Yoshi’s Accused of Racism – Gary Young MySpace Blog

Yoshi’s Accused of Racism
Category: Music

Yes, I’m jumping on the blog bandwagon.

I was going to respond to a blog entry re: the “racism” attributed to Yoshi’s and the Berkeley Jazz Festival (if I have my facts straight, which I may not).  Short version: Yoshi’s released a 10th anniversary CD that didn’t have any black artists on it.  The managers apologized for the oversight.  They put it together in a hurry and went for the path of least resistance — shows/artists recorded by the Concord label, which required minimal legal wrangling for them.

And there was a bit of a huff over the lineup at the Berkeley Jazz Fest.  Not enough black folks, some people said, accusing the organizers of, you guessed it, being racists.

My friend who wrote the blog entry — it was a great one worthy of kudos — knows the people involved.  There’s no doubt in my mind; these folks are not racists.  They love and promote and provide an outlet for a diverse array of musicians.  They love the artform.  No doubt.  Sure, they make a buck off of it but there’s nothing wrong with making a buck off of providing a mighty fine service.

I wish had a picture of a big ol’ butt to put right here because this is kind of a big but.  Since this issue involves race it’s being blown out of proportion every which way.

There is something going on here.  It makes me wonder, why are black Bay Area musicians so frustrated?  There’s a reason why this issue conflagrated so intensely.  It’s not just Oakland or the Bay Area either, imho.  Yes, I just imho’d.

There are some mistakes that are telling.  The mistake itself speaks volumes.  Like when you see on the news that a parent goes shopping or visiting a friend on a hot, August day and forgets that their toddler is in the car.  That can be an honest mistake but it’s also neglect.  And we all think, “How could you do that?  How could you forget?  Is that child safe with you?  Do you have a mental condition that could explain this behavior?”

I am not a worldy person.  I’ve only been to jazz performances in a few clubs and venues in a few cities.  I’ve played many a gig, though, and most of my good friends are musicians.  And jazz musicians at that.  But from the outside perspective of a world that I used to know a lot better, it seems like black artists are being edged out of the big picture.  Not intentionally edged out in some racist conspiracy, mind you.  Maybe it’s market forces.  Maybe you know who you know and that’s how things get done.

Diana Krall, Norah Jones, Peter Cincotti, Michael Buble, Jane Monheit, Sophie Milman.  The prodigies that seem to pour out of the Bay Area.  The marketing machine for jazz is so tuned to young, fresh-faced white jazz talent — the musical analogue of a Sharipova or Kournikova.  It’s a eugenically Disney-ized version of jazz.  What does that mean for black artists who’ve been in the game for decades?  Heck, even the young lions, the black young lions.  They play their asses off but they aren’t going to be the ones with ad deals with Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and whatever.

By the way, that’s not to say that these young, white cats aren’t the real deal.  These guys can PLAY.  They’ve got depth, too.  What I’m talking about in the paragraph above is about image.   Image, marketing and control of the business.  The makers and breakers.  The wealth distributors.  The Fates holding the strings.

(DAMN IT!  Kurt Elling played Blues Alley last night.  One night only.)

The blunder Yoshi’s made brings all of this to the light of day.  It took the outcry for the Bay Area to realize that they forgot something in the car on a hot summer’s day.  What happens to a dream deferred when it’s left to bake in the sun?

I don’t buy this editorial I linked to below.  Not for a second.  The sentiment, that we should be color blind … who could disagree with that.  On its surface, it’s ideal. The reality is more along the lines of what’s in my p.s.  That’s what happens when we pretend to be color blind to race.

Jazz Succumbs to Racism
By Thomas Lifson

One of the responders wrote this, which sums up all of the angry retorts:

“If excluding someone based on race is racist – including someone simply based on their race is racist…”

Dare I say that this is bullshit?  Oh wait.  The conversation thread is from RightNation.US: America’s #1 Conservative Community.  That explains all that “reverse racism” hoo ha.  I say it’s bullshit because we’re not talking about a random quota to include a minority based on race.  We’re talking about jazz and blues and the culture that created it.  You’re not including someone based on race, you’re accounting for the historical origins and inspiring diversity of a musical genre.  Who’s the dimbulb that wrote that comment?

Anyway, one last shot at being coherent.

If I made a “greatest golfers of all time” calendar and it didn’t have any white folk in it, people would complain.  And they should complain, frankly.  And they would wonder what the heck I was thinking when I pulled those photos together, assembled the calendar, reviewed it and sent it off to be printed. And you know what?  They’d be right to wonder.  ‘Cause that’s just lazy.

I’d apologize and get me some pictures of famous white golfers because they should be in there.  Just like  Yoshi’s did or is going to do with their CD.  They’re going to put white golfers on the cover.  Problem solved.

It’s my favorite jazz club, by the way.  Yoshi’s in Jack London Square.  They’re opening one in San Francisco later this year.

check out people magazine’s sexiest bachelors.  okay, that’s enough. you can stop looking now.  seriously.  close that web page and finish reading this.  esquire’s sexiest women alive?  no, don’t go there!  focus, please.

when making a movie set in africa, disney casts johnathan taylor thomas with music by elton john.  or phil collins.  or paul simon.  what’s that tell you?

my fellow minorities, you’re swimming upstream on this one.  despite its roots, jazz isn’t “black music” anymore.  who plays, who listens, who owns the rights, who distributes, who profits.

listen to chris rock’s “never scared”.  check out the “tip your hat to whitey” skits.  “that whitey’s a baaaad mf.”

Currently reading :
Echo Park (Harry Bosch)
By Michael Connelly
Release date: By 09 October, 2006


Add Yours
  1. Michael

    I have to say that I found all of this about Yoshi’s very amusing and tragic. You want to know what is wrong with the Yoshi’s CD or the Sonoma jazz festival or all the other “jazz” clubs and festivals which traditionally under represent black people in performing, I will tell you.

    It is our music, our creation, our soul. It’s like a japanese person going to the Kabuki theater and all of the characters are played by hispancs or swedes.

    It’s a joke. Ok so our art forms have been traditionally usurped by a culture that hungrily devours our music, culture, dance, and slang. Fine, but to have the arrogance to believe that you have the ability to judge our art and find our youthful practitioners unworthy is laughable.

    Ok so you can play the music, you can mimic the words, but to say that jazz is now some kind of everyone can do (universal) music is like a group of black riverdancers

    So snap your fingers wearing your khaki’s and loafers, tapping your feet and drinking chardonnay and mineral water, grasping like a blind man in the night for something intangible. And when we are bored with the facade we will as we always do, come up with another more edgy bolder art form for this nation and the world to try to imitate.

    OUR MUSIC SETS THE TREND FOR THE WORLD- call it what you want Gary but when black people stop going to hear this fake music, you will find that white people and the others will soon loose interest as well.

  2. garyarthuryoung

    Thanks for the comment, Michael. I appreciate it. Well said and thought provoking.

    It does amaze me how black culture has been so assimilated into pop culture. To the point where it’s a joke, if you know what I mean. You know. The old white woman rapping commercials. Or the jazz musician in a body spray commercial.

    Have you seen that credit card commercial with a store full of people poppin’ and lockin’? Not a single black person in it. Maybe one. What??

    I think times are changing, though and not necessarily for the better when it comes to art vs. commerce vs. exploitation. With information sharing being ubiquitous now, nothing is “sacred”.

    White guys on the rugby field doing Maori war chants/dances. Or wearing dreads. Dreds? Yuppies in sweat lodges.

    I wonder what it means or where it’s going. All of the imitation and cultural miscegenation. I get the feeling that I know who’s going to be making money off of it, though.

    How long before black people start wearing kilts and doing Noh Theater?

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