07 May 2013

Money, Race and Jazz - Okeh?

The history of the - I would say foundational - African American contributions to American musical culture are fraught with politics, economics and race. I have written here several times about how the organizers of the local RIJF have more or less totally failed to navigate that troubled intersection. More on that topic before long. At the moment I want to call attention to the fracas brewing around the efforts of SONY to resuscitate the Okeh Record label. Here is critic Nate Chien at The New York Times, trumpeter Nicholas Peyton at his own blog, and two offerings from critic John Murph at The Atlantic. Given the history of the label - which recorded an impressive list of Black artists back to at least Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five in the 1920s - the SONY execs seem to have blown their re-launch completely. All of their newly released recordings are by white musicians.  In the face of criticism their reaction is defensive and dismissive (of Peyton especially). The bottom line, it seems to me, is that SONY wants to make money. Like the producers of the RIJF their execs see the big market in white audiences. And they have pitched their initial offerings to that audience. Perhaps they will in fact remedy that over time. I am doubtful.

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