Black Music: LeRoi Jones-Amiri Baraka's Writings on Jazz Culture

By Ian Holubiak on Jan 15, 2014 03:09 PM EST

Flipping through the pages of a Norton Reader Anthology on modern British and American poets, I stumbled upon some of the language's greatest poets and writers. From Whitman to W.B. Yeats, all the archetypes of modern lyric verse pulled on my heartstrings at the ripe ol' age of 19.

As my fingers danced over the pages, I landed on LeRoi Jones-parenthesis-Amiri Baraka, which seemed odd--to have a pen name and a birth name beside one another--but Jones-cum-Baraka captivated me just as his predecessors did.

Two matriculated years later, I would study Amiri in a class at Pace University, led by local performance guru Erica Miriam Fabri. The name stuck, as did his words and wide-spanning erudition; Amiri had stolen a piece of me that I was fine to part with it.

"Luxury, then, is a way of / being ignorant, comfortably / An approach to the open market," writes Baraka in "Political Poem." 

"Of least information. Where theories / can thrive, under heavy tarpaulins / without being cracked by ideas," he continues.

These words bled from the page onto my hands, and they still move my digi-pen years after discovering the laureate from Newark, N.J.

Now, just days after his death, I sift through the pages of my web browser to discover a New Yorker essay on perhaps his greatest addition to the canon: Black Music, a collection of jazz writings recorded between 1959 and 1967.

"Failure to concentrate on the blues and jazz attitude rather than his conditioned appreciation of the music. The major flaw in this approach to Negro music is that it strips the music too ingenuously of its social and cultural intent. It seeks to define jazz as an art (or a folk art) that has come out of no intelligent body of socio-cultural philosophy."

Yes, Baraka discusses jazz and other pressing socio-cultural issues throughout Black Music. And while one may not be completely attuned to the pervasive neglect outlined by Amiri in that text, one may find it useful to take the author's hand as he guides us down the pathway of matters completely foreign and outside our world.

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TagsAmiri Baraka, Erica Miriam Fabri, Black Music, Political Poem, Pace University, LeRoi Jones

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