nick larocca’s secret diary


anglos give dagos

money and fame for playing

negro’s music—wow


i’ll make this short and sweet: back in the days, new orleans anglos didn’t like “niggers” and wasn’t too particular about “dagos.” had italians living in the same neighborhoods with negroes, thus the many corner stores with retail establishments at the front door and living quarters either just behind or just above the one-room store. which is not to say that italians and negroes were viewed as one and the same or that the two got along fabulously with each other, but rather which is to say that the grey space between black and white was far broader than is often recognized, especially in retrospect when people now considered white are talked about as though they were always considered white. in fact, in some quarters, rather than the descendants of the romans, the italians were considered at best as “dirty whites” who had been mixed with blacks via hannibal crossing the alps, and thus, in the good old color struck usa, it took a couple of generations and unrefusable offers from the mafia for italians to be integrated as whites into the segregated black/white duality of american society.


in any case the reason there were so many italians and jews involved in early jass is not simply because the music was their alleged creation but rather because the music was the music of the outsider, and to a significant extent italians and jews were outsiders, especially as far as the upper reaches of twenties american society was concerned. while the italians and jews wanted to assimilate, they also celebrated difference, hence the predominance of blackface among this sector of a society which overall celebrated whiteness pure as the driven snow. think about it. what would cause someone who is on the periphery to risk access to the interior by going further out and painting their face black or playing music blackly?


don’t say i got the answer, but do say, at least i got the question. in any case, the important point to consider is that of all the branches of black music, jass was the one that whites (both anglos and wannabes) were more comfortable embracing. or should i say, jass was the form they were more able to embrace. (max roach jokes that frank sinatra’s first claim to fame was that he could snap his fingers on the beat and sing at the same time, just like black singers, and it didn’t matter how he sounded he could do it and thus is lauded as one of the great singers of all time except of course if you compare him to the authentic sounders of his time. think of a sing-off between sinatra and nat king cole.)


the white embrace of jass was significant. unlike the other forms of black music which were less flexible, jass was so malleable that literally anyone could play it, not necessarily well and certainly not in innovative ways that moved the music forward, but anyone could play it nevertheless and thus, unlike blues which took several decades for most whites to emulate, or various forms of gospel which are yet to be mastered by whites, jass gladly made room for the whole of humanity within its sounding.


Q: how were we repaid for creating a form which every human could use to sound their existence?


A: with so-called scholars, a few musicians, and a bunch of fans claiming that whites created or co-created jass. thus, when the odjb (nick larocca's 'original dixieland jazz band') cut those first victor jass sides, the question of creating and innovating was effectively conflated and confused with emulating and manufacturing. we provided the recipe, they made the bread. but then again this is america, and that was the jass age.


—kalamu ya salaam

2 responses
Magnificent article. You are absolutely correct about the cultural colonialism that goes on to this day surrounding jazz historicity. A number of years ago there was a panel discussion on "jazz and race" at the SF Jazz Festival that had a scholar named Richard Sudhalter. He's the author of "Lost Chords, White Musicians and their Contribution to Jazz, 1915-1945" amongst some others who in my opinion didn't address the real issues of cultural colonialism in Jazz. I organized an alternative panel discussion with local musicians broadcasters and writers that addressed the silences in the discourse at the SF Jazz panel.

With racist histories such as the one by Sudhalter mentioned above that suggests that there is a "lost" history of white jazz musicians and works by people like James Lincoln Collier we must be forever vigilant.

My take on the music is that jazz is Afridiasporic music. The creation of Africans in the diaspora and that from the creolized kikongo word (dzinza) Jazz to the egalitarian improvisational aesthetic, it is African to its core no matter who plays it.

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