Boris Vian -- Should White Jazz Musicians Be Executed?

08.29.2004 | Trad Anon | Music, Partisan Reader | 14 Comments
from Combat: 4 April 1948

The problem is the following: black music is increasingly encumbered by sometimes harmonious but always superfluous and usually avoidable white elements.  Should we contiunue to congratulate and encourage the whites in question, should we criticize them or simply tell them to go take their suspenders and hang themselves?

We heard one of them, Jack Teagarden, in Louis Armstrong’s band—Teagarden’s place is in the cloakroom. We saw two with Mezzrow—Mezzrow and Bob Wilber would have lost nothing but glory (and money) had they been replaced by Albert Nicholas or Bechet.  We see the same problem every time there is a mixed band. Not to say that racial mixture is bad, but because in every case (example: Artie Shaw’s ‘Little Jazz’ featuring Roy Eldridge) it would do absolutely no damage to do away with the white part of the band.

I used to be all in favor of racial integration in principle. But I have been obliged to rethink my position.  Sure, it’s fun to play with black musicians. But who profits from it? Surely not the blacks.

The only meaningful credential of Benny Goodman, who has found a privileged place in the record collection of a certain number of fans ( we won’t bother to seperate those who collect even his big-band records), is to have started the irst truly multi-racial combo.  All other such attempts served only to accentuate the contrast.

We are all of us too sentimental. Why accept Teagarden even though Armstrong appreciates him?  Surely even Armstrong can make a mistake.  For his own good, we should oblige him to hire James Archey.

But, alas, the blacks are as sentimental as we are. Everybody likes to play with their friends and Teagarden is a really nice guy.

Should we bayonet all the white jazz musicians? Certainly not. But if only they’d all just drop dead…

Translated by Mike Zwerin


I find it humorous that people like you complain about racism from whites, and then turn around and show the same exact ignorance that you complain of. Obviously you are part of the problem and not the solution. And in regards to white jazz musicians being replaceable, you should take your head out of the 1930's-40's and look at jazz more recently. Bill Evans, Joe Zawinal, Steve Grossman, Dave Liebman, Dave Holland, Art Pepper, Chris Potter, Mike Underhill, Michael Brecker, and the list goes on. People like you make this world more ugly.
01.6.2005 | White Jazz Musician
Hey Boris-There was this other guy in the 40's, I believe his name was Adolf, who had similiar ideas to yours.
02.13.2005 | anon
Hey Boris-WAKE UP!
Music and the world don't need this kind of thinking,not now, not ever. Don't you see that racism runs in all directions? And who the hell are you to tell someone what to love and where to search for beauty with their God-given life?
Why must we only list white musicians in addition to? Musicians come in ALL colors, all races, all ages , all genders. You don't own jazz, just like whites don't own classical music.
02.13.2005 | cal
Boris,

If you don't like it close your eyes you won't be able to tell the difference then
04.21.2005 | Shauna
Um....didn't anyone posting a comment realize that Boris Vian, the author if this article, is long dead? Did no one notice the 1948 publication date? Vian was a fascinating, difficult, iconoclastic artist (novelist, playwright, poet, musician, film-maker) who died in 1595, and liked nothing more than to provoke. Looks like he's still good at it.
09.14.2005 | Chicago Musician
Correction: he died in 1959.
09.14.2005 | Chicago Musician
And one more important point: Vian was himself a white jazz musician. Perhaps there is a bit of irony at work in his article.
09.14.2005 | Chicago Musician
This is a predictable and almost accurate statement. If it was spoken in 1948. I still like Jack's Trombone, but it is true that many white musicians of the era usurped the music from its progenitors based solely through the ease with which a white man could get hired.

A few other points to acknowledge, though, would that a lot the harmonic concepts that define jazz lean upon white european concepts that are centuries old... And that recent white jazz musicians can legitimately claim a positive role in the music's evolution.

That's one thing I like a lot about jazz: it's the ultimate marriage of cultural musics.
04.30.2008 | Another White Musician
anon, cal, shauna: People YOU wake up and go back to school and learn what a great writer and promoter of "black" music Vian was
07.31.2008 | J U
What about Bix Beiderbecke? Frankie Trumbauer? Connee Boswell? Tex Beneke? LENNIE TRISTANO? You can argue white musicians have always lagged behind their black counterpart, but to say whites have no place in it, even before 1948 when the author wrote this article it's just bizarre. So much effort has been made to categorize Jazz as an "American" art form yet it seems customary to leave out the people who founded the nation in the first place. On the other end, it seems to punch a hole on the idea every single white person was a racist and a bigot out to hurt black people in one way or another, a popular assumption that furthers this grotesque while guilt circus that's been shoved down our throats since the civil rights days. One wonders how Jazz music could spread so fast given all the racist and bigots that filled the country. :rollseyes:
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