By Jon Jang.

Editor’s Note: I asked my friend Jon Jang to list some of the recordings that are among his favorites and which also influenced his music. He compiled this list for East Wind ezine. If you’re not familiar with Jon Jang’s music and life as educator/activist/artist, check out the short video on Jon by Rick Quan which is at the end of this article.

I featured Jon Jang’s latest work  The Pledge of Black Asian Allegiance in 2018.

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Wade in the Water performed by Sweet Honey in the Rock

The title of this essay came from a statement by Duke Ellington whose meaning could be traced back to the time when black people sang spirituals such as Wade in the Water where Harriet Tubman used the song to tell runaways to get off the trail and into the water to make sure the dogs slave catchers used couldn’t sniff out their trail.

Wade in the water lyrics

Chorus

Wade in the water, wade in the water children

Wade in the water. God’s gonna trouble the water

Verse

Who are those children all dressed in Red?

God’s gonna trouble the water

Must be the ones that Moses led

God’s gonna trouble the water

Chorus

Verse

Who are those children all dressed in White?

God’s gonna trouble the water

Must be the ones of the Israelites

God’s gonna trouble the water

Verse

Who are those children all dressed in Blue?

God’s gonna trouble the water

Must be the ones that made it through

God’s gonna trouble the water

Chorus

When I began immersing myself in Black Music and in what I call Black Liberation Music during my high school years in early 1970s, I wasn’t interested in the music of Duke Ellington (1899-1974). It was because I disrespectfully identified his music as “old jazz.” (How come we didn’t refer to the 18th & 19th century Western European classical music of Ludwig van Beethoven as “old classical music”?). I just didn’t know better.

When I was teaching a course at Stanford University in 2007, I remember a black student heard a recording and referred to it as an “old Negro spiritual.”  When I recently gave a presentation, How Black Liberation Music Impacted Me at Hamilton College in New York, an Asian American student assumed this 66 year old OG only listens to “jazz” and doesn’t know anything about hip hop. I told him that hip hop has played a vital revolutionary role in the Black Music Continuum or as in the Blues Continuum, the title of one of the chapters in Leroi Jones’ ground breaking book, Blues People. (Digression: After the assassination of Malcolm X in February 1965, Leroi Jones rejected his slave name and changed it to Amiri Baraka, who became the Father of the Black Arts Movement and one of the important voices in the Black Liberation Movement).

Malcolm X (1925-1965) & John Coltrane (1926-1967)

Young black people, who  were in their 20s and 30s, were into the music of John Coltrane (1926-1967). Trane’s music resonated as powerful as a speech delivered by Malcolm X (1925-1965). In Malcolm X’s book, By Any Means Necessary, Malcolm recognized the important role of Black Music to Black Liberation. In Leroi Jones’ book, Black Music, the author wrote a dedication message: “For John Coltrane the heaviest spirit.” Black Music was mainly about the making of the New Black Music in New York during 1963-1966, an intense period of the Black Liberation Movement and what I call Black Liberation Music.  It wasn’t Leroi Jones’ intention to lessen the importance of Duke Ellington. As a matter of fact, Jones recognized Ellington’s as a “giant” and recognized his important compositions. For this OG who was then 18 years old at the time, it didn’t help that there were 75 page references about Coltrane but only 9 page references about Ellington in Leroi Jones book, Black Music.

1965 My Favorite Things by the John Coltrane Quartet Live Performance

In 1971, I was into John Coltrane’s music along with a small group of white high school friends in Palo Alto, a quiet white middle class suburb 35 miles south of San Francisco. Every day I would religiously and obsessively listen three times a day to one of John Coltrane Quartet’s live version performance recordings of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s My Favorite Things.Now let’s get to the music!

1958 You Don’t Know What Love Is by Billie Holiday (1915-1959)

In 1987 in Oakland, a former girlfriend and I attended The Meeting, a play by Jeffrey Stetson. The play is about an imaginary meeting in January  1965 between Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. The play opens with a recording of Billie Holiday singing You Don’t Know What Love Is, which was a song that Malcolm X loved. It would be easy to recommend Billie Holiday’s recording of Strange Fruit because of its reference to legal lynching of black people. Relevant to today’s national protests supporting Black Lives Matter, one of the messages by the black masses is that they “want to be loved.” White Supremacy cannot love as explained in the opening lyrics: “You don’t know what love is until you’ve learned the meaning of the blues (black people’s struggle).”

1958 Come Sunday by Duke Ellington (1899-1974) &

Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972)

In Duke Ellington’s autobiography, Music Is My Mistress, Ellington wrote about his history making work, Black, Brown and Beige, that premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1943: “Black, Brown and Beige was planned as a tone parallel to the history of the American Negro … Come Sunday, the spiritual theme, was intended to depict the movement inside and outside the church, as seen by the workers (that is slaves) who stood outside, watched, listened, but were not admitted. This is developed to the time when the workers (black people) have a church of their own.” The meaning of Come Sunday was about the birth of the black church.

Come Sunday lyrics

Lord, Dear Lord I’ve loved

God Almighty, God of love

Please look down and see my people through

(Repeat)

I believe the sun and moon will shine up in the sky

I don’t mind the gray skies, ‘cause they’re just clouds passing by

He’ll give peace and comfort

To every troubled mind

Come Sunday, oh come Sunday

That’s the day

Often we feel weary

But He knows our every care

Go to Him in secret

He will hear your very prayer

Lilies on the valley

They neither toll nor spin

And flower bloom in spring time

Birds sing

Often we feel weary

But He knows our every care

Go to Him in secret

He will hear your very prayer

Up from dawn till sunset

Man work hard all the day

Come Sunday, oh come Sunday

That’s the day.

1959 Fables of Faubus by Charles Mingus (1922-1979)

During my high school years in the early 1970s, I belonged to a group of self-proclaimed Dadaists called Backstreet. Generally speaking, the political practice of the Left was no-nonsense. We practiced nonsense in our action. We “wanted to blow people’s minds.” When I was ten years old, one of my favorite films was Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. I love satire and black comedy.  My work, Are You Chinese or Charlie Chan? in 1984 was influenced by Charles Mingus’ Fables of Faubus.

Orval E. Faubus was a governor of Arkansas who, in 1957, sent out the National Guard to block a few black children from entering a “whites only” high school in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Mingus’ condemnation of this action at the opening of the Fables of Faubus was too controversial for Columbia Records, who prohibited Mingus and Danny Richmond from the singing the lyrics on this first recording in 1959.  However, a year later on Candid, an independent record company founded by Max Roach and Charles Mingus, Mingus and Richmond recorded the controversial lyrics.

1960 Freedom Day from We Insist! The Freedom Now Suite by Max Roach (1942-2007), Oscar Brown Jr. (1926-2005) Abbey Lincoln (1930-2010)

Max Roach composed, performed and recorded We Insist! The Freedom Now Suite that was inspired by the lunch counter sit-in by four black college students in Greensboro, North Carolina in February 1960. The lunch counter sit-in by the four black college students galvanized a national movement of sit-ins in resistance against racism and segregation. This recording featured a collaboration between multiple percussionist Max Roach, vocalist Abbey Lincoln and lyricist Oscar Brown Jr.  “It’s Freedom Day, it’s Freedom Day. Free to vote and earn my pay. Dim my path and hide the way. But we’ve made it Freedom Day.” This recording was produced five years before the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. Originally, the Freedom Day project was intended to be released in 1963 to celebrate the Centennial Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Freedom Day lyrics by Oscar Brown Jr.

Whisper, listen, whisper, listen.

Whispers say we’re free

Rumors flyin’, must be lyin’

Can it really be?

Can’t conceive it, can’t believe it.

But that’s what they say

Slave no longer, slave no longer

This is Freedom Day

Freedom Day, it’s Freedom Day

Throw those shackle n’ chains away

Everybody that I see say it’s really true,

We’re free

Freedom Day, it’s Freedom Day.

Free to vote and earn my pay

Dim my path and hide the way.

But we’ve made it Freedom Day

1963 Alabama by John Coltrane (1926-1967)

After four black girls died as a result of a Ku Klux Klan bombing at a black church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, John Coltrane responded by composing and recording a new work called Alabama. Coltrane was moved by the feeling of Martin Luther King’s Eulogy for the Martyred Children. Like King’s eulogy, Coltrane’s Alabama opens with a musical eulogy and then evolves into a powerful expression of resistance against the national oppression that black people have endured in this country for four centuries.

1963 Mississippi Goddam’ by Nina Simone (1933-2003)

In Nina Simone’s autobiography, I Put a Spell on You, Simone explained why she wrote the work: “The bombing of the little girls in Alabama and the murder of Medgar Evers were like the final jigsaw that made no sense until you had fitted the whole thing together. I suddenly realized what it was to be black in America in 1963 but it wasn’t an intellectual connection of the type Lorraine (Hansberry) had been repeating to over and over – it came as a rush of fury, hatred and determination.  In church language, the Truth entered into me and I ‘came through.’ … After the murder of Medgar Evers, the Alabama bombing and Mississippi Goddam’ the entire direction of my life shifted, and for the next seven years I was driven by civil rights and the hope for black revolution. I was proud of what I was doing, and proud to be part of a movement that was changing history.”

Nina Simone wrote Mississippi Goddam’ as she announced as a “show tune, but the show hasn’t been written for it yet.” In my opinion, maybe she wrote in a show tune style to make white people and their deeply ingrained white fragility feel comfortable to listen seriously to the lyrics. I feel the song mirrors the casual and lackadaisical thought and inaction of white people’s non response to systemic racism of black people in United States. Like Charles Mingus’ Fables of Faubus, my work, Are You Chinese or Charlie Chan?, in 1984 was influenced by Nina Simone’s Mississippi Goddam’.

Mississippi Goddam’ lyrics by Nina Simone

Alabama’s gotten me so upset

Tennessee made me lose my rest

Everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam’

Alabama’s gotten me so upset

Tennessee made me lose my rest

Everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam’

Can’t you see it

I know you feel it

It’s all in the air

I can’t stand the pressure much longer

Somebody say a prayer

Alabama’s gotten me so upset

Tennessee made me lose my rest

Everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam’

Hound dogs on my trail

Those school children sitting in jail

Black cat cross my path

I think every day’s gonna be my last

Lord have mercy on this land of mine

We all gonna get it in due time

‘Cause I don’t belong here

I don’t belong there

I’ve even stopped believing in prayer

Don’t tell me

I tell you

Me and my people just about due

I’ve been there so I know

They keep on saying “Go slow!”

Well that’s just the trouble

“Do it slow”

Washington the windows

“Do it slow”

Picking the cotton

“Do it slow”

Nothing but rotten

“Do it slow”

Too damn lazy

“Do it slow”

Thinking’s crazy

“Do it slow”

Where am I going

What am I doing?

I don’t know

I don’t know

Just try to do my very best

Stand up be counted with all the rest

‘Cause everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam’

Now you heard him

He’s one of you

If will have been moved at all

And you know my songs at all

For God sakes, join me

Don’t sit back there

The time too late now

Good God

If you know

The King is here

The King of love is there

I’m ‘bout to be non violent honey

Picket lines

School boy cots

They try to say it’s a communist plot

All I want is equality

For my sister my brother my people and me

And I loved Him

Because He believed it

He lived by

But you lied to me all these years

You told me to wash and clean my ears

And talk real fine just like a lady

And you’d stop calling my mama Aunt Sadie

But my country is full of lies

We’re all gonna die and die like flies

‘Cause I don’t trust nobody more

Keep on saying “Go slow!”

“Go slow!”

That’s just the trouble

“Do it slow”

Desegregation

“Do it slow”

Mass participation

“Do it slow”

Unification

“Do it slow”

Do things gradually

“Do it slow”

But bring more tragedy

“Do it slow”

Why don’t you see it?

Why don’t you feel it?

I don’t know

I don’t know

You don’t have to live next to me

Just give me my equality

“Cause everybody knows about Mississippi

Everybody knows about Alabama

Everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam’

1996 Ghosts of Mississippi

The Ghost of Mississippi film is an American biographical courtroom drama film based on the true story of the 1994 trial of Byron De La Beckwith, the white supremacist accused of the 1963 assassination of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers.

1972 Attica Blues by Archie Shepp (1937- )

In September 1971, united around demands for better healthcare, education and against unrestrained violence by the state, over 1200 incarcerated people of all races rebelled, took hostages and occupied parts of Attica Prison. An invasion by the New York State Police Troopers ordered by Governor Rockefeller resulted in the deaths of 43 people – 33 prisoners and 10 correctional officers.

About five months later, Archie Shepp recorded Attica Blues that was an immediate musical response to the Attica prison uprising and the killing of prison uprising leader George Jackson, a member of the Black Panther Party who wrote a book called Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson.

Today the conditions in the US, prisons are more barbaric than in 1971, with massive overcrowding, extreme sentencing, gendered violence and health care risks made much worse by the COVID pandemic.

Attica Blues lyrics written by Beaver Harris, trapset drummer

I got the feeling that’s something’s goin’ wrong

And I’m worried bout the human soul

I’ve got a feeling

If I could have had the chance to make the decision

Every man could walk this earth on equal condition

Every child could do more than just dream of a star

Bringing voices to a world that’s getting’ old …

Do I worry do I worry yes I worry ‘bout the human soul, yeah …

I hear voices, I see people

I hear voices, I see people

I hear voices of many people, sayin’

Everything ain’t everything

1972 It’s Nation Time – African Visionary Music Amiri Baraka (1934-2014) – re-released on vinyl and digital on Nov. 16, 2018 by Motown/Ume.

Ed. Note: Jon Jang selected this work but he no longer has the album with the liner notes, so he asked me to provide an introduction and I found this fabulous essay by BigCed (website: The Industry Cosign).

Imamu Amiri Baraka‘s Pan-African manifesto It’s Nation Time — African Visionary Music, out of print since 1972, is available once again via Motown/UMe. The spoken-word jazz album, originally released on Motown Records’ Black Forum subsidiary, has been repressed on 150g black vinyl with tip-on jacket in a faithful reproduction of the original packaging. Order It’s Nation Time — African Visionary Music now here

A poet, writer, theater director, activist and more whose career spanned five decades, Baraka (born LeRoi Jones) fearlessly vouched for racial equality until his passing in 2014. For It’s Nation Time, his first album, Baraka was backed by many threads of African-American musical expression, including a funk band led by James Mtume and a free jazz quartet featuring bassists Reggie Workman and Herbie Lewis, pianist Lonnie Liston Smith, alto saxophonist Gary Bartz, and drummer Idris Muhammad.

More than four decades later, It’s Nation Time is thrilling and evocative. Over an R&B groove, “Who Will Survive” ponders who will be left standing in the midst of Western carnage. (“Some Americans, very few Negroes, and no crackers at all,” Baraka dryly reports.) “Who we are is the magic people / The black genius prophets of the planet,” he insists in “Answers.” In “Pull the Covers Off,” Baraka calls for liberation in syncopation over Bartz’s high-powered horn. On “Come Back Pharoah,” he forms a call-and-response with backing singer Gwen Guthrie ten years before she was a solo star.

In addition, this “African man’s vision/version of music,” as it states in the liner notes, was newly mixed in stereo from the original analog master tapes by award-winning engineer and producer Russell Elevado (D’Angelo, Jay-Z, Erykah Badu, Kamasi Washington, et al).

It’s Nation Time — African Visionary Music sums up all of the late Baraka’s brilliant dimensions and rough edges. On this beguiling, outspoken lost album, we hear a brilliant artist fighting fire with fire in a socially, politically and racially precarious moment in American history. Whether familiar or unfamiliar with the unique, prolific Baraka, fans of experimental music with forthrightness should look no further than this uncompromising work.

It’s Nation Time — African Visionary Music Track Listing

Side A
It’s Nation Time

  1. Chant

  2. Answers

  3. All In The Street

  4. Come See About Me

  5. Peace In Place

  6. Bad News

  7. Wha’s Gonna Happen

Side B
It’s Nation Time

  1. Kutoa Umola

  2. Come Back Pharoah

  3. Who Will Survive

  4. How Africans

  5. Move

  6. The Spirit Of Creation

  7. It’s Nation Time

  8. Pull The Covers Off

  9. Pamoja Tutashinde

Ed.Note: Check out this set by Amiri Baraka and The Advanced Workers from the Berlin Jazz Festival 1977. Marixism-Leninism Maximum Music that is hard and soulful, kind and loving, full of life ….just like the man himself. Audio only but grooovin’.

 

Here’s a profile of Jon Jang by Rick Quan for the Chinese Historical Society of America in 2013.

6 Comments

  1. Susan Hayase on December 3, 2020 at 12:31 pm

    Bravo!
    Jon Jang — always interesting, always teaching you something you didn’t know, always blowing your mind!

  2. Tomas Moran on December 3, 2020 at 4:09 pm

    Wonderful article, Jon. I saw you play in Oakland when you released The Ballad or the Bullet, which remains one of my favorite LPs to come back to periodically. Thank you for this compilation.

  3. Eric Mar on December 3, 2020 at 6:22 pm

    You play and speak straight from your heart Maestro while always swinging’ low with your unique swagger. Thank you!!!

  4. David on December 4, 2020 at 12:14 am

    Loved this. Thanks Eddie and Jon.

  5. Robert Shoji on December 5, 2020 at 7:46 pm

    Thanks for the post Eddie and thanks for the article Jon. Great music selections. Enjoyed the youtube profile on Jon Jang.

  6. James Q. Chan on December 7, 2020 at 11:37 am

    Brilliant article! Thank you for this gift, Eddie and Jon!

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