Jazz against the Vietnam war

This video from the USA about the Vietnam war says about itself:

“The Deserters” narrated by Rosko

Off Pete Hamill’s “Massacre at My Lai”, 1969 with Ron Carter on bass and James Spaulding on flute.

By Chris Searle in Britain:

If music could stop war

The Revolutionary Ensemble Vietnam 1 and 2 (ESP 3007)

Tuesday 21 September 2010

In 1971 at the apex of the war in Vietnam, soon after president Richard Nixon had declared of the Vietnamese people: “The bastards have never been bombed like they’re going to be bombed this time,” three eminent jazz musicians formed an astonishing trio calling themselves The Revolutionary Ensemble.

The violinist was Leroy Jenkins, born in Chicago in 1932 and an ex-student of the luminous Du Sable High School where he came under the tutelage, like dozens of other future jazz musicians, of the formidable Captain Walter Dyett. He joined the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, worked briefly in Paris with other free spirits – saxophonist Anthony Braxton, trumpeter Leo Smith and drummer Steve McCall in the Creative Construction Co – returned to the US and settled in New York where he founded The Revolutionary Ensemble.

On bass was the outstanding Sirone – born Norris Jones in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1940 – with his superb bow technique, who had played with altoist Marion Brown and pianist Dave Burrell. The percussionist was an oft-times minimalist Jerome Cooper, another Chicagoan, born in 1946.

Together they produced expressively free and interactive improvised music creating a threesome of sheer jazz collectivism that lasted throughout most of the decade until 1977, cutting few albums but including a gem – The People’s Republic … in 1976.

Vietnam 1 and 2 were recorded in 1973. Nixon had launched the 1972 Christmas bombing campaign of Hanoi hoping to secure concessions from the Vietnamese at the Paris peace talks in January 1973. The US invasion forces had been defeated after nearly a decade of murderous aggression and by March 6 1973 all US military personnel had left South Vietnam, although lower-intensity conflict still ensued.

The Ensemble’s album was made during a period of upcoming victory and here was the music of three startlingly creative African-Americians registering their sonic solidarity with the Vietnamese people and their armed forces at New York’s “Peace Church,” a fitting enough venue for the recording.

When the Ensemble first started playing Sirone remembered how the local jazz musicians expostulated at their powerfully unusual instrumentation. “Violin, bass and drums, you must be crazy,” many of them declared. And yet this was a narrative of war in a place of peace and their sound needed to be full of that ambivalence, that terrible and real contradiction.

Vietnam 1 begins with shimmering bows, high and low, and bass strings skimming off each other as if they were locked into a life and death combat. It is a unique sound new to jazz, new to all music – a sonic picture of war by two virtuosi of peace.

As Sirone turns to plucking, the dualism becomes even more extreme with Cooper’s background cymbals becoming gradually stronger. When Sirone continually thuds the same dark note and Jenkins scrapes an agonised sound above him, the war’s terrifying edge becomes explicit for both sides, the invaded people and their drafted and compelled US aggressors.

This is truly audacious music of its time. Its meanings are not hidden by abstraction but made more awful by their sensuous truth. Perhaps it needed such an unprecendented jazz trio to conjure it, a wilful commentary on all that is wrong and excruciating, yet its torment of improvisation is so full of artistry and brilliance.

It is the Guernica or the All Quiet On The Western Front of jazz, a sound portrait of invasion since visited upon the peoples as the targets of terror in Iraq or Afghanistan.

As an unaccompanied Sirone darkly twangs out the sound of such shock and awe from his deep and pulsating strings we hear one of the peerless jazz solos inspired to create a timbre of consternation, dread and suffering from the very fingers of life and hope.

Jenkins’s violin shrieks and cries as the human voice is also perceptable inside his toxic and beauteous notes that shake with the sound of a dream of bliss. And when Cooper strikes his solo his rolling drums seem to unleash a thunderous freedom that promises peace and reconstruction.

Essential music for those times and these.

Anti Vietnam war poster art: here.

“I looked down from the rooftop in Saigon…” John Pilger returns to Vietnam: here.

3 thoughts on “Jazz against the Vietnam war

  1. Pingback: US atrocities in Afghanistan like in My Lai | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Rap, other music, and social change | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: Vietnam war killed pheasants, can they come back? | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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