Review of Randall Sandke. 2010. Where the Dark and Light Folks Meet: Race and the Mythology, Politics, and Business of Jazz. Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press

Johnson, Aaron Joseph

Randall Sandke’s Where the Dark and Light Folks Meet is a very personal, but seriously flawed, consideration of racial issues in jazz. In Where the Dark and Light Folks Meet Sandke attempts to tackle a large number of race related topics and claims about the jazz discourse with uneven results. His targets include activist jazz writers, “radical” racial politics, claims of discriminatory practices in business, pay, and intellectual property, and neo-conservative music trends. Although sometimes the act of troubling can be a good thing, Sandke’s book is troubling in ways that undermine his best arguments about the music’s lack of innovative vitality, and for expanding its history beyond iconic musical figures. He sets out to, in the words of George E. Lewis, “trouble the settled” of the dominant narrative-an altogether worthy ambition-but sometimes Sandke merely comes off as feeling personally left out of jazz’s past and present, a not uncommon frustration for many jazz musicians. He initially describes his project as one of inclusion. When the smoke clears, Sandke is dissatisfied with racial discourse that binds concepts of jazz authenticity and blackness. (In early jazz writing blackness was often used as an indicator of primitivity and therefore “realness;” from the ’60s onward jazz’s perceived authenticity has factored into a larger project of re-claiming black identity and pride.) This is not an altogether unreasonable point of view for a non-black jazz practitioner. But rather than wage a direct assault on fragile and cliched notions of authenticity that permeate jazz history and continue to dominate its discourse, Sandke makes sweeping claims about the motives of historical and recent jazz writers that seem designed to create ill will.


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August 18, 2022