An educational component of the Novel T’s Pine Bluff Summer Jazz Festival Saturday mixed a lesson in music history with quintessential jazz rhythms.
Entitled “Jazz: From Africa to America, an African People’s Music,” the event was held at the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas and hosted by Stuttgart native Olujimi Tafataona.
“Jazz is an African music created by African people in the western hemisphere yet the original identity of those who created it is often blurred,” said Tafataona, who plays alto, tenor and soprano saxophone in the Detroit, Mich., jazz group In The Tradition. “We are the foremost Africa-centered jazz group. The genesis of the music we play goes back to blues as well as rhythm and blues. Jazz is an offshoot of those musical traditions.”
Tafataona quoted Duke Ellington.
“It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing,” Tafataona said. “What did he mean by that? It’s all about the rhythm of the music. Let me show you how that works.”
Tafataona motioned to Darnell Henderson Jr. of Pine Bluff who stood ready to play his bass guitar.
“Give us a good bass line,” Tafataona said as Henderson began laying the instrumental framework for what was yet to come.
Tafataona next turned his attention to Larry Brooks of Little Rock on drums.
“Give us some more,” Tafataona said as Brooks began to use his drum and cymbal set to create music that was undeniably jazz. “Oh yes. That’s it. You know what that is. There’s no question.”
Tafataona added his alto saxophone to the mix followed quickly by E.C. Brown of Dallas, Texas, on the electronic keyboard.
“That’s swinging; that’s poppy,” Tafataona said after the four jammed together for several minutes. “What makes a musical style is the rhythm. African people brought a sense of poly-rhythm to the western hemisphere. The indigenous people were mono-rhythmic.”
“The bossa nova, the salsa, the samba and the rumba were all created by some of the more than 160 million enslaved African people brought to this hemisphere from Canada to the United States to Mexico to Colombia to Brazil and Argentina,” Tafataona said.
The jazz quartet played a rendition of Canadian Sunset with Tafataona switching out his alto saxophone for his tenor sax.
“The people of the West Indies were also critical to the development of African music in this part of the world,” Tafataona said. “The Afro-Cuban drumming societies were incredible. What you had was a cross-pollination of different African styles throughout the western hemisphere.”
“There is no such thing as Latin jazz,” Tafataona said. “With Latin you are talking about the language of the Catholic Church and not about a race of people.”
The jazz quartet next performed Jungle Strut by Gene Ammons featuring a syncopated rhythm on drums.
The event was part of the seven day Pine Bluff Summer Jazz Festival sponsored by Novel T’s in Pine Bluff owned by Kenneth Scott Fisher and Sandra Fisher.