An open letter to Gilad Atzmon

Submitted by cathy n on 12 January, 2007 - 2:15

Gilad Atzmon, the jazz musician who is prone to anti-semitic conspiracy theory rants played — not for the first time — for the Socialist Workers’ Party in December. The group’s invitation to Atzmon prompted a few words of protest by SWP apologist and children’s author Michael Rosen, writing as Isokotsky in the letters of page of Socialist Worker (7 January). Jazz fan Jim Denham has written this open letter to Atzmon.

Gilad, why is that you make me so angry? Maybe it’s because I love jazz. I love jazz in all its forms, including post-bop, which I don’t really understand. But even when I don’t understand or like a particular form of jazz (latter-day Miles Davis, or John Coltrane, for instance; also Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers) , I always respect the integrity of the musician(s), trying to do something new — which is what jazz is all about.

Actually, jazz is about something else as well: from its earliest days in and around New Orleans , it was about what would now be called “social inclusion”: at a time when blacks and whites could not mix socially, jazz began to break down the barriers.

On 17 July 1923 the (white) New Orleans Rhythm Kings recorded with the black pianist/composer Ferd “Jelly Roll” Morton. It was the very first “integrated” recording session. A few years later (1929) Eddie Condon organised a band of his favourite musicians for a recording session (‘That’s A Serious Thing and I’m Gonna Stomp Mr Henry Lee’) that happened to include both white and black musicians. Condon thought nothing of it at the time:

“Five nights a week I went to Harlem, early or late, whether I was working or loafing. At Small’s Paradise on 135th Street I heard Charlie Johnson’s band, with Leonard Davis on trumpet, Happy Cauldwell on tenor saxophone, and George Stafford on drums. Someone, I thought, ought to put this music on records; it’s too good to miss. I went to Ralph Peer, of the Southern Music Company, a subsidiary of Victor. He looked dubious when I outlined my idea. ‘I want to use Davis, Cauldwell, and Stafford,’ I said, ‘with some friends of mine — Jack Teagarden, Joe Sullivan, and Mezzrow.’ After listening to me talk for twenty minutes about the music which would come out of such a combination, Peer gave in and set a date. ‘This will be for Victor,’ he said. ‘I hope it’s good’.

“It was, though Mezzrow and I played too. We made ‘I’m Gonna Stomp Mr Henry Lee’ and ‘That’s A Serious Thing’. The negro Joe Sullivan [NB: the pianist on the records was the white Irish-American stride and blues master, Joe Sullivan — JD] supplied us with some special introductory chords for ‘That’s A Serious Thing’. When the masters were cut Mr Peer congratulated me. ‘You were right about the music’, he said. ‘It is excellent. All in all I should say this has been an interesting experiment.’ It wasn’t untill I got out in the street that I realised what he meant. I made some inquiries: so far as I could discover we had made the first mixed recording date on any national label, using both white and negro musicians. I thought it had been done long before.”

Condon was not a political person, but he was a decent human being who loved jazz music, and so understood that catagorising people on the basis of race is simply wrong. A member of the audience once asked Condon, “Is your clarinet-player a negro?” (a reference to the light-skinned Afro-American Edmund Hall); Condon replied. “I dunno: I never asked him.”

It is that spirit that should inform jazz. It is the music of democracy, anti-racism and equality. Of course, many of the great pioneers were black Americans: Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Theloneous Monk, John Coltrane, etc, etc. But plenty, too, were white — and quite a few Jewish (at a time when Jews were experiencing a milder form of the racism meted out to blacks in America): Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Max Kaminsky, Red Rodney, Zoot Sims, etc, etc. The fact that none of these ever made a big deal about being Jewish, is rather the point. They regarded jazz as simply music, and music that was the preserve of everyone — regardless of race.

Do you agree with that premise, or not, Gilad?

There is an interesting alternative story: that of Charlie and his Orchestra. Have you heard of this outfit, Gilad? It was formed during World War Two by the Nazis, when they realised that jazz and swing were a powerful propaganda tool for the Allies. So the Nazis formed their own broadcasting “swing” band — Charlie and his Orchestra — to play the hits of the day, with lyrics modified to convey Nazi propaganda. It was not a very good swing band, but its Nazi message was effective.

A few years ago I was discussing these matters on a jazz e-mail list, when someone brought up Charlie and his Orchestra, and I immediately denounced Charlie and stated that I would never listen to it. Someone pointed out to me that quite a few of the musicians in the Charlie Orchestra were Jewish: they were playing for the Nazis in order to save their lives, and the lives of their families.

So, Gilad, when you make mock (as you do with your “Artie Fishal and the Promised Band”), and when you make statements to the effect that the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” may be accurate in describing Jews, and that “American Jewry makes any debate on whether the ‘Protocols of the elder [sic] of Zion’ are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews do try to control the world, by proxy.” ( what is it you think you’re saying?

And you go on to say (this is all on your website, by the way, so I presume you won’t be denying any of it): “The Jews are the ultimate Chamelions, they can be whatever they like so long as it serves some expedient...not only can’t they win...they can’t lose either, they can never be defeated...They move forwards and backwards, from left to right, from right to left, from spirituality into materialism, from orthodox Marxism into hard capitalism...”

You may not realise it, Gilad, but this kind of stuff is classic European and Russian anti-semitism: the Jews as both Bolsheviks and Rothschild capitalists: the ultimate conspirators. Your stupid, ignorant “Artie Fishal” routine is worse than Charlie and his Orchestra: at least the Jews in that band played anti-semitic material because they had no choice; you do it because you want to. Because you revel in baiting your homeland, which you wish to see destroyed.

You are free, of course, to bait Israel and to spout your anti-semitic propaganda. The degenerate ex-Marxists of the SWP are free to promote you and your band (though why, exactly, they should allow you to speak on the politics of the Middle East, remains a mystery).

But, as a jazz-lover, I have to say that I hate your racism. Jazz is the music of integration, of humanity and equality. Your anti-semitism has no place in our music

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