Monday, March 17, 2014

the last book I ever read (Stanley Crouch's Kansas City Lightning, excerpt ten)

from Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch:

So Charlie Parker was an heir to all of that, as were all American Negroes.

For the serious jazz musicians of the early 1930s, whose ranks he would soon join as a professional, the dictates of minstrel behavior rarely extended to burnt cork. But they did include a demeaning version of stage behavior in which the Negro entertainer, or performing artist, was expected to reassure his audience that he and his fellow black men were far from the sharpest knives in the drawer. Singing, dancing, and acting the fool were what the Lord intended. That’s why darkies were born: to bring pleasure to far better folks, and to enjoy doing just that. Charlie had yet to struggle with that long, long cotton sack. But it was right there waiting on him.

The regime of segregation would last about ninety years from its point of inception in 1877. Its intent was to put the recently freed Negro back in his place, to stop him from being publicly elected, and to get the colored people back as close to where they were before the Civil War as white power could push them. And yet, as he fixed his gaze upon the adult world, Charlie Parker was preparing to join a league of dignified musicians like Duke Ellington, of athletes like Jack Johnson and Joe Louis, of generations of lay persons who were buffeted about until they got their bearings and found as many ways to be unsentimentally happy as they could. It was a league of Negro Americans who assumed a triumphant sense of life in the face of the shortcomings that came to one or to the group or to everyone, regardless of color. These men and women shared a vision of life in which vitality was powerful, in which everyone understood that it was better to learn how to make delicious lemonade—somehow, loudly or quietly—than to cry perpetually over sour lemons. This tradition was waiting for Charlie, too, just like that cotton sack.

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