Minus was one of the most Influential and groundbreaking Jazz musicians and composers of the sass and sass. The virtuoso bassist gained fame in the sass and sass working with such jazz greats as Louis Armstrong, Duke Longtime, Charlie Parker, Art Datum, and many others. His compositions pushed harmonic barriers, combining Western-European classical styles with African-American roots music.
While examining his career Is valuable from musical standpoint, his career also provides a powerful view of the attitudes of African-American jazz musicians (and Black America as a whole) towards the racial inequalities in America during that mime. In addition to being a successful musician, Minus was a very outspoken social commentator. Through his music, Minus expressed the frustrations of African- Americans and supported Black Nationalism. Racial prejudice began to affect Minus at a very young age. Minus grew up in the racially diverse Watts area of Los Angels.
HIS father was half-black, half white and his birth mother was half-black and half-Chinese. Minus had very light colored skin, which made him a target for prejudice from the darker African-Americans, the Latino, and the whites. Los Angels during the sass and sass experienced a sort f segregation that was not too unlike the situation in the Deep South. Mining’s father denounced his own Black Identity and attempted to run his family In a “respectable” manner that conformed to white standards. One of the ways his father attempted to keep his family “respectable” was to require that his children study classical music.
Minus played trombone briefly and then moved on to the cello. The young Minus proved to be very talented and eventually Joined the Los Angels Jar. Philharmonic. He aspired to play for the Los Angels Philharmonic and to become a classical composer. Unfortunately, the music Industry was not Immune to the racial inequalities of the sass. It was nearly impossible for an African-American to land a spot in a major symphony orchestra or to find studio work during this time. Noticing his extreme talent, an experienced African-American musician told Mining’s father: “Why don’t you get him a bass?
Because at least a black man can get employment with a bass, because he can play our music (Cantors, 200). ” The man was referring to jazz and blues. While black jazz musicians had to conform to white standards to become financially successful, Jazz as still something that belonged to African-American culture. Minus picked up the bass and began studying jazz and continued to study classical music. The sass marked the start of his professional career as a Jazz bassist. He got his first big playing with the Barney Bigger Big Band in 1942. Minus was just 20 years old.
Soon Minus was touring with Louis Armstrong and playing with Lionel Hampton. Even though he had turned Tacoma to avoid segregation, it was still affecting his career. Segregated musician’s unions In California reserved the better paying nightclub gigs for white musicians. This decade also marked the beginning of Mining’s political activism. Minus was a member of the desegregated branch of the Los Angels segregated and denied membership to non-whites. Minus fought to integrate this branch during the sass. The two branches merged into a single, non-segregated branch in 1953 due to his efforts.
In 1952, Minus started an independent record label called “Debut” with drummer Max Roach. The idea behind the label was to have greater control over their own artistic production and to free themselves from the white controlled industry. By the sass, mainstream media dominated American ultra. This media preached white, suburban values and minorities were expected to conform to them. Starting his own record label and recording studio was a sort of declaration of independence for Minus. Debut allowed Minus to fully express himself.
He saw Jazz as not merely popular dance music, but as a legitimate art-form in the same vein as classical music. He begins to interweave the two genres. His music featured written out structures, composed solos, and counterpoint mixed with jazz melodies and rhythms. He was criticized for tainting African-American Jazz with white classical music. However, his philosophy was that “music is one”2 and it need not be labeled or have racial connotations. One of his first releases on Debut was a song entitled “Eclipse. ” This was a social-commentary piece, inspired by Billie Holidays “Strange Fruit. The lyrics describe the troubles an inter-racial couple experience: Eclipse, when the moon meets the sun, Eclipse, these bodies become as one. People go around, Eyes look up and frown, For it’s a sight they seldom see. Some look through smoked glasses Hiding their eyes, Other think it’s tragic, Sneering as dark meets light. But the sun doesn’t care And the moon has no fear For destiny making her choice. Eclipse, the moon has met the sun. Eclipse, these bodies have become one. (Minus, 1992) Mining’s piece differs from Holidays, however. “Strange Fruit” deals with segregation and Jim Crow laws. Eclipse” speaks more about white, suburban conformity and how the couple is looked down upon merely because they’re breaking the norm. The way this piece blends classical and Jazz elements is a metaphor for the couple in the lyrics. It is also an effort by Minus to eliminate racial inequality in music and in society in general. The arrest of Rosa Parks on December 1st, 1955 was one of the most critical moments in the Civil Rights Movement. It might not be such a coincidence that Minus releases his most socially relevant album only 2 months later. Deader. The title track on this album is meant to be a commentary on race relations in the US during that time. It is also the beginning of Mining’s shift towards Black- Nationalism. Let is a metaphor for the African-American struggle for equality. The structure of the tune was very experimental for the time. The piece alternates from structured material and chaotic improvisation. The tune is broken into 3 sections; A, B, and C. The A section features composed melodies, played in unison, and it follows classical European harmonistic.
The B section breaks from this structured idea and goes into a collective improvisation and brings out blues inspired inflections. The C section goes into complete chaos with wild, atonal improve meant to mimic human screams and animal calls. The A section is meant to represent a tyrant oppressor and his attempts to suppress his enslaved subjects. The B section represents the empowerment of the enslaved and their attempts at freedom. The chaos of the C section is meant to imply the destruction of the oppressor by the no free slaves.
The premise behind this tune goes in line with the political consciousness of the Jazz community and their contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. Jazz musicians used their music as a form of non-violent protest that adhered to the ideals of the Civil Rights Movement. Minus felt it was his duty as a Jazz musician to speak out against injustice through his music and speech. Minus Ah Jim (1959) marks the point when Minus drops all white, classical influence from his music. This album draws all its inspiration from the very roots of African-American music.
Minus brings out Negro spirituals, gospel music, and work songs on this album. His goal for this album was to give Jazz back to African-Americans. He wanted to strip it of all white influences and make it a purely black art form. He had become so disheartened with the racial situation in America that he had to abandon his previous philosophy of “music is one. ” This album features Mining’s most politically charged tune. “Fables of Faustus” comments on Arkans