LeRoi Jones, Larry Neal, and the Cricket: Jazz and Poets' Black Fire

By Funkhouser, Christopher | African American Review, Summer-Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

LeRoi Jones, Larry Neal, and the Cricket: Jazz and Poets' Black Fire


Funkhouser, Christopher, African American Review


Two quotes drawn from pages of The Cricket, mimeographed music magazine edited by LeRoi Jones, Larry Neal, and A. B. Spellman in 1968 and 1969, most aptly reflect the intent of the magazine's vision of inter-arts solidarity, aspiration, and attitude. James Stewart's essay "Revolutionary Black Music in the Total Context of Black Distension" proclaims, "Black art is movement, being and becoming. Black art is fluid. Black creation is flux. Speech, poetry, dance and music" (Cricket 3: 14). And considering a new album by Albert Ayler in the final issue of the publication, Larry Neal writes:

   Music can be one of the strongest cohesives towards consolidating
   a Black Nation. The music will not survive locked into bullshit
   categories. James Brown needs to know Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, Cecil
   Taylor, and Pharoah Sanders.... Implied here is the principle of
   artistic and national unity; a unity among musicians, our heaviest
   philosophers, would symbolize and effect a unity in larger
   cultural and political terms. Further, there should be more
   attempts to link the music to other areas of the Black Arts
   movement.

   LIKE: REVOLUTIONARY CHOREOGRAPHERS LIKE ELMO POMARE,
      JOHN PARKS, JUDI DEARING, TALLY BEATY SHOULD BE
      CHECKING OUT CECIL TAYLOR'S MUSIC WHICH IS HEAVILY
      POSITED ON DANCE CONCEPTS.

      HOW DOES POETRY AND MUSIC OPERATE IN THE CONTEXT
      OF POLITICAL AND RELIGIOUS GATHERINGS.

      PHAROAH NEEDS A TEMPLE.
      SUN RA IS A BEAUTIFUL BLACK INSTITUTION.

      POETS SHOULD WRITE SONGS. (Cricket 4: 38-39)

While these two transmissions most fittingly reflect the mission of The Cricket, nearly everything that appeared in the magazine functioned to promote music as a cultural nucleus. Though only four issues were produced, The Cricket--subtitled Black Music in Evolution--vitally represented and upheld accelerated standards for progressive art by insisting on a flow between various creative forms after bebop became mainstream.

Alternative forms of Black protest music emerging subsequent to bebop significantly influenced writers contemporaneously engaged in the process of provoking cultural evolution and revolution. With the extended improvisations of jazz, the unfettered conceptual organization and whole experience of new veins of the music became a tribal chorus that initiated a breakthrough point for artists working in other forms of expression. In the 1960s, progressive interpretations of this music helped to tear away restraint away from a group of writers who assertively formed their own events, publications (printed, audio, and filmic), and institutions to provide an outlet for honest, insightful dialog and expression amongst their African American peers and communities. Bandleader/composer/pianist Sun Ra's poem "Music the Neglected Plane of Wisdom" resounds the intensity that music was felt to embody:

   Music is existence, the key to universal
   Language

   Because it is the universal language ...
   .....

   Freedom of Speech is Freedom of
   Music.
   Music is not material. Music is spiritual.
   Music is a living soul force. (Cricket 3: 20)

LeRoi Jones and Larry Neal were forward-looking writers who by 1968 had already co-edited Black Fire: An Anthology of African American Writing. The pair identified directly with musicians, shared beliefs and concerns with them. Jones and Neal sought to share resources, space, and the page with peers they viewed as "the priests of pure wisdom, in essence the voice of a people" (Cricket 1: a). Closely aligned with radical jazz music and musicians, they knew the political and cultural significance of Black music as a rejection of an oppressive European colonialist mind set. Jones's books Blues People (1961) and Black Music (1967), and various essays by Neal in The Cricket and elsewhere, demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the subject. Stylistically, their words in all forms embody mighty verbal jazz, an excursion in tune with the immediate world. …

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