Jazz and the Failure of Exclusion
I've been making my way through Ken Burns' Jazz documentary series. There's an extended section about Bix Beiderbecke. If you don't know, Bix was considered the 2nd best trumpeter who ever lived. Second only to Louis Armstrong. He was a Iowan farm boy who was inspired by Louis' recordings to teach himself and run away from home to become a jazz player.
In addition to his prodigious talents, he also had an epic drinking problem. One that would eventually kill him. But, before that, the documentary talks a bit about how hard a time Bix had because of segregation. That because he was white, he couldn't go and play with the more advanced black players, and was constantly hitting a wall because he needed to be challenged, and he just wasn't by the white players of the day.
It's such an interesting, backwards way to think about the race problems of the day, that I've been chewing over it for days. That segregation hurts both sides that have been split apart. That the sum is that much greater than the individual parts. The idea that that privilege is it's own sort of handcuffs is so rarely discussed. And I get why, as the world's tiniest violins plays for the poor white people who couldn't be inspired, while the black people were oppressed, beaten, and pillaged by the dominant culture.
But, still, I think the core idea is something worth discussing. That this kid who was handed the world realized that without the best of the best available to him, then the world he'd been handed was a lead balloon. That by ex-communicating a group of people, you're really ex-communicating yourself.
The close-mindedness of our era, the us against them mentality that rules politics, and, especially, the inability to have a conversation with someone who's different from you, and not just in terms of race, but in as simple as semantics of ideas. Without being able to open ourselves up to the other side of the world, to see the brilliance and joy, as well as the outrage and the anger, we're doomed as a society. We'll constantly stand on the brink of our potential and always fall short.
The story goes that for one night, Louis and Bix met in a hotel room, closed the door, and played together. The two men driving each other to be better, creating and destroying expectations simultaneously. It was, by some accounts, the highlight of Bix's life. But, because society was too involved to see the brilliance that could be made from love and acceptance, it's just a story lost to time, instead of an album for the ages.
Open yourself to the world around you. Experience things from every side, and put it into your work, make it your motivation. Or, in other words, love everyone.
FYI, here's the best jazz song ever recorded.
If you HAVEN'T seen KEN BURNS' JAZZ, do yourself a favor. It streams for free on Netflix and Amazon, or, the boxset is linked below. It's my favorite Ken Burns film, and it'll change how you think about America, Music, and, perhaps most importantly, American Music.