Pursuing a career as a jazz musician is challenging enough, but public and critic expectations escalated when the aspiring musician happened to be Ravi Coltrane, the son of jazz beacons Alice and John Coltrane. Ravi once explained to me that early on, there was no pressure from his mom, only encouragement. Most important in what he learned from his mother and her reflections on his father (who transitioned when Ravi was only 2 years old) was their spiritual love for the music and its endless pursuit in all directions.

The Ravi Coltrane Quartet arrives at the Birdland jazz club (315 W. 44th Street) from June 27–July 1. The saxophonist’s quartet will feature some of his frequent band members: pianist David Virelles, bassist Dezron Douglas, and drummer Johnathan Blake. Having played together on many occasions, these established musicians, once known as young guns, have all become influential jazz travelers. Through their journeys, they are consistently developing new music paths and moving the sound of jazz in varied directions.

Aside from performing original compositions, Coltrane will honor the legacy of his parents John and Alice Coltrane with his powerful, free-spirited excursions—a family trait he inherited.

Shows are Tuesday–Saturday at 7 p.m. & 9:30 p.m. (6/27–29); 8:30 & 10:30 p.m. (6/30–7/1). For reservations, visit www.birdlandjazz.com or call 212-581-3080.

“Ain’t But a Few of Us: Black Music Writers Tell Their Story,” edited and conceived of by Willard Jenkins (Duke University Press, 2022) should be considered required reading for high school and college students, particularly those pursuing careers in music or journalism. Jazz journalist, broadcaster, and artistic director Jenkins has brought together 49 noted Black music writers whose primary focus is jazz, as well as other music genres. As the title notes, they tell their engrossing stories—their spirited individual journeys through the sorted maze of jazz writing in America.

“The goal has been to include Black writers from several different perspectives and stations in the media pursuit,” Jenkins explains in his introduction. “This book represents a variety of viewpoints and vantage points, but inevitably the dialogue leads back to considerations of that specious, man-made construct known as race.”

It’s unfortunate that just days after celebrating Juneteenth, here we are still discussing race and hiring equality. But then again, it wasn’t until the height of the Civil Rights Movement and the riots that forced editors of magazines and daily newspapers to begin hiring Blacks (which led to affirmative action). “The problem of the 20th century is the race problem,” stated W.E.B. DuBois. And here in this 21st century, the race problem is still America’s most serious domestic problem, which only substantiates the timeliness and significance of “Ain’t But a Few of Us.”

But let’s understand: “Ain’t But a Few of Us” is not an African American commentary on race. This large ensemble of experienced writers, from A.B. Spellman and Greg Tate to Eugene Holley, Jr., Herb Boyd, Jordannah Elizabeth, Robin James, and I are discussing their triumphs in jazz writing, their great love for the music, and how they got started and why, despite various barriers. The book also serves as a brief encyclopedia listing of America’s Black jazz writers. They share an intimacy with the music and their lives as music writers and how they navigate these waters ruled by white men.

“When I first started writing about jazz, of course I was aware of the shortage of Black writers covering the music. There was me, LeRoi Jones (not yet Baraka), some of the belles lettres pieces of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray, and not much else,” wrote A.B. Spellman. “I’m not sure why that’s still such a disparity: the number of significant Black musicians making serious music versus so few Black writers on the subject.”

Jenkins organized his chapters based on the writers’ professional orientations; authors, magazine editors and publishers, contributors to Black community publications, freelancers, columnists, and online writers. Most importantly, they discuss how race colors the creation and coverage of the music. Writers like Farah Jasmine Griffin, Robin D.G. Kelley, and others offer a historical and cultural context; Playthell Benjamin adds a classical music concept; and Bridget Arnwine outlines the complexity of being a woman writer of color.

Overall, Black writers bring another perspective, emotion, and texture to the coverage of jazz or any genre being covered; it’s unthinkable such a contribution is being challenged on a regular basis.

“Ain’t But a Few of Us” concludes by compiling some of the important journalistic discussions of jazz and race, including Amiri Baraka’s “Jazz and the White Critic” and Stanley Crouch’s “Putting the White Man in Charge.”

Hopefully, “Ain’t But a Few of Us” will serve as a road to conversation—a bridge to diversity and inclusion among white-dominated socially structured publications. But it should be noted that many of these contributors have written for the publications mentioned, so their talent has been recognized, even though total acceptance has been another issue. With so much deception and divisiveness in the world, we should be able to come together over the music—the universal language!

Recently, Jenkins received the ultimate recognition when “Ain’t But a Few of Us: Black Music Writers Tell Their Story” was named Book of the Year About Jazz: History, Criticism and Culture by the Jazz Journalists Association.

Jenkins collaborated with griot pianist, composer, and NEA Jazz Master Randy Weston on the latter’s autobiography, ”African Rhythms” (2010). Here, he is the editor of this brilliant book bringing together a host of Black music writers to tell their story. This seldom happens; music/jazz writers are never given an opportunity to tell their personal stories. Many readers know writers by bylines, authored books, and maybe a panel or two.

For students, each writer offers a personal history of their lives with shared commonalities in their insights, the importance of inclusion and diversity, and, regardless of barriers and disparities, giving up is never an option. As James Brown sang, “I don’t want nobody to give me nothing, open up the door, I’ll get it myself.” Reading this book just once isn’t enough.

As we come to the close of Black Music Month, we honorably once again pay tribute to our ancestors whose addictive rhythms, hollers, call and response, and melodic cadences became the fundamental elements of Black music, and to today’s warrior musicians, who have kept the ancestors’ traditions while expanding it in all directions. Playing in the midst of a pandemic, chaos, civil disobedience, American terrorism, happiness, sadness, and 50 years of hip-hop. Without Black music, where would America Be? Grooveless!!! Black Music lives 24/7/365. “Say it Loud/I’m Black and Proud.” We Insist: Freedom Now!

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