Men of Bronze: The Q&A
Q&A with Roosevelt University emeritus professor Christopher Reed and jazz historian Howard Mandel after our screening of Men of Bronze at the DuSable Museum of African American History on December 6, 2018.
Christopher Reed (CR): There’s several points that need to be reviewed in relation to this film. I know there was no deliberate omission, and you can’t cover everything, but we who are assembled here at the DuSable Museum have an opportunity to see another part of the story of black soldiers fighting for the cause of democracy and freedom. The exhibit here at the museum details the activities of the 370th infantry regiment. Part of the 93rd division, of which the 369th belonged as well. And I want to be very brief – a couple of things that were not mentioned that you have to take note of: you’ll remember if you’ve traveled down King Drive, formerly South Park Way, that at 35th Street and King Drive there’s a monument. In Chicago, about 1927, because of black political and civic pressure, the state erected first the base of the monument and then later the soldier, with bayonet affixed at the top. If we work backwards – and I’m gonna conclude this in about three minutes – that’s quite significant. The men that fought for the 370th were honored at that point, but they had their own armory as early as 1915. They were the first black National Guard regiment in the nation to have their own armory. And before that time every National Guard unit, white or black, had to find its own facilities. But by 1915, once again, under combined civic and political pressure, the armory at 35th and Giles was opened. And by the way, it’s called Giles Avenue after some of them died in France from the 370th, which is the old Eighth Infantry Regiment of the Illinois National Guard.
A couple of other points, very quickly: the regiment was formed as early as 1894. The Eighth Regiment Armory, which became the 370th, was a model for the New Yorkers. They were a model, it was recognized. And in Illinois, when the regiment was formed, once again because of combined civic and political pressure, all of the officers of the regiment were African American. The regiment was put into place because of the efforts of the African Americans themselves. There were no outside influences. They went to France, in fact, and they fought in the Meuse–Argonne offensive with black officers, although their commanding officer was replaced under very doubtful circumstances by a white officer. But basically the story of the Eighth Regiment, the 370th, is one of a community having its voice heard. A very interesting story. And let me – I want to let Howard Mandel get into the musical portion, but we were chatting before this and I mentioned to him that the Eighth Regiment, known as the 370th, for which the exhibit was mounted, had a band also. Now they didn’t have anybody like James Europe, but they had somebody probably his equal: Major N. Clark Smith, who formed that band way in advance of the war. And he also formed bands for other companies, such as The Chicago Defender. They had a marching band. So blacks were organized musically throughout – well, maybe the south side, in advance of the war. And they took their band with them to France, and they played for the French people, as did the 369th’s band.
So those are some of the points you need to keep in mind. When you see the exhibit you’ll also notice that there was a pioneer division, a pioneer battalion rather. These are men that did act as stevedores. They had a band. So there was more than one band playing jazz for the French people during the war. Last one I’m going to mention: the Eighth Regiment, 370th, fought in the Mexican Punitive Expedition against Pancho Villa in 1915. So they were battle-ready. They had also fought in the Spanish-American Cuban War in 1898. So there’s a great story behind the regiment we have in Chicago. They couldn’t be included in the story on the New Yorkers. They had the Hellfighters in New York, we had the Black Devils here in Chicago, who were just as able with their bayonets as were the Hellfighters. But this is background that you want to share with people. There’s quite a story here, dealing with Chicago troops. And I do have to mention this – and he’s nudging me, “Be sure to mention your grandfather.” Thank you. My grandfather and his brother, my great uncle, Charlton Slaughter and Albert Slaughter, fought for the 365th in France. And I had an enlarged photograph – which is somewhere, I don’t know, I’ve used it here before – of my grandfather and his brother [at] his brother’s discharge. So there’s quite a bit of involvement by black troops in WWI.
Michael W. Phillips Jr. (MP): What state was the 365th from?
CR: Oh, the 365th was partially from Kentucky, basically southerners. And they trained, by the way, up here, outside of Rockford. They were brought up north and they were in combat, quite a few black combat troops as well as service troops. I just wanted to clear that up, because I enjoyed this film, and there’s a companion film which was shown here on the 370th. And all men who served, whatever their backgrounds, deserve credit for a war that most people don’t know a lot about. I taught history for years, and didn’t spend much time at all, period, on WWI, as important as it was. But I want to hear something about music. (Laughter)
Howard Mandel (HM): Well, I certainly do not have the kind of background Dr. Reed has. My family was just coming over to the United States in 1909, 1911, from Alsace, where they were from, and also from Latvia. But in terms of the music, the New Yorkers of course have the advantage of self-promotion. (Laughter) But the reason we know about James Reese Europe is because he was a major star well before WWI began, and before they went in 1918 to France. The establishment of the Clef Club, which they referred to in the film, was the first, evidently, black social club, music union, employment center, and he had assembled this organization that was playing – we really can’t say it was jazz exactly, but it wasn’t not jazz. It’s the roots, it’s the sources from which jazz evolved. It’s proto-jazz, or ur-jazz, or something like that. There was not a lot of improvisation, the way we think about jazz today. There was not a lot of rhythms that had been included in the jazz tradition as it comes about now. The drumming that you saw there was marching drumming, you know, military drumming. But this was the popular music of America in the 1890s and on. The biggest selling record at that time – or recordings, and recordings were rough, but Edison had invented the recording equipment, the phonograph, and there were recordings. But John Philip Sousa, with his marches, was probably the most influential and popular act. And then there was an Irish tenor named John McCormack who was very popular, and Enrico Caruso was selling 78s. And of course in our indigenous American culture, vaudeville was really taking over, and black face minstrelsy was still very large. And that continued into the ’20s.
So we don’t have professional jazz troupes and orchestras from prior to WWI that we can point to, except for a few of these ensembles, James Reese Europe’s most notably, and also W. C. Handy’s, that were beginning to make something of African American music. And James Reese Europe was particularly strong about this being American music, and African American music. He was interested in going to African American roots, and using the folklore music that had been labeled and promoted as such, even starting in 1893 with the Chicago World’s Fair. Europe was not involved in the World’s Fair. I think he was born in 1880, 1881. But W. C. Handy had come to the World’s Fair, and was performing with ensembles. It interested me that they said in the film that they had brought out Puerto Rican musicians to enhance the musical quality in the ensemble. I’ve been doing some research recently into early Latin jazz, as they call it, and it’s very clear that Caribbean music, Afro-Cuban music and Puerto Rican music, was very sophisticated, much more sophisticated than any of the popular music that was being played in the United States around the turn of the twentieth century. So in terms of the rhythmic elements, in terms of the melodic and harmonic laboring, and the improvisational nature of it, Latin musicians, Hispanic musicians definitely had a strong influence.
One of the things that Europe said was that he did not have many reading musicians. He was a trained musician, musically literate, capable of reading notation. But most of the band members that he took over – I think there were 150 in his orchestra, and he would put a reading musician in the middle of the set section so that the other musicians could pick up that leadership and follow along, which made more consistent and coherent performances. And although we saw the bands as marching bands, these bands have large string sections as well. So they were mostly for concert purposes. It was an extravaganza. When you see 125, 150 musicians on stage, and of course amplification was not possible at that time, so they were making a joyful noise. They traveled 70,000 miles across France, playing in villages as well as for the soldiers. And they were wildly popular. They had already played Carnegie Hall in 1912, and that was the first all-black orchestra that had played in Carnegie Hall. And, again, they received exuberant reviews from the New York press. They had already recorded; they recorded again when they went to France, for Pathé, the French label, which endeared them to the French audiences. They played French material as well as American material. We were listening to a little bit of the music before the program started, but I don’t think you get the full flavor of the orchestra from those recordings. The element that’s most noticeably African American is the syncopation. Syncopated elements, that is, music that’s off the beat. So instead of “1, 2, 3, 4,” it’s “1, 2, 1 again, 2 and 3 and 4.” So the strings, to play in a syncopated way in the section ensemble together, it takes some practice, it takes some rehearsal. And James Reese Europe was a very skilled conductor, and he knew how to rehearse his untrained but very enthusiastic and evidently highly determined musicians.
The other thing that strikes me is that this is really the beginning. Now we have jazz reaching Europe. The embrace of black culture was enthusiastic, and I think that that must have raised the morale of these musicians intensely. And I think that it gave rise to this whole idea that started to be nurtured more in this country, of using jazz as a diplomatic tool. And that really came to greater prominence in the ’50s. You know, we sent Louis Armstrong, and then Dave Brubeck, and Benny Goodman to countries overseas to try to be cultural ambassadors. I think that, also, the success of these musicians and soldiers in WWI was obviously an impetus for the Civil Rights Movement. You know, continuing into WWII and finally gaining an accomplishment when Truman integrated the troops. Wouldn’t you say?
CR: Right. I might say that when the Eighth, the 370th, went to France, their commanding officer was recorded as saying, “We’re going over to fight two evils. One, dictatorship by the Kaiser in Germany, and the other racism in America.” So even before the term “the Double V” came out in WWII, you know, victory over racism at home, victory over global racism, people in Chicago were talking about the linkage between enjoying full citizenship rights, and fighting for a country that at this point didn’t recognize blacks as bona fide family men. One of the things I always emphasize, if you’re talking about the 369th, the 365th, the 370th, you’re talking about combat soldiers. And it was hard to convince whites that blacks would fight. And in the case of the National Guard units, every other National Guard unit in America other than the one in Chicago, when the war started, had white officers. The belief was if a black man would fight, and courageously, he’d have to be commanded by a white officer. That’s really weird. I can say today we have an annual parade along King Drive up by the statue, and the big promoter is a black retired officer, Colonel Eugene Scott, who was a tank commander in Europe during the Cold War. He coordinates the parade every year, so that people can learn to appreciate what black troops contributed to this country. Let me ask you a question, though, Howard Mandel. Would you advise people to go to YouTube and search out as much old music as they can?
HM: Yes. (Laughter) If you’re prepared for dealing with the sound quality. That can be a real deterrent to listening to traditional jazz. I found my way into traditional jazz late in life, studying music, when I came upon productions by an Australian sound engineer named Robert Parker, who’s doing traditional jazz on digital stereo, and he did these remixes. And I’d tried many times to listen to Jelly Roll Morton, and it always sounded really compressed, like mice running around and stuff like that. But Parker’s remixing of this just opened it up, and all of the sudden I kept hearing the weight of these instruments as real people in a space. So that gave me a lot of insight into how to listen better.
I find early jazz is just fascinating. It’s unexpected. And I see a great connection between, say, what Jelly Roll Morton was doing with the Red Hot Peppers in 1926-28, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. You hear the breaks where they’ll do something completely different, or a soloist will suddenly step out, rhythm changes of various sorts, unusual sounds that they are integrating into the melodic narrative, some speech and comic patter, all that stuff. A lot of what we took for avant-garde in the ’70s and ’80s and ’90s was already present in very early jazz. And of course there wasn’t any distinction. Even the term jazz was not used. When James Reese Europe was popular, during the time of his career, they were talking about ragtime. And they used the term ragtime for every kind of music, every type of popular song. They just titled it “rag.” It’s like if they said today hip-hop ballad, hip-hop melody.
This was just to sell the sheet music and the recordings, because not all the pieces were real rags at all. Ragtime music is music that was born in the Midwest, principally – Scott Joplin was published by a publisher in Sedalia, Missouri, and that’s where the composers of ragtime gathered and worked out of. It was not New York music, and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band from New Orleans went to New York in 1917 and had kind of the breakthrough as the first recorded jazz band. That is, if you do not include James Reese Europe and W. C. Handy, who were recording earlier. And the Original Dixieland Jazz Band was a white band, mostly Italian Americans. There were black bands that were offered to record, notably Freddie Keppard, who was a cornet player. He didn’t want to record because he thought that musicians would steal his stuff off recordings. (Laughter) And he would play with a handkerchief over the valves of his trumpet so nobody could see what his finger movements were.
Well, King Oliver, when he came up to Chicago in 1919 – that’s really why the Jazz Institute of Chicago is celebrating a hundred years of jazz in Chicago next year, and we should all be celebrating that. King Oliver was not concerned about covering up his hands and trying to play in secret. And he had a very popular and successful run, brought up Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton came back from California. He had already had success in Chicago publishing his compositions. And things kind of blew open.
We have to remember that everything was changing at that time. This was the first time Americans had gone to fight in Europe, Americans of any color. We’d had wars in the U.S. that were adventures, I’m not sure that they’re very commendable. But we had won the Spanish Civil War, for instance, we had triumphed over Pancho Villa, like we triumphed over this caravan that was coming, these kind of ridiculous victories. But when we went to Europe, we did help the good guys win that war. And then we came back and the economy was booming, and we had new technologies that young people were interested in, involved with music and film, so these were the popular arts. And zoom, the Roaring Twenties took off. Of course there was the little problem of prohibition, but a lot of people found a way to work around that, and so on.
MP: Can we open it up to questions?
HM: Oh yeah.
MP: And I’d like to ask the first one.
HM: Go ahead.
MP: Did any of these musicians stay in Europe or go back and play?
CR: Some went back, yeah. I can’t name names, but they did go back and build on what had been introduced.
HM: People definitely built on what had been introduced. I don’t know that these specific musicians –
CR: Maybe from Harlem. But black musicians did go over after the war, and I’m assuming some probably had been soldiers. Probably not a flood, but –
HM: The best known band that went was Sam Wooding. He had an orchestra, an eleven piece band. And they got all the way to Saint Petersburg, and they spent about two years touring Europe. Now Josephine Baker, also very famous for having gone to Paris, and becoming the belle of the ball in Paris. Was she a jazz artist? She’s an African American bluesy, cabaret, vaudeville singing – we’re not gonna parse those genres very much now, I don’t think that makes much sense. But yes, it definitely opened up.
And Europe was already on the verge of having a music that was like jazz. A lot of musicians at the upper levels of entertainment in Europe were beginning to deal more and more with folk melodies and rhythms, and bring these things in. Also, a lot of the musicians in those orchestras were very marginalized people. They were not the conservatory trained musicians who were playing Haydn and Bach and the late romantics. They were playing swing music. The musicians from Europe were already hearing American recordings, and getting American sheet music, and they wanted to play like Americans. They loved it. They loved jazz, as they have continued to. It made sense to them, and they danced to it, and they loved it. They embraced it. But they were ready for it, they were prepared for something. And the principles and the strategies that are endemic in jazz: call and response, the rhythmic element, the momentum, all those things that come from black culture, that’s what the Europeans needed in order to really galvanize what they were doing locally, too, in my reading.
CR: Well somebody out there is probably thinking – you said that’s what they needed. And I used to be a very poor musician, so I can’t speak the way we’ve been talking about this, in terms of melody and harmony and syncopation. I just used to listen in the ’50s. But I think an audience seeing this would want this question: Doesn’t it take the experience of the African American to make what becomes jazz? I mean, you had people here at the World’s Fair like, I can’t think of the man’s name, but he sat at the African village and he recorded drum beats. There’s a book on it. And then Dvořák was influenced by the fair, and by black music. And it’s something – I don’t want to use the word inherent, but – I guess if Mahalia Jackson were here, talking about gospel – she said it has to come from the soul, it comes from the experience. And a young person would say it has to come from that black experience of frustrations, tensions, the desire for freedom that leads you into improvisation. I guess if Dizzy Gillespie were here – I remember him saying this, because I got a chance to meet him. He had written in the Fortnightly [DownBeat] Magazine that people that were trying to blow jazz by the ’60s, ’70s, would try to chart out what was written. And there’s a reason you want to hide your fingers, by the way, because Supersax did what with Charlie Parker’s music? They charted it out, right? And you have, what, six, seven, eight, nine, ten alto saxophonists playing in unison? Supersax, anybody? It is not Charlie Parker. So what Diz had said was, “When the note blowing cats try to play like I do, or others of the group, and they chart it out, they hear notes that don’t exist, and they miss notes that did exist.” (Laughter)
HM: I don’t want to get into the – this is one of the oldest difficult challenges in musicology, to figure out this essential nature of what music is. And I’ve got to say that from what I’ve read, the glories of traditional music go back to West Africa. There are written reports of explorers in the 1700’s talking about processions in Senegal and Mali that just sound like fantastic parades of great music. But on the other hand, there was considerable oppression throughout Eastern Europe. The Gypsies also were treated with disdain and ignobly, so you have gypsy jazz rise up through Django Reinhardt. There was certainly copying done that was trivializing, I’d say, or not getting to the root of things. But it still was introducing a lot of the ideas, if they didn’t have the soul to really put it over. If you read the history, for instance, of jazz in Russia, you see how the Jews and the Gypsies and people who were not Cossacks, who were the victims of Cossacks, were coming up with music that was similarly soulful. In my heritage, the Jewish heritage, they talk about the soulfulness of the Kol Nidre vocalizing. It also has a connection to religious music, but it’s not the same as the religious music of American blacks, and I think that the gospel music does feed into what is specific about American jazz.
CR: We had a speaker here at the DuSable about three weeks ago who was talking about jazz, and he said, “Keep in mind, before there was a label on this particular type, or these types of music, there was jazz.” And he said jazz was more than a cornet, more than a drum or a drumbeat. It was a foot pattern, it was hambone, it was moaning, it was motion, and it was stillness. And spirit comes into it. I mean oppression is worldwide, people are still being oppressed. And what they do is they produce music related to it. But there’s something about, say, the jazz of – for some reason, I’m thinking about Donald Byrd and Gigi Gryce’s “Speculation” (sings notes). I don’t think a lot of people can do that. If you listen to, who was that? Used to be J. J Johnson and –
HM: Kai Winding.
CR: Kai Winding, yeah, on trombone. Black and white. And then of course you’ve got, who was that, the big sax, the baritone sax, who was that? The white –
HM: Serge Chalof?
CR: And who else? I mean you know the names of – I’m saying there are whites that can play jazz.
HM: You know Parker. Well I mean –
CR: They can play jazz, but the jazz comes out of the African villages, towns, forests, into the south, and it’s –
HM: Let me make a distinction. Again, African music, African American music has a long, long history, and far predates what we call jazz or anything like it. But I would not call all African American music jazz, and today I don’t think all of it is really jazz, either, although I think most of it is informed by jazz. It must be influenced by jazz. I used to teach at NYU, and I would say, “Any music in America after 1920 is touched by jazz. You cannot avoid it. If you’re trying to avoid it, already it has influenced you.” You know, you’re trying not to do that, but you’re gonna do it. But the thing to me that characterizes jazz is the desire to go further, to invent. And as folk music, we sometimes think of the blues – like they used to say, “The blues is about playing correctly, the way your grandfather did. But jazz is about playing what your grandson is gonna pick up.” And I think that there’s something to that. It’s the inventiveness. Now, remember, people don’t make music better because they’ve been flogged, you know? They may feel things intensely, and I think that that’s what this movie shows. It was intense to go over into WWI. Those soldiers were pumped up. They were on the front lines getting bombarded. Their emotions must have been raw. I think that plays into the music and makes it more powerful, no matter what your experience of that is.
Audience Member #1: Dr. Reed? In the film, they identify something that I wasn’t quite aware of, of the conflict in the United States of black soldiers with each other, with white soldiers. I knew about the situation after the war when they came back. Was that common?
CR: Very common, very common. When the Eighth Regiment – remember one of the headlines said, “Trouble was expected, like there had been trouble in Houston.” Down in Houston, Texas, a regular army unit got into it with white town folks. You know, one of the things that disturbed whites then, and even today, is an armed Negro. That’s why that fella got killed in Alabama. And that’s why undercover black policemen in New York get killed by white policeman in New York. The undercover guys pull out their guns, they have their stars out, it doesn’t make any difference. A Negro with a gun is a fugitive slave, okay? But anyway, when the Eighth went down to Houston, according to the accounts of the chaplain who went down with them, there was trouble all the way down from Chicago to Houston, and it wasn’t played up. Now when the troops got to Houston to train before they were sent overseas, they were told, “Do not disgrace the unit.” And there were no incidents in Houston. So when the Eighth marched out of Houston, I guess heading down to the gulf to ship up to the Hamptons, Virginia, then over to France. When they left Houston, the whites would cheer them, along with the blacks. There had been no incidents. But the incident that was mentioned here had blacks killing whites, and then scores of blacks were hanged and others were given life sentences for mutiny. That was a regular army unit, but no trouble with the Eighth. But in WWII, many incidents of black troops being misused and – that was just common in America, unfortunately. It’s common. A black man with a gun, or a black woman with a gun, is a threat. A black woman with pancakes, like Aunt Jemima in the 1893 World’s Fair, is someone to be embraced. Think about it. [laughter] But that is quite true, and that’s why I use the undercover policeman in New York. It has been more than one or two cases over the years. They’re always mistaken for bad guys.
HM: Other questions?
Audience Member #2: I have one. I was surprised to hear them talk about Kentucky, soldiers from Kentucky.
CR: That was my grandfather and his brother. So they – what do you call it? They forced – conscription. They had a Conscription Act, meaning they drafted – that’s the word – they drafted soldiers from all over, white and black. So the fellas from Kentucky, from around Lexington where my great-grandfather and his brother lived, were trained up at Camp Grant outside of Rockford, IL. But a lot of southerners came up to the north to train, and as we saw here, those fellas went south, then they went back to New York to train. But they were gonna have trouble with the southern whites who had come up from Alabama to train in New York. But [under] conscription everybody was subject to be called up.
HM: There had been draft riots in New York around the Civil War.
CR: Civil War, yeah.
MP: And Detroit.
CR: That’s when the country first had conscription. You see, this is the contradiction to the American way of life, that you force a man to fight for the country. It used to be in America, the call would go out for volunteers to defend the nation. That happened in the Revolutionary War. So militia companies rose up to defend the nation, to defend the republic. Same in the War of 1812. But here in the Civil War there were such manpower shortages that both the South and the North resorted to forcing men to fight. And then both sections –
MP: Forcing poor men to fight.
CR: Excuse me?
MP: Forcing poor men to fight. If you had the money, you could buy your way out.
CR: Yeah, okay. Anybody with money – so anyway –
Audience Member #3: Is that different today? (Laughter)
CR: Right now the poor guys – white, black, Latino – are institutionally forced into choosing a military life to make ends meet. But that’s the thing here. So conscription goes against the American grain, forcing someone to fight for the country. You’re supposed to do it on a volunteer basis. Like George Bush did, you know, age seventeen, whatever he was.
HM: The other thing I want to say about that is that some of the Chicago musicians specifically, the AACM [Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians] musicians, were in the army during the ’60s, during Vietnam, but got into the army bands. And a generation of very exciting musicians came out of those army bands having had that training.
CR: I wanted to mention also, there was a black union of musicians here, 208, going back before the black union in New York. So it looks like Chicago leads the way. And I’m not talking about imagining this tension between New York and Chicago, first city, second city. This is real, with the second city being cheated out of a lot of the credit. (Laughter) The Harlem Globetrotters start where? And the first black to exhibit paintings in New York is from Chicago, not Harlem. That’s Archibald Motley.
HM: It’s all the Chicago Tribune‘s fault. If the Tribune was less biased, I think we would have been able to –
CR: Well they had more printing presses in New York.
HM: Chicago is the big one.
Audience Member #4: Thank you, gentlemen, thank you. Dr. Reed, you said that before WWII there was talk in the community about fighting two evils, fascism and –
CR: Yeah. In WWI they were talking about it.
Audience Member #4: Right. And I think at that time – we’ll talk about WWII, too, but before that you said they were talking about it. And this is before the Civil Rights Movement came to a head. And you said that people were talking about fighting two evils: racism at home and fascism abroad. They won the war to stop Germany, Nazis taking over Europe. Do you feel from your experience, up until now, and your experience back then, and the energy now – do you feel we’ve won the war on racism here?
CR: Of course not. That’s why the young people with their Black Lives Matter movement is so important, which is a continuation of the black kids in the ’60s. The sit-ins. And before that young people were, you know – the pressure started I think, and this is something I have over four decades in studying this question in history, objectively – I would say that the resistance began after the first village went up in flames. And that’s probably Africans attacking Africans, with people being led down, maybe 100 miles, 200 miles, 500 miles, down to the coast to be put on ships. Remember now, and this is technical, slaves weren’t captured and led onto the slave ships. Free people were. So if you’re used to a situation where you’re free, you know, think Kunta Kinte, then you want to always return to that status you had. The natural status of the African is to be free. The unnatural status was to be enslaved, whether by Africans, Arabs, or Europeans.
HM: What do you think about the French response to African Americans, since Haiti had been a French colony, and is the only colony that was able to have a slave revolt?
CR: That’s a great question.
HM: Were they more open, do you think?
CR: I would say this. The French people welcomed the black troops, but the French elite that benefited from exploiting the Haitians, and sugar production, would have always wanted to take revenge on Haiti. They’re still taking revenge on Haiti. (Audience murmurs in agreement) I just read this week that the African nations are paying four hundred billion euros a year, all the old French colonies, to France. They still owe money. I think the Haitians still owe money to France. (Audience murmurs in agreement) But the French people – you always hear the left talking about this, it’s the government versus the people. Nobody dislikes the people of a nation, it’s their government. Yeah, I think the French people are different. Remember, they had accepted the Dumas, father and son, Count of Monte Cristo, Man in the Iron Mask. Then the Russians, and the Germans, the Swedes; there was acceptance of Africans individually.
MP: Margaret Burroughs, the founder of the DuSable, went on a mission to the Soviet Union.
CR: That was quite common after WWI, for blacks to go to the Soviet Union to live. Margaret Burroughs’ husband –
CR: No, Charles. Second husband, I’m sorry. Charles Burroughs. He lived in Russia, so when one of my colleagues who taught Russian history at Roosevelt wanted to go over, he wanted to polish up his Russian to gain greater fluency, he went to the Burroughs’ mansion to talk to Charles Burroughs. Make sure his Russian was acceptable so people could understand what [he was] saying.
Audience Member #5: So we heard music from the African American troops. What would the French music have been at the time? Did they have any of that in that film? Did you hear anything?
HM: No, I didn’t hear anything that sounded like French music in there.
MP: They played the “Marseillaise” once. But they did it with a swing.
CR: But they would have to have had some kind of popular music.
HM: Well, like chanson, cafe songs, cabaret kind of, early Édith Piaf, that kind of stuff.
Audience Member #5: Can we put you on the spot a little bit?
HM: Well, I don’t pretend to be an expert in French music.
Audience Member #5: No I mean, will you sing it?
HM: Will I sing it? No, I can’t sing. (Laughter) You don’t want to hear me sing. La vie en rose (sings notes), you know, these sort of ballads. But they would be playing with small combos. So it would be a guitar, a bass, and a violin, often, or a viola. And again, that’s sort of the gypsy jazz thing. If you want to go to YouTube to see some early jazz, definitely check out Django Reinhardt for a taste of that. Although Django Reinhardt was an unusual person. There were not a lot of guitar players like him. But there are some clips. And that’s in the ’30s. They didn’t get started right away, either. But as soon as jazz was heard in Europe, people were buying it. They could not get the records fast enough. And that was across the entire continent. They couldn’t get the sheet music quick enough, and they definitely were imitating American jazz. They tended not to imitate the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, which you can find that stuff very easily on YouTube too. “Livery Stable Blues,” or “Tiger Rag,” the first couple songs are very noisy, rough, cacophonous. They’re not as well organized as the W. C. Handy stuff we were hearing here, or the James Reese Europe, which were much larger and more ambitious. I’m trying to think if there was – you’ve probably heard French can-can, Offenbach (sings notes). There were theatrical versions of that kind of music that was popular. But the swing rhythms really caught on very quickly.
Audience Member #5: So it was a different sound that they were bringing.
HM: It was a different sound. Oh, for sure. And the expressionism. This is something that European instrumentalists did not use. There was no drumming tradition in Europe. Think about that. The only folk music in Europe that has drums in it is Irish music, and they use a round drum with a bone that they flip like that. There was very little drumming, and whatever there was was coming up from West Africa or North Africa. The saxophone had only been invented in 1860, and popularized gradually there. The European sound on saxophones, like classical saxophone music, is this very smooth, kind of glissandi sound. It has very little to do with the way saxophones were used in the U.S. And what Louis Armstrong did on trumpet was unheard of. All the vocal effects, the wah-wah that he would do with the plunger, his phrasing, the conversational element of it, the drive, the momentum, going for the high note as being a victory. And then you were thinking this all on your own in the present. They weren’t there yet. Concert music was the big thing, late romanticism, Beethoven [and] Mozart being the influences. Liszt, Chopin, that kind of piano playing is very rhapsodic. And Liszt and Chopin, well Liszt anyway, did some improvising. And Louis Gottschalk – African American, Haitian, from New Orleans, who went to study in France in 1845 – he was quite influential too, to begin to introduce African American configurations then. It was admired, but it was thought to be exotic, and it wasn’t quite imbuing the native music yet.
CR: I want to thank you for inviting us out. It was quite enjoyable.
MP: Thank you to our wonderful panel. (Applause)