Another Shot in the Arm for Jazz

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Let me start by offering my condolences to the family of Mr. Philip Seymour Hoffman. I pray that they find peace in what must be a difficult time. It’s hard enough to endure the loss of a loved one, then to have to sift through scores of sordid headlines that objectify the life of someone you hold dear. I’ll strive, as always, not to add to the disrespect by choosing my words carefully, but I absolutely must say something about the subtext to all of this. It’s unfortunate that this has to be said, but I would be remiss not to lend my voice to the conversation.

There have been quite a few articles that I’ve read over the last week that are quite interesting. This one from the New York Daily News stands out:

Jazz saxophonist Robert Vineberg, arrested for heroin dealing in Philip Seymour Hoffman net, has A-list recording credits

Jazz? How did the narrative get twisted from one about a deceased actor with an addiction, to one about Jazz? The first line sets the tone for what follows:

“Since even before the days of its most famous fatality, alto legend Charlie Parker, heroin has been the dark shadow of jazz.”

Then, the piece is bookended by:

“Going back to the early 1940s, trumpeter Joe Guy supplemented his work as a drug dealer, most famously supplying Billie Holiday while they carried on an affair.”

Why evoke the names of 3 Black musicians who passed on over half a century ago to tell your story about a White drug dealer and abuser with whom they share little to no association? Did Black people or Jazz musicians invent heroin? Were Blacks the first to do it or bring it into America? And why does it take a celebrated White actor to die for the police to crack down on the supply of contaminated dope that’s been killing folks for weeks?

More insightful is how Bird and Billie are posthumously dragged into this story about Robert “Aaron,” when he worked with Blondie, David Bowie and Mick Jagger — 3 Hall of Famers with known histories of addiction. This story conveniently makes no connection to the proliferation of drugs and drug-related deaths in Rock culture.

And none of this I’m writing is an attack or a judgement on drug use, but rather, an observation on how stories are spun.

With all due respect to Mr. Hoffman, why is it when he overdoses the NYPD is turning NYC upside-down to find someone to blame, but when Whitney Houston OD’ed, she was just another Black junkie musician?

I also found this story from The Oakland Examiner curious:

When Miles met Philip

No one seemed to care about that “fateful” day when Miles Davis met then pool boy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, until he dies from heroin use. Now it’s media fodder? And shouldn’t it be “When Philip met Miles”? After all, Miles was already a master several times over by the mid-’80s when he met the lifeguard turned actor. Next thing you know they’ll be suggesting that Miles turned him on to smack.

And the Black, jazz junkie narrative continues…

And this is why JAZZ will never be cool…

(On Why Jazz Isn’t Cool…)

Happy Black History Month!


— Nicholas Payton aka The Creator of the #BAM Movement