Article of the Day: 9/17/20 An important obituary

Here’s a man with very interesting ideas. I highly recommend the Q&A video found here: It’s included in the article.

Stanley Crouch, Critic Who Saw American Democracy in Jazz, Dies at 74

A prolific author, essayist, columnist and social critic, he challenged conventional thinking on race and avant-garde music.

By Sam RobertsSept. 16, 2020

Stanley Crouch, the fiercely iconoclastic social critic who elevated the invention of jazz into a metaphor for the indelible contributions that Black people have made to American democracy, died on Wednesday at a hospital in the Bronx. He was 74.

His wife, Gloria Nixon Crouch, said the cause was complications of a long, unspecified illness.

Mr. Crouch defied easy categorization. A former Black nationalist who had been seared by witnessing the 1965 Watts race riots in his native Los Angeles, he transformed himself into a widely read essayist, syndicated newspaper columnist, novelist and MacArthur Foundation “genius award” winner whose celebrity was built, in part, on his skewering — and even physical smackdowns — of his former intellectual comrades.

All the while he championed jazz, enlarging its presence in American culture by helping to found Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, one of the country’s premier showcases for that most American of musical genres, and by promoting the career of the celebrated trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who co-founded the jazz center in 1991 and remains its artistic director.

Mr. Crouch proclaimed himself a “radical pragmatist,” defining it this way:

“I affirm whatever I think has the best chance of working, of being both inspirational and unsentimental, of reasoning across the categories of false division and beyond the decoy of race.”

Espousing that pragmatism, he found ready adversaries among fellow Black Americans, whom he criticized as defining themselves in racial terms and as reducing the broader Black experience to one of victimization. He vilified gangsta rap as “‘Birth of a Nation’ with a backbeat,” the Rev. Al Sharpton as a “buffoon,” the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan as “insane,” the Nobel laureate Toni Morrison “as American as P.T. Barnum” and Alex Haley, the author of “Roots,” as “opportunistic.”

By contrast, he venerated his intellectual mentors James BaldwinRalph Ellisonand Albert Murray, who, by his lights, saw beyond the conventions of race and ideology while viewing the contributions of Black people as integral to the American experience.

(Mr. Crouch disdained the expression African-American, saying: “I use Negro, black American, Afro-American. And I might throw brown American in eventually. I don’t use African-American because I have friends who are from Africa. But I do use Afro-American, because that means it’s derived but it’s not direct.”)

Mr. Crouch said he had largely taught himself to write by devouring books as a child and then drawing on an innate lyrical sensibility, which he expressed in poetry as well as in prose. He wrote of the jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie:

“He rose from the position of an odd fish to a star surfer riding the high, high curving water of a trend, sank into the position of those miracles taken for granted, but periodically returned to view, dripping with new wisdoms, beckoning as others followed him on the thin boards of art and entertainment that those who make their name in jazz must ride, atop the roller coaster waves of public taste, swinging all our blues in a fickle brine where they are forever at peril.”

Mr. Crouch attended, though never graduated from, two community colleges, but his stature as a writer led to teaching positions at Pomona, Pitzer and Claremont Colleges, all of them in Claremont, Calif., east of Los Angeles, where he was known as a charismatic poet and teacher of English and theater in the late 1960s and early ’70s. (At Pomona, one of his students was George C. Wolfe, who became artistic director of the Public Theater in New York.)

At Claremont, he established Black Music Infinity, a band made up of young musicians from the area, all of whom went on to become noted avant-garde figures, among them the saxophonists David Murray and Arthur Blythe and the bassist Mark Dresser.

Two of Mr. Crouch’s anthologies of his writings.
Two of Mr. Crouch’s anthologies of his writings.

After transplanting himself to New York in 1975, Mr. Crouch wrote for The Village Voice, where he was hired as a staff writer in 1980 and fired in 1988 after a fistfight with a fellow writer.

“The two best things that have ever happened to me were being fired by The Voice and being hired by The Voice, in that order,” he told The New Yorker.

As a syndicated columnist he was long based at The Daily News in New York.

His anthologies included “Notes of a Hanging Judge: Essays and Reviews, 1979-1989” (1990); “The All-American Skin Game, or, The Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994” (1995); “Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, 1995-1997” (1998); and “Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz” (2006).

He turned to fiction in 2000, with “Don’t the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing,” and to biography in 2003, with “Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker.”

Mr. Crouch was a senior creative consultant for Ken Burns’s 10-part documentary series “Jazz,” broadcast in 2001. He received a Whiting Foundation Award for nonfiction in 1991 and a MacArthur Foundation fellowship in 1993 for his work in musicology and ethnomusicology. In 2019 he was named a Jazz Master for jazz advocacy by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Stanley Lawrence Crouch was born on Dec. 14, 1945, in the South Central section of Los Angeles to James and Emma Bea (Ford) Crouch. His father was a heroin addict and hustler who was in jail when Stanley was born and didn’t meet his son until Stanley was 12. His mother was a housemaid who raised Stanley, his older sister, who became an accountant, and their younger brother, who died of complications of gunshot wounds in 1980.

Mr. Crouch said his mother had been instrumental in his development as a writer, teaching him the alphabet and spelling before he enrolled in school, and introducing him to jazz. (She and her schoolmates had once greeted Duke Ellington at the Los Angeles railroad station.)

Frequently confined to his home with asthma, Stanley read voraciously, started a jazz club in high school and joined a local repertory theater called Studio Watts. He taught himself to play the drums freestyle, in sharp contrast to the jazz purist he later became (at one point famously lambasting Miles Davis for playing electric jazz-rock fusion).

“Since I was doing this avant-garde stuff, I didn’t have to be all that good, but I was a real knucklehead,” Mr. Crouch told The New Yorker. “If I hadn’t been so arrogant and had just spent a couple of years on rudiments, I’d have taken it over, man, no doubt about it.”

At the same time, in an era of racial strife and struggles for civil rights, his political consciousness was sharpened. After years of broken government promises to alleviate poverty and provide economic opportunity, Blacks in the Watts section took to the streets, and Mr. Crouch responded by embracing an incipient black nationalism.

His early writings led him to academia. He was appointed poet-in-residence at Pitzer College, became the first full-time faculty member of the Claremont Colleges Black Studies Center, and joined the English department at Pomona when he was 22. Within five years he published a poetry collection, “Ain’t No Ambulances for No Nigguhs Tonight” (1972), taking the title from a remark reportedly made during the Watts riots.

After he and his partner, Samerna Scott, a former Pomona student, moved to New York, they separated, and she returned to California with their daughter, Dawneen, who goes by Gaia. He married Gloria Nixon, a sculptor, in 1994. They lived in the West Village in Manhattan until recently, when they moved to Brooklyn.

In addition to his wife and his daughter, Gaia Scott-Crouch, he is survived by a granddaughter.

Stanley Crouch in an undated photo. He viewed American democracy through the prism of jazz.Martine Bisagni

Mr. Crouch met Mr. Marsalis when the trumpeter was a teenager studying at the Juilliard School in Manhattan. He went on to write liner notes for Mr. Marsalis’s albums and become his primary artistic consultant in generating a neo-classicist movement in jazz and helping to establish Jazz at Lincoln Center.

“All young jazz musicians coming up today realize that they have to know blues and swing — which are at the core of all jazz, from Armstrong to Marsalis — and this simply wasn’t the case 15 years ago,” Peter Watrous, a former jazz critic for The New York Times, said. “Wynton and Stanley are responsible for that. Therein lies the whole story of the jazz renaissance.”

His writings on race often ran against the grain of liberal orthodoxies. Writing in The New York Times Book Review, Deirdre English, a former editor of Mother Jones magazine, said that in the anthology “Notes of a Hanging Judge” Mr. Crouch “sets himself apart from and above the tides of current opinion, sternly hammering a gavel of righteousness — or sometimes only righteous indignation.”

She cited his “refusal to accept the notion that victimization and degradation are the defining motifs of African-American history,” which means “abandoning any notion of African innocence or superiority” and denying “that white racism ever had the power to reduce the black race to a traumatized martyrdom.”

In exhorting Black people to shoulder responsibility and debate reasonably, she wrote, Mr. Crouch “comes off less like a hanging judge than a knowing and anxious father figure.”

He could be equally critical of his white counterparts. In 2003, he was dismissed by JazzTimes after publishing a column under the title “Putting the White Man in Charge,” in which he argued that white music critics were overly eager to promote jazz musicians of their own race, thus allowing themselves “to make themselves feel more comfortable about being in the role of evaluating an art from which they feel substantially alienated.”

Mr. Crouch in 2003. He said he found many discussions of race “simple-minded and overly influenced by ideas of determinism — if you’re poor, you’re going to act a certain way.”Robert Hale

Mr. Crouch said in an interview with The Times in 1990 that too many discussions of race were “simple-minded and overly influenced by the ideas of determinism — if you’re poor, you’re going to act a certain way” — a self-perpetuating path that, he said, his public-school teachers had stopped him from taking.

“These people were on a mission,” he said of his teachers. “They had a perfect philosophy: You will learn this. If you came in there and said, ‘I’m from a dysfunctional family and a single-parent household,’ they would say, ‘Boy, I’m going to ask you again, What is 8 times 8?’

“When I was coming up,” he continued, “there were no excuses except your house burned down and there was a murder in the family. Eight times eight was going to be 64 whether your family was dysfunctional or not. It’s something you needed to know!”

Mr. Crouch ultimately wove together his celebration of jazz and his vision of American democracy. Jazz, he wrote, is “the highest American musical form because it is the most comprehensive, possessing an epic frame of emotional and intellectual reference, sensual clarity and spiritual radiance.”

He added: “The demands on and the respect for the individual in the jazz band put democracy into aesthetic action. The success of jazz is a victory for democracy, and a symbol of the aesthetic dignity, which is finally spiritual, that performers can achieve and express as they go about inventing music and meeting the challenge of the moment.”

Giovanni Russonello and Julia Carmel contributed reporting.

Article of the Day: September 4, 2020

Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers’

The president has repeatedly disparaged the intelligence of service members, and asked that wounded veterans be kept out of military parades, multiple sources tell The Atlantic.

Jeffrey GoldbergSeptember 3, 2020

Donald Trump greets families of the fallen at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2017.Chip Somodevilla / Getty

When President Donald Trump canceled a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in 2018, he blamed rain for the last-minute decision, saying that “the helicopter couldn’t fly” and that the Secret Service wouldn’t drive him there. Neither claim was true.

Trump rejected the idea of the visit because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain, and because he did not believe it important to honor American war dead, according to four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day. In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” In a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as “suckers” for getting killed.

From the April 2020 issue: The president is winning his war on American institutions

Belleau Wood is a consequential battle in American history, and the ground on which it was fought is venerated by the Marine Corps. America and its allies stopped the German advance toward Paris there in the spring of 1918. But Trump, on that same trip, asked aides, “Who were the good guys in this war?” He also said that he didn’t understand why the United States would intervene on the side of the Allies.

More Stories

President Trump visiting U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan on Thanksgiving Day.
James Mattis

Trump’s understanding of concepts such as patriotism, service, and sacrifice has interested me since he expressed contempt for the war record of the late Senator John McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. “He’s not a war hero,” Trump said in 2015 while running for the Republican nomination for president. “I like people who weren’t captured.”

Read: John McCain’s death brought out the worst in the Trump administration

There was no precedent in American politics for the expression of this sort of contempt, but the performatively patriotic Trump did no damage to his candidacy by attacking McCain in this manner. Nor did he set his campaign back by attacking the parents of Humayun Khan, an Army captain who was killed in Iraq in 2004.

Trump remained fixated on McCain, one of the few prominent Republicans to continue criticizing him after he won the nomination. When McCain died, in August 2018, Trump told his senior staff, according to three sources with direct knowledge of this event, “We’re not going to support that loser’s funeral,” and he became furious, according to witnesses, when he saw flags lowered to half-staff. “What the fuck are we doing that for? Guy was a fucking loser,” the president told aides. Trump was not invited to McCain’s funeral. (These sources, and others quoted in this article, spoke on condition of anonymity. The White House did not return earlier calls for comment, but Alyssa Farah, a White House spokesperson, emailed me this statement shortly after this story was posted: “This report is false. President Trump holds the military in the highest regard. He’s demonstrated his commitment to them at every turn: delivering on his promise to give our troops a much needed pay raise, increasing military spending, signing critical veterans reforms, and supporting military spouses. This has no basis in fact.”)

Eliot A. Cohen: America’s generals must stand up to Trump

Trump’s understanding of heroism has not evolved since he became president. According to sources with knowledge of the president’s views, he seems to genuinely not understand why Americans treat former prisoners of war with respect. Nor does he understand why pilots who are shot down in combat are honored by the military. On at least two occasions since becoming president, according to three sources with direct knowledge of his views, Trump referred to former President George H. W. Bush as a “loser” for being shot down by the Japanese as a Navy pilot in World War II. (Bush escaped capture, but eight other men shot down during the same mission were caught, tortured, and executed by Japanese soldiers.)

When lashing out at critics, Trump often reaches for illogical and corrosive insults, and members of the Bush family have publicly opposed him. But his cynicism about service and heroism extends even to the World War I dead buried outside Paris—people who were killed more than a quarter century before he was born. Trump finds the notion of military service difficult to understand, and the idea of volunteering to serve especially incomprehensible. (The president did not serve in the military; he received a medical deferment from the draft during the Vietnam War because of the alleged presence of bone spurs in his feet. In the 1990s, Trump said his efforts to avoid contracting sexually transmitted diseases constituted his “personal Vietnam.”)

Amy J. Rutenberg: What Trump’s draft deferments reveal

On Memorial Day 2017, Trump visited Arlington National Cemetery, a short drive from the White House. He was accompanied on this visit by John Kelly, who was then the secretary of homeland security, and who would, a short time later, be named the White House chief of staff. The two men were set to visit Section 60, the 14-acre area of the cemetery that is the burial ground for those killed in America’s most recent wars. Kelly’s son Robert is buried in Section 60. A first lieutenant in the Marine Corps, Robert Kelly was killed in 2010 in Afghanistan. He was 29. Trump was meant, on this visit, to join John Kelly in paying respects at his son’s grave, and to comfort the families of other fallen service members. But according to sources with knowledge of this visit, Trump, while standing by Robert Kelly’s grave, turned directly to his father and said, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” Kelly (who declined to comment for this story) initially believed, people close to him said, that Trump was making a ham-handed reference to the selflessness of America’s all-volunteer force. But later he came to realize that Trump simply does not understand non-transactional life choices.

“He can’t fathom the idea of doing something for someone other than himself,” one of Kelly’s friends, a retired four-star general, told me. “He just thinks that anyone who does anything when there’s no direct personal gain to be had is a sucker. There’s no money in serving the nation.” Kelly’s friend went on to say, “Trump can’t imagine anyone else’s pain. That’s why he would say this to the father of a fallen marine on Memorial Day in the cemetery where he’s buried.”

I’ve asked numerous general officers over the past year for their analysis of Trump’s seeming contempt for military service. They offer a number of explanations. Some of his cynicism is rooted in frustration, they say. Trump, unlike previous presidents, tends to believe that the military, like other departments of the federal government, is beholden only to him, and not the Constitution. Many senior officers have expressed worry about Trump’s understanding of the rules governing the use of the armed forces. This issue came to a head in early June, during demonstrations in Washington, D.C., in response to police killings of Black people. James Mattis, the retired Marine general and former secretary of defense, lambasted Trump at the time for ordering law-enforcement officers to forcibly clear protesters from Lafayette Square, and for using soldiers as props: “When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” Mattis wrote. “Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”

Read: James Mattis denounces President Trump, describes him as a threat to the Constitution

Another explanation is more quotidian, and aligns with a broader understanding of Trump’s material-focused worldview. The president believes that nothing is worth doing without the promise of monetary payback, and that talented people who don’t pursue riches are “losers.” (According to eyewitnesses, after a White House briefing given by the then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joe Dunford, Trump turned to aides and said, “That guy is smart. Why did he join the military?”)

Yet another, related, explanation concerns what appears to be Trump’s pathological fear of appearing to look like a “sucker” himself. His capacious definition of sucker includes those who lose their lives in service to their country, as well as those who are taken prisoner, or are wounded in battle. “He has a lot of fear,” one officer with firsthand knowledge of Trump’s views said. “He doesn’t see the heroism in fighting.” Several observers told me that Trump is deeply anxious about dying or being disfigured, and this worry manifests itself as disgust for those who have suffered. Trump recently claimed that he has received the bodies of slain service members “many, many” times, but in fact he has traveled to Dover Air Force Base, the transfer point for the remains of fallen service members, only four times since becoming president. In another incident, Trump falsely claimed that he had called “virtually all” of the families of service members who had died during his term, then began rush-shipping condolence letters when families said the president was not telling the truth.

Read: Top military officers unload on Trump

Trump has been, for the duration of his presidency, fixated on staging military parades, but only of a certain sort. In a 2018 White House planning meeting for such an event, Trump asked his staff not to include wounded veterans, on grounds that spectators would feel uncomfortable in the presence of amputees. “Nobody wants to see that,” he said.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to Goldberg is the editor in chief of The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror.