Black American Music and the Jazz Tradition

There is no such thing as jazz, and any idea of what that might be is false. It’s impossible to build a tradition upon something that was never a designed to be a true expression of a community. The very existence of jazz is predicated upon a lie, just like racism.

To speak of “jazz tradition” is like to speak of “racial justice.” It’s not possible to have justice within the confines of race because race was specifically designed to subjugate certain people to an underclass so that the “majority” thrives. Injustice is inherently built within the racial construct. There has never been any tradition within jazz other than to ensure Black cultural expression is depreciated and undervalued.

What’s made clear from the very first recorded jazz, à la The Original Dixieland Jass Band, is that it doesn’t have to adhere to the common standards that makes Black music what it is. Genealogy and lineage don’t matter within jazz and who’s who and what’s what is based primarily on the corporate and critical establishments.

It used to be that masters like your Ray Browns or Art Blakeys decided who the next cats in line were. Now the media or institutions like Downbeat, Billboard, or NARAS are the arbiters — all of which are controlled by the supremacist structures.

Tradition is based on politics in the European aesthetic. The Roman Empire, the Roman Catholic Church, the Crusades, the New World and subsequent colonization of all indigenous cultures are all indicative of European politics. The Dark Ages befell Europe after the decline of Rome because they had forgotten who they were. Once they reclaimed their historical memory and invented a new image, they went through what later became known as the Renaissance.

It’s very interesting to me that during this great period of their intellectual, artistic, and spiritual rebirth and enlightenment, Europeans were simultaneously carrying out the most heinous crimes ever committed against humanity. And though the Europeans were the perpetrators, it was those they captured who were criminalized. This Machiavellian approach to politics set the blueprint for what was to become America and is a pattern that continues to this very day.

Long before Europeans captured and enslaved others, they enslaved themselves. Many are quick to point out that Africans enslaved other Africans, or people of color enslaved other people of color, but it was a different type of slavery than the chattel slavery that existed in the New World. For instance, it was totally possible for someone to be born or sold into slavery, but eventually rise to a position of power, like Abu al-Misk Kafur or Malik Ambar.

Ancestry is what governs art in African culture. Jazz is political and has no roots. So far, the furthest back historians been able to go with “jaz” is on a business card by a Creole musician by the name of Jimmy Palao.

I don’t think that the selling of the art is the issue. It’s the forces that control the system under which it’s sold that creates conflict. Most of which can be solved by calling it Black music. Not only because that’s what it is, but because then it becomes apparent what tradition we’re talking about. The same goes for Hiphop. The Black community doesn’t own or control it anymore.

One problem with jazz is that there will always be an argument as to what is and what is not jazz, which prevents an authentic analysis of the art. Once someone gets past whether or not they like someone’s music, the jazz tradition always becomes a distraction. Even if artists say that their music is not jazz, any association with the word will subjugate an artist to an argument which can never be solved because it’s faulty at its root.

From a genealogical standpoint, it becomes very clear to a knowledgable listener whose music has been informed by the Black tradition and whose hasn’t. That will never happen with jazz because it’s a bastardized tradition that has no foundation outside of a commercial structure. It’s not a communal language, it’s a capitalist one.

In Black music there are no fields, per se, there are territories and lineages. It’s very clear who is a master drummer in the tribe and who is not. There is also a rhythmic lilt to how you phrase that is encoded in your DNA that gives a sign as to where you are from.

I’m not vehemently opposed to the existence of jazz, I’m opposed to the true spirit of Black music being labeled as such. I’m fine with Jazz continuing its journey, just not at the expense of Black music. I’m not trying to change the name “Jazz” to “#BAM” or “Black American Music,” as the misguided and uninformed seem to believe. Jazz is doing just fine, dead on its own.

This idea of how personal views and individual preferences factor in artistically comes from a Western perspective. I’m not saying Western thought is intrinsically bad, but there’s an entirely different system of judgement in Black arts.

Black arts have been so affected by the Western aesthetic that they appear at times to be no difference between the two, but fundamentally they serve a different function and there are another set of rules at play. Black music can coexist along with the Western aesthetic, as far as I see it. The fact that we have yet to formally establish that there is a such thing as Black music is the basis of the confusion.

Blacks were brought over here for a reason. I want to learn from the experience and my desire is to marry the worlds in some way that will be beneficial to everyone involved. It matters not to me if it works out or it doesn’t. All that matters is that we do the work and create value. Whatever happens as a result isn’t up to us.


— Nicholas Payton aka The Creator of #BAM