With the publication this week of my new book, Why Jazz Happened, I am featuring a series of mini video interviews I taped in support of the book. Each interview is short but should give you a sense of the approach I took when researching and writing this social history of jazz. [Cover photo by Herb Snitzer]
Today, in Part 2, I talk about why the first bebop recordings were made in February 1944—not years earlier or years later...
And as promised, here's an excerpt from pp. 152-154 of Why Jazz Happened—from my chapter on the the events that helped pave the way for spiritual jazz in the 1950s. After the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision in May 1954, many states and local communities ignored the ruling that declared segregation in schools unconstitutional. Black jazz artists, in particular, felt the injustice, and many turned to the black church, ancestral homelands in Africa, the Caribbean, and spirituality for insppiration when creating original pieces.
In this passage, tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins talks about how he came to write Airegin:
"Back in the early 1950s, I was going through an issue of Life magazine at a barbershop or someplace like that and came across a photo of Nigerians dancing in their traditional costumes. To me, those people were struggling for their dignity. When Miles [Davis] called me in June 1954 to play on a Prestige record date, which eventually was released as Bags' Groove, he asked me to bring along some original songs. One was a tune I hadn't finished yet...
"As I struggled to complete this new song in the studio, Miles took it and contributed the last four bars. He probably should have been the song's co-composer. Even though the song was finished in the studio, I already had the title in mind. When the producer asked for the name, I told him Airegin. No one asked me what the word meant. They probably figured it was the name of someone I knew. Miles probably assumed that, too. But if Miles had known it was Nigeria spelled backward, I'm sure he would have been sympathetic and said, 'Oh cool.'
"Why did I spell Nigeria backward? I guess it might have been too controversial to call a song Nigeria at the time. Perhaps that would have been too blunt and too blatant. Perhaps I wanted to make my message incomprehensible to white-owned record companies. I don't recall. But spelling Nigeria backward was an act of incredible subtlety. Airegin? Who, what?—what's that? Eventually those in the know figured it out."
A big JazzWax thanks to Fred Seibert, Mike Hamer and Zoë Barton.
To buy Why Jazz Happened: Go here.
Interview requests: firstname.lastname@example.org
More book info: Go here.