So you get a thing 10 years later that is a big commercial gimmick, soul music, and everybody involved in it is colored. So naturally you get a thing back; you get the same regardless of what happens, one way or the other.
I’ll give an illustration: say, there is a guy sitting up in Harlem who’s been trying to get a gig now for five years. He may be good, he may be bad, but he’s a musician. And the way he’s looking at this thing is, “They didn’t say anything about the West Coast music—they let the cool music run for 10 years. Now we got something to go; we got the soul music. And finally, “I’ve got a job. I can work in the clubs, and already, they’re trying to kill it.” So this guy is standing in front of Birdland—he’s moved downtown. He’s saying, “Everybody’s against me. They trying to kill off my music, but they can’t kill it.”
He’s going to fight to the bitter end. To preserve what? This name. This label—soul music. He feels it has a racial implication that can keep him working. To go along with this, he feels like he’s felt for a long time. He feels, “Aw, them ofays can’t swing. None of them ofays. I don’t want to hear nothin’ about no ofay. I wouldn’t have no ofay in my band. I don’t want to play with none. And you a drag if you do. You a drag. You bringin’ down the race. ’Cause you know he can’t swing, or they can’t swing, or how many there happens to be can’t swing.”
He feels that you shouldn’t work with a white musician, because “they’re stealin’ our music.” Now, this is bitterness, and this is Crow Jim.
You can try to explain to this guy how you feel about it. You can try to explain how the facts are. And he’s not going to hear you. Because he’s got a job now; this is the primary thing. He’s eating, regularly, and he wasn’t before. He didn’t have a gig, couldn’t get a job. As far s he’s concerned it was all taken away from him, and now somebody has gotten a label, soul music, put it out there so that he can go out on a job and call himself “Joe Blow and the Eight Souls.”
It’s like it was before—if you’d put out “cool,” you got a whole lot of people, and now if you put out “soul,” you get a whole lot of people. He feels like now he can do something. He doesn’t want to hear anything about Jim Crow, he doesn’t want to hear anything about Crow Jim—he’s bitter. And he doesn’t want any kind of threat to his employment. This is his major concern. He’s worried about how he’s going to work, how he’s going to do something so he can still play his instrument. And he feels sincerely that what he’s playing is valid, is in good musical taste, that he’s swinging—above all else he feels that he can swing and the white boys can’t swing.
So he’s justified in his thinking for what he’s actually thinking about. But he’s bitter and prejudiced. He’s just as prejudiced as the guy down in Georgia who just doesn’t want to go to school with us.
This same guy will read DownBeat. He’s made a record; he was never able to make a record before. Chances are it might even sell. He might make himself some money. So he make himself some money. So he makes the record, and it’s reviewed in DownBeat, and the critic says this record’s not any good. Then right away he says the critic is prejudiced. He says the critic just doesn’t know that he’s swinging. “He can’t understand; I’m swinging. Why can’t this man see that I’m swinging? He can’t see ’cause he’s white. He just can’t understand.” So the thing builds up in this fellow so that he thinks that all white people are no good, can’t swing, and are against him.
So he’s bitter and he’s prejudiced. There’s a logical reason for his being that way; it’s tied up with the whole thing. It isn’t right, but what can you do? The guy’s of such a nature that you can’t talk to him. Can’t explain anything to him. And you’d be a fool to try. So you get this guy who says, “I’m never going to hear Cannonball again ’cause he’s got that white boy playing with him.”
DeM: Has this happened?
Nat: Not to my knowledge, but … when Miles had Bill (Evans), cats came up to him (saying), “Miles, what you doing with that white boy up there? You know he can’t swing.” The only thing you can do in a case like that is turn your head and walk away.
When you got a guy like Victor, you haven’t got him because he’s white; you’ve got him because he can play. There’s a lot of guys who can play—Zoot Sims can sure play. But you hire a guy because he’s the best available, and in some cases, the best that there is. You don’t do a thing because of what color you are.
Sure, there are advantages and disadvantages to it. But the whole thing you should be interested in is getting up on the bandstand and making good music. The rest is all exterior. The primary concern of the jazzman is supposed to be get up there and play, improvise, and play good jazz. If I could get me an all-white band, and everybody could play and swing, why it would be fine. Doesn’t matter. And I feel that a lot of white musicians feel the same way. But I do believe there are some white musicians that are prejudiced. I know there are. And there are some colored musicians who are.
You can’t take prejudice out of people; you can’t legislate it out; you can’t even explain it. The only thing you can do is go along and follow your own little path and hope that eventually everybody will see the light.
Sam: Color don’t mean a thing to me. A man’s a man to me. If he swings, he swings. DB