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Hear no evil, see no evil... Speake, Black musicians and UK jazz

A couple of weeks ago I was writing a chapter for a book on music therapy about the psychological effects of talking about race and white supremacy within music education. I found myself writing with an honesty that I rarely share with anyone in those circles, the sum of which was effectively this; talking about race and racism is difficult, draining and potentially dangerous. Not only that, but its becoming increasing difficulut to have nuanced conversations - not just about tangible facts (awarding gaps, arrest rates), but how one feels when encountering views by 'good people' who indirectly imply ideas of inferior quality, insecurity, grifting and ungratefulness.


hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil

Then, I opened Facebook and saw a few friends commenting about a leaked email from a prominent music educator and jazz musician. Ironically, the first comments I read were declaring the importance of free speech, praise of the musician’s character, expressing outrage at someone leaking an email, expressions of dismay at calling for someones livelyhood, denouncing ‘wokeness’ and ‘race-baiters’. I soon discovered that two separate petitions had been started, one calling for the dismissal of the aforementioned musician, and another supporting him and his position. I soon realised that

a) the email wasn’t leaked and,

b) many people who were commenting (on both sides it must be said) hadn’t actually read the email.

After asking, here it is as it was relayed to me [I have underlined a link for clarity and accessibility]:


Dear Aleks and Anthony

I began writing this last year but after another BLM reference and email from Anthony recently I have been prompted to add more to this response and send this as you have asked for feedback.

Regarding your statements on inclusivity and Kaleidoscope: Celebrating Black British Music and now BLM at Trinity.

I would like to discuss this whole issue at some point as black musicians in jazz and many other styles of music are definitely not under-represented in the UK and have far more opportunities than many others as funding bodies, media, promoters and festivals are biased in this way. Some white musicians deliberately have black musicians in their band to help them get gigs rather than thinking who is musically suitable and are too scared to speak out about this issue as they will be labelled 'racist'.

I and many others find it very hard to get concerts particularly at festivals because of this agenda that is now going on throughout the UK. I realise it comes from the government and above and all institutions and companies are being instructed in this way throughout the UK and many countries worldwide or they won't get their funding maybe?

Why is it relevant what colour the skin is?

You mention systemic inequality. This is just not the case in my department. Also why hire somebody because of the colour of their skin?

Which black composers in Jazz are under represented? Can you tell me?

Several below have OBE or MBE's. Hardly not recognised by the system.

Certainly not Byron Wallen, Soweto Kinch, Peter Edwards, Jason Yarde, Xhosa Cole, Nubya Garcia, Tony Kofi, Sultan Stevenson, Ezra Collective, Courtney Pine, Ayanna Witter Johnson, Shabaka Hutchins, Moses Boyd, Cassie Kinoshi, Binker Golding, Daniel Casimir, Mark Kavuma, Tomorrow's Warriors, Nu Civilisation Orchestra,Gary Crosby OBE, Cleveland Watkiss MBE, Orphy Robinson MBE, Julian Joseph OBE, and many others who all have lots of press attention, label support, funding and high profile concerts in comparison to many high quality white musicians who don't get this support.

Just look at the publicity for the LJF last year https://sites.barbican.org.uk/britishjazz/

and the publicity TL use is all about the black musicians who have graduated such as Nubya Garcia, Ezra Collective, Cassie Kinoshi, Moses Boyd who have media and label support.

This is not representative of the whole of British Jazz or even of TL but a tiny section the controlling bodies choose to promote and these organisations have a lot of power and create an inaccurate perception of what British jazz is.

This is not 20th century USA or apartheid South Africa when there was obvious discrimination and violence from the state against blacks.

There are many under represented musicians and composers of all skin colour and backgrounds.

The bias of emphasising black composers regardless of quality of music doesn't make sense to me.

This quote from Frank Haviland sums up for me what is happening "Mainstream publications, educational institutions, the media and public figures are now collectively normalising the war on whiteness to such an extent, you'd think they were discussing a sickness, not a race."

From this article.

Maybe in classical music and dance it is an issue but there are very few black classical musicians as far as I know, looking at the student body at TL or orchestras and professional musicians, although probably increasing? Let me know. You can't force black children to play classical music just to get quotas up and promote 'equality', whatever that is. Hence TL can only use the jazz course for their quotas hiring black staff and recruiting black students.

It is the classical arena that needs to change in many ways and as I mentioned in a previous email to Aleks, particularly how it is taught. It is a mistake to direct any of this agenda to the jazz course or jazz scene. I feel it is divisive.

This makes no financial, artistic or educational sense and I feel this old model and these courses, who cannot recruit, are bailed out financially by TL because of the historical tradition. As I said in my previous email to Aleks last year, which he said he agreed with everything I had written on this subject, my suggestion is to recruit the best instrumentalists and then arrange the music for this line up rather than sticking to the orchestral or traditional model. Music can be arranged for any line up. Then students will get far more playing opportunities.

The jazz course is thriving and turns away huge numbers of students applying yet has a miniscule masterclass budget for example.

These issues for me are a far bigger priority that the so called race issue that TL seems to be making an unnecessary priority to please some goverment dictat.

For me the opportunity is about class not skin colour. Many poor white, asian and black children don't get the opportunity to play music or afford instruments.

Not just black. This policy being promoted by TL is totally discriminatory ironically. If there is systematic bias in Britain which discriminates against one race over others it is against white people.

Also there is a use of the victim mentality to further careers (and for other reasons) that needs to be discussed but this is a wider issue.

By constantly emphasising that blacks are discriminated against, institutional racism (which does not exist in the jazz world, apart from maybe against whites now in certain areas of promotion) and are underdogs, deprived of opportunities etc, this encourages the victim mentality and is untrue.

You just need to look around Greenwich and can see the majority of students at Greenwich University are black. So how are they underprivileged or discriminated against?

Also the promotion of the organisation Black Lives Matter, as you have put it in capital letters I presume you are referring to BLM, is very dangerous in my opinion. The critical race theory stated by BLM states that racism is embedded in society, not only the product of individual bias and prejudice, but is entrenched in institutions. I don't believe this to be true. Look at all those who I have mentioned above recognised by the system and the number of black Greenwich University students. They are in the massive majority.

BLM promotes defunding of the police so are you supporting that?

The other concerning issue is that because of this emphasis on being black and supposedly a victim and under represented the 'race card 'can be used if anybody criticises or disagrees with a black student or staff, then that it is called racist. This is happening and the issue will be nothing to do with skin colour. Very dangerous area we are getting into. Apologising for being white and presuming blacks are always right. Divisive.

Martin Luther King famously called on us to judge people according to the content of their character not the colour of their skin.

With best wishes

Martin

 

 

What you see isn’t always the full picture. While Speake’s email creates the perception that Black jazz musicians have taken all the jobs and accolades away from White musicians, it’s not solely because they are Black. He fails to understand how many of these Black musicians have been innovators, fusing elements of hip hop, afrobeat, funk, highlife and other styles into jazz. Some of these musicians are only now in their late 20s/early 30s, and can be credited for introducing many people of a similar age to jazz music. Much of this predates the most recent iteration of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 (separate to the organisation). Many Black musicians have been instrumental in helping to develop young talent – especially those (of all races and ethnicities) whose socio-economic contexts would ordinarily exclude them from being able to study jazz, and be involved in bands from a young age. He’s right in asserting that there is a class issue, but chooses to ignore the links between race and class. A report by the Runnymeade Trust in 2017 (again, before BLM 2020) states:

The focus on (and only on) the white working class obviously relegates race as a category of analysis. Or, worse, race is invoked only as a category in opposition to class – that racism is over, that ethnic minorities are part of a ‘cosmopolitan elite’, that policymakers and political parties respond or pander to ethnic minorities – sometimes, it’s claimed, at the expense of the white working class.

He also fails to understand that there are many other Black musicians who are still struggling to find gigs or get accepted into music education programs, even with this push for '‘equality’, whatever that is’'. By failing to see all of this and so much more, Speake sounds as though he has the same ‘victim mentality’ he is accusing ‘blacks’ of.


See no evil.

 

Far from giving a reasonable account as to how racism doesn’t exist within UK jazz music, we are left with the understanding that Speake believes that the UK jazz scene is racist – but only against White people. Speake quotes Frank Haviland, whose own bio on Country Squire Magazine states that ‘his controversial pen aims to puncture the progressive narrative whether it may be found’. Reading the article Speake quotes from, it is fairly clear to see how the views expressed in his email align with that of Haviland’s. Brief mentions of ‘quality’ and hiring ‘because of the colour of their skin’, forgetting that we, people of colour, often have very different experiences and influences. Therefore rather than seen as a negative, the influx of teachers or lecturers who approach jazz from a variety of angles and experiences, could be seen as a positive, only enhancing students' learning, rather than reducing the quality.

 

What Trinity Laban decide to do at this point is up to them. What is clear, is that Speake’s views and perception are not unique. One must ask, how many others have played with Black musicians, worked with Black musicians, forged careers playing music of Black origin, but who draw the line when many in society try to address historical inequities. Happy to work alongside one or two Black folks, but not five or six. Happy to see two or three Black faces in marketing materials, but no more. The voices of many Black folks in jazz have been silenced or ignored for decades. Stories of being turned away at doors, being mistaken for bodyguards, kitchen staff or rejected by record labels have been documented in some cases, buried out of embarrassment in others.


Hear no evil.

 

Of course there is so much more that could and should be discussed about this. It has been sad to see and hear a few people talk about their experiences with Speake, and the wider culture at Trinity Laban.

Yes, Martin Luther King Jr called for us to judge people according to the content of their character, not the colour of their skin. Perhaps instead of only using this one line, folks should be more aware of MLK Jr's views and politics. This, written by MLK Jr in the same year he made the infamous ‘I Have A Dream’ speech in 1963, speaks to this.

 

‘I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.’

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3 Comments


Inaccurate historically regarding the history of the music and the environment in which it came into being. Jazz was always mixed-race. Also, the new separatist anti-racism of the so called progressives is mostly embraced and spouted by the white-middle classes and fed to them by mostly American CRT influenced thinkers like Kendl X and the woeful ideas of Di Angelo. Please note, Martin Speake is not from a middle-class background.

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Nate, King never gave up on his belief in an aspiration to a transcendence of race and nor did he ever shift from a position that placed class politics over race politics. There is no evidence whatsoever that he would have been approving of the kinds of ideas such as those promoted by American CRT advocates like Kendl X and Robin Di Angelo that have seeped into the thinking of our institutions and minds of people here. It is today’s so called progressive anti-racists who’ve gaslighted Dr King, not those of us who rail against separatism and segregation. On that, you are simply wrong. Sean

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Thank you for posting this. We know this kind of inversion of victims and perpetrators so well, and the sense of grievance at the expansion of cultural space beyond definitions established by the white male middle classes. The cultural space is not "One Out, One In": it gets bigger in terms both of creators and audiences when ALL kinds of people/cultures are accepted as culturally valid, exciting, worthwhile – ADMISSIBLE. That this comes from a white man working in a very prestigious job – teaching a music form that was created by Black people under conditions of oppression by white people in the USA – would be too on-the-nose for fiction. Sad strange truth. ONe_Orchestra New

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