As co-founder A. B. Spellman puts it in his introduction to this timely reprint of jazz zine The Cricket, by the late 1960s “the jazz press, the jazz record labels, the jazz venues were almost entirely controlled by white people, and the jazz audience was becoming whiter and whiter, in seeming contradiction to the fact that we all considered jazz to be the greatest achievement of African American people”. To counter this Spellman, alongside fellow poets Amiri Baraka (then using the name LeRoi Jones) and Larry Neal took inspiration from the radical politics of the time to set up a platform from which the sidelined Black musicians, critics and artists could take back some control. Speak freely. Loudly. Express themselves. Named after a, possibly mythical, early jazz broadside run by Buddy Bolden, the short four issue run of The Cricket has become an indispensable artefact of the Black Arts Movement. Dating from 1968-69 the publication showcases some of the finest radical and avant-garde musicians and writers at the peak of their powers. Now reissued by Blank Forms (see here for a piece about their Moki/Don Cherry book from last year) these pages can reach a far wider audience than the original small run Gestetner mimeographed street zine did back in the day.
Featuring written contributions from musicians including Sun Ra and Milford Graves, poetry from the likes of Sonia Sanchez and Larry A Miller and thoughtful writing on the music being made at the time by Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders and many others, The Cricket captures an astonishingly fertile moment in jazz history. Elsewhere there is biting criticism of certain records. Oliver Nelson’s Live From Los Angeles gets short shrift from an unnamed critic (“Does anybody remember his Screamin’ The Blues with Eric Dolphy? At that time Oliver was a motherfucker on his instrument too. Check him out, what he was doing. He ain’t doing nothing now. He ain’t into nothing, but bullshit. Don’t check this side out. It sucks.”) And there’s plenty of kick back against the jazz establishment, Shelly Manne is called out as a “jive honky drummer” after he’d described Ornette Coleman’s music as “unadulterated shit” in an issue of Downbeat. And a full page cartoon titled “Exploitation Blues” shows a chained up blind sax player. “How’m I doing Norm?” asks the musician. “The public's not ready for you yet. We’re not makin’ a dime. Keep playin’” says the figure to his side as he’s being showered with dollar bills. This targetting of jazz impresario Norman Granz, a hugely influential gatekeeper in the jazz world at the time, shows just how radical and iconoclastic the publication was.
Presented in facsimile with an essay by academic David Grundy, Blank Forms reissue of The Cricket is exhilarating reading.
Main image, Pharoah Sanders from The Cricket review of his LP Karma.
The Cricket: Black Music In Evolution 1968-69 edited by A. B. Spellman, Larry Neal, Amiri Baraka
Published by Blank Forms, September 27.
More info here.
Kirk Lake is a writer, musician and filmmaker. His published books include Mickey The Mimic (2015) and The Last Night of the Leamington Licker (2018). His films include the feature films Piercing Brightness (2014) and The World We Knew (2020) and a number of award winning shorts.
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