Jazz, Opera Suffer Loss of Two Greats
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
And we close as we do every Friday with a Snapshot. Today's comes from Betty Baye, a columnist for the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky.
It's been a tough summer for the music world. Yesterday, we bade farewell to opera great Luciano Pavarotti and last month we lost Max Roach, the man who revolutionized not just jazz drumming but jazz itself. While Betty mourned his passing, she couldn't help but feel thankful.
Ms. BETTY BAYE (Columnist, The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky): Around 1969, I was on a committee of ambitious young community activists. We were trying to raise money and awareness about what was happening to black folks down in Cairo, Illinois.
Now, Cairo was a mean little town. But aside from the cross burnings, violent white supremacies and cops who beat black heads, Cairo story didn't generate national headlines.
So it was a big deal when Max Roach - one of the greatest musicians of all time - lent his name to our Cairo campaign. And there was Max Roach in person, welcoming me and the rest of the committee into his apartment on Central Park West. Me, the kid who play the bass drum in elementary school, the girl who bought home the drum set for the summer in junior high school, but I stunk on the drums.
Anyhow, Max's passing reminds me that I'm blessed not just to have met him, but for another reason, because my political, cultural and musical consciousness developed at a most wonderful time. The British invasion hadn't started yet, nor had corporate America scorched musical innovation by giving our best musical minds two options - either squeeze yourself into some marketal niche-like easy listening or go cut a record for a label that won't market you and can bail you forward to get you into the stores.
I came of age when radio stations for free actually programmed for diverse musical taste, when record shops were independently owned and would advertise their latest sounds through loud speakers set right out on the sidewalk.
If you wanted to pick up a copy of Max Roach's classic "We Insist: Freedom Now Suite," you wouldn't have to explain to the salesclerk how to spell his name then wait a week because the record's out of stock. The same goes for John Lucien, another great voice of jazz who died recently. Sadly, when I publicly lamented Lucien's passing, I didn't just get empty shells. I got empty stares. But all is not lost.
One of my great joys in life was turning my sweet African goddaughter Zandalay(ph) on to the late great Dinah Washington. I came home from work and there was Zandalay with her beautiful chocolate self stretched out on my sofa, reading a book and listening to "This Bitter Earth." My heart swelled. Young people today are no different than generation's past. They'll know good music when they hear it. They just don't hear much of it anymore.
So if you think too many young people's musical horizons are about as narrow as an iPod, then in the name of Max Roach or John Lucien or Dinah Washington, do something about it. Don't get preachy or be overbearing. Just play your music for them. And when you see in their eyes what might be a teachable moment, seize it. Tell them why you think the artists are so great. And more importantly, why death can finally take Max Roach but it can never take his music.
CHIDEYA: Betty Baye is a columnist with the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky, and she spoke with us from member station WFPL.
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