Issue 86, Winter 1982
By the late 1940s I knew the blacks had something I was in dire need of, and I was young and intrepid and naive enough to no looking for it.
From 52nd to 140th Street the winds of change were blowing strong. The convulsions of black-rebellion music exploding out of the theaters and cafes of Harlem bad startled white musicians, turned us around; the music was angry, blazing, ferocious—yet always under a tight edge of control. “It's a rogue boat beading for the New World,” a black Boston drummer told me, “and Bird and Diz are the navigators.”
I'd become aware of a widening chasm separating the levels of rhythmic propulsion achieved by white and black musicians, the former's playing was more even-keeled, linear, lacking the sudden dips and spurts, the coiled-spring tension-and-release and unexpected displacement of meter that sent the beat slamming and teetering down the tracks like a highballing express, generating incredible excitement, I was convinced there was something basic and vital that came easily to them and hard to us, I'd noticed, too, that at integrated jam sessions blacks and whites tended to call different tunes. When I'd suggested “Have You Met Miss Jones?” at an after-hours club a black bad scoffed goodnaturedly, “That's one of your whiteboy tunes,” A similar judgment was passed on Gershwin's “A Foggy Day,” Blacks leaned toward tunes with relaxed, more fluid structures—“Willow Weep For Me,” “Georgia on My Mind”—written as often by white as black composers.