Where the Dark and Light Folks Meet: Race and the Mythology, Politics, and Business of Jazz

By Provost, Sarah Caissie | Notes, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Where the Dark and Light Folks Meet: Race and the Mythology, Politics, and Business of Jazz


Provost, Sarah Caissie, Notes


Where the Dark and Light Folks Meet: Race and the Mythology, Politics, and Business of Jazz. By Randall Sandke. (Studies in Jazz, no. 60.) Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2010. [x, 277 p. ISBN 9780810866522. $40.] Bibliography, index.

Writing a book about race in jazz is like painting a picture with colors: it's expected. So in some ways, Randall Sandke's Where the Dark and Light Folks Meet is just another book on race in jazz. In other ways, it's an unusual offering. Sandke is a jazz trumpeter and composer who has written one previous book, a theoretical text espousing his own compositional style (Harmony for a New Millenium: An Introduction to Metatonal Music [New York: Second Floor Music, 2002]). Where the Dark and Light Folks Meet is a completely different type of book. In it, Sandke outlines the difference between what he considers the rightful version of jazz history ("inclusionary," or history that acknowledges a large degree of cooperation among blacks and whites) and the flawed version that he claims professors teach at colleges throughout the United States ("exclusionary," or history that prioritizes blacks' contributions and emphasizes their exploitation). He lays bare his aims in the first chapter, enticingly titled "Is Jazz About Music Anymore?" This initial chapter is where one can find many of Sandke's splashier statements, obviously intended to stir controversy where there is no lack of controversy to begin with. This is where we learn that he intends to challenge some of the most long-treasured jazz ideas, including its connection with traditional African music, its status as an emblem of African American ideals, and the detrimental effects of Jim Crow laws on jazz musicians.

Chapters 2 ("The Activist Jazz Writers"), 3 ("Good Intentions and Bad History") and 4 ("What Gets Left Out") are an examination of the "exclusionary," or racially segregated version of jazz history. These three chapters present the most coherent of Sandke's narratives, and along with his next three chapters, which are about racial radicalism ("The Road to Radicalism"), revival music ("Radical Ideas and Retro Music"), and interracial cooperation ("The Biggest Myth of All"), they provide the bulk of his work. His next three chapters are about jazz and business ("It's Strictly Business," "Copyrights: Accounting With - out Accountability," and "Show Me the Money"), and his final two ("Is Everything About Race?" and "Tomorrow Is the Question") are summaries of themes throughout the book. The final five chapters are each much shorter than the first seven; as a result, they feel like an afterthought, and the narrative is less cohesive than in the earlier ones.

Sandke's agenda emerges in many places in this work. In his previous book, he extolled the virtues of metatonality, his own theory on jazz composition. His disappointment about the lack of impact of his concept of metatonality is clear in the new book when he writes that "to date, not one article has been written about metatonal music, even though I have recorded several examples since 1985 and written a book on the subject" (p. 10). In the passage and others, he plainly wants jazz musicians and scholars to prioritize innovation over nostalgia, insinuating detrimental effects of revivalist Wynton Marsalis and his followers in the first chapter and implicating them outright in chapter 5, in which he wonders how jazz went "from a dynamically evolving art form to a music in which the importance of blazing new trails was widely and openly discounted" (p. 107). In chapter 3, "Good Intentions and Bad History," he invokes jazz's links with modernism as the reason why it should be progressive, but he strangely questions why audiences do not flock to see modern jazz performers, missing one of the key effects of modernism: alienation of the audience. …

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