Jazz runs deep

The lovely Lady Day wearing her trademark gardenias.

The lovely Lady Day wearing her trademark gardenias.

Jazz music is widely celebrated as one of the only completely American art forms. Of course, African-American-studies scholars have debated whether it’s fair to call jazz—developed almost entirely by African-Americans—an “American” art, considering African-Americans were segregated from mainstream America during most of its evolution. In fact, jazz has its roots in ragtime and blues, both of which descended from field songs and spirituals slaves sang while working.

Jazz artists lived the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle before rock even existed. New York City was the center of the scene in jazz’s heyday. That metropolis was the birthing ground for the freshest compositions by musicians like Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie. Jazz had its tragic, self-destructive icons, like Charlie Parker, dead at 35, and Billie Holiday, dead at 44—both of drug-related complications. Like folk and rock in the 1960s, jazz was the music of new thought in the 1940s and 1950s, when intellectuals would gather at racially integrated nightclubs to discuss politics and civil rights while Holiday sang “Strange Fruit.”

The history of jazz runs parallel with the history of America itself. It’s an expression of the human spirit rising above societal oppression to create something of beauty and meaning. The history of jazz is black history.

Celebrate both with a live jazz concert titled African American Masters of Music, a Black History Month program sponsored by the Sacramento Area Black Caucus. Compositions by all the musicians mentioned above, plus “father of the blues” W.C. Handy and ragtime great Eubie Blake, are on the bill. The free concert begins at 6 p.m. on Friday, February 27, at the Fruitridge Community Center, located at 4000 Fruitridge Road. Call (916) 452-5094 for info.