A new understanding of the birth of jazz through a fine-grained social history of early African American musicians
Brassroots Democracy recasts the birth of jazz, unearthing vibrant narratives of New Orleans musicians to reveal how early jazz was inextricably tied to the mass mobilization of freedpeople during Reconstruction and the decades that followed. Benjamin Barson presents a "music history from below," following the musicians as they built communes, performed at Civil Rights rallies, and participated in general strikes. Perhaps most importantly, Barson locates the first emancipatory revolution in the Americas—Haiti—as a nexus for cultural and political change in nineteenth-century Louisiana. In dialogue with the work of recent historians who have inverted traditional histories of Latin American and Caribbean independence by centering the influence of Haitian activists abroad, this work traces the impact of Haitian culture in New Orleans and its legacy in movements for liberation.
Brassroots Democracy demonstrates how Black musicians infused participatory music practice with innovative forms of grassroots democracy. Late nineteenth-century Black brass bands and activists rehearsed these participatory models through collective performance that embodied the democratic ethos of Black Reconstruction. Termed 'Brassroots Democracy,' this fusion of political and musical spheres revolutionized both. Brassroots Democracy illuminates the Black Atlantic struggles that informed music-as-world-making from the Haitian Revolution through Reconstruction to the jazz revolution. The work theorizes the roots of the New Orleans brass band tradition in the social relations grown in maroon ecologies across the Americas. Their fruits contributed to the socio-sonic commons of the music we call jazz today.
Acknowledgements • Introduction: A Long Song from Haiti • Chapter 1: The Common Wind's • Second Gale, the Desdunes Family • Chapter 2: Mamie Desdunes in the Neo-Plantation: Legacies of Black Feminism among Storyville's Blues People • Chapter 3: La Frontera Sónica and the Mexican Revolutions in Borderlands Jazz • Chapter 4. Black Atlantic Ecologies: Afro-Caribbean Ecosocialism in Louisiana's Sugar Parishes • Chapter 5: Black Reconstruction and Brassroots Democracy • Conclusion: Telegrams from Spiritual Plane • Bibliography
BENJAMIN BARSON is a historian, baritone saxophonist, and political activist. He is an assistant professor of music at Bucknell University. His work has been published in Black Power Afterlives: The Enduring Significance of the Black Panther Party (2020), Routledge Handbook on Jazz and Gender (2021) and Routledge Guide to Ecosocialism (2021).
"Ben Barson's Brassroots Democracy is a brilliant historical intervention in early jazz studies as it expands upon our social and cultural understanding of Louisiana musical and political history as part of the revolutionary diaspora of the Haitian Revolution. Especially valuable is his ability to keep in our ears the music even as he explains how the sounds are embedded in working class, creolized, communities that fought, and continue to fight, against patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy."~Salim Washington, Professor of Global Jazz Studies, UCLA
"With stunning originality, Benjamin Barson reveals a new revolutionary genealogy of jazz, based in the popular struggles of Haiti, Mexico, and the plantation regions of the American South. Don't miss this bold musical history from below. There is no other book like it."~Marcus Rediker, author of The Slave Ship: A Human History
"Ben Barson explores the sonic complexities of Afro-Atlantic performative cultures in Louisiana through the Haitian Revolution, U.S. Reconstruction, and the era of jazz. He critically examines the intersections of Black working-class musicality and resistance in the pursuit of a future grounded in equality and solidarity."~Michele Reid-Vazquez, author of The Year of the Lash: Free People of Color in Cuba and the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World
"Ambitious and unique, this book will change the way you think about New Orleans music. Barson situates the emergence of jazz within 19th-century political movements, linking music to calls for civil rights in New Orleans with Haiti, Cuba, Mexico and beyond. A welcome example of 'history from below' that is all-too-rare in music studies and New Orleans studies."~Matt Sakakeeny, Associate Professor at Tulane University
"Musician, composer, scholar Benjamin Barson places the origins of the music dubbed 'jazz' in its rightful place: the Black Radical Tradition. Deftly braiding the political and cultural histories of revolutionary Haiti, Black Reconstruction, the laboring and creative lives of workers and peasants of the Black Atlantic, African and Indigenous memory in song, story, and dance, Black feminist blues, and resistance to racial capitalism, he weaves a powerful story of how Black revolt and brass bands transformed the port city of New Orleans into a portal to musical revolution. From now on, Brassroots Democracy should be our starting point—both for understanding the past and imagining an emancipatory future."~Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original