Brent Blount - Jazz & Native American Music
Why Weren't Native Americans Credited for Being Part of Forming Blues, Jazz, and R&R?

 Influence by listening, not by reading music on paper (without being able to hear written music in the inner ear), is what makes new music. Or, seeing art in all its forms inspires new tonalities and genres to be written and performed. When Africans were forced across the globe as part of the American Holocaust, they necessarily brought their polyrhythmic music with them.



  Africans forced into slavery were “allowed” to go to church, where they heard western harmony in church hymnals, then their slave songs (that gave us the blues) with harmony from the hymnals gave us the very first negro spirituals, then jazz (yes, it's oversimplified here). Then, as Muddy Waters said, “The blues had a baby, and they named the baby Rock and Roll.”



 My premise has another element, besides the necessity of hearing music in some of the same places at the same times. This other element is that Native Americans and African Americans used the same basic scale in vocal Native American music, Native American flute music, and blues. A musical scale is a series of notes used to compose music, there are “church modes.”

We name our modes after Medieval Church modes, which were named after Ancient Greek modes, which were named after ethnic regions in Ancient Greece famous for that kind of sound.

And then there’s the blues with its “satanic” blues scale, that gave the world “Satan's music.”

       Historically, there's a complex, even antagonistic, relationship between the blues — the devil's music, Satan's music — and the church in the black community. A lot of blues players, many of them women, left the church to pursue a career in the blues, and ended up going back at the end of their days. In Warming by the Devil's Fire, we mentioned how Son House, who was a preacher at one time, went to jail for murder in self defense, came out, tried to be a preacher again, then went back to playing the blues. "Georgia Tom" (whose real name was Thomas A. Dorsey) wrote sexually graphic songs for Bessie Smith and others, then he went and wrote some wonderful, lyrical religious compositions later on. Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Reverend Gary Davis did the same thing.

   African Americans and American Indians were demonized for their music. There is the “evil blues scale” (a five note scale plus another “evil” note resulting in a tritone), and the “holy” five note scale, or major pentatonic scale, that gives us “Amazing Grace.” The blues scale’s second note is one half step lower (just think of playing any key on the piano and going down a black or white key), than the “holy” major pentatonic scale is (“...zing grace” in “Amazing Grace”). So too, soldiers accused Native Americans of witchcraft, because the soldiers fell asleep in teepees listening to flute music. African Americans and Native Americans sang songs using the identical five note scale. That scale, the pentatonic scale, is the most commonly used scale in blues (and the blues scale of course) and rock, not the mostly used scale in the hymns that led to the spirituals.

         Why didn't Native Americans receive due credit? Hendrix, who was part Cherokee, was influenced by Muddy Waters, 




YES! Magazine: Documentary explores Native influence in music

The documentary Rumble: The Indians That Rocked the World, which airs on PBS in January, addresses the larger contribution Natives made to music. It’s an important story with many layers that involves both the human and cultural genocide that came with European conquest. The film showcases a lot of musical talent, though the legendary Wray is arguably only the fourth greatest Native guitar player—after Jesse Ed Davis (who played with Taj Mahal, Jackson Browne, and John Lennon), Robbie Robertson, and Jimi Hendrix.

 Due credit? I still mean further back in time, when both Africans and Native Americans interacted during the American Holocaust in the time of slavery. Necessarily, both would have heard each other’s music, since:

Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage (Hardcover) by William Loren Katz

Preface to This Printing

At the Congress of Angostura in 1819, liberator Simon Bolivar was elected president of Venezuela and planned a strategy that would free the Americas of European domination. He found it necessary to clarify America’s racial heritage: “It is impossible to say to which human family we belong. The larger part of the Native population has disappeared, Europeans have mixed with the Indians and the Negros, and Negros have mixed with the Indians. We were all born of one mother America, though our fathers had different origins, and we all have differently colored skins. This dissimilarity is of the greatest significance.”

   And for instance, in 1741, an 800-foot-long coffle of recently enslaved Sioux Indians, procured by a group of Cree, Assiniboine, and Monsoni warriors, arrived in Montreal, ready for sale to French colonists hungry for domestic and agricultural labor. Is it really possible that Africans and  American Indians who had offspring with one another - never heard each other's music?

  Jazz composers wrote songs with many blues forms, then added another section perhaps. Native American's influence also includes jazz, of which contains numerous blues compositions by every jazz composer. Find me a jazz composer that didn’t write a blues tune before smooth jazz. Duke Ellington? John Coltrane? 


  Bolivar’s insight is still revelation to most Americans. Black Indians, designed for schools and young adult readers, immediately stirred adult controversy. Reading it on New York City subways, radio talk show host Gary Bird was confronted by people upset by its cover, topic, and title. Looking at the title, one infuriated rider shouted, “There were not!”

Europeans have mixed with the Indians and the Negros, and Negros have mixed with the Indians. Furthermore, the Negros have mixed with the Indians  listened to the same five note “devil’s music” scale with either complex or simple rhythms behind them. The spirituals influenced Elvis, Miles Davis influenced Dave Brubeck, but did they hear Charley Patton?

(Bold mine)

Charley Patton (died April 28, 1934), also known as Charlie Patton, was an American Delta blues musician. Considered by many to be the "Father of the Delta Blues", 

*  snip *

Patton was considered African-American, but because of his light complexion there has been much speculation about his ancestry over the years. One theory endorsed by blues musician Howlin' Wolf was that Patton was Mexican or Cherokee. It is now generally agreed that Patton was of mixed heritage, with white, black, and Native ancestors. Some believe he had a Cherokee grandmother;[6] however, it is also widely asserted by historians that he was between one-quarter and one-half Choctaw.[7] 


  If racists hated knowing about "Black Indians," it's not an appeal to ignorance or hasty conclusion to say: they hated or would have hated knowing Native Americans were partly responsible for creating much of the music they loved listening to. Did Charley "Bird" Parker hear Charley Patton?


(Bold mine)

Legendary jazz musician Charlie Parker was born Charles Christopher Parker Jr. on August 29, 1920, in Kansas City, Kansas. His father, Charles Parker, was an African-American stage entertainer, and his mother, Addie Parker, was a maid-charwoman of Native-American heritage. An only child, Charlie moved with his parents to Kansas City,

Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ (all my relations)




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