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11/09/2010

Sandy and Sam. The Beginning of Jazz.

In his 'new' autobiography, Mark Twain tells the story of the Maryland slave, Sandy, who wouldn't stop singing. The boy Sam Clemens asks his mother to get Sandy to 'Shut up'. But she won't:
"When he sings, it shows he is not remembering, and that comforts me, but when he is still, I'm afraid he is thinking, and I cannot bear it. He will never see his mother again. If he can sing, I must not hinder it, but be thankful for it. If you were older you would understand me then that friendless child's noise would make you glad."
This is probably as close to the origins and appeal of jazz and blues (and therefore most popular music today) as it's possible to get.
It's a simple insight into the real attitudes of ordinary people to the inhumanity of slavery. But she is merely being prophetic when she says that 'when we grow up' we 'will be glad of the 'noise'. That's exactly what happened when 'the noise' became jazz, and it became the soundtrack to the western world. Congo Square may be the Plymouth Rock of black music in America, but the music clearly fed on the daily life of every  50 acre farm, and was vital to ease the pain of slavery.
Apparently, there have been criticisms of this first edition for its small print, and of the work for its formlessness. If it's all as crammed with gold as the first extract broadcast on BBC, none of that will matter. It's just a shame that earlier generations of Americans didn't have the benefit of Mrs Clemens humanity. If authors have something to say, they shouldn't keep everyone waiting 100 years. But Twain was notoriously timid about some things, while still managing to constantly get in trouble because of his big mouth. It's hard to be annoyed with someone that contradictory for long. Just like America itself.

1 comment:

  1. What words... super, a magnificent idea

    ReplyDelete

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