Ajay Heble and Rob Wallace
introduction
“PeoPle Get Ready”
The Future of Jazz Is Now!
Offered as something of an attempt to correct the historical record, and
as an intervention into current debates both about where the music has
been and where it might be going, the essays collected in People Get Ready:
The Future of Jazz Is Now! attest to the vibrancy (and the challenges) asso-
ciated with much of the music that falls under the rubric of “jazz” today.
Our book takes its inspiration and borrows its title, “People Get Ready,”
from the New York bassist William Parker’s tribute to the songs of Curtis
Mayfield—a project that draws on deeply intertwined musical traditions
which might initially seem disconnected if viewed from the perspective of
marketing terms like “soul,” “rock ’n’ roll,” “funk,” or “jazz.” Parker’s im-
provised takes on Mayfield, along with collaborator Amiri Baraka’s con-
ception of “inside songs”—messages within and between the lines of May-
field’s original lyrics—cause us to reflect on the continuing relevance of
both musical forms and the social conditions from which they sprang. An
anthem for the civil rights movement, Mayfield’s song encouraged its lis-
teners to “get on board” in the spirit of hope, possibility, and profound con-
viction. Amid current uncertainties about markets, audiences, technolo-
gies, and public subsidies, in the context of emerging anxieties, trends, and
questions in jazz scholarship, and in the face of a status quo that so many
contemporary artists and activists refuse to take for granted, it seems apt
to ready ourselves for the (artistic, social, critical, cultural, and institu-
tional) changes that might be a- coming, by reflecting on the shape of jazz
to come.
William Parker’s Mayfield Project, in this context, provides a telling ex-
ample. It reminds us that jazz has long functioned as a powerful repository
of cultural memory, as a site for the expression of history and identity, and
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