lessons when I was in the 2nd grade at the school. On Saturdays, I took lessons at noon at the Grinnell's Music Store on Woodward in downtown Detroit. Prior to that time in my life, I remembered being a little girl before I entered elementary school. My grandfather would play Bossa Nova, Stan Getz and Milton Nasciemento when it was time for me to take naps.

By the time I was in the 4th grade, I was playing in Detroit's All City Orchestra, that met for practice in the large auditorium of Cass Technical High School. The orchestra would have been like the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Sphinx Orchestra for youth.

So some of my Saturdays were spent meeting at Cass Tech in the mornings, then I would walk to Woodward and take my noon lesson at Grinnell's. I recall my best friend and I being the only two girls from our elementary school to play in the orchestra with high school students. I played second chair position.

What does classical music have to do with jazz? Well, one day at Cass Tech, we were told that the funding was gone and the orchestra could no longer be supported (  I think this was in 1966) and that the orchestra would be discontinued. I remember being in the hall with the other students, all of us with the look of shock and confusion on our faces, and crying. I remember that when we arrived, the auditorium door was locked, so we were waiting in the hall for the conductor.  Our instrument cases were in the hallway and when someone arrived, we were asked to gather 'round.  I remember that when we received the news, how some of us who were standing against the lockers, slid down to the floor and cried.

After the orchestra was shut down, I continued to take private lessons at Grinnell's until it closed down. By that time, I was in Jr. High School and we had "Band" instead of "Orchestra." Eventually, I dropped out of the class. All I had to practice from was Beethoven, Mozart, and a Vivaldi concerto for two violins. Now this is where the jazz comes in.

One day, I was listening to WJZZ and the DJ played a Miles Davis tune. I can't recall what it was but I  remembered thinking that I could play the song. I used to listen to rock a lot when I was a teen and was trying to figure out what else I could play on the violin. Later, in 1972,  I heard the Mahavishnu Orchestra play "Birds of Fire" and fell in love with the song. I liked fusion because it combined rock and jazz. I could hear the violin in it and was sure that if I bought the album, I could pick out the notes and play by ear. So I grabbed some of my pay from my newspaper route, hopped the Hamilton bus to Northland, and bought it from the record store. And this is how I began collecting fusion LP's that had violinists. Later, I practiced to Stephan Grapelli, then Jean Luc Ponty when he replaced Jerry Goodman. I also had Gentle Giant collection to practice to. My favorite to play was "Black Cat" from the Acquiring the Taste LP.

Years later, in the late '70's, early 80's, when I was a university student, I took some jazz theory and music appreciation courses to help me understand how jazz was composed. It was at that time that I began collecting jazz, going to jazz concerts to write papers for my theory classes, and really got into BeBop and folks like Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Coltrane, Miles, Ayler, and others. Later, I took these experiences and began documenting jazz musicians by writing jazz related poetry.

Here's the Gentle Giant cut "Black Cat"

Here's an early video of the first Mahavishnu Orchestra with Jerry Goodman on violin, Billy Cobham on drums, John McLaughlin on guitar, Jan Hammer on keys and synth, and Rick Laird on bass. (My hair was like Jerry's!)

I Read A Declaration Against Racism in Detroit on June 24-US SF Press Conference

9:25 a.m. July 3, 2010

On June 24, 2010, I was honored to be invited by my friend Freda, to attend a press conference in the Media Center at the US Social Forum and read the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity & Inclusion Declaration of Intent: Race, Residence & Regional Cooperation.  A copy of the document is posted below. Prior to the reading of the Declaration, a statement was made that made it clear that in Detroit and Metro Detroit, a colorblind or post-racial society does not exist, due to the history of racism and its continued effects. A large copy of the Declaration was provided for the attendees to sign. I felt proud to sign it.

The press conference had a beautiful, historical exhibit of Detroit neighborhoods that were targets of racism. The exhibit included Black Bottom, "The 8 mile Wall" that separated blacks from whites on the NW side of Detroit, like the Berlin Wall, and a photo of the National Guard during the 1967 rebellion/riot. 

After seeing the photo of the National Guard, I was flooded with memories that placed me right back in Quezon City, P.I., where I watched the rebellion via satellite before we received a telegram from my father telling us to leave the country and come home ASAP. The photo of the crouched National Guard soldiers reminded me of the soldiers I saw in the Philippines that were on the streets as we drove to the airport in Manila, and, the soldiers I saw driving on Hamilton Ave. with Army Jeeps that had what looked like rocket launchers, and, the tanks and jeeps that were parked on the field of Central High School on the Linwood Ave. side.

On June 25th, 2010, at Wayne State University, I attended a workshop where people gathered to listen to panelists talk about the way cities and townships in Metro Detroit practice and promote racism and exclusion. One of the panelists spoke about living in Sterling Heights, MI, where she found that folks did not celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday. The speaker stated that she was able to bring the issue to their City Council. "I had to tell them it was a Federal Holiday." 

All of what I have written so far, brings me back to my Masters' paper that documented the activist efforts of the 1970's  that were made to eradicate institutionalized and systemic racism in the City of Detroit. At this point, there is something stirring in my uneasiness...the memory of comments written across the pages of the paper that questioned the validity of racist statements that I have been hearing from some white folks from the streets of Detroit, to classrooms in universities, to community meetings, for the past 45 years.  I feel as if my reality is not valid unless it is "proven" in case anyone ever  asks me, "Who? Where did this take place?" I can just refer them to this blog and the document below.
Michigan Roundtable for Diversity & Inclusion
Declaration of Intent
Race, Residence & Regional Cooperation
Truth & Reconciliation Commission
June, 2010


This nation was established on the promise of equality and opportunity.  Delivering on this promise for all people is an ongoing struggle.  We all share a linked fate.  As we fulfill this promise, we all benefit.  When any individual or group is denied equality and opportunity, we all suffer.  Having the courage to examine and understand our history can help build a more just society.  Truth provides the foundation for reconciliation.  Reconciliation provides the foundation for hope and the promise of a supportive and inclusive future.     

The contemporary challenge: Detroit is the most segregated region in the country.

Detroit is the most segregated of the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas.  The 2000 US census provides a mirror of our social reality.  Two of every three communities in Metro Detroit are more than 90 percent white; one of three is more than 95 percent white.  On the other extreme, Inkster is 67 percent black; Detroit, 81 percent; and Highland Park, 93 percent.  This is not simply a problem of the past.  In the 1990s, more than half (53 percent) of all white Detroiters left the city.  Only one in 10 Detroit residents is a non‑Hispanic white.  Sterling Heights (111,743) and Warren (124,936) both have more white residents than Detroit (99,921

Racism casts a long shadow over the experiences of all of Southeast Michigan.

Today’s regional segregation by city and township is no accident.  Residential and social segregation are the direct consequence of countless individual choices made in the context of identifiable institutional structures, unavoidably tinged by the effects of race, racial tension and racism.  Many practices consciously and unconsciously have oppressed a large segment of the population.   We continue to live with these legacies; the legacies produced, for example,  by the crowds that gathered outside the home of Dr. Ossian Sweet, the hands that constructed the Wailing Wall near 8 Mile and Wyoming, and the racial conflicts and unrest that boiled to the surface in 1943 and 1967.   These practices resulted in crimes against the body, crimes against property, the collusion of public and private institutions in preventing access and opportunity to all people, and numerous conspiracies of silence.

We still feel the effects of these troubled times.

If problems are not addressed, they fester.  Social structures and racial hierarchies reproduce themselves over time.  Historically, blacks were limited to a few Detroit neighborhoods, such as Black Bottom and Paradise Valley.  White neighborhood associations fought aggressively to prevent black families from moving into their communities.  These private acts of discrimination were reinforced by government policies such as redlining and discriminatory lending policies of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), as well as the refusal to locate public housing near areas of opportunity.  Sadly, when racial segregation inside the city could no longer be maintained, similar social forces reproduced identical patterns of segregation at a regional level.  Suburban governments have taken the place of the neighborhood associations.  Exclusionary zoning and failures to provide affordable housing have taken the place of historic fights to prevent the siting of public housing in traditionally white neighborhoods.  The results, however, are the same.  Metro Detroit remains the most segregated region in the country. 

Racial Segregation is also the segregation of opportunity and hope for the future.

Decades of social science research illustrate how racial segregation embodies a deeper institutional segregation of opportunity.  Without doubt, racial disparities have had a disproportionate effect on the regions African- American population, but they have also limited the quality of life for all our citizens.  We share a linked fate.  The geographic fracturing of Metro Detroit is also a fracturing of hope for the future.  Many young people with the opportunity to do so choose to leave the region and move to other more diverse metro areas.  Despair and a lack of hope in the future fill the lives of many who stay.  The failure to build a just and inclusive community greatly diminishes our collective potential, as well as our regional promise.  A brighter tomorrow can only be built upon a willingness to confront these difficulties with a shared commitment to both truth and reconciliation.

An inclusive and prosperous future can only be ensured by an inquiry into and understanding of the structural dynamics of racial segregation, past and present.

Too often, stories are told focusing on individuals and not institutions.  While it is true that individual Detroiters formed neighborhood associations that organized to prevent blacks from purchasing homes, it is also true that public officials and community leaders helped shape and perpetuate these same patterns of oppression and exclusion.  All important institutions in the community should pause and reflect on the role that they knowingly and unknowingly played in this process.  The failure to understand the deeper structural dynamics of racism has cultivated the mistaken belief that these problems are only problems of the past.  They are not.  These institutional histories carry forward and define the patterns of behavior that exist today and will be projected into the future if not addressed now. 

The establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, inspired by the process that took place in South Africa, will allow us to develop an appropriate understanding of past injustices and to envision constructive remedies to create a new regional culture of fairness, equal opportunity and improved prosperity.

Working to understand the dynamics of individual and structural racism can permit us to better understand our past, while creating opportunities to build a more just tomorrow.  All important institutional stakeholders must be part of this self-reflective process.  Understanding the institutional role of race in our past and now can permit us to collectively re-imagine our future.  A Truth and Reconciliation Commission that shepherds this process will allow the region to constructively engage the problems, division, and bitterness related to past and present patterns of segregation.  Truth provides the foundation for reconciliation.  Reconciliation provides the foundation for hope and the promise of a better future, enabling Metro Detroit to realize a  fuller potential, the construction of a viable, inclusive region to educate, to work and to live in for this and future generations.

We, the undersigned, commit ourselves to work diligently and honestly with the people and institutions of Metro Detroit to carry out this project with integrity, promoting truth, understanding, and the hope for a future providing opportunity for all.