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Freedom Is, Freedom Ain't: Jazz and the Making of the Sixties

5 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
ISBN-13: 978-0674011489
ISBN-10: 0674011481
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Editorial Reviews


Saul...shows in very specific detail that the music that most accurately mirrors the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s is jazz--specifically hard bop. [He]...has attempted a major task: placing jazz in the larger cultural and political context of the late 1950s and early 1960s...Saul...bravely goes where no historian has gone before in tying musicological specifics to larger political points. (Will Friedwald New York Sun 2003-12-26)

These days jazz seems so marginalized that it's bracing to read a book that shows so clearly how and why jazz is relevant to larger social, political, and cultural issues...[Saul's] analysis of the 1960 riot at the Newport Jazz Festival and the different ways jazz critics, social commentators, and black intellectuals and artists--including poet Langston Hughes and bassist Charles Mingus--reacted to it, is some of the most insightful writing on the tensions between consumer culture and jazz culture, and the black-white racial divide that I've ever read. Saul also maps out the connections that artists and critics saw between the progressive politics of the civil rights and Black Power movements and avant-garde music...This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the wider cultural and political issues that have affected jazz in the past 50 years. (Ed Hazell Signal to Noise 2004-04-01)

Documenting the ascendance of hard bop and soul-jazz as currencies of cool for hipsters both black and white nearly a half-century ago, Scott Saul provides a rich contextual history of the epochal Newport Jazz Festival as well as focused examinations of jazz artists who came of age during this colorful era...Saul describes an interface of music and lifestyle that paralleled the rise of black activism. He surveys a tumultuous clash of art, commerce, politics and race with a keen eye, depicting various jazz heroes and their organized contributions as well as the slow evolution of cool, Saul even finds comparisons between the social impact of John Coltrane and Malcolm X...Above all, Freedom Is, Freedom Ain't illuminates the vital relationship between black music and urban culture. (Mitch Myers High Times 2004-05-01)

Scott Saul's subject is the explosion of revolutionary jazz in the 1950s and 1960s driven by an engagement with the Black Power movement and the anti-suburban hipster counterculture. The principal musicians he explores are figures like Charles Mingus, John Coltrane and Max Roach, but he bucks the biographical norm by placing the music within the wider intellectual milieu of writers, critics and visual artists that instinctively felt the urgency of jazz, even if some responded in a wrongfooted way...Tension between individualism and the safety net of mass culture is the prevailing theme of this original and thought-provoking piece of writing. (Philip Clark The Wire 2004-07-01)

Along with the saxophonist John Coltrane, the mercurial bassist-composer-bandleader [Charles] Mingus is at the heart of Scott Saul's meditation on jazz and the civil rights movement. Saul wants us to understand hard bop and other jazz-inspired artistic forms as participating in the same modes of political thought as the black freedom movement... The dynamics and aesthetics of the music shed light on the era's politics, while African American politics helps us grasp the musical affiliations and creative choices of artists...Saul draws some previously unnoticed connections between youth culture and the very adult world of hard bop, particularly the influence of jazz festivals on the white counterculture...Saul is consistently engaging, his interpretations and prose often as energized as his subjects. (David W. Stowe Journal of American History 2004-12-01)

This book is provocative and engaging, and it draws enlightening connections that will help answer further questions both about jazz and American culture in the 1960s. (Gabriel Solis Belles Lettres 2005-03-01)

Saul has written a wise and trenchant study of a complex period in American culture. Heavy on detail and accurate musical analysis, Freedom Is, Freedom Ain't is a welcome antidote to the absurdist dialectics of writers such as Frank Kofsky, who co-opted Coltrane to the black nationalist cause, and to those who promote or condemn jazz modernism without understanding its wider context. Unusually, it is a book about the sociology of music that lets the music breathe as well. Readers familiar with Mingus's Black Saint and the Sinner Lady or Max Roach's deceptively complex We Insist!: Freedom Now Suite will return to the music with fresh understanding. Those who have not previously encountered these classic records and who think vaguely of John Coltrane's A Love Supreme as the iconic moment in 1960s jazz will find their listening as well as their thinking subtly but emphatically shifted. (Brian Morton Times Higher Education Supplement 2005-05-13)

Scott Saul's Freedom Is, Freedom Ain't is that rarity in academic studies: a book one is tempted to read a second time purely for pleasure. Saul writes with a musician's working knowledge of craft and a cultural journalist's narrative and stylistic panache. Loosely organized around a history of jazz from "Birth of the Cool" through the apotheosis of free jazz...Freedom Is devotes equal attention to jazz stylistics, politics, audiences, and resonances in the literary and visual arts. (Adam Gussow American Literature)


Saul's attunement to the way figures like Robert Thompson, James Baldwin, Mezz Mezzrow, Norman Mailer, John Coltrane, and Charles Mingus shape and are shaped by the realities and fantasies of blackness makes possible a richer and more accurate understanding of the politics of post-war American culture. As such, Saul's book is a wonderful accomplishment. (Fred Moten, author of In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (November 24, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674011481
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674011489
  • Product Dimensions: 9.7 x 6.1 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,338,798 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

SCOTT SAUL is a historian and critic who has written for The New York Times, Harper's Magazine, The Nation, Bookforum, and other publications. The author of Becoming Richard Pryor and Freedom Is, Freedom Ain't: Jazz and the Making of the Sixties, he is also the creator of "Richard Pryor's Peoria" -- www.becomingrichardpryor.com -- a digital companion to his Pryor biography that brings to life Pryor's formative years in Peoria's red light district.
For a limited time only, readers can request a signed "book plate" (a nice sticker that Scott Saul is happy to inscribe as you like) for Becoming Richard Pryor at http://www.scott-saul.com/#!contact/c1kcz.
He teaches courses in American literature and history at UC-Berkeley, where he is an Associate Professor of English. He lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife and son.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
People who are curious about this book should not be misled by the title. One of the things it "ain't" is a critical book about free jazz. Instead, it's an examination of the links between "hard bop" of the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies, with the civil rights movement... and the development of a "black aesthetic" in jazz.

It begins with a chapter about "hipsterism" that makes references to Cab Calloway and Mezz Mezzrow, and then goes on toward the development of the Newport Jazz Festival. In 1960, there was a riot at Newport Jazz that was largely instigated by white college kids who'd found themselves shut out of the upscale event. Poet Langston Hughes was moved to write about it in a book called "Ask Your Mama" in which Hughes adopted an angry tone writing about lack of progress for blacks. The next year, Charles Mingus attempted to run a "counter-festival" at Newport. These were some of the first stirrings of political activism in jazz.

Scott Saul enlarges on the "hipster" theme by turning to Oscar Brown, Jr. (a singer who combined his jazz with social activism), who authored a song called "But I Was Cool". He later collaborated with Max Roach in some overtly political jazz ("We Insist: The Freedom Now Suite"), and made some appearances on television promoting progressive jazz.

Major jazz figures who are profiled include Mingus, John Coltrane, Jackie McLean, Cannonball Adderley, Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln. There are detailed descriptions of major works that had political significance, including Mingus' "Pithecanthropus Erectus", "Eclipse", "Fables of Faubus", and "Black Saint and the Sinner Lady", and Coltrane's " A Love Supreme".
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