This past summer, a friend of mine went off to the island of Mykonos for a few weeks of, well, let’s just say it, some good ol’ fun debauchery. The Mediterranean isle is kind of a gay paradise. I talked with another friend of mine at the time about the place, what he told me second-hand of the open culture there. I noted that it must be nice for these people to have a place of their own to be open and free, unencumbered, not have to worry about being seen as a categorical other. (To a limited degree, I think of it like my time at Morehouse College as a young black man who has to worry much less often about the white gaze, able to develop my authorial voice and broaden my personality.) I asked if there were a similar island like Mykonos for lesbians. My friend said there wouldn’t be such a thing, that culturally, such openness isn’t prone to them. I found such an idea completely ludicrous, to the point that it lingered in my head for days until I spoke with him again on the subject. It seemed crazy because the idea of empathy involves a rather simple concept– everyone wants everything, even if it’s an altered, personalized version of those things. If you want something elemental, someone else probably want some version of that elemental aspect of human existence, too. Of course lesbians would want an island. What subset of people who have been marginalized wouldn’t want their own place? The rules of engagement there may be different, but to say a group of people wouldn’t want their own place defies logic. Everyone wants everything, even if it’s a different thing. Oddly enough, I can’t help but think of this in reading Ethan Iverson’s interview with Robert Glasper and Iverson’s subsequent response to the backlash surrounding it.
The two pianists had a very amiable chat this past North Sea Jazz Festival and Iverson through his blog has made his transcribed interviews with jazz figures required reading in this corner of the genre, to a degree adding to the modern jazz journalism canon. Iverson’s ability to relate to fellow musicians makes these conversations more nuts and bolts affairs, typically more difficult for the lay reader to follow (myself frequently included). These conversations also flow from a relatability two masters in their field can convey to a public that doesn’t frequently come to light when a musician and a journalist talk. Sometimes, with such freedom, things come to light that could use a little more decorum, or forethought. Many in the jazz internet have taken offense at Glasper’s comments in the midst of Iversion’s interview that “[women] don’t love a whole lot of soloing”. Others have noted Iverson’s seemingly letting that statement pass unchallenged in their talk and the subsequent publication of the transcript (which Glasper approved). Such a statement, even inside its context (which, that being said, is still a fascinating interview worth chcking out in full), this seems like a ludicrous statement, even in addition to his subsequent defensive tweets about his experiences playing his shows over the years.
Last year, at the South by SouthWest festival, Glasper was part of a panel discussion about the Miles Davis non-biopic biopic Miles Ahead alongside star & director Don Cheadle, trumpeter Keyon Harrold, members of the Davis estate, and others associated with the film’s production. It was a nice talk and discussed the movie at length, but frequently Cheadle and Glasper made “pause” jokes– deftly noting when anything said that could possibly be misconstrued as gay innuendo and saying “pause”. It’s like “phrasing” on Archer or “that’s what she said” but homophobic. It’s a rhetorical game that pops up a lot in black culture, because such a game is tied into the rigid, sometimes harmful ideas in black masculinity that would infer that there is something wrong about homosexuality and that any mild statement broaching the subject requires a taking of a pause. If it’s intentionally harmful, that’s a problem, though I doubt that it is, but to that degree, it most certainly is a microaggression. It’s a joke that comes from a place in these people’s heads. It’s a comment readily accessible (it has to be, it requires a deftness in listening to catch all the moments of possible innuendo). Taken in combination, anecdotal data be damned, with a statement that a population of people, based largely on the ideas that this populace has ovaries, are averse to consistent extemporaneous creation. “[Women] don’t love a whole lot of soloing”? When that came out of his mouth, that didn’t seem a tad… bold? The set idea that subsets of people want something inherently different instead of some personalized variation of the same thing is exclusionary, and not a very well thought out idea of empathy.
As it relates to Iverson letting such a comment sit there, unchallenged, felt coldly like Billy Bush on the Access Hollywood bus, meekly chortling along to Donald Trump so as to maintain a pleasant air with the subject (and yes, I feel bad comparing Robert Glasper to an atrocious human being and an even worse president, but hear me out). The introduction to this point, Glasper’s mentioning (unsolicited!) the “young, fine Euro chicks” asking him about The Bad Plus, led to Iverson’s “I guess that’s one of the reasons to play, really.” I know that response. I’ve given that response to many a person in social situations where this subject is about to get weirdly, and maybe a little grossly, uncomfortable, and I’m trapped in the corner with this person and, now unfortunately, this thread. That’s a filler line. It lets the subject continue while not saying much. It technically doesn’t agree. In my bartending days, my goto in these uncomfortable situations would be met with a short “mm”– an indication that I’m listening and pulling the other speaker along to continue. It’s a rhetorical ropeadope. It may not be that bad of a thing that he let such a point sit there in the midst of the discussion for sake of amiability, Iverson is a musician, not technically a journalist, though he does have journalistic tendencies. It’s his subsequent response to the backlash wherein I have a problem.
In my experience as a double conscious black man, if someone has to precede a statement with “as a _____”, the statement itself likely didn’t have the gravitas enough to stand on its own. Vijay Iyer noted on Facebook the immense irony of Iverson referring to himself in his subsequent statement as a liberal and a feminist while interviewing 42 men and 0 women over the course of the life of his blog. (Statements like these always have me concerned about how frequently women have a presence on Nextbop’s pages, in the voices we present and the musicians we champion, and I know we aren’t doing enough, but that’s an ever ongoing struggle.) Moreso, his defense that “this is a case of other liberals and feminists seeing a weakness and attacking. This is part of why Trump won.” That there are real problems out there and we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff of our allies is something I have always bristled against, particularly when it comes from cis-het white men. People are complex creatures; they can pay attention to many different things at the same time. We are large, we contain multitudes.
This is a prime example of the harms of microagressions. While blatant misogyny of Trump towers over the latent misogyny of Glasper, or the high profile appeasement of Billy Bush greatly overshadows the go along to get along conversational nature of Iverson, these are all under the same cultural umbrella. This is what culture is. Culture is a collection of influences and a population’s agreement on standards. It is not one large thing, it is a collection of small things. If so many small instances together, of little harebrained notions like “women don’t like solos” or “lesbians wouldn’t want a sex island” collect together, as a society, we’ll tend to agree on larger things like “well, she was asking for it dressed like that” or “there’s something wrong with that guy talking with that fey voice”. We need to check all the things, the large and the small, because they all matter. They all stack up upon one another. They are the nuts and bolts of the interactions of our day, and nuts and bolts still bind together to form structures. Stopping everything to say “perhaps you should think a little harder before saying something like ‘women don’t like solos'” is not why Trump won, and policing discourse in that matter to stop such a discussion from being productive at all is a harmful maintaining of the status quo that many a minority has recognized for years.
Moving forward, I don’t quite know what comes next. Jazz’s culture has frequently not been that kind to women, and it’s statements like these and the appeasement thereof that contributes to that. Discussing these moments, particularly in an insider instance where it’s just two musicians shooting the breeze in between sets at a jazz festival, where the veil is lifted, that we can examine this culture and what’s wrong with it, and what’s right with it, and most certainly, what about it needs to change. How do we need to change our discussion of it? How do we need to think about our audience — building it, attracting it, understanding it, appealing to it — in all its complexity. And it helps, at these times, to remember the elemental things– that listeners of all sorts have interests and motivations that draw them, that creators have a need to be acknowledged, that art is an accent of existence. There may be variation of these ideas dependent on the subject, but the underlying notions are still there. Everyone wants everything, even if it’s different.
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.