“Here’s people learning how to speak the language in this country. The folkways, mores and every other kinda way—and ‘ism’—and it’s all the way to the end of the Civil War before instruments even appear in the hands of black people. By that time, it was an even shorter length of time [before] we had the appearance of Scott Joplin. And James Scott and other people. And this has been going on in my lifetime. … My grandmother and grandfather had a house that they couldn’t even own the mortgage to. They didn’t even give mortgages to black people. This is in 1958. That’s Chicago! Yeah, that’s a town. Big country town! As far down south as you can get up north.
“So what I’m trying to say about people describing [jazz]: It’s like saying, suppose we stopped short and we never got around to seeing Jackie Robinson or Obama or Jesse or anybody. This is all about becoming—people are still becoming. Black people are still becoming. People act like everything’s been attained. Nothing’s been attained yet. You come out of [hundreds of] years of pure slavery and then you enter a period of Jim Crow where people still can’t become anything. There’s no such thing as really integrating into America—it’s still a struggle, so people are still finding out who they are, how they exist in this country. So the art they produce—the art is parallel. That’s being put together as the people are being put together.
“So it’s an insult as far as I’m concerned—to say ‘oh this is jazz’ like there’s one black group, one concept, or conception of black people. No other group has this other kind of small definition! So as I said these ideas about ‘jazz,’ the word, is confusing, is misleading, and is really not informing. It had, in the past, a more informative [role]. Because we were looking at basically one river, but now we’ve split into so many tributaries. That’s because of black people being able to advance in this environment.”
— American genius Henry Threadgill, in discussion with me, ahead of his dates at NYC’s Jazz Gallery this weekend