Archive for the Cultural Matters Category

African Beauties

Posted in Brown and Beige Beauties, Cultural Matters, Photo-Essays with tags , on September 18, 2016 by playthell
13164291_726953114111349_2926071960629653620_nAfrican Style

Godesses from the Breast of the Earth!

As I select the images for these photo-essays on the beauty of black women – this is the second in a series of four covering the US, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean – I am constantly struck by two things: what an amazing treasure trove I have to choose from, and how Europeans manage to convince so many people of the superior beauty of white women.

Of course the answer to this riddle lies in the fact that by virtue of their dominence in the military, economic and technological spheres Europeans have been able to impose their cultural values on the rest of the world.   In fact, mastery of a major European language has until the last fifty years been essential in order to gain access to the tools a nation needed to achieve modernity.  Simply put, the learned texts that contained the scientific knowledge that is the gateway to the modern world were written in those languages – which also produced a prolific literature that was employed to indoctrinate the colonized populations in the ideas and values of their oppressors including notions of vice and virtue, beauty and ugliness.

The knowledge of modern science was not to be found in Sanscrit, Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, or Yoruba. Even our concept of time and place had been defined by Europeans.  The ancient wisdom of the great empires of Africa, Asia and Latin America proved impotent weapons against the onslaught of modern Europe.  This was not because Europeans were inherently superior, as they would claim, rather it was a function of the fact that “The Enlightenment,” an intellectual movement which separated the functions of church and state, priviledging reason over religion, science over mysticism, physics over metaphysics, ushered in the scientific revolution and the Industrial revolution which followed in its wake.

These dynamic developments in European society provided them with the technology to devestate the armies of the Third World and resulted in European conquest of the globe.  In the early twentieth century the little Island of Britian – whose King, George III, had been rebuffed by the Emperor of China as a “Barbarian” in an official rejection of his bid to establish trade relations around the time of the American Revolution in the 18th century – could boast that “The Sun never sets on the British empire” and had the audacity to call itself “Great Britian.”

The parts of the globe that was not controlled by the “conquoring Anglo-Saxons” were controlled by the other major nations of Europe, which exported their surplus populations all over the Third World, changing the physical characteriscs of the indigenous “natives” and implanting their language, literature and religious beliefs among them.  As a result of these historical events European values dominated the psyche of the subject peoples and convinced many of them that Europeans were superior in all things and and thus it was “a white man’s world” and the white woman became the ideal of feminine beauty.

The anti-colonial revolutions that burst out all over the non-white world in the aftermath of the second world war, was spurred by the fact these subject peoples had fought in the armies of their colonial master’s in two global conflicts within a generation and discovered that Europeans were not invincible and could be killed just like them.  Hence it is no surprise that the leaders of the anti-colonial movements in Afica and Asia, as well as the black liberation struggle in the US, were largely led by ex-military men.  This was true whether we are talkig about Franz Fanon and Abdel Gamel Nasser in Africa or Medgar Evers and Robert Williams in the US.

A major part of the liberation struggles of oppressed peoples of color, as the revolutionary psychaitrist Franz Fanon described so poignantly in hyis writings was to reclaim their personalities, their sense of self.  Nowhere was this process more in evidence than among the black peoples of the world – especially in the USA with the rise of a militant black conciousness that inspired the “Black Arts Movement” which challanged European standards of beauty.  I came of age amidst that movement and was an avid participant in promoting it’s ideas.

I was on the scene when the African Jazz Art Society – founded by a collaboration between visual artists and Jazz – that boldly promoted an “Afrocentric” esthetic view that celebrated au naturel hair styles and African inspired dress which accentuated the beauty of African women.  The four cultural visionaries that created AJASS were musicians Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, along with the Braithwaite Brothers: Photographer Kwame and graphic artist/illustrator  Elombe.

The major vehicle through which they promoted the celebration black beauty was the Grandossa Models, who were presented in a series of cutural happenings in which Jazz, especially the Africa concious revolutionary music of the founders Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln – see video clip at the bottom of this essay – Visual Arts, and Poetry readings were also on display.

The Grandossa Models

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Setting an Afro-Centric Standard of Beauty

Max and Abbey

Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln
Kwame Braithwaite: Photographer of the Movement

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Elombe!
All Creator’s of the “Black is Beautiful” Slogan

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A Pan African soldier welcoming Nelson and Winnie to Harlem!

A statement explaining the raison d’etre for the show  billed as “Naturally 62,” held in that year proclaimed it was “created to show Black women (and the world) that our Black skin, kinky hair and full lips were a thing of beauty, not something to be ashamed of.  This photo-essay was created as an extension of that spirit!

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Vanity!

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A Regal Beauty

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The Source: Where Big Bootys Come From!
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Elegante

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 Academy Award Winning Actress

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Miss Ghana!

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Click on link to view Max and Abbey perform “All Africa”

 Compiled by: Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
October 17, 2016

The Most Beautiful Girls in the World!!!

Posted in Brown and Beige Beauties, Cultural Matters, Photo-Essays with tags on September 10, 2016 by playthell

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 13: Tennis Player Serena Williams arrives at The 2011 ESPY Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on July 13, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Serena Williams: Ebony Goddess

A Reality Check!

Harlem Sweeties
Have you dug the spill/ Of Sugar Hill?
Cast your gims/On this sepia thrill:
Brown sugar lassie, Caramel treat, Honey-gold baby
Sweet enough to eat./Peach-skinned girlie,
Coffee and cream, / Chocolate darling
Out of a dream. /Walnut tinted / Or cocoa brown,
Pomegranate-lipped / Pride of the town.
Rich cream-colored /To plum-tinted black,
Feminine sweetness /In Harlem’s no lack.
Glow of the quince /To blush of the rose.
Persimmon bronze /To cinnamon toes.
Blackberry cordial, Virginia Dare wine—
All those sweet colors /Flavor Harlem of mine!
Walnut or cocoa, Let me repeat:
Caramel, brown sugar, A chocolate treat.
Molasses taffy, Coffee and cream,
Licorice, clove, cinnamon/ To a honey-brown dream.
Ginger, wine-gold, Persimmon, blackberry,
All through the spectrum/ Harlem girls vary—
So if you want to know beauty’s / Rainbow-sweet thrill,
Stroll down luscious, 
Delicious, fine Sugar Hill.
By: Langston Hughes, Poet Laureate of Harlem

I am absolutely certain that I speak for most Afro-Americans…and some other folks of different ethnicities when I say that I am sick of witnessing the tyranny of the Caucasian female Image ad nauseum!   Ever since I can remember I have been inundated with images of white girls. In my forthcoming novel “Tall Tales from the Life and Times of Sugarcane Hancock: The Phallocentric Memoirs of a Sweet Colored Man,” The central character remembers the experience this way:

“White Girls….they seemed to be everywhere.  They beckoned to me from billboards beside the highways, and smiled from he pages of Sears and Roebuck catalogues inviting me to sample their wares.  They attempted to seduce my mind with carnal desire with their scantily clad bodies in girlie magazines, and attempted to infect me with a high heel and garter belt fetish on the covers of calendars and pin up posters.  They sashayed aroud our sunny Florida town in high heels and short shorts exposing tanned alabaster flesh thay I was forbidden to look upon let alone touch. They winked at me and hungrily licked their lips from the giant silver screens in dark movie palaces on Saturday afternoons; they even descended from the walls and stained glass windows of grand cathedrals and churches on Sundays….even black churches; blond blue eyed angels pointing the way to heaven!”

However even back in the day, when beautiful black female images were banished from the mass media, only overweight Black Mammy’s  – like Hattie McDaniel in the lavishly produced but sappy white plantation fantasy, “Gone with the Wind’ – got the nod.   Yet all of us who had eyes could easily see that it wasn’t so.  But given that the mass media was owned and controlled by white folks the beauties we saw in our daily lives – which were as common as water in black communities EVERYWHERE in America – were never celebrated in the images beamed into the psyches of millions of Americans.

This is the only plausible explanation for why white women are so widely promoted as the universal standard of beauty.  But I never bought the hype….as was the case with most of the black men I knew.  When I was a teenager the White folks said that Elizabeth Taylor was “The Most beautiful woman in the world; I thought Liz was pretty, but she paled like a fading flower when compared to Dorothy Dandridge.  And I also thought that Dorothy Dandridge looked a lot like my girlfriend Harriet Phoenix and was in a dead heat with my mamma…THE REAL QUEEN ELIZABETH!

Liz Taylor

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 Dottie Dandrige
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What was especially grievous about the comparisons of Dorothy Dandridge to Liz Taylor is that Dottie was so much more talented.  In the golden age of Hollywood, when film production was dominated by a few mammoth studios run by corporate dictators popularly called Moguls, every performer longed to be a “Triple Threat,” talented at acting, singing and dancing.  Dorothy was a Triple Threat par excellence.   She was a good actor, a moving singer and a spectacular dancer, who was good enough to appear in Hollywood films dancing with the Nicholas Brothers, the most spectacular dance team to ever appear in movies…the best in the world!   The only reason that she did not become the biggest star in American show business, including Hollywood is because of white racism!

It is amusing – in the sense of laughing to keep from crying – to witness these same attitudes expressed on the part of white Americans today, albeit far less than in my youth, when they seek to compare our beautiful, elegant, First Lady to Jackie Kennedy. Demonstrating yet again the bogusness of white feminist intellectuals who claim that racism is a male malady, that wicked witch of the reactionary right, Anorexic Annie Coulter, drew an invidious comparison between Jackie and Michelle and suggested that any attempt to compare the two in style, elegance and beauty was absurd: Jackie had it all around….hands down.

As is often the case with the pronouncements of this silly skinny amoral skank, when I heard what she said “I got tha ass” as the old folks would say down home in Florida.  And since one of my favorite sports is unmasking charlatans and chastising pretentious white sophist…especially the pugnacious ones, I responded to Crazy Annie with a photo-essay that demolishes her vulgar and tasteless claim.  She should be the last one to speak on this anyway, since she is a skinny booga bear who looks like she was in a gang fight and everybody had a hatchet or a ball and chain but her!  See: “The Best Looking first Lady Ever!” at www.

Michelle….Oh Well!

Portraits of our Stunning First Lady

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Raphsody In Blue

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Need I say More?

A Study in Elegance

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Day or Night….She’s the One!
***See Video on the elements of hers her Style below)
https://youtu.be/UzrvKIHWfDk

Jackie O

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 At the White House Ball
Jackie had Style 

First Lady Jackie Kennedy standing on the grounds of the Taj Mahal during visit to India. (Photo by Art Rickerby/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

But she literally pales beside Michelle

The essential point here is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and to my eyes Michelle is a far more strunning figure than Jackie Kennedy.  I love her colorful style which has a special flare when contrasted with her beautiful chocolate complexion.  What ever color Michelle chooses to wear including Jackie’s favorite white, will look better than when it adorns Jackie’s pale skin.  Furthermore, whereas Jackie was a slave to fashion dictators Michelle is a trend setter who chooses clothes from a far wider range of designers…making reputations instead of seeking the safety of choices from the trendy houses of fashion.

Left to my own devices I wouldn’t be engaged in this exercise because I see beauty in all of the world’s women, but some white folks made this an important issue that must be addressed.  The beauty and taste of black women has been disparaged far too often, and like white Americans have always done, they just declare that it is true without presenting any evidence, or even defining a clear standard.

Having consorted with beautiful and refined women of various races and ethnicities, I believe that middle class and upper class black American women are the most stylish ladies in the world.  And I also believe black women, with their myriad complexions descibed so deliciously by Langston Hughes – a task only an able poet with a fertile imagination could hope to pull off  – exotic eye shapes, widely varied facial features, endlessly inventive hair styles, and spectacular bodies  are the most beautiful women in the world!

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Black, Brown and Beige Beauties!

The Girls of Sugar Hill Today

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Makeda Voletta
 Sports Scientist and Former Athlete
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Dancer
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 Photographer’s Model

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A Magical Moon Dance comjuring the spirit of Oshun
Actress/Producer Michele Turner
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A Sophisticated Lady
Satin Doll
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Sizziling in her Sixties!
Black don’t Crack!

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A Sexy Senior Citizen pushing 70!

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Light Bright to Ebony Black and All the Shades in Between!

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Lovely Leana Horn: Triple Threat!
Pick yo Flava

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Beautiful Bodacious Bootys
A Chocolate Delight 

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Oshun’s Daughter
A Pecan Tan Brivk House!

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 High Yellow

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Teasing Brown

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The Queen B!

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The Blacker the Berry

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The Goddess Oshun

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 A Movable Feast of Many Flavas!

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Dangerous Curves!

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Actress Meagan Goode

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A Stunning Bronze Afro-Amazon!

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Cafe Au lait

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 Mahogony Fine II

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Cinnamon

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Poet Jessica Care Moore
Black And Fantasies

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Our women are like a flower garden/You can Choose any color you like”
My Grand Daddy, George Benjamin Sr.
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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
Fall 2016

Freedom Music that Inspired South Africans

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews, You Tube Classics with tags , , on August 19, 2016 by playthell
Maz and Abey IIRevolutionaty Music: Background sound to the Liberation Movement

The Sound Heard Around the World!

The videos posted below  brings to mind the role both Max Roach and Amonata Moseka played in the arts movement of South Africa. I say this because I got to know about Max and Amonata as a very young boy. What they did for African Americans, they also did very effectively for the arts and music in South Africa. I actually learned and got to see Max’s influence in many drummers of the early fifties and sixties in South Africa, like Gordon Mfandu, Early Mabuza, Louis Mofolo, and countless drummers who collected his music, and played like Max, emulated and refined some of his licks and so forth;

Then there was the ladies who sang in the sultry notes of Aminata  Moseka, singers like Dolly Rather, Dorothy Masuka, Thandi Klaasen, and of the younger generation, Sibongile  Khumalo – daughter of Khabi Mgoma who was the conductor of the Ionian Choir of Africans in South Africa.  He would go on to become the Director and curator of Dorkay House, lcated on Elloff Street in Johannesburg.   Dorkay House was the Hub of African Jazz musicians and music students Dorkay House was situated next to BMCC, where all the artist – painters, poets, dramatist, et al were practicing their artistic endeavors.

Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln

Max and Abbey

Father and Mother of the Black Arts Movement

These institutions were very influential in spreading what Max and Abbey were doing for the arts and music world in the USA. Max’s 78 rpm’s and LPs were exchanged amongst the artists, and we, the children of some of these musicians, were encouraged to go to BMCC to learn about up and coming painters and sculptors. Some of my young friends took piano, drum and other instrumental lessons in Dorkay House.

Khabi Mgoma, after his creation of the Ionian Classical Music choir, went on to teach in Natal. But before he left he served as the Director of Dorkay House, and this was frowned upon by the Apartheid Goons who wanted to suppress any sign of modern cultural nationalism among blacks. We children from the townships who loved Jazz got to listen to and watch our African Brothers and uncles practice the new licks from Max Roach, while hanging out with many artists like Dumile Feni, Fikile Magadlela and Solly Bobela, and so forth.

They all came out of that mix.   BMCC played a major role in churning out these young musicians and artists.. Dorkay House was also a hangout for the Musicans /Artists, etc  who played Billiards at BMCC.   It is from such settings that I got to hear and know about Max and Amonata Moseka.

Musicians played his LPs on their gramophones and newly acquired Hi-Fi Radio system. Although we grew up listening to the great drummer Philly Jo Jones and other contemporaries, Max topped the bill for our listening pleasure. This was long before there were the Jazz Clubs that have become a staple since the coming to Power of the ANC. For us, Jazz clubs during my teenage years was hanging out with all types of artists and musicians, and it was from such esteemed people, that I developed a reverence for Jazz that has stayed with me to this day.

As For Leroi Jones, I got to know him from his book, “Blues People”, but I will reserve my comments for now regarding this book. Anyway, we did not read Jazz, only form Magazines like ‘Down Beat”, but the experience of living with, hanging out, and  listening to musicians from a very young Age.  The intoxicating sound of Jazz reaffirmed the oceanic connections that we had with our African bothers, specifically in the US.   I know the influence of the “African Jazz Art society” was certainly felt in South Africa because I remember that my father used to get information on them.

Living within the Jazz Milieu of Apartheid South provided a kind of spiritual refuge…where our souls could dance freely, transcending the physical oppressions of the House of Bondage that our beautiful country had become. Thus the powerful race conscious music of Max and Amonata – such as the “Freedom Suite: We Insist Freedom Now”- made life worth living for many of us here in South Africa.

Those who fought and defeated the apartheid regime are still affected by their cultural contributions more than I can put into words. Max and Amonata was it for us, especially my Age group.   I am older now, but I still listen to my pristine Vinyl recordings of their music and am still inspired by the art of the politically conscious Jazz Giants.  All one need do to understand why is to check out their performance on the videos below.

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Freedom Day!

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Cosmic Freedom Sounds!

Max Roach and South African Pianst Dollar Brand

May the Circle Remain Unbroken!

The Struggle Continues….
Skhokho 
South African Revolutionary
August 1, 2016

Wynton is The Greatest!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews, You Tube Classics with tags , , on August 2, 2016 by playthell
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Maestro Marsalis at work

The Evidence on Video and Audio

The great composer, arranger, bandleader and trumpeter Gerald Wilson once told me emphatically during an interview: “Wynton Marsalis is the greatest trumpeter in the world!” And as a failed trumpeter who retained a passionate love for the instrument, as well as an acute appreciation for the formidable obstacles and treacherous pitfalls which confronted the aspiring artist that attempted to master it, I wholeheartedly agreed.

As a serious lover of complex instrumental music I had listened to many great trumpeters in Jazz and European concert music – the former a New World invention, a 20th century art that expressed the Afro-American love of freedom as well as the quintessential American ideals of Democracy, Personal Liberty and Innovation. The latter a great art music from the Old World of Europe that was already centuries old, and reflected the hierarchal and highly formalized character of the societies that produced it. And although both musical idioms employ the same instrument, and the music they make is based on the same system of melody and harmony – a European invention that produced sublime sounds by their great master composers – the two musical forms were profoundly different in instrumental technique, compositional structure and artistic philosophy.

In the classical music of Europe the instrumentalist is a vehicle for the ideas of the composer. And if they perform in symphony orchestras, operas or chorales they are also subjected to the dictates of tyrannical composers. Hence in European concert music the creativity of the instrumentalist is severely circumscribed. Everything from tempo, intonation and interpretation of the music is dictated the composer and enforced by the conductor with an iron fist.  Hence conformity to tradition and achieving excellence based upon well-established standards of performance is the objective to which the successful artists must aspire.

Conversely, the art of Jazz performance demands that the performer seek their own voice, follow their personal muse, and create something new under the sun.  Furthermore the music must swing to the clockwork rhythms of the unique machine age milieu in which it was born…the most modern civilization the world had ever seen.  Hence all Jazz is modern music.  That’s why visual artists from American Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollard and Wilheim de Kooning, to European masters of Modernism such as Pablo Picasso and Salvadore Dahli lionized their music.

The difficulty of mastering both musical idioms is self-evident in the fact that of all the great musicians that have lived in the world there are so few that have achieved virtuosity in both that we can count them on our fingers and toes. Flautist Hubert Laws, Trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, pianists Chucho Valdez and Herbie Hancock, bassists Ron Carter, Carlos del Pino, Richard Davis and Ortiz Walton first among them. However Mr. Marsalis is the only musician on any instrument who has won the coveted Grammy for performances in both genres.  And he has achieved this impossible feat nine times!  Four were for “Best Classical Performance” and five for “Best Jazz Performance.”

For this presentation I have chosen one of the most difficult instrumental pieces from each genre where Wynton is featured as a soloist.  Added to this are two performances with Wynton as accompanist to a singer…a fine art unto itself.  For the instrumental Classical repertoire I have selected “The Carnival of Venice,” and for the Jazz performance I have chosen “Cherokee.” As to the difficulties posed by the first piece suffice it to say that when trumpeters auditioned for the great United States Marine Band, billed as “The Greatest Brass Band in the World” – under the direction of its founder and premiere composer Maestro John Phillip Sousa – who wrote such enduring works as El Capitan, Semper Fidelis, Anchors Away! And the immortal Stars and Stripes Forever – “The Carnival of Venice “ was the piece that they were required to play.

This is because Arbans’ Carnival presents the trumpeter with a series of obstacles that requires mastery of all the technical problems posed by trumpet performance: Legato and staccato phrasing; triple tonguing, circular breathing, fingering the keys, exquisite timing, embouchure and intonation. Cleary Wynton masters them all…and with ease!  This is a heroic achievement, because a trumpet after all is just some twisted brass pipes with a hard metal mouthpiece and only three keys!  Yet it is capable of playing all the notes in the musical lexicon.

This amazing feat is achieved by manipulating sound from the way one blows into the instrument, which is to say mastering embouchure.  It is such a marvelous feat the only reason that great athletes such as Michael Jordon and Russell Wilson attract more fans that Wynton is because more people understand the greatness of what they do. Everybody has had some experience playing sports – if only because physical education is a required component of every school curriculum…and sadly instrumental music is not.  However to grasp the brilliance of Wynton’s performance on Carnival, one need only read the comments of trumpet players from all over the world under the video and note their astonishment – one even said that “suicide” would be easier and a lot less painful that the epic failure one would experience trying to duplicate this performance!”

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 Cherokee, the Jazz selection, was the piece that the hep cats at Minton’s Playhouse threw on Charlie “Yardbird” Parker to prove his mettle when he showed up at Minton’s Playhouse from Kansas City “looking country” totin his alto-sax in a cardboard case.  But when he took out his axe and begin to “cut heads” with his complex, erudite and original musical statements, Bird astonished everybody who witnessed it.  Dizzy Gillespie, a key figure in the aggregation of musical rebels who congregated in Minton’s and experimented with new ideas, said when he heard Bird he thought: “There it is, this is the sound we have been searching for.”  He said that they had bits and pieces of the music that would become world famous as Be-bop, and Bird filled in the gaps and brought the whole thing together.

From that musical communion came a genre of Jazz that would change the way musicians heard and played music all over the world. The artistic challenges Bop presented intrigued musicians from the great to near great to apprentices.  If I had to sum up Bird’s achievement I would say that he did for the world of music what Einstein did for theoretical physics: change the relationship between time and space forever.

The great writer Ralph Ellison, a well-schooled trumpet player competent in both the classical repertoire – he was a music major at Tuskegee, where he studied with the outstanding Afro-American composer in the classical European style but with an Afro-American voice. William Dawson – and was also grounded in the hard swinging blues style of the “Stomp” that was popular among the “Territorial Bands” that played in his native Oklahoma City – bird hailed from nearby Kansas City.

Ellison, was so astonished and overwhelmed by what he head in Minton’s that he wrote “They were playing be-bops…I mean re-bopped be-bops.” The drummers had abandoned the steady bass drum pulse that was so essential to the dancers who got down to the Stomp, that Ellison was horrified by the seemingly free form complexity of their rhythms and described them as “frozen faced introverts dedicated to chaos!”

The experience of hearing this new music called “Be-Bop” invented in Harlem’s Minton’s Playhouse by players like trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Thelonious Monk, bassist Oscar Pettiford, drummer Kenny “Klook” Clarke and others that he gave up playing the trumpet and became a writer -.one of the greats.  So music’s lost was literature’s gain.

When listening to Cherokee, remember that essential to the genius of Jazz is not only the requirement of virtuosity on the part of each instrumentalist…but one must be able to compose complex music while swinging the blues over chord changes  at the SPEED OF THOUGHT!!!  Hence the speed at which Wynton is playing adds to the magic of it all!  So Kick back and check out the marvelous vibes from the horn of Maestro Marsalis…THE GREATEST TRUMPETER IN THE WORLD!!!

Chillin Back Stage
Wynton in Berkley After a triumphant concert at U-Cal Berkeley
Click to see: THE CARNIVAL OF VENICE

Click to see: CHEROKEE
https://youtu.be/3blL4v-cY18
Boroque Duets: Wynton and Kathleen Battle

Watch Wynton Accompany Jazz Great Sarah Vaughn

Watch Wynton Warm up before a Concert

The concert featured legendary pianist Ahmad Jamal with the JALC Orchestra

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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
August 1, 2016
***Cover Photo by Frank Stewart
U-Cal Berkeley Photo by: Playthell Benjamin

On Blacks in the White House

Posted in Cultural Matters, You Tube Classics with tags on July 25, 2016 by playthell

barack-and-michelle-obama-fashion

President Obama and the First Lady

A Must See Documentay by Professor H.L. Gates

Serious students of history have a different, and deeper, understanding of the present. Indeed, as the great Afro-American historian Benjamin Quarles – a long time professor of history at Morgan State University and author of “The Negro in the American Revolution,” warned: “He who would understand the complexities of the present need the added dimension of historical perspective.” The video below supplies that mush need historical perspective what the election of Barack Obama as President of the USA tells us about how far we have advanced in America.

This is a much needed perspective because there are far too many black people, especially the so-called “radicals,” who evaluate everything in terms of political victories i.e. the achievement of specific policy goals. Yet the election of Barack Obama has a significance that goes beyond politics and speaks to a pscho-cultural revolution in race relations that has opened up possibilities that were unimaginable when I went off the college at Florida A&M University in the fall of 1959.

The student sit-ins began that spring of 1960, and a brash young boxer named Cassius Marcellous Clay danced himself to a Gold Medal in Rome a few months later. He would go on the become a powerful symbol of the revolt of my generation. We set out to change race relations in ths country by destroying the de jure (legal) racial caste system in which the subordination of black people and white supremacy was the law!

There was no shame in those crackers game. Well we did destroy it! And while we have not solved all of the problems confronting America, and others gave arisen over the last half century:We have come a long way baby! I know first hand of which I speak because I WITNESSED IT!!! I watched these events unfold as an activist; a soldier in America’s nuclear strike force; a professor of history; an award winning journalist; music and theater critic; broadcaster; bandleader and boxing promoter. I saw it from ALL SIDES!

This film below, produced by “The Root” and narrated by Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., Professor of the Humanities at Harvard, is a brilliant, succintly rendered, history of Afro-Americans in the White House. This is a GREAT CONTRIBUTION to the full understanding of our history in this Republic, and Professor Gates – a cultural treasure – presents a learned and moving narrative accompanied by a splendid array of photographs and paintings.

http://theroottv.theroot.com/embed/player/container/1366/667/?layout=&content_type=content_item&playlist_cid=&media_type=video&content=RNYV4J3G2YCX7N72&read_more=1&widget_type_cid=svp&referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2F

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A You Tube Classic
Selected and posted by: 
Playthell G. Benjamin

What Jesse Williams Should Have Said

Posted in Cultural Matters, On the 2016 Presidential Election with tags , on July 1, 2016 by playthell

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 26: Honoree Jesse Williams accepts the Humanitarian Award onstage during the 2016 BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater on June 26, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/BET/Getty Images for BET)

Jesse Williams: June 2016

On Recieving BET’s Humanitarian Award

To the Black entertainment Network, the audience, and my wonderful parents sitting out there; thanks for inviting me, thanks for listening to me….and thanks for raising me right mom and pop; for equipping me to overcome life’s adversities and make a contribution to our community. Like it or not, those of us who have managed to achieve some measure of fame and fortune are duty bound by an ancestral imperative to use our platforms to advance the struggle for full justice on behalf of our brothers and sisters who still face racial discrimination as an everyday fact of life.

We must raise our voices in a swelling chorus and pledge our money to this herculean struggle for justice.  For that is how we have come thus far along the way – as the poet and Reniassance Man James Weldon Johnson wrote in the immortal anthem: Lift Every Voice and Sing, composed by his brother J. Rosamond Johnson in 1901, just 31 years after the abolition of 250 years of chattel slavery here in the “land of the free.”

Yet unless we fully understand the complex problems confronting us, we could end up like “Jack the Bear,” whom Duke Ellington – that indefatigable painter of Afro-American life in song – immortalized.  We’ll be making tracks but getting nowhere!  Some of our problems are obvious, like fatal encounters with the police.

Yet as horrible as it is we can envision a solution to this problem: Mandate that all police everywhere video tape every encounter with a citizen and pass a federal law requiring the states to hire Special Prosecutors to try every case involving the police use of firearms… or fatalities by any means. These measures will pretty much put an end to this problem.  But even so, alas the major danger to our lives from random gunfire remains a nihilistic, angry, uneducated young black male. The statistics are indisputable cause numbers don’t lie.

However as the prescient Afro-American sociologist and Harvard Professor William J. Wilson demonstrates in seminal texts like “The Truly Disadvantaged,” “When Work Disappears” and “The Declining Significance of Race,” we are facing devastating problems that limit our chances in life and the solutions are elusive. For these problems are deeply rooted in American history and exacerbated by the realities of a predatory economic system where Darwinian laws of the jungle prevail.  As Senator Bernie Sanders has adroitly pointed out: The big dogs are taking all the bones in a cruel environment that’s red of truth and claw. It’s a for real jungle out there!

Hence while continuing to vigorously fight the lingering vestiges of the American racial caste system we must not be so blind that we fail to see the wider struggle between economic classes.  If the US economy continues in the direction  it is headed, with runaway cyber-technology wiping out millions of jobs and no plan for the survival of workers who are rendered obsolete, it won’t matter what your race or ethnicity: we are all be in the same sinking boat!  It is this economic disaster that fuels social pathologies from widespread out of wed-lock births, drug and alcohol addiction, spiraling homicides, mass slaughters, etc.  And it is devastating the working classes of all racial and ethnic groups.

This is why silly talk about not voting, or there is no difference between the candidates, represents a dangerous intellectual laziness…or worse an impulse to cut off your nose to spite your face.   Either choice is self-destructive folly.  If I had unlimited time on this podium I could obviously say much more on these critical issues….and much more certainly needs to be said.  But as I am laboring under the tyranny of the clock I shall proceed directly to the marching orders.

The first and immediate plan of action is to defeat Donald the Clown, a vain megalomaniac and intellectual light-weight who would set our country back and endanger the entire world.  So register to vote! Get your friends and family to register to vote, and badger them to badger their friends and family to register and vote.  To put the argument in a nutshell, I shall leave you with quotes by two philosophers: One an ancient Greek, the other a twentieth century African.

“Unless you are a God or a beast your life will be ruled by politics” warned Aristotle.  “Seek ye first the political Kingdom and all else shall be added there unto,” spoke Kwame Nkrumah, independence leader and President of Ghana, the first modern African nation.  Impassioned rhetoric is fine, it’s inspirational, it makes us feel good, but if we not act its just a pity party!

For as our great ancestor Frederick Douglass warned: Where there is no struggle there is no progress….power concedes nothing without demand…it never has and it never will.  We may not always get what we pay for in this life…but we shall sure as hell pay for all that we get!  I thank you for this honor.

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A Note of Clarification on My Purpose

Jesse Williams was brought to my attention by the persistent and vociferous praise for his acceptance speech upon receiving the “Humanitarian Award” presented by Black Entertainment Television. So I looked the speech up online and watched it for myself.  I found Mr. William’s to be eloquent, impassioned and poetic; the kind of verbal virtuosity that excites the emotions and fires up a crowd.  But this is what one would expect from an accomplished actor giving a great performance.   Alas, I had hoped for something different…something more.

If Mr. Williams had been allotted twice the amount of time this would have been a great closing commentary. Appeals to the emotions can be powerful adjuncts to a substantive speech, a means of inspiring people to action after a precise analysis of the problem, and clear marching orders to correct it.   Only then are powerful rhetorical exercises truly useful in waging real struggle.

I know that some will complain that I am judging the Brother too harshly, and I answer their complaints by simply pointing out that had Mr. Williams been presented this award as an actor I would have judged him as an actor and simply applauded his performance. For he certainly did what actors do and did it well.  However Mr. Williams was presented an award for his activism with “Black Lives Matter.”   It was announced that the award was given for “His continued effort and steadfast commitment

Hence his speech has to be judged by a different standard.  The question before any activist who is provided such a powerful platform, a chance to speak to millions, in these turbulent and dangerous times, is how can I make the best use of the opportunity to advance the struggle?  If that is the objective then it will determine the form and content of the speech.  The role of a movement orator is always the same: To move the masses to action with the magic power of the spoken word; what our Swahili speaking brothers call “Nommo.”

But action without a correct analysis and a plan is an invitation to chaos and defeat.  Hence as an able actor adept at tugging our heart strings and jerking our tears Mr. Williams gave a bravura performance.  But as a charismatic revivalist giving direction to a movement he was a bust.  Fortunately, all is not lost, for there is a valuable lesson to be learned here.

We will forget at our peril that actors, be they Bernie Sanders surrogates like Susan Saranden, or Black Lives Matter’s spokesman Jessie Williams, spend their working lives a vehicles for the thoughts of others; those who write the script.  Hence all Mr. William’s or Ms. Sarandon need is a good script to give a great speech that can move the masses to positive, constructive, action…not simply emotional catharsis and continued confusion.

The great Afro-American intellectual historian, cultural critic and political theorist Harold Cruse argued in his masterpiece “The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual” that the problem with lack actors is that do not turn to black writers for their scripts. It is with that objective that I suggest “Here is What Jesse Williams Should Have Said.”

(Click on Link and wait for video to appear to watch the Speech)
http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2016/06/27/actor_and_activist_jesse_williams_gave_a_fiery_speech_at_the_bet_awards.html

 

Reflections on American Exceptionalism!

Posted in Cultural Matters, The 2016 Presidential Race, You Tube Classics on June 30, 2016 by playthell
James-Reese-Europe
James Reece Europe and the Harlem Hell Fighters Band

Setting the Record Straight

In the coming months we will hear endless praise for “American Exceptionalism,” and while the Republicans are sick with this, some consider commitment to this ideology a litmus test for one’s fitness to become President, large numbers of Democrats are also seduced by this self-serving fiction.  Alas, since “patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels,” as George Bernard Shaw observed, we must look at those who boisterously wrap themselves in the American flag with a jaundiced eye. The ground breaking Afro-American historian Dr. Benjamin Quarles, author of “The Negro in the American Revolution” advised us that “he who would understand the present realities need the added dimension of historical perspective.”

This is especially true when evaluating the doctrine of “American Exceptionalism,” which argues that America is exceptional among the nations of the world in promoting freedom, equality and justice “for all” people. This point of view is especially promoted by Republicans and ding bat White Nationalists like the supporters of Donald Trump, but it is shared to some extent by virtually all white Americans, and some black Americans as well as misguided immigrants who know little of America.

However it is a fiction. The actual history of the US reveals it to be the most racist nation earth! Both Adolph Hitler and the White South Africans got their racist ideology from white American eugenicists – especially Madison Grant’s tome “The Passing of the Great Race” – which Hitler called “My Bible” in a recently discovered letter in Grant’s papers.  Furthermore, the Nazi’s based their racist laws on America’s  anti-black laws.

Madison Grant
Madison GrantHitler’s Bible!

Although Afro-Americans have fought in every war since the Revolutionary war against Britain – which Professor Quarles details in his book, their courage and manhood was still being denigrated at the outbreak of World War I.  However when the all black 369th Regiment from New York, the famous “Harlem Hell Fighters,” was assigned to the French Army they became the most highly decorated of ALL American military units in the First World War.  Yet upon returning home their racist American government refused to recognize their valor, and had even tried to prevent the French government from decorating them!  That was certainly EXECPTIONAL among the nations of the world.

Real American Heroes!

Harlem Hell fighters 69th Infrantry

The 369th Regiment aka “Harlem Hell Fighters

Afro-American music, and the dances it inspired, changed the popular culture of Europe. One European philosopher remarked that had it not been for the popularity of Afro-American music they would have been left to listen to European classical music, and in the spiritual angst that engulfed the European intelligentsia trudging among the ruins of a civilization gone mad in the aftermath of World War I “we would have all committed suicide.”   The Afro-American Renaissance Man, James Weldon Johnson, may well have been right when he called the Harlem Hell fighters band “The greatest military band ever assembled!”

Yet true or not, one thing is certain, the Harlem Hell Fighter’s Band won the hearts and minds of Europeans through the power of music in a way that military power could not.  And I cannot think of a more powerful example of positive American Exceptionalism. For a further discussion of this question see my critical essay on Woody Allen’s thoughtful and artistic film about the period, “Midnight in Paris: A Flawed Masterpiece,” at https://commentariesonthetimes.me/…/midnight-in-paris-a-fl…/  This is a multi-media presentation with text, photographs and video of the Hell Fighter band performing in Paris.

As one who taught history in a variety of situations from church basements and adult ED classes, to university seminars, I have learned how to plan an effective lesson.  Fortunately I am lucky enough to be living in interesting times, a period of tumultuous change, and the Gods of the pedagogues have provided me with the internet, a marvelous medium in cyberspace that allows me to publish my Commentaries on these events to a world-wide audience.

Furthermore, on the Internet I am able to publish my views without the censorious mediation of editors who are owned by corporate media organizations that determine what we shall see, hear and read.  Added to these blessings are the magnificent video files on You Tube; which provide compelling evidence to buttress my often controversial arguments.  The videos cited here are prime examples, because they support my arguments in the essays superbly.

To view History Channel film on “Harlem Hell Fighters” click on link below.”)
http://www.history.com/…/wor…/videos/the-harlem-hellfighters

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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
June 30, 2016