Please provide documentation of the 10 required volunteer hours with a comprehensive 250-word description of your experience.
*PLEASE NOTE THAT ALL STUDENT BLOGS ARE DUE NO LATER THAN NOON ON WEDNESDAY, MAY 8TH.
Each student will blog about what this class means in general and to you individually.
*PLEASE NOTE THAT ALL STUDENT BLOGS ARE DUE NO LATER THAN NOON ON WEDNESDAY, MAY 8TH.
The Art of Building Good Ideas II Irvin Mayfield
A Public Lecture University of New Orleans Education Building, Room 103 Thursday, January 24, 2013
First I would like to thank our fearless leader, Peter Fos for joining us. As always, Dean Krantz represents the College of Liberal Arts with distinction. And thank all of you for coming to the fourth installment of a much broader project, which examines the concept of artistic literacy. The development of the lectures and their feedback thus far helped expand my understanding of harmony. Through this exploration and its public display, a simple but powerful motivation drives the project – a society must harmonize truth, beauty and love if we are to reach our moral and intellectual potentials. This notion is not innovative. It’s not new. As Jacques Maritain aptly said, “But let one touch the Good and Love, like the saints, the True, like an Aristotle, the Beautiful, like a Dante or a Bach or a Giotto, then contact is made, souls communicate.
However, we need develop a language and structure for the harmony we seek. Beethoven said, “Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.” I certainly believe music provides an entry to higher order knowledge and behavior, but I also believe the public can have a greater understanding than we currently have.
Therefore, I am attempting to harmonize truth, beauty and love through art. I am also seeking to publish those compositions. Like the jazz that I play, my method for these lectures is interdisciplinary and international in scope. From this jazzman, you will hear an amalgam of thoughts from educators, architects, philosophers and of course, musicians.
I hope to understand and proliferate the universal language of art for the advancement of civilization writ large, but I admittedly will settle for advancements of art literacy within a few communities in New Orleans. Certainly, New Orleans may be the best possible setting for this discourse. I have argued both implicitly and explicitly that the world should strive to become as art fluent as examples set forth by eloquent New Orleanians such as Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Leah Chase, John Scott, Ellis Marsalis, and Tom Dent. However, New Orleans provides a sad example of illiteracy in its many forms.
We have concrete data of prevalence of quantitative and qualitative illiteracy in New Orleans. The Greater New Orleans Community Data Center recently released the report, Strengthening Our Workforce from Within: Adult Education’s Role in Furthering Economic Growth in Greater New Orleans. It found that approximately a quarter of the population struggles to read and compute at basic level. Sadly in an artful city, we don’t have the metrics or deeper understanding of how to talk about aesthetics or how well a child can read a musical composition. We don’t know their importance on our quality of life. However, we have developed measurements as to how much we spend on art and its importance in the New Orleans economy.
I’m very aligned with American Composer John Cage. Cage once said, “It is better to make a piece of music than to perform one, better to perform one than to listen to one, better to listen to one than to misuse it as a means of distraction, entertainment, or acquisition of “culture.” Like Cage, I’m very interested in art literacy as a basic building block of awareness, understanding and intelligence. We are limited in our understanding as to the physiological, emotional and social benefits of art literacy. I hope our discussion will move towards a framework that will help everyday people compose and consume art in the order that Cage described.
Today, I will build upon the last lecture at Tulane University, which talked about building good ideas. In that lecture I discussed how public artistic literacy is a good idea in need of an architect. In addition, I will explain why if institutions are to consider themselves educational, they must explicitly develop art literacy. In the last lecture I talked briefly about the significance of higher education in advancing art literacy. I will continue this conversation. The second point I want to make in this lecture is that artistic literacy and awareness can and should be developed among all of us. I will talk about enhancing individuals’ capacities for art literacy so they can find the artist within. Before I address the establishment of physical and personal homes of art literacy, I will review various aspects of past lectures to provide background into today’s topics.
The first lecture provided a basis for why we should develop artistic literacy. I identified truth, beauty and love as ultimate ends of art. By truth, I take on multiple definitions simultaneously. As moral and intellectual aims, we should have the skills to compare our expressions to the actual state of affairs. The ability to measure and interpret expressions, statements or claims to their referents is a requisite for basic awareness. Statisticians call this external validity. Aquinas said, “a judgment is said to be true when it conforms to the external reality.” To find universal measures that describe the world is a higher order behavior or skill. Be it through, mathematics, semantics or logic, truth is finding frameworks that pass tests of universality.
In addition, truth is also about understanding the limitations of what we deem as universal, particularly when it comes to socially constructed phenomena like race, class and gender. We also need lenses into emotional and spiritual realms. Pablo Picasso said, “Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.” Truth seeking involves the pursuit of knowledge in the midst of what we presume to be facts. Art provides a legitimate tool to find knowledge that empirical data can confuse.
Artistic literacy also has much to do with understanding and pursuing beauty. In this regard art literacy is synonymous with aesthetics or systems for interpreting art, form and culture. There is nothing more frustrating than hearing baseless or uncritical arguments as to who is the better singer Beyonce or Jennifer Hudson? Similarly, do hip-hop songs qualify as music? These arguments fall into the philosophical bucket of aesthetics, which if properly pursued would elevate low-level banter towards much more critical analyses.
Artistic literacy is also about learning how to love. You’ll often hear people describe people’s generation by the songs that were popular at the time. You’ll hear a phrase like, “He’s a Marvin Gaye baby.” The funny thing is that some of you may be Marvin Gaye babies in that courtship and copulation are initiated through music.
But artistic literacy seeks to understand love in a broader sense. Martin Luther King Jr. offered a definition that highlights its importance within our concept of artistic literacy. MLK said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Hate prevents us from seeing the beauty within each other. Hate also prevents us from seeing our true selves. Jim Morrison said, “The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.”
MLK and Jim Morrison believed that societal love begins with love of self. Self-hate is the impetus for social injustice. Artistic literacy is about learning how to love ourselves so we can love others.
We just witnessed the need for higher artistic literacy at President Obama’s second inauguration. As many of you heard, Grammy Award winning artist, Beyonce Knowles-Carter lip-synced her rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. The U.S. Marine Band confirmed rising suspicions through a statement which read, “there was no opportunity for Ms. Knowles-Carter to rehearse with the Marine Band before the Inauguration so it was determined that a live performance by the band was ill-advised for such a high-profile event.”
Critics quickly labeled her a fraud – a step ahead of Milli Vanilli. This position is intellectually shallow. During an age when programmed beats and synthesized vocals are at their height, are we really be offended by Beyonce? During a time when a song can comprise of dozens of samples, should we be shocked? We know that many artists have chosen to lip-sync pre-recorded music in large venues, cold-environments or performances that include vigorous dance routines. One may consider a Presidential inauguration performance too austere an event to lip-sync, but it’s usage should not be surprising.
What I find controversial is the wanting discourse about our use of imagery in increasingly superficial world. Governments and corporations constantly use sanitized art and exaggerated imagery for branding purposes. We have an image problem in America that Beyonce didn’t create.
The standards of beauty that Beyonce represents are of greater concern. Like it or not, Beyonce is America. Popular women of color literally wear societal expectations in their hair, skin and physiques. Others manipulate these images often at the expense of the people who wear them. Some are offended that she lip-synced, but Beyonce performed to the current or apparent American standard. The same people who criticized Beyonce don’t patronize in mass those who are deemed “authentic.”
Beyonce is part and parcel our American art consciousness. We should not worry if she lip-synced. We should be concerned with our collective tastes that made her a candidate for selection. Beyonce is art. And so are you. The question is, what do you represent?
In the third lecture, Art of Building Good Ideas, I posited a notion that we all have the capacity to build artful ideas. However, just like any construction you must understand the elements of a good idea. The last lecture explained how the art of building a good idea involves imagination, creativity, commitment and representation. I believe our institutions of learning have lessened their appreciation for the artistic genius within each of you. Our schools and universities will never invest in artistic development if students don’t’ see themselves as artists.
There is a tendency to view being an artist as an either/or proposition. Either you have artistic talent or you do not. We’ve normalized the belief that most of us can read, write and compute with varying degrees. Shouldn’t we also internalize that people carry artistic abilities with the same range of aptitude. In the last lecture, I essentially broke the either/or proposition. I stated, “there’s a Love Supreme waiting to be unleashed.” That ambitious statement could easily be seen as incredible. The act of comparing everyone to John Coltrane can shock people into missing my point and maybe even the point of Coltrane.
By the way, John William Coltrane is America’s most celebrated jazz saxophonist and composer. His work in the bebop and hard bop eras made way to his expansion into free jazz. “Trane” performed and recorded with other legends like trumpeter Miles Davis and pianist Thelonious Monk.
We can find truth by tapping into our artistic selves. Tapping into our artistic selves requires us to see ourselves as artists. Cicero stated, “It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment.” Cicero is speaking to today’s topic. There is an art to building good ideas. And everyone can use the tools that Cicero spoke of. Coltrane is not a freak of nature. Coltrane displayed the courage to interpret with sounds the often-ineffable world in which words and numbers simply are inadequate.
I believe art to be the manifestations of our imaginations. Art reflects someone’s creative efforts to bring their imagination to life. We all have imaginations, but most of us don’t possess explicit evidence of our art.
Creativity is the freedom and tools to realize our imaginations. Creativity allows us to reach the goals of our imaginations. Our creative genius can be enhanced, refined and trained. Learning how to manipulate and interpret sounds is as humanly accessible as learning how to read and write. It’s the privileging of words and numbers that limits our genius. We can only reach our highest human potentials by maximizing all the tools of our creativity.
In the last lecture, I quoted Ambedkar who stated, “Humans are mortal. So are ideas. An idea needs propagation as much as a plant needs watering. Otherwise both will wither and die.” I also stated that I think we’re becoming less creative because we’re becoming less committed. I’ve revised that claim to say we that we have genuflected to the intellectual deities of math and science.
Over the last few decades, we have made stupefying advancements in math and science, both of which have helped all our lives. In spite of the fact that we have more communication devices that man has ever known, we are using new technology to recycle old practices that lead to inequity. Truth, beauty and love can close that gap. We can also enhance our quality of life through the study of music, sculpting and other forms of art if we made comparable investments. It’s the privileging of academic disciplines that prevents us from the next Love Supreme.
Innovation is not simply about science. There are essential elements of good ideas that include space, materials, durability and purpose. Albert Einstein said, “Space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind union of the two will preserve an independent reality.” When we talk of space we must talk of time. Organizing sound around space and time is music composition. Still, when we talk about space and time, we should speak about specific sociopolitical contexts. There are few things as important as understanding how people should live together.
However, when we consider creativity and its relation to people within their sociopolitical contexts, we’re really talking about the distance between our art and the people it will effect. To create ideas without people in mind is to privilege the scientific idea of experimental design. It inflates the already inflated notion of the unbiased researcher. Good ideas and particularly good art assumes relationships between art, the artist and the people it influences.
Let me be clear. Art is an individualistic expression. Certainly, art helps its creators discover themselves. However, these discoveries are always in relation to other people. Humans don’t appear void of history, context and culture. Institutions, traditions and behaviors shape us. Self-discovery is really a process of seeing yourself in relations to others.
I believe that good ideas – and by extension good art – nurture lasting relationships. Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Therefore, I’m talking about how art literacy promotes justice, courage, selflessness, self-reliance and temperance. These qualities make art “good.” There are many artisans that are extremely skilled, but they don’t necessarily create what I believe to be good art. Building good art should take on universal morals that are non-discriminatory, inclusive and loving. Good ideas are democratic.
Again, I believe in personal nature of art making. I also believe in self- expression. Aristotle wrote, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” In other words, what is the purpose of art.
Helen Keller wrote, “Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” When we are in those caverns of creativity, we must train ourselves to honestly ask, “What is the purpose of this idea?” In other words, why am I creating this piece of art? When we ask ourselves these questions, we must rise above utilitarian or selfish notions of purpose. The song is not just about you. You should be able to see the larger purpose.
I wanted to give you the bassline for this speech. Building a good idea requires imagination, creativity and commitment. They are democratic in nature. Finally, the purpose of the idea should be democratic and loving.
For this lecture, I want to address where should people learn the artistic skills that bring our imaginations to life. Despite emerging criticisms of higher education, colleges and universities are still some of the few safe spaces in which great ideas are born, dismantled and advanced.
From innovations in irrigation, to helping map the human genome, to the expansion of the World Wide Web, colleges and universities’ returns on investment are immeasurably positive. Colleges heighten conversations on ethics. We preserve and advance art and culture. We partner with industry to meet the economic demands of the country. Universities are some of the few places that are intellectually comprehensive. Nevertheless, after centuries in which art partnered with the sciences, administrators are continuously slashing budgets within the arts and humanities. This has heighted the significance of freedom in colleges and universities.
Freedom is commonly expressed in terms of the various levels of autonomy. In the university world, autonomy describes the freedom to determine who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study. Chief among the freedoms expressed in colleges and universities is the concept of academic freedom. Altbach and Berdahl define academic freedom as the freedom of the individual scholar to pursue truth wherever it leads, without fear of punishment or of termination of employment for having offended some political methodological, religious, or social orthodoxy. However, students are also afforded a healthy degree of freedom, which is limited by course and program requirements.
Artists need the institutional space to create. In his brilliant essay titled, Freedom and Art, Charles Rosen describes the natural barriers of free expression among artists. He states, “Of all the constraints imposed on us that restrict our freedom—constraints of morality and decorum, constraints of class and finance—one of the earliest that is forced upon us is the constraint of a language that we are forced to learn so that others can talk to us and tell us things we do not wish to know.” Artists will always struggle through these natural barriers and in some cases make brilliant pieces of art because of those circumstances. Additionally, there is no utopia for artistic freedom. However, colleges and universities are optimal spaces to make art.
In Louisiana that freedom has been eroded by budget cuts to higher education partially because our productivity is devalued by a phenomenon known as “the cost disease.” William G. Bowen thoroughly describes this phenomenon in the article, The ‘Cost Disease’ in Higher Education: Is Technology the Answer? He quotes Robert Frank as providing the most succinct explanation of the cost disease. Frank states, “While productivity gains have made it possible to assemble cars with only a tiny fraction of the labor that was once required, it still takes four musicians nine minutes to perform Beethoven’s String Quartet in C minor, just as it did in the 19th century.”
Higher education won’t realize the same productivity gains in say car or computer manufacturing. We are different industries. Compounding the dilemma, the gains colleges and universities do make are unable to make up for the rising personnel costs. As a result, states, including Louisiana, see higher education as non-productive, cost prohibitive endeavors. The string quartet example is relevant here because even in New Orleans, art is devalued because it is viewed as an expensive luxury item or cheap entertainment.
Just as the University of New Orleans trains engineers, chemists and computer scientists, we also train musicians and other fine artists that make New Orleans one of the nation’s leading destination points. What is New Orleans without trained musicians? You simply cannot think about New Orleans without hearing music. Musicians in particular are central to a growing economy despite frameworks that value cheap computers over live performers. Herein lies the battle. Most people will agree to do everything to maintain a business program. However, many of those same people will see little value in a masters degree in composition or music education. Particularly in New Orleans, weakening art will weaken the economy.
State legislators, federal agencies, non-profit and for-profit companies as well as numerous other industries are influencing the pillars of what college is and what universities are supposed to do. Conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, the Republican Governors Association as well as state boards have always challenged what should be taught. Colleges and universities do not operate in isolation. We will always be held accountable to the larger public and that larger public does not necessarily share our values.
Nevertheless, slowly but surely postsecondary institutions have co-signed a system that assumes college to be an arm of an industry that treats art as superficial. If this continues, postsecondary institutions will wither, for there has to be a cheaper way to become an accountant. I recently read an article, which asked, “Could apprenticeships replace college degrees?” They probably should if we can’t articulate why music, literature and sculpture are as important as accountants.
Nevertheless, while politicians and industry may influence how many hours a faculty member spends in her office or how to purchase paper, they should not dictate the substance of who we are. We must halt the involuntary plastic surgery performed on postsecondary institutions by uncertified doctors. If members of the higher education community do not define ourselves, someone else will – making it that more difficult to see our purpose and mission.
If you don’t already have Christopher Newfield’s book, Unmaking the Public University, you must get it. Newfield identifies how university values like human development have been usurped by neo-liberal market substitutes and conservative campaigns. Newfield quotes the United Nation’s broad notion of human development that colleges and universities are supposed to facilitate:
“Human development is about much more than the rise of fall of national incomes. It is about creating an environment in which people can develop their full potential and lead productive, creative lives in accord with their needs and interests. People are the real wealth of nations. Development is thus about expanding the choices people have to lead lives that they value. And it is thus about much more than economic growth, which is only a means – if a very important one – of enlarging people’s choices” (United Nations).
Higher education must be transformative. Which means we must matriculate people who need it most: the poor, undereducated and dare I say illiterate. Colleges must change people and their communities. The aftermath of Katrina proved that higher education is doing little to change people’s social status. Colleges are essentially becoming finishing schools for the respective social groups. They are becoming expensive dormitories that house the 13th grade. In New Orleans, the poor shall be assigned to Southern University New Orleans, the working class will go to the University of New Orleans, the rich will go to Tulane. This is the system that led to the greatest man-made disaster in the United States. And many will not have a place to receive higher education.
In Louisiana like other states, we’re creating a tiered public system that assumes that preparation predicts outcomes – this is our response to abysmally low six-year graduation rates. GPA and SAT or ACT only predict for 50% of the variance of whether or not students move on to their second year. In other words, non-cognitive, individual variables as well as campus climate account for a significant portion of why students stay or leave.
Yet the Louisiana Grad Act limits students’ options for enrollment in public colleges based mightily on test scores, which simply do not capture the range of variables that accurately predict for college success. Campus climate and in particular campus racial climate impact the success of first- generation and underrepresented populations. The “tiering” practice leaves little room for challenging universities to transform the communities that need it most.
The irony of the Louisiana Grad Act is that luminaries like Louis Armstrong wouldn’t be admitted into places like UNO. Armstrong took the initiative to make harmony from in the inharmonious Deep South. Students may think UNO doesn’t have the accommodations befitting of a major public university. However, Armstrong did not disengage himself from the changes that needed to occur. He took his boys’ home education and became a legend because he played the cards he was dealt.
It wasn’t until after police arrested an eleven year-old Louis for shooting a firearm, did he engage with organized music. Authorities placed Armstrong in the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys, now known as the Milne Boys Home. Immediately upon arrival, Master Armstrong wanted desperately to join the Waif’s Home Brass Band. After weeks of fiddling with instruments left straggled by members, officials allowed Armstrong to join the band. My former fellow NEA board member Terry Teachout describes in his book, POPS, how a young Armstrong started on the “tambourine, then drums, then alto horn. Eventually he became the band’s first-chair cornetist” (p. 36).
We have thousands of Louis Armstrongs needing to be introduced to jazz. Last year, the Greater New Orleans Data Center reported that the New Orleans metro has approximately 14,000 youth between the ages of 16 to 24 who are neither in school nor working. Armstrong’s legacy illustrates the absence of and need for jazz in our communities. The city must take bolder steps towards realizing a jazz society. Universities must be a part of introducing the disconnected to opportunities.
They’re reasons why we have not tried to replicate the Armstrong story. We take for granted the stabilizing force behind New Orleans’ culture, entertainment and industry. Jazz is as ubiquitous as gravity. New Orleans’ improvisational and multicultural style is directly linked to the way we interact, cook, worship, celebrate and morn. Jazz provides the City’s character.
Armstrong exemplified and set the standard as to how art, culture and community improvise to make harmony. Aside from being an ambassador, Armstrong provided the soundtrack for urban renewal. The industrial age and urban expansion paralleled Armstrong’s creative works. He gave birth to innovative harmonies and rhythms within a traditional structure. Armstrong’s contributions eventually stretched the tradition. Consequently, Americans re-imagined cities as Armstrong and others re-imagined music.
We should not view this as coincidence. New Orleans art literally set a tone for a new urban world. Jazz and urban renewal are synonymous. Architects, musicians, educators, developers and philanthropists must be in concert.
Even worse than a contemporary Armstrong not being admitted to most public universities, is that he may not be considered smart by today’s standards. Armstrong mastered the language of New Orleans. He mastered the language of art.
Hochay Maday. Indiyan. You won’t find these words in the dictionary. They don’t translate into English. They exist in New Orleans music. I don’t know if a correct spelling exists, but I know what they mean because of my art and my relationship to the teachers of these words or should we say sounds. I also know what these sounds mean to us in New Orleans. You probably shouldn’t give Big Chief any resistance to his words. The line states you are free and clear to go Jocimo Fina Hey any time you want. However, it doesn’t seem like you would enjoy it very much.
Other song lyrics don’t say much about what the Hochay Maday is, but I know it is either on Mardi Gras day or St. Joseph’s Day, but always when the Mari Gras Indians come out. When you hear these teachers, you will learn the history of New Orleans. You will feel the history of New Orleans. You will feel the rich history of our Congo Square ancestors who came from many different areas on the globe. If you hear the chants enough, you will understand the language. You will become New Orleanian.
The Armstrong case proves that colleges and universities shouldn’t be the only place with the academic freedom to develop artistically. If there is a city in which real instruments should be placed in the hands of every child to be taught by real music instructors, it should be New Orleans. I’m not talking about giving kids a triangle for the kindergarten music unit. The primary grade curriculum should have extensive exposure to the arts. We should hold students, teachers and leaders accountable for artistic literacy.
This was the motivation behind the New Orleans Jazz Institute spearheading the Saturday Music School in 2009. Saturday Music School’s mission is to support and redefine music education in New Orleans by offering a comprehensive and diverse music education experience to our city’s youth. Saturday Music School is designed for music students, ages 8 to 17, currently enrolled in 17 schools in the Greater New Orleans area. Each semester, the program offers ensemble and small group instruction in Jazz band, strings, piano, and voice. Each ensemble’s curriculum is developed to encompass history, theory and performance techniques in Jazz, Classical and World Music. Throughout the year, student ensembles are featured in recitals and local festivals and events.
The larger goal of the Saturday Music School is to build a system wide curriculum that advances art literacy and for students to realize their musical aptitudes. Students of all hues will take their skills to commerce, schools, museums and to the Mardi Gras Indians for approval.
I would like to return briefly to the supposed Beyonce controversy. Beyonce is an ideal that is frighteningly distant from you or me, yet so many aspire to be perfect like Beyonce. I hate to burst your bubble. There is no perfection. Therefore, we don’t need you to lip sync. You are Louis Armstrong. We need you to be literate enough to improvise. We need your preparation to be so profound that you can go into any hostile situation and find harmony.
To highlight this point, indulge me as I paint a picture of these comparable artists and their patriotic deeds. In 1957 during the height of the cold war, the United States and Armstrong agreed to perform in the Soviet Union to counter criticisms of American racism, discrimination and structural inequality. The State Department sponsored tours of some of the country’s most notable jazz performers to put America’s way of life on display. Remember, the height of the cold war paralleled a peaking civil rights movement.
Inequity was apparent even in America’s propaganda efforts. The New York Times described the confusion caused by the contrast between the mission supporting the tours and the touring acts’ accommodations. The Times wrote, “What many thoughtful Europeans cannot understand is why the United States Government, with all the money it spends for so-called propaganda to promote democracy, does not use more of it to subsidize the continental travels of jazz bands.” The Times goes on to say, “With a small Government subsidy, [Armstrong] might play the smaller intermediate towns and his tour [be] stretched to six months by train instead of six weeks by bus.”
Therefore, two years prior to agreeing to perform in the Soviet Union, Armstrong traveled across Europe as an Ambassador to the United States in accommodations less than one would expect the top performer in the United States or arguably the world to have. Nevertheless, the New York Times said of Armstrong that “America’s secret weapon [in the Cold War] is a blue note in a minor key.”
Back home, his contemporaries vilified Armstrong as being an Uncle Tom and a buffoon. Gillespie referred to Armstrong as a “plantation character.” Billy Holiday said, “God bless Louis Armstrong! He Toms from the heart.” James Baldwin and other made Armstrong the foil for their new Negro archetype. That was mild compared to how many whites treated Armstrong. Traveling in the South was particularly hostile for African American entertainers. Teachout cited Armstrong’s road manager as saying “here’s Louis with five or ten grand in his pocket, his wife with a twenty thousand dollar mink coat, and they both had to sleep in a gymnasium in North Carolina because they couldn’t find accommodations” (Teachout, 2009, p. 327).
Yet before he returned to Europe to perform in the Soviet Union, a mob of white civilians and the Arkansas National Guard prevented nine African American students from integrating Central High School in Little Rock. So distraught by these actions, Armstrong canceled his State Department sponsored trip to the Soviet Union. The Associate Press wrote, “Trumpet player Louis Armstrong said last night he had given up plans for a Government-sponsored trip to the Soviet Union.” The AP went on to say, “Mr. Armstrong said President Eisenhower had ‘no guts’ and described Gov. Orval E. Faubus of Arkansas as an ‘uneducated plow boy.’”
Compare this to Beyonce’s patriotic moment. She had months to prepare for the inauguration, which was approved by the White House weeks prior. She was asked to sing the one song that most American’s should know. Her schedule may have prevented lots of practice time but she’s an artist; the Marine Corp band is professional. I’m sure there is Internet on her private jet. Exchange sheet music, pre-recordings; do what you can to sing the song that everybody knows.
Yes it’s cold, but it’s not the cold war. This is one of the highest honors one can bestow upon a singer. The Star-Spangled Banner is performed after the benediction at inaugurations. Beyonce was born to perform on the biggest stages. She has been singing all her life. Her hair, purchased or not, was flawless. Clothes impeccable. The world watched with pride. Millions of fans know every word to all her songs. She’s married to a rap mogul for God’s sake. Her inauguration moment was the public rendering of the Little Drummer Boy. This is her time to give her greatest gift. Beyonce gets on stage and faces one of the biggest moments of her life, and what does she do? She lip-syncs.
Armstrong wouldn’t have lip-syned.
However, I don’t fault Beyonce. We fail to reach for more authentic artists. I am hopeful about today’s artists. I recently worked with Frank Ocean who is up for numerous Grammy Awards. His artistry reflects his personal courage. He is one of the many sons of Armstrong.
However, we collectively need to continue to find Armstrong’s rhythm. His music is so influential, so ubiquitous that we move unconsciously to his harmonies. But, we can’t take his gravity for granted. Armstrong really understood humanity through song. He wasn’t an entertainer as much as he was an artist, philosopher, politician and leader. Armstong became so because he could hear how the world worked and responded to it.
Many of you today should be able to hear, taste and draw yourself closer to the communities that are distant. Let’s understand what Armstrong saw when sang A Wonderful World. Close you eyes for a minute. Listen to Armstrong. What do you see?
I see trees of green…….. red roses too
I see em bloom….. for me and for you
And I think to myself…. what a wonderful world.
I see skies of blue….. clouds of white
Bright blessed days….dark sacred nights
And I think to myself …..what a wonderful world.
The colors of a rainbow…..so pretty ..in the sky
Are also on the faces…..of people ..going by
I see friends shaking hands…..sayin.. how do you do They’re really sayin……i love you.
I hear babies cry…… I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more…..than I’ll never know And I think to myself …..what a wonderful world
A Public Lecture
The University of New Orleans
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Featuring Guest Speakers Stephen Perry (President & CEO, The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau) and Nolan Rollins (President & CEO, Urban League of Greater New Orleans)
As an artist and – specifically – as a musician, I am engaged with the concept of harmony. Within a musical frame, harmony can be simply described as the simultaneous playing of notes and chords, which are coordinated by a set of musical principles. Principles of Jazz bring together tensions and differences to create sounds and compositions of truth, beauty and love to otherwise isolated and discontented clatter. In other words, Jazz actively uplifts a new realism of togetherness that independent sounds actively work to suppress.
As you can hear, Jazz’s contribution to the concept of harmony extends well beyond music. Jazz is a way of being of which I am constantly seeking enlightenment and grace. The language of Jazz has given me a means to hear and see a world when words are woefully insufficient. I’ve become artistically literate to understand the sometimes-ineffable world I’m in.
A great motivation for this lecture is the obvious lack of harmony in New Orleans. While the nation hears good news about our recovery, the sounds of gunshots make it too difficult for locals to hear anything else. “Noise” properly describes the hypocrisy of flowery rhetoric that lies in stark contrast to the bleak backbeat of real people’s lives. New Orleans is not even left with a soothing dirge detailing the sharp angles of tragedy. Instead, we helplessly flail our blaming fingers, which is a violent act in itself.
By offering this lecture, I hope to welcome those isolated and alienated voices into today’s composition. We should not – nor can we afford – to blast a national narrative of urban transformation over the painfully obvious sounds of economic poverty, violence and political disenfranchisement.
I posit that we need a vehicle of realism: a language – if you will – that acknowledges the fullness of how we live, while protecting the dignity of those that New Orleans’ recovery have seemingly forgot. That language must pursue truth, beauty and love with greater ferocity than those who seek to sell and brand the City. It should come as no surprise that I believe Art to be that language, and we should strive to become as fluent in its many forms as examples set forth by Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Leah Chase, John Scott, Ellis Marsalis and Tom Dent. We need heightened artistic literacy.
In addition to making the case for artistic literacy, we must address the habitual narratives that want to pronounce the death of Jazz. Because announcements of Jazz’s death are as chronic as hurricane season, I will address them briefly only to illustrate and introduce why we need to heighten artistic literacy.
What I ultimately want to express today is that we need to improve our artistic literacy so we can create our way towards truth, beauty and love. Ludwig van Beethoven said, “Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge, which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.” Beethoven knew that words alone will keep us short of arriving to truth, beauty and love. We need a heightened conversation; we need to advance our artistic literacy to hear a higher humanity.
What is Artistic Literacy?
Because literacy is the central object of this lecture, I must explicate a meaning. I generally agree in James Paul Gee’s description of the term “literacy.” Gee states that literacy has much to do with the concept of “discourse.” Gee asks us to “think of discourse as an identity kit that comes complete with the appropriate costume and instructions on how to act and talk as to take on a particular role that others will recognize.” In simpler terms, discourse is an identity kit that helps us recognize who we are and where we stand.
Developing an identity kit is difficult, and there are numerous variables that work against a person having one. In his explanation, Gee eloquently explains that discourse is inherently ideological in that it carries specific values and norms. Discourse is not open like coffee shop talk. Discourse is actively resistant to differing views. Those who acquire a particular discourse strengthen their resistance to others by forming principles that discredit other ways of being. For instance, in this room there is an English professor who is thinking that a trumpet player has no place in a discussion of literacy.
In addition, Gee says, “discourses are intimately related to the distribution of social power and hierarchical structure in society.” Discourses that lead to power are called dominant discourses. Those who have the fewest conflicts in accessing and using a particular discourse are called the dominant groups.
Some people acquire dominant discourses primarily through their membership within a dominant group. Others must learn the dominant discourse through exposure and instruction, typically under the auspices of the dominant group. For instance, acquiring a second language and mastering an instrument is partially dependent on how well your parents speak and play, but you can go to a school like New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts to master the latter. However, mastering an instrument certainly helps if your last name is Marsalis or Batiste. Mastering Spanish certainly helps if you’re living in Mexico.
Acquiring the discourse through membership is much different than learning a discourse in school. We have many children in our public schools who may be learning the technical aspects of language, but they are not part of the dominant group and have little exposure to the values and customs that come in a well-tooled identity kit. Consequently, literacy is not simply about learning how to read and write. Literacy is about the acquisition of the dominant discourse. Artistic literacy is about reclaiming art as a dominant discourse in New Orleans.
Can it be any clearer that the business community has the fewest obstacles in acquiring and maintaining the dominant discourse? How many politicians, college presidents and non-profits – as well as other leaders – state how they need to connect to the business community? I am very concerned that New Orleans’ cultural centers would rather adopt a discourse of the market than maintain and advance the discourses of art, culture, science and mathematics. Remember, discourses are in constant battles to discredit others’ ways of being.
I know the art discourse, of which I have acquired, has contributed more prolifically to the character and sustainability of New Orleans than other communities. I also know that the art community must not relent that our language is the lifeblood of the city.
While I appreciate contributions from the business community in New Orleans, I know that its discourse insidiously under-values my community’s worth. For instance, the recurrent “Jazz is dead” rants are arguments and language of the market.
Wall Street Journal columnist and former fellow board member for the National Endowment for the Arts, Terry Teachout, states in a article titled Can Jazz be Saved?, “[T]he average American now sees jazz as a form of high art. Nor should this come as a surprise to anyone, since most of the jazz musicians that I know feel pretty much the same way.” Teachout continues, “They regard themselves as artists, not entertainers, masters of a musical language that is comparable in seriousness to classical music—and just as off-putting to pop-loving listeners who have no more use for Wynton Marsalis than they do for Felix Mendelssohn.”
I unapologetically consider myself an artist who has a longstanding language and discourse that has left a durable, positive legacy on New Orleans. Nevertheless, those who rigidly measure Jazz’s vitality on how popular or entertaining it is miss how and why New Orleans’ art and culture communities exist. Like activist/writer Audre Lorde made clear in the essay that carried the title, “Poetry is not a Luxury,” art provides the cultural capital that sustains marginalized groups. The idea that Jazz’s vitality should be derived from how many people attend concerts is a patronizing attack vested in the idea of art as entertainment. The value of entertainment is heavily weighted toward the audience’s enjoyment. The value of art is nested in the art discourse.
In New Orleans especially, Jazz is high art because it rose mightily from divergent voices making harmony and meaning in a violently noisy world. Recognize the struggle that Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson and others came from. While individual artists received worldwide acclaim and filled auditoriums, their work translated the conditions that many of their audiences helped create. While the music may have entertained, it also soothed weary souls and communicated that someone acknowledged those who were suffering.
Ironically, it’s the patronizing values inherent in Teachout’s economic framework that need to die. The comidification of culture kills art because privileged audiences often devalue the people who create it. If its creators are devalued, their art will be as well.
Let me put this in a local context, so we can understand the need for artistic literacy. If art critics and audiences are willing to allow curfews in the French Quarter that shamelessly target young black men, me and my craft will not reach maximum value. As long as the gates of Armstrong Park limit access to the most noble of heroes and heroines, then high culture won’t reach the masses. As long as we have schools that consider themselves college prep without an artist in residence plus robust music and art programs, then gunshots will echo in venues throughout the city. Notice that I said “music and art programs,” not simply a marching band.
The dominant market discourse has seduced many of my fellow artists. You probably read Nicholas Payton’s blog titled On Why Jazz Isn’t Cool Anymore. Payton riffs that “Jazz died in 1959.” He continues, “There may be cool individuals who say they play Jazz, but ain’t shit cool about Jazz as a whole. Jazz died when cool stopped being hip. Jazz was a limited idea to begin with. Jazz is a label that was forced upon the musicians. The musicians should’ve never accepted that idea.”
When I read the blog, I immediately said that ‘Jazz is dead’ discussions prove why we need the language of art to express ourselves. The discussion that Payton engaged fell in the same trap of weighing worth by how many units are sold, or how much the audience appreciates his work.
From the trumpet to the upright bass, Payton’s range of expression is undeniable. He can show you the sweat on a beggar’s back with the use of his trumpet. I highly recommend you pick up Payton’s latest CD Bitches to hear and feel a creative mind at work. However, a blog rant on the appropriateness of the word “Jazz” distracts us all from increasing artistic literacy.
Of all the travails in the world today, musicians and art critics are focused on a popularity contest? We must keep our eyes on the prize of creativity, and our ears to the cries of the suffering. Who will give their creative attention to people like Keira Holmes? Keira was the two year-old who was recently shot while playing outside in the B.W. Cooper Housing Project. Who will dedicate a song to Keira?
Jazz is not dead. Jazz will die when children like Keira no longer need a voice.
Again, “poetry is not a luxury.”
There are no bigger signs of New Orleans’ cultural decline than our crime rates. I’ve already established in this lecture the connection between lacking access to the dominant discourse and its impact on power. The artistic community can’t be shy about saying we must change a culture of poverty.
Since Howard Gardner introduced his concept of multiple intelligences, educators have generally expanded the expected range of cognitive abilities and literacies people must develop. Having the ability to play an instrument is not simply the icing on the reading and writing cake. Music ability is an intelligence in its own right.
Gardner states, “[a]n increasing number of researchers believe…there exists a multitude of intelligences, quite independent of each other; that each intelligence has its own strengths and constraints; that the mind is far from unencumbered at birth; and that it is unexpectedly difficult to teach things that go against…natural lines of force within an intelligence.”
Gardner’s theory explains that musical intelligence involves the composition of musical patterns, tensions, notes and rhythms. Musical minds understand harmony. If musical intelligence is a distinct and proven source of insight found throughout our population, then we have an obligation to advance musical intelligence within our schools. More importantly, if musical intelligence is devalued as entertainment or novelty, we cut ourselves off from ideas created by this important source of knowledge production; we also limit innovations for our community’s growth.
Gardner’s work tells us that creative minds will naturally create. If an art discourse does not increase its engagement in the hood, people will still create. In the absence of an explicit culture, folks will create their own underground economies, lifestyles and discourses that will be in conflict with middle class sensibilities. Artists must redirect those creatively destructive minds that eventually result in isolation, imprisonment and death.
I’m not a cultural relativist. You will never hear me say that all cultures are equal. Again, I believe that art fluency leads to high culture. New Orleans needs greater access to music, dance and literature, as well as the heroes attached to those genres. That’s why we need to open the gates of Armstrong Park. This city can’t become a protected museum of former musical greats. The talent was in New Orleans then; and it’s here now. We must cultivate it.
How Do We Advance Artistic Literacy?
The fact that I’m having a lecture on artistic literacy at a university speaks to where and how I believe we should advocate. Cardinal Newman stated that a university possesses “the high protecting power of all knowledge and science, of fact and principle, of inquiry and discovery, of experiment and speculation; it maps out the territory of the intellect, and sees that…there is neither encroachment nor surrender on any side.”
A university and its faculty must constantly work to protect artistic literacy from the ever-encroaching devices of the dominant discourse. As part of our protection, a university faculty must stack the libraries with materials that define our discourse. Colleges and universities must teach those materials to future members of the culture. The art faculty in our local universities must also be vigorously engaged within the broader culture and be perceived as active members. As faculty, we cannot afford to place gates around ourselves. Artists, literally, have like-minded people in need of intellectual development and exposure. College faculty also need an administration to connect with artists’ goals, intellect and economic strengths.
At the K-12 level, artists must advocate for the advancement of their craft and voice in school settings. It’s discouraging to constantly hear that schools want to advance art and culture to help teach math or history. Although music can certainly help teach other discourses and paradigms, music is not a teacher aid. Music and other art forms are disciplines that need certified teachers, artists in residence, quality curriculums, suitable accountability systems and adequate resources.
We must also recognize that the actual rebuilders of New Orleans are artists. I am proud to say that the University of New Orleans’ Urban Planning Program is housed in the College of Liberal Arts. There is a peculiar imagination that goes into urban planning. You know when accountants have too much influence on construction designs. Urban planners’ creative minds make our collective needs make harmony.
Unfortunately, urban planners and architects often don’t embrace their artistic identities. In addition, artists often don’t embrace these professionals as artists. When Teachout and I considered who would receive the National Medal of Art, we could not recommend a viable candidate in architecture. As board members on the most prestigious organization for the arts, we limited our conceptualizations to musicians, writers and visual artists.
That is why I accepted an invitation to sit on Tulane’s Board for its School of Architecture. However, how many boards that are significant to the rebuilding of New Orleans do not have professional artists on them? I was the only professional artist on the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority. There is an art to urban planning. Shouldn’t we have artists at the table?
In relation to the business community, artists can’t primarily be the hook to garner money for other industries. The cultural economy should not rely on a model of art entertaining others. Art proliferation is an industry. Artisans should be teachers, college faculty, administrators and directors of afterschool programs. Advancing and archiving culture through education is and should be an economic engine. The folks who are fluent in art discourse are probably the biggest investors of time, talent and treasure in New Orleans’ cultural advancement. We must maximize this natural resource.
As a community, we must also give young people more opportunities to create pieces that help them realize their standing in the world. Giving the voiceless a means to express themselves is a central part of who we are as a music community. Unfortunately, the voiceless includes many of my fellow artisans who don’t have an institutional home to rely upon.
Colleges and Universities should work with the school community to develop concurrent enrollment and summer programs that aim to identify, nurture and accelerate artistic talent. In addition, educational leaders can work to develop MOUs between schools and universities to place a graduate-level artist in residence within every K-12 institution. Moreover, my university must become the largest repository of indigenous music of any urban postsecondary institution. This archive should be a living, breathing resource for artists to continue to build upon New Orleans’ rich legacy. The education community as a whole must seek to protect and advance the cultural community.
In closing, there are several metaphors that describe communities. If we dare to let Jazz create a new realism for New Orleans, then let’s allow for divergent notes and chords to exist along poly-syncopated rhythms. However, she should produce harmony from the tensions and peace from the performance. The time has come for art to conjure the truth, beauty and love found in the sound of Mahalia Jackson’s How I got over: “And I’m a-sing and never get tired; I’m gonna sing somewhere ’round God’s alter; And I’m a-shout all my troubles over.
But there is so much work to be done. New Orleans will get over when we apply muscle to audacious expectations. Join me in helping New Orleans become the most literate city in America by the year 2022. My position as board president of the New Orleans Public Library Foundation gives me an opportunity to work with artists, teachers, mathematicians, scientists and others who are concerned with increasing the intellectual capacity of New Orleanians. It’s time to understand and act on the courage embedded in Jackson’s How I Got Over. It’s time to allow high art to uplift our wonderful city.
Let’s hear it for New Orleans! Thank you.
Volunteer Opportunity with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra November 17-19
NOJO Presents: A Hometown Concert featuring Grammy Award-winning Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra
Our November 18th and 19th shows will feature music from the past nine years of NOJO, as we prepare to enter our 10th year. We are calling it “Honoring the Past & Transforming the Future,” since we will discuss 2012 plans during the course of the night.
Help is needed Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in the areas of Merchandise and Box Office. Extra credit will be given for your participation.
- Thursday, 11/17: NOPL Main Library (219 Loyola Avenue 70112), 3-6pm
- Friday, 11/18: Ogden Museum’s Taylor Library (925 Camp Street 70130)
- Shift 1: 4-7:30pm
- Shift 2: 7-10:30pm
- Saturday, 11/19: Ogden Museum’s Taylor Library (925 Camp Street 70130)
- Shift 1: 4-7:30pm
- Shift 2: 7-10:30pm
What portion of or story from the book was most relevant for Week One?
At the end of the semester, the collection of each student’s blogs will be graded for participation and content.
Compilation will be due by noon on Tuesday, May 10th (email to email@example.com).
Each student will blog about what this class means in general and to you individually.
Due by noon on Tuesday, May 10th.
5-7:30pm – Irvin Mayfield & the Jazz Playhouse Revue
7:30pm – Second-line to Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse
8pm – Irvin Mayfield & the Jazz Playhouse Revue @IMJazzPlayhouse