Coda: House of Voices, Sea of Music
"My people," wrote Sidney Bechet, "all they want is a place where they
can be people."
He understood the crucial role that music plays in the
creation of these imagined spaces, these visions of a future Promised
Land. "The man singing it, the man playing it, he makes a place. For
as long as the song is being played, that's the place he's looking for."2
Bechet knew, too, that this utopia could not escape its past, that the
music which shaped the future was also history in code. "The blues,
and the spirituals, and the remembering, and the waiting, and the suf-
fering, and the looking at the sky watching the dark come down-
that's all inside the music."
This sense of history, of music as the "remembering song," certainly
pervades the work of Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, and Anthony Braxton.
Much of their time is spent revising white distortions of that history,
not least because they realize that a better future for black people can-
not be attained until the old stereotypes have been thrown aside. Yet
the "places" they create in their musics keep the hope of utopia alive,
are big enough to keep the remembering in perspective (were per-
haps created to put it into perspective). So their awareness of "the dark
come down" does not extinguish the light of their optimism but in-
stead makes it all the more credible. They know they are playing-
literally-against the odds.
Trying to reconcile the imperatives of the utopian impulse with
those of the remembering song is no easy task. Those who straddle
this crossroads can so easily become mired in contradiction! Yet Ra,
Ellington, and Braxton have not been alone in the attempt. While I
make no claims for its ubiquity, I think a Blutopian resonance can
be heard in much African American music. Like a chord voiced dif-
ferently by different artists, a changing same, it sounds through the
century, now loud, now faint, echoing from Scott Joplin's Treemonisha to