Scholar reflects on African-American contributions to Appalachian culture
Oct. 13, 2006
By Jessica Cuffman
In his studies, jazz connoisseur Arthur Cromwell sensed something intellectually that told him it was too simple an idea that jazz just came from New Orleans. He found he was correct.
The history of jazz originates in New Orleans, but it wasn't French or Spanish or English. It wasn't Arcadian, African or Carribean. It was Creole. It was the "messing and rubbing up on one another" that created American music – jazz, Cromwell told an audience in Walter Hall who came to hear him talk about "Transbluency," the title of his lecture borrowed from a Duke Ellington composition.
Subtitled "Black Musical Expression along the River Valley," Cromwell's lecture kicked of Community and Campus Days at Ohio University. He delivered the second annual Alvin Adams Memorial Lecture on this year's theme, Music of the Underground Railroad.
Transbluency is an attitude, poise and a demeanor, Cromwell said. Jazz created a place to function that was neither European nor African.
Music became the earliest aspect of freedom for the slave, he said.
Jazz came from New York and Harlem, Washington D.C., from the Mississippi Delta, but then there were also the African Appalachians, he said. "We didn't just sit and wait for the music to just come up from New Orleans," he said, "The music of black Americans occurred wherever black Americans were."
"We certainly gave it (music) a flavor," Cromwell said, "Black music is so close to our language. Our language flows that way."
Appalachian jazz had a different tonguing on the saxophone and a different blat on the trumpet, but it wasn't known because the Underground Railroad was not known. America was an apartheid society, he said.
Cromwell recalled the time he was a teenager and snuck into a club in Cincinnati to see John Coltrane for the first time. From then on, for him, jazz was about more than the music. "I was in the life, and the life was where it was at," he said, "It wasn't just about listening. If you could get into the music, you could get into other aspects of our culture."
Cromwell summed up his feelings about jazz when he called it "America's contribution to the world."
The Alvin Adams Memorial Lecture honors the late professor for his contributions to Ohio University and the Athens community. He and his wife, Ada, worked to make Community and Campus Days possible. Adams' daughter, Amelia Adams, assistant dean of the University Oklahoma Graduate College, presented reflections on her father and his love for jazz and blues before Cromwell's presentation.
Community and Campus Days began Oct. 12 and continue through Oct. 17. The series of events is sponsored by Ohio University and the Multicultural Genealogical Center.
Jessica Cuffman is a student writer with University Communications and Marketing.