Music and protest

In my inbox is a notice from World Village-Harmonia Mundi: Saxophonist Gilad Atzmon “makes a rare appearance in New York City beginning May 5th and is available for interviews.” Oddly I see no gig schedule listed.

In any case I won’t be interviewing Atzmon during his visit, because I’m too busy interviewing musicians who don’t claim that the Jews provoked Hitler. And don’t hail Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And don’t garner praise from neo-Nazi David Duke, or write things that end up cross-posted at racist sites that proclaim “No Jews. Just Right.”

My point, and one I’ve made many times before, is that Gilad Atzmon is a Jew-hater — and far from the only one in the UK and elsewhere who’s found it helpful to drape himself in the Palestinian cause, or the fashionable rhetoric of anti-imperialism.

But of course there’s something different about Atzmon: He’s a musician, and a strong one at that. He insists that his music is intrinsically political. And this is therefore something that every New York music journalist planning to cover Atzmon needs to weigh carefully:

How does a man of such views claim the mantle of “cultural resistance” that is so bound up with the history of jazz? How can an apologist for the Iranian regime — an apologist for Nazi Germany — claim to be “fighting oppression of every kind”?

He gets away with it only if compliant journalists allow him.

I think it’s safe to say that political activists who compare themselves to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ought to be regarded with a high degree of skepticism. Alas, many on the left regard Julian Assange of WikiLeaks the way he views himself.

Katha Pollitt of The Nation has written this very eloquent piece about the belittling of Assange’s rape charges. She also notes that Israel Shamir, the writer who launched a campaign of falsehood against Assange’s accusers, is a virulent antisemite. And that Shamir published his smears in Counterpunch, edited by Alexander Cockburn, one of the most shameless and dogged purveyors of antisemitism on the far left.

That assessment of Cockburn is mine, not Pollitt’s. The fact that Cockburn still retains his post as a Nation columnist is a scandal in itself, although Pollitt doesn’t make that case.

What Pollitt also doesn’t state is that Israel Shamir works for WikiLeaks, in an official capacity. The photo above shows Assange and Shamir together (Z Word has already remarked on this, as have Harry’s Place and Michael Moynihan).

Israel Shamir, lastly, is an ally of the UK-based saxophonist and polemicist Gilad Atzmon, who routinely denies he is antisemitic despite having argued in plain though inarticulate English that it was the Jews who provoked Hitler.

I have written on Atzmon’s noxious beliefs fairly extensively.

Side note: In early November, Patrick J. of A Blog Supreme commented on Atzmon’s recent recording with Robert Wyatt and Ros Stephen, For the Ghosts Within. I thanked Patrick in the comments, and I’ll do so again here, for kindly referring readers to my argument that Atzmon is an antisemite. My position has not changed.

Update: There are reports that Israel Shamir has funneled WikiLeaks material to the thug regime of Belarus to help facilitate the unfolding crackdown there. Adam Holland has also posted background on this.

Yes, it is. So it’s good to see the fringe lefties at Socialist Worker retract and apologize for publishing an interview with a Nazi sympathizer. The fact that they felt no need to vet Gilad Atzmon beforehand speaks volumes, however. “Critics of Israel,” no matter how virulent, have come to be given the benefit of the doubt on the radical left.

Judeosphere has the story.

If Socialist Worker is “the best publication on the U.S. left,” as Safia Albaiti of Boston declares, then this is a sad commentary on the U.S. left. But I already knew that. Still I’m grateful to Albaiti for speaking up and making short work of the lie — perpetuated by NJ-based jazz musician Rich Siegel and others — that Atzmon has been taken “out of context.” Here is Atzmon:

In the light of Israeli brutality, the conviction of gross swindler Madoff and the latest images of Rabbis being taken away by FBI agents, it is about time we stop discussing the rise of anti-Semitism and start to elaborate on the rise of Jewish Crime.

And here is Atzmon:

Jewish texts tend to glaze over the fact that Hitler’s March 28 1933, ordering [sic] a boycott against Jewish stores and goods, was an escalation in direct response to the declaration of war on Germany by the worldwide Jewish leadership.

Atzmon has not disavowed these remarks, nor has he explained the “context” that supposedly requires us to read these words for anything other than what they are.

Rich Siegel, who is partnering with Gilad Atzmon as described in my previous post, has written me a terse reply. He says that the Atzmon quotes I cite “do not constitute racism or holocaust revisionism. I suggest you read them again.”

Michael Ezra, in the Z Word comments space, has also referred me to this piece of writing, in which Rich Siegel writes sympathetically of Holocaust revisionism: “It seems to me that if holocaust revisionists are wrong, then open dissemination of their views encourages those with opposing views to prove them wrong. And if they are right, all the more reason we should hear about it.” Note that this goes well beyond an argument for free speech. For Siegel, it is an open question whether David Irving and other like-minded hucksters are right or wrong. (Hint: It’s not an open question, and Irving’s Jew-hatred and pro-Nazism are copiously documented.)

Alas, it is not the case, as I’d hoped, that Siegel is deceived about Gilad Atzmon. He is in fact a fellow traveler through and through.

But because Siegel’s denials strike me as part of a larger political strategy to define antisemitism out of existence, allow me, as Siegel has suggested, to read Atzmon’s comments again. I do so at the risk of insulting the intelligence of my readers. But it seems that some in liberal and progressive circles have lost the ability to detect antisemitism even when it’s staring them dead in the face.

First Atzmon quote:

Carpet bombing and total erasure of populated areas that is so trendy amongst Israeli military and politicians (as well as Anglo-Americans) has never been a Nazi tactic or strategy.

Siegel sees no revisionism in this statement. To him, the notion that the Nazis never engaged in carpet bombing or, in a word, genocide, falls within the bounds of legitimate historical comment.

Second Atzmon quote:

One of the things that happened to us was that stupidly we interpreted the Nazi defeat as a vindication of the Jewish ideology and the Jewish people.

Siegel sees no racism in the notion that there’s such a thing as “the Jewish ideology,” or in the idea that a persecuted minority group requires “vindication” — as if the Jews, in the lead-up to the Holocaust, were collectively guilty of something.

But if you share Atzmon’s worldview, then yes, you do believe these things, as a third quote from Atzmon makes clear. I didn’t cite this in yesterday’s post, and I didn’t send it to Siegel for comment, because I’ve only just learned of it. But it puts Atzmon’s overt Hitler apologetics in plain view as perhaps never before:

Jewish texts tend to glaze over the fact that Hitler’s March 28 1933, ordering [sic] a boycott against Jewish stores and goods, was an escalation in direct response to the declaration of war on Germany by the worldwide Jewish leadership.

There it is: The Jews made Hitler do it. I can think of few political sentiments more chilling and, I would hope, more foreign to the spirit of jazz.

[Cross-posted at Z Word, and at Harry’s Place.]

The bloggers of Mondoweiss have worked very hard to convince the public that antisemitism does not exist among the Palestine solidarity movement — indeed, that all such charges of antisemitism are mere subterfuge concocted by “Zionists” to tar critics of Israel, who are by definition pure of heart.

So it’s important to note that Mondoweiss is now voicing support for the Israeli-born, UK-based jazz musician and virulent antisemite Gilad Atzmon.

Atzmon, who has declared, “One of the things that happened to us was that stupidly we interpreted the Nazi defeat as a vindication of the Jewish ideology and the Jewish people,” is scheduled to play two concerts in upstate New York with Rich Siegel, a pianist, vocalist and bandleader from New Jersey. Siegel is author of the Mondoweiss posts, here and here, alleging that the Rochester concert was nearly canceled thanks to what he calls “Zio-pressure.”

The Mondoweiss posts paint Atzmon in benign colors as an “anti-Zionist.” They cite Atzmon’s defense that he is “often quoted with ‘cherry-picked’ quotes taken out of context,” which is amusing, since the entire context of Atzmon’s political writing is coterminous with Israel and the Jews — and in any case, I’m not sure what “context” would render the above-mentioned verbatim quote morally acceptable. Or for that matter, this quote:

American Jewry makes any debate on whether the ‘Protocols of the elder of Zion’ [sic] are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews do try to control the world, by proxy.

A nearly identical argument about the Protocols appears in Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

Or this quote from Atzmon, also verbatim:

Carpet bombing and total erasure of populated areas that is so trendy amongst Israeli military and politicians (as well as Anglo-Americans) has never been a Nazi tactic or strategy.

It’s ironic that Rich Siegel, speaking about the Rochester venue’s decision to ignore complaints from a local rabbi, writes: “It seems that they came to a realization … that the rabbi was part of an agenda that they don’t want to support.” But apparently Siegel is comfortable supporting Atzmon’s agenda.

I am not familiar with Siegel’s work, but his website lists appearances with highly respected and important jazz musicians such as Art Baron, Cameron Brown, Eliot Zigmund and Bob Kindred. I’d like to believe that Siegel’s been taken in by Atzmon’s self-whitewash on the matter of antisemitism. Or it could be that Siegel has read Atzmon’s racist, lunatic writings and is in full agreement with them. I’ve emailed Siegel to get some clarity on that question. Meanwhile, we cannot sit by and allow Atzmon to hoodwink others in the American jazz community.

Patrick notes the mounting buzz over trumpeter Christian Scott and his forthcoming Yesterday You Said Tomorrow. I’m still getting to know the record, didn’t flip over it at first listen, but it’s clearly the work of someone with high skill and strong vision — exactly the sort of hip, relevant, advanced, forward-thinking music that Stuart Nicholson believes to exist only in Europe.

Scott came onto my radar when I saw him as a sideman with Donald Harrison in Marcus Garvey Park several years back, and he seemed to be coming out of the straightahead, specifically New Orleanian, Wynton/Terence Blanchard bag, which he did very well. So I was surprised and very much impressed by his 2006 debut Rewind That, which had more of a “nu jazz” aura but still rang true creatively. Regarding Scott’s cover of Thom Yorke’s “The Eraser” from YYST, contra Eamonn Featherston, I might actually like it better than Yorke’s original. (Yorke’s solo album never really wowed me.)
I have to say that in this interview, Scott comes across as a young guy enjoying some early media attention and lashing out at his mentors in a way he might one day find embarrassing. Explaining that he wouldn’t pen a musical homage to Hurricane Katrina’s victims, having not experienced the tragedy directly himself, Scott takes aim at Terence Blanchard for doing just that with A Tale of God’s Will. Scott says:

It was like, ‘OK man, alright, I know you weren’t in New Orleans when it happened, you know, you’re very well paid, everything is alright, your house didn’t get touched by an inch of water—I know it ’cause I know where you live, I’ve been to your home!’

If memory serves, there is a scene in Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke” that deals with the fact that Blanchard’s mother’s home was destroyed in the flood. Blanchard’s family’s life was turned upside down. Everything was not alright. There’s more than a touch of unthinking arrogance in Scott’s remark.
Scott goes on to complain:

When [Blanchard’s A Tale of God’s Will] came out, everyone kinda jumped on the bandwagon, and sort of made my album [2007’s Anthem] synonymous with it. And that pissed me off! I was very angry.

Translation: It’s all about me — a view not unheard of among twentysomethings. Maybe, just maybe, there was something more at stake here than the critical reception of Scott’s second album. And think of the many fine jazz artists of Scott’s generation who’d be happy to be saddled with the problem of too much critical notice.
Scott is not one to shy away from politics, with titles such as “K.K.P.D.” (Ku Klux Police Department), “Angola, LA & The 13th Amendment,” “American’t” and “Jenacide.” Yet more refutation of the charge that today’s musicians are disengaged, apathetic, timid, what have you.
One problem: It’s true that the Jena Six controversy involved vile incidents of anti-black incitement and glaring legal double standards. But I’m not sure what Scott intends by invoking genocide through wordplay (“Jenacide”) here, since no one was killed in Jena, and the one person in the whole affair who was stomped and put in the hospital was white. If I’m missing something, then I’ll be happy to amend my thoughts on this.

“While there are many lessons that can be drawn from this historic upset, the main one is this: that ordinary people, banding together in solidarity, can change ANYTHING, be it the pop charts or the world.” — Rage Against the Machine, after a fan-driven effort made “Killing in the Name” the #1 Christmas single in the UK, beating out X Factor winner Joe McElderry’s “The Climb.”

[My previous posts on Rage, here and here.]
[Cross-posted at Harry’s Place.]

Lord knows I had my problems with Terry Teachout’s much-discussed “Can Jazz Be Saved” editorial, but I can’t get with this account of Teachout’s motivations, as posited by Ron “Slim” Washington.

Teachout, you see, wrote his piece for The Wall Street Journal, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, which means that there’s an attack on jazz “coming from the highest right wing levels of power.”

Which means that my friends Larry Blumenfeld and Martin Johnson, both WSJ contributors, must also be in on the vast right-wing conspiracy to kill jazz. Guys, I’m so disappointed in you.
There’s plenty of grounds to critique Teachout on the merits. Let’s not fantasize that Rupert Murdoch cares enough about jazz to mount an organized campaign against it.

I’m all for artists taking political stands, but I don’t think doing so is necessarily brave. In fact, it’s often preaching to the choir and even downright conformist. This, on the other hand, is brave. [Hat tip Adam Holland.]

A classic bit of Philadelphia soul by the Stylistics. Just the thing on a Sunday, as the world awaits more news from Tehran. (Tibbsy’s commentary on the song, on the sidebar of the YouTube clip itself, is worth a read.)

[Update: I can’t help but marvel at the song’s construction, mostly revolving around an E minor 9-A minor 7 cadence. But the long rideout at the end is a II-V vamp, Em to A7, which grooves along over a slinky nine-beat pattern. The Am7 creeps back in for just a beat or two, at the end of each cycle. Genius.]

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