The name Ahmad Jamal has popped up here a couple of times. He was playing at the Newport Jazz Festival last August which was broadcast live via webcast, and then I also mentioned his Live at Pershing recording as one of few records I remember from my dad’s music collection (not that I remember him ever playing it).
Ahmad Jamal was born Frederick Russell Jones in 1930, and changed his name in 1952 when he converted to the Islamic religion. His recordings have been extremely influential both inside and outside of Jazz. His most famous and direct influence was on Miles Davis, who covered his song Ahmad’s Blues on the 1955 recording Workin’. Miles cited Jamal as a huge influence based on his ingenious use of space and silence – something that was unexpected since he was a virtuoso who could have kept up with the likes of Art Tatum, but instead chose to focus on structure and composition in a manner similar to but different from Ellington, Monk, Mingus and others.
Ahmad Jamal has won numerous honors through the years, including the National Endowment for the Arts American Jazz Masters award. He was also named a Duke Ellington Fellow at Yale University. In 2007 the French government inducted him into the Order of the Arts and Letters. His songs “Music, Music, Music” and “Poinciana” were used by Clint Eastwood in ‘The Bridges of Madison County’. And on and on.
Ahmad Jamal is a true living legend in the only all-American art form, yet the
House Un-American Activities Committee Department of Homeland Security has reportedly blocked him from being paid for a headlining role at the St. Moritz jazz festival. Why? Well, nothing has yet been confirmed but evidently it has to do with the trio of (a) Swiss Bank, (b) $10,000 and (c) having an Muslim-sounding name.
The translation from Swiss is rough, but here is one relevant section:
Because of his Muslim name, the over-zealous officials have suspected a link between payment and possible terrorist activities.
So rather than doing the smallest amount of research into a life-long American citizen who travels abroad to make a living in places where his art is better supported than the place where it was invented, they simply make the authoritarian assumption that there must be something suspicious going on and clamped down. It isn’t clear what has happened in the couple of weeks since the initial report, but there is no evidence that it has been resolved yet.
Just remember – these are the people who said that it was OK to initiate a secret and blatantly illegal wiretap policy against US citizens, and who do intensive pat-downs of babies and force terminally ill 95 year old women to remove their adult diapers.
After the 9/11 attacks, President Bush said that the best thing we as a country could do was to live our lives … otherwise the terrorists would have won. However, there is copious evidence that while we ‘led our lives’, the government has been consolidating power and control over more and more aspects of our lives – there can be little doubt that especially in the non-minority elements of our population that our country has taken a decided shift towards authoritarianism (i.e. police state). It is as simple as this – air travel was declared a critical essential part of our national interest (i.e. not a frivolity or luxury, but a core means of transport), yet access to this can be denied if we choose not to submit to procedures which violate the Fourth Amendment. The message is clear – submit to the power of the government or be denied access to basic services.
This Fourth of July weekend there is much to celebrate in our country and many reasons to be proud to be an American … but our atrocious handling of the arts, authoritarian handling of our citizenry, and the persecution of those not white and Christian are not amongst those things.
Update: I have continued trying to track this for any sort of confirmation or history of events and there hasn’t been anything aside from the obviously biased Swiss paper with the editorialized report. While I think there is a certain ‘truthiness’ to the story, there are also some pointing out that bank transactions and their scrutiny are automated meaning that the DHS wouldn’t have been involved beyond handing out a list of names. If I find out more I will certainly update again.