More on jazz and capitalism

I came across this quote by Ornette Coleman, which raises a number of important problems about the relationship of jazz to publicity, ownership, control of the music, the exploitation of artists, and so on.

Coleman: “I’ve had record companies record me, I’ve had publicity written about me, and I’ve had musicians and other people admire me; but according to my production output, I haven’t earned anything. The problem is in this business that you don’t own your own product. If you record, it’s the record company that owns it; if you play at a club, it’s the nightclub owners who charge people to listen to you, and then they tell you your music is not catching on. Let’s say I’ve made eight albums; if one company owns six of them and the other owns two, then who do you think made the most money from them? Me or the two companies? Maybe that’s what business is, taking something and making money from it. It seems that production and publicity are so closely related that they turn into the same thing. What I mean is, in jazz the Negro is the product. The way they handle the publicity on me, about how far out I am and everything, it gets to be that I’m the product myself. So if it’s me they’re selling, if I’m the product, then the profits couldn’t come back to me, you dig? This has been my greatest problem – being short-changed as a Negro, not because I can’t produce. Here I am being used as a Negro who can play jazz, and all the people I recorded for and worked for act as if they own me and my product. They have been guilty of making me believe I shouldn’t have the profits from my product simply because they own the channels of production. They say, “Here is a guy who can play off the top of his head and he’s not part of the structure, so we’ll take it and use it for our own betterment and let him feel that he’s just becoming a human being, you known, expressing himself.” They act like I owe them something for letting me express myself with my music, like the artist is supposed to suffer and not live in clean, comfortable situations. The insanity of living in America is that ownership is really strength. It’s who owns who’s the strongest in America. It’s strategic living. That’s why it’s so hard to lend your music to that kind of existence.

Ornette Coleman in A.B. Spellman, Four Lives in Bebop (New York: Limelight Editions, 1990), p.129-131

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