Black History: American Classical Music?

Did you know City Lights has an entire bookshelf dedicated to writings on jazz? From Sun Ra to Sarah Vaughn, John Coltrane to Don Cherry…

The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music
Amiri Baraka
In the essay “Jazz and the White Critic” Amiri Baraka observes: “Most jazz critics have been white Americans, but most important jazz musicians have not been.” In this brilliant assemblage of his writings on music, the first such collection in nearly twenty years, Baraka blends autobiography, history, musical analysis, and political commentary to recall the sounds, people, times, and places he’s encountered. As in his earlier classics, Blues People and Black Music, Baraka offers essays on the famous–Max Roach, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane–and on those whose names are known mainly by jazz aficionados–Alan Shorter, Jon Jang, and Malachi Thompson. Baraka’s literary style, with its deep roots in poetry, makes palpable his love and respect for his jazz musician friends. His energy and enthusiasm show us again how much Coltrane, Albert Ayler, and the others he lovingly considers mattered. He brings home to us how music itself matters, and how musicians carry and extend that knowledge from generation to generation, providing us, their listeners, with a sense of meaning and belonging.

The Black Rays Race

See how the black rays of the black race
Have touched the immeasurable wisdom
And therefore the unknown quantity
See how they are not understood
Because as they are is not understood
And as what they know is what they are
See the unlimited freedom of the black rays.

(Sun Ra)




Albert Ayler Quartet – “Love Cry, Truth Is Marching In, Our Prayer”

July 21, 1967, John Coltrane Funeral, New York City


Jayne Cortez – “How Long Has Trane Been Gone”

Art Ensemble Of Chicago with Cecil Taylor live in Paris, 1984 // short footage and small interview / a film by Franck Cassenti // Cecil Taylor – piano / Lester Bowie – trumpet / Roscoe Mitchell – saxophone, percussion / Joseph Jarman – saxophone, percussion / Malachi Favors Maghostut – bass, percussion / Famoudou Don Moye – drums, percussion


Always in Trouble
An Oral History of ESP-Disk’, The Most Outrageous Record Label in America

Jason Weiss

In 1964, Bernard Stollman launched the independent record label ESP-Disk’ in New York City to document the free jazz movement there. A bare-bones enterprise, ESP was in the right place at the right time, producing albums by artists like Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders, and Sun Ra, as well as folk-rock bands like the Fugs and Pearls Before Swine. But the label quickly ran into difficulties and, due to the politically subversive nature of some productions and sloppy business practices, it folded in 1974. Always in Trouble tells the story of ESP-Disk’ through a multitude of voices–first Stollman’s, as he recounts the improbable life of the label, and then the voices of many of the artists involved.

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