PART 2 TRANSCRIPT
OLIVIA SATHER: You're listening to Beyond the Stage from the Carpenter Performing Arts Center at Cal State Long Beach. In each episode, we introduce you to the artists, scholars, students, and arts professionals interpreting our world through the arts. Join us this week and every week this summer as we explore their stories. Let’s get started.
OLIVIA SATHER: Talking about, you know you, you talked about the first discussion you held, and talking about African American and Black classical artists, musicians. Can you connect the dots for me with bringing in Nicholas Payton, because he represented…his talk that he did for our Voices for Justice Series, which you moderated, was on Black American music partially with the talk was on that, and can you connect the dots for me, for those, and for our audience and this being it's—I don't say its own thing, but it's bigger than just this niche right? It's so much more, but we were sometimes only told this section, we're only, we only peg it into this one area, if that makes sense.
RAY BRIGGS: Yeah it makes sense, yeah sure, absolutely. So you know, with the FEED series, It was mostly focused on classical music and that was a bit by design, that again, most of our students are connected to and studying classical forms. So if we presented something on jazz or some other type of you know, outside the classical realm, I felt… we talked about this with the committee, but I felt that, you know, maybe some students wouldn't have interest in it. Not because it's not important, but it may not be important to them or they don't see how close this is to what they're dealing with. Sometimes I think this is another disservice, I think we, as educators, we…we make it so like you know, and here is what matters as opposed to a lot of things matter. Our job is to figure out how, and how they connect. Not: I’m looking at this for a good ten seconds, I don't see any validity or connection so therefore I’m done with it. No. That means you haven't looked at it long enough, we don't understand enough about it because probably it connects to something that we find important. Right, I think people are like that, music is like that, culture is like that. So when we started, you know, the forum thing was more than classical, so with Nicholas Payton, two concurrent and related projects: one was the FEED forum, that's the Conservatories attempt to broaden how we express ourselves to the cultural diversity, and give the students a chance to learn about things outside of that where we provide already. The Voices for Justice is, as you know, outside of music, but it's you know it's across different departments. We got different people at different levels who are looking at this and thinking: Okay, what can we do through the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, that will allow a space to you know get to some of these discussions, and so it's not—of course the Carpenter Center is dedicated to the arts—but we had you know, great Ben Crump, you know we hosted people speaking, Tamika Mallory, that are not musicians and artists but they're dealing with issues that everyone can relate to you…it's important stuff. So, with my you know kind of work with the Voices for Justice, I’m thinking: I’m a musician and I would love to get a musician who is of this spirit but does it through their art. Right, so I’m thinking which musician do I think would have that. Certainly Nic—there a lot of them that do it, many of them I could think of that do it, but I thought about him because, for a while now, he's been I think you know in a kind of philosophical mode. He's a great musician, but he's also thought about it a lot, and he has expressed his thoughts, I think, in very know interesting and provocative ways so and I’m thinking alright I’m checking boxes here. As an artist, he's in an absolute you know wonder. I mean, it's just it's a real pleasure to hear him play and and knowing he’s primarily a trumpeter but he plays keyboards. He also plays bass, he even sings right, he’s a consummate musician. So just on your artist-side, I was like wow this guy has it. But he also has these thoughts. A lot of musicians have these thoughts, but not all of them express them. Not a lot of them express them in the way that he does, so eloquently so provocatively. So I thought: Okay, it seems to me that he checks all the boxes, right he's a great musician. He's also very much into social activism and his art and his belief about life and the cause of Black liberation, it is intertwined. So I thought he would be the perfect person to ask to be a part of this, and so, with him, he really—his whole his whole acronym, his whole philosophy, you know BAM, Black American Music, that he's saying you know we call it jazz, you disconnect it from Black people. Even though some people think, oh no jazz is African American, yeah we're talking about the you might say, the negative or the cons of using the word jazz, and also the beliefs—it's not just a word. The beliefs around it, that when you hear the word jazz, how is it used? This has been in discussion for close to a hundred years now, but more so, I think, with African American jazz musicians. They tend to come this session more readily or when I’ve seen non-African American actually say white American more even European jazz musicians, I think when they discount the word jazz, it’s for different reasons. I think when they discount the word jazz it’s to say, I am free to improvise music. If I say I’m improvising in the jazz idiom there are certain expectations that are placed on me, certain tunes I'm supposed to play, kind of rhythmic feel I'm supposed to have. How am I’m supposed to improvise in order for it to be classified as good jazz. But if I say I’m just doing improvised music that's not jazz anymore. It’s bigger than that. So I think it's a way for them to liberate themselves from that word, kind of lines of style. African American musicians might do it for also that reason, in addition to you know: what does that mean you say jazz? Some see it as a kind of a code for, you know, I'll say the N-word music. So I’m seeing it as a way of saying that they could think about how in pop culture people use the word jazz you know, like stop talking all that jazz. I saw this kid be-bopping around. Okay, you know, do we say that with classical music, we say you know I saw this kid who was Baroque-ing around, like no, you don't have a word for it. But when it comes to know this Black form, oh it's nothing serious. It's just jazz, you know. In the music world there's a lot of examples I can draw from, but this is one that, outside of music well many would know: we're tuning up in an ensemble. Orchestra tunes A 440, Jazz band B flat…so when we're tuning up, we're trying to get you know kind of in the same realm, intonation so we can play in tune, it’s important in western music and it is a going saying, common saying, that when a jazz group is tuning up and they are quite in tune, the response is: Oh close enough for jazz. In other words, the standard for classical is, but jazz: yeah that'll do. Right, so I think look at this in terms of like ethnicity, a racial line, that's a metaphor, that what is unacceptable for whites is good enough for Black people. It's close enough, that'll work, that's fine right, so I think Black musicians feel that. To be Black in America is to clearly understand boxes. Because you move into a world that says, you are this and a lot of your energy: mental, energy physical, spiritual energy is how do I fully be myself in this box. How do I get out of this box? How do I express myself so that won’t reinforce the confines of this box? I think Black people, for four hundred years, been trying to think about that. First it's on the plantation… it's more professional life, artistic life, sports, business…It’s there, it’s there, so would Nicholas Payton and he said no, BAM Black American Music, he said no, no, no. I’m just talking about jazz because we've talked about Black music, it is much more of a flow then it is a stylistic thing. Not to say other cultures don't have that, but I can honestly say that as an African American going up in Memphis playing music, as a scholar in musicology, as a jazz musician—it's all interrelated. Like if you if you look at the backgrounds of a lot of professional musician jazz musicians they from, I don't know say they’re born up to the 1980s or so, their first musical experience was not the bandstand, it wasn't some school, it was the church. And so the question is now, having come to that, what is it that they picked up and what do they show. Is there any evidence and how they play jazz, R&B, gospel, like know how do they approach it and does that leave any mark? What's the mindset behind making music in the Black church? We don't really talk about those things, right? And so, but as a musician having come through that, I can tell you it’s very important, right, and I can hear evidence of that in in jazz and funk, in gospel, in reggae and hip hop, r&b, soul, you want it down, is it, yes, oh yeah that's in it, it can hear it, right. And so I think we don't identify that we allow ourselves in our culture to be compartmentalized. Someone's going to tell you what it is, and someone outside the community is going to tell you what the name of it is. Right so again, I think about this in terms of beyond music, but there's this power dynamic and it’s been been in the new world for four hundred years now, that what Europeans want to call it, so-called white people, that’s what it’ll be called. And they'll name it and they're categorize it and they'll put it in a box and then they'll tell you, even the makers of it, here's what it is. And so I think Black indigenous people have been resisting that for a long time, and so here's here's Nicholas Payton doing it in our time saying no, no, no. Surely, he knows the word jazz, he knows how I’m sure when he was younger he used the word jazz. But he's thinking about things. He’s thinking: What’s gonna break me from this box? What's gonna allow me to connect it to other thing that I know is is there? Some of it is the wording we use because you know words have meaning and words bring up connotations. So I think in many ways he's doing that kind of work and he’s forcing other people to think about it. Some don't like the conversation, but I think a lot of people find okay, yeah, I see what you mean, so I think I thought about him, but I thought he could really touch on a lot of areas that our communities need to hear. But it will primarily he's a great artist. Right. So, like you, kind of get you know more bang for your buck when you get a great artist and he's a thinker and expresses himself very well, so that was the idea behind him.
OLIVIA SATHER: Wow, yeah, I mean absolutely, and I, you know, when when Megan the executive director came to me, and she said we're gonna have Nicholas Payton he's gonna be coming I was like I don't know who, that is, and I, you know I went and looked at his website and one of the first things that got sent to me was his article on jazz is a four-letter word. He has an essay on that and I was like: This is all new to me and fascinating that this I think ties perfectly back to what you were saying about preparing students to go out into the world. If these are conversations that are not being had, if this is not a part of the conversation, are they fully prepared as artists as educators, as citizens of, just, the world.
RAY BRIGGS: Absolutely. We do a disservice and…I’m just thinking out loud here, but let's say that you know we send them out in the world and they're not prepared for these conversations. I think what may happen as a result, they are uncomfortable having these conversations and at this time in their life, they're already done with a degree work, they are now professionals, they may not be in student learning mode as they once were. In other words, I’m not saying they can't learn anymore, but they may not be as maleable as they once were. Or they might be in the mindset: I’ve already been to that stage, now I’m the expert. I might have already studied, I’ve already taken the test, now I’m done with that, now I’m just going to do. I’m not taking any more, I’m, just, you know, I’m doing it this way. So I think what happens is they are uncomfortable entertaining these thoughts, and then when you present, now I think sometimes when you present this to professionals, professional scholars and musicians, there might be, not that there has to be, there might be resistance, because this is new information to them. And if you presented it much earlier in their life they might have been more apt to receive it. But now they think, you know if he was that important, why did I not get this a school? Well you're just trying to get me to jump through another hoop and I ain’t doing it. You know I think there's resistance to this, this idea…I see this across the nation, not just in music, but this idea: to talk about these things, what, I never talked about them before and my life was just fine. Why are you forcing me to think about these things? Right, we, I think we wait kind of late in these conversations, but trying to do it sooner, but making people comfortable in it right, just like sitting in that…I know there’s tension as a so-called Black man, I feel that it's an easy to talk about some of these things, right, but I tried to put it out there to say you look, you know here's some stuff I’m thinking about and it’s really important that you know it. And I tell students all the time, it's not about you thinking like me. We don't need any clones, but you gotta think.
You have to know the world you live in, you must, right? And so, if you’re uncomfortable having a conversation, either you just can't engage in it, how about this: You run away from it. You create spaces where you don't have to confront it, which might mean you hire people that won't bring that to the table. You hire people in your circle that will never challenge you in this way. That will agree with and see the world and think about the world the way that you do. And the story continues, right? We get the same thing over and over and over again. So we have to somehow break this. I think education is definitely…what I tell my students, I say look you guys, the reason I’m talking to you on the level is I want to see you move this thing forward. I’m telling you because you are the ones they're going to do it, I know that there's work for me to do on the faculty level, as an administrative [level]…to influence the politics of the university, there’s work for me to do on that side, too, but given that I have this kind of you know, immediate impact on my students, and I want to be very forthcoming, I want to be like, I don't want to be coy about it and say: you know, there's one thing that I want you to give, I won't tell you what they are, I want to do this, and this, and this and here's why I’m telling… So, it's like you know I’m respecting you by telling you here's what I want you to get and what I want you to get it. I think my students feel like you mean: there's a purpose and a mission bigger than this grade? Yes! Yes! There's a game going on it's much bigger than you getting a degree. I want you to be aware of it, we’ll use this as a context to get to it. But there's a whirlwind view out there and I want you to be progressive in your thinking and to really be active and moving it forward so that means you should have thought about so certain things. There's certain people you should be aware of right. And if you don't know, I think, even if you aren't aware of it, just be comfortable that there are some people experiencing the world in ways that you are not familiar with. Rather than shut yourself off from it and say: that's not mine, so therefore you need to like… no. That's not my experience, but I love you and I respect you and I need you here, but me, for my community to be its best, you must be here. I don't see that yet. That's what I want to see. It’s kind of like, you know: okay, so you if you look at the at the sports world and you notice in certain sports you see a lot of African American representation. They think about like the NBA. Can you imagine if there were no African Americans in the NBA. It wouldn’t last about a week. It’d shut down. So this idea of you know, interesting enough that you when it comes to certain needs, you know where to go, you know who to talk to. You know who had to procure it. What if we took that across the board and said, you know, this area is not complete, because I have African American brothers or sisters aren't here. Asian brothers and sisters aren’t here. What if there was a mentality, and you saw it, not so much about you know, in order for them to get space we gotta loose some space. No, you know what it was to be complete, we got to bring them in. What if that was the driving force? It would look very different. So that's the message I think we need to get out there… I think, diversity and we consider diversity is more of a you know, like a box to check, like you know we've done all these thing and look we're diverse. I’ve even heard it said things like: okay, is it oh it's like things like you know, the people who are not of this mind will say things that allude to this area being satisfactorily met. And I’ve heard that a lot it's kind of like you know, they are patting themselves on the back, cheering themselves like: look at what we did. I’m like that's nice, but there's more, and the most important thing you can do for people that may not know what to do? Conversations. About students come in and say, well, what do I do? I hear what you're saying well, what do I do? Step one: have some conversations. Because what the problem is, you might think I’m going to go out and do this, we're going to serve the community…okay great, but did you ask the people that it’s happening to? That's number one right: have a conversation. Figure out what matters to them, what is their world like? Then, when you act it’s with their best interests at heart, and not just with your view. Right, you can you can think that you're doing the right thing, that might make you feel morally good or even superior. But it may not actually change things. So conversations will help that. What do you need, what can I give you, what do you see, right? So I think it helps us to grow, it can help us to grow, so that's that's where I am now. I’ve been been teaching for Cal State Long Beach for seventeen years now and I feel like, you know, I’m in a different place in my mind, you know, my energy. I’m more committed to work and I really feel like you know there's change that can be made. My biggest fear is that I teach and say I retire from this university and I look back and I don't see any change. I’m very much afraid of that. That might…I ride off into the sunset and the door closes and the window closes and it's back to business as usual. I don't want that. I don't want that, so that means I have to be more active and and thinking and inspiring to people that who know that the beautiful thing is you don't know where it's going to hit. You don't know which students are going to carry forward you can't predict it so to me it's kind of fun, like let me just cast the net wide, let me just saw seeds everywhere, and maybe they'll come back and when they do I’ll be: wow this is beautiful I don't know it would take root in you. Look it’s coming back to me wonderful, thank you for that. So it's like a like a movie unfolding in some way. So hopefully it’s an uplifting movie. But you know, a nice know heartwarming will be but yeah it's gonna be great.
OLIVIA SATHER: Well, I you know I, like I said I, I can tell you have such a passion for teaching and I hope to one day sit in the back of your classroom and listen in, because I feel like we could keep talking this for forever, and I mean, you're talking about the change at the Bob Cole Conservatory with the students, but I’m seeing it at the Carpenter Center as well with the Voices for Justice series, and I hope that that's just the start of our conversations and needs to be…that's the first step right? Of what comes next. Yeah change, change needs to happen. It’s starting to happen.
RAY BRIGGS: It’s starting to happen, yeah absolutely and I think when we, when we come together for the purpose of being more inclusive, great things happen. Always have in our country when people come together cross lines…This is important and, especially, especially for those who have power and they're looking at those that may not have that same power when they say: I have some power that you don't have. I’m going to use it for your good, nothing more beautiful. Human being can’t do anything more beautiful…when I think unfortunately sometimes we think of power was only being self-serving, I’m going to use this power for me and people look like me or my community. It's actually connected to you not having power, in other words, in order to get it, you have to lose it. What if you said: I’m going to use my space, maybe it wasn't given to me for this, but I’m gonna turn it into an empowerment thing not for me, but for you. Because I see they…your…I can serve your community that's not my own, that's beautiful. Now how do we get there? And not just lip service, but really get that into the minds and the hearts of our students, We really feel like you know I’m doing different things I’m doing in the world around me that only I can do. Right, and I’m really going to be better, so I think it's encouraging and certainly your right, looking across the campus, you see some movement happening. I think it's very important for us to look for allies, right, so that's one of the reasons why, you know, when we look at the Bob Cole Conservatory FEED Program. And what the Voices for Justice…mean in many ways I linked it so that you know we kind of use this voices of a justice and say okay look, this is going to be a culmination of our FEED forum, with this point because it's a similar audiences like what they were looking at. But now, since this was the justice event is music-centered, then the FEED folks have a reason to pay attention, more so, and I put it other, but now they really see that it’s toggling, kind of speaking their language, right. So just kind of figure out ways that those of us who are doing this kind of work like-minded pull together and not just in our own kind of area, but, looking across campus and say: Okay, and again I think it's great it requires creative thinking, because the way our campus is set up both metaphorically and spatially, that's not naturally generated. It’s not naturally generated that I’m going to think about, hey what's happening in the sciences and, to be honest, I rarely walk up to the side of campus. It’s kinda far. I'll get my car and drive around, but I’m not like walking around it, but it's like what would happen if we thought and we knew about each other more? I think this is a metaphor, again it's like growing up in America, and we know our communities, somewhat. We kind of know our neighbors, but we don't really know the people who live across town. Right now living in the same city, and so, if…one hey, what is the city like: Oh, they said this might be like for you. Maybe someone living a couple blocks away, oh no the cities is like that, then you go and oh no, no, no. No, that's not he's wrong or she's wrong like no. They’re right. It says it’s a different experience then what you're getting right. I think that the dominant narrative tends to be if, if people see something that may not be pleasing or satisfactory… sometimes they say it's complaining. And complaining, stop complaining, but it's like well who, how do we hear complaints, who do we hear complaining, and do we do we see it the same way? One thing about kind of the founding of our country wasn't it about patriots complaining? You know what I mean? Like saying no taxation without…we say they were great patriots.
But if African Americans or let’s say, this is not right with that, so… Oh no, you should be happy. You should be satisfied, and things that much better like. Why are you so…don't be so negative, we, I think we are we're kind of primed for that. Think about who do we, how do we receive complaints, from whom do we receive it… So again, this kind of inventory like you know we have to look at these things, because otherwise we can have the conversations that we're not all prepared for the work involved. In other words, you bring an unprepared person to the conversation, they're going to shut down. Possibly because they are not prepared for it and they might think, of all the reasons why this person, why their view is wrong, rather than what are they experiencing and what did they see that’s unlike my own. We all have… ask the basic question: do you think this person has different experience than you. Most of us will say yes, of course, I believe that. Okay, act on it. Let it be a guide to you, and not just a kind of like you know, don't judge a book by its cover thing, we all say that, and then we go out and judge books by the cover you know ,all day every day. Right, do we really do we call that out hypocrisy, do we look at this, we have conversation, so I think we… there’s a lot of great things that can come when we pull together so, seeing you guys at the Carpenter Center, you know I’ve been next to you for a long time, and it's part…true on my end as well, that haven’t really reached out. You know haven't really met so in this in this very difficult time for our country, here we are, here we are and good things can grow from this. I mean already within a few months ago, some great things have happened. Imagine if we have years of development… and looking at other areas that we haven't talked about already. Right, the programming, which means that we're trying to target, and how we bring them in, what are the barriers that keep them from having access, how do we cover those things, like a lot of stuff right. And so I’m sure that's that's on the table eventually, but it's beautiful to me that I really feel I feel more connected to the campus than I ever have in my 17 years. Really. Now it feels like I’m a part of a community, right and not sitting waiting for things to happen, but jumping in and saying here's what I can do, right to make it better, so that's exciting to me.
OLIVIA SATHER: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. Here's to change and here's to the future for sure. Dr Briggs, where can people find you if they wanted to listen to some of your music or engage with you, not necessarily through the Bob Cole…where can they find you, and how can they, how can they learn more about the work you do and and as a performer and or as an educator.
RAY BRIGGS: Yeah, so you know I work with different different organizations. I do some work with the Pasadena Conservatory of music here in Pasadena and that's more of a community school. I do some things with the Colburn School. And I, I’m working with the Quincy Jones Jazz Camp, so each one of these have web entities, we can kind of see what's happening in that area. I am working on a book at this point that should be coming out hopefully within a year, definitely by early next year and it's on the history of jazz in Memphis. Which is, of course, my hometown and it's been such a growing opportunity because I grew up in the city, not knowing the city. You know, isn’t that interesting? I grew up there, but there were things about it I did not know. So this gave me a chance to really study and I feel much more knowledgeable about the city and myself, like my family's history, where do we come into this story, what was going on in the city right before this, what was happening when I was growing up, and it shed light on an area that I think we all, not we all, but sometimes I think many of understand that we study history in a kind of generic way. That we kind of get the federal government in the national history, who was President, what was the war. But not a lot of local history, like know, why is that street named that, why do we call what or who goes to that school? That has been the same people going to that school, who lives in this neighborhood? Has it always been the same, we need to change what kind of…came before what led to this, so by studying Memphis, while I’m talking about jazz I’m also talking about the city and social history, religious history, political history, geography—all these things, and so that's going to be another kind of part of my professional work and there'll be another way for you to see kind of what I’m what I’m doing what I’m about.
OLIVIA SATHER: Alright, well we'll have to share that when it when it comes out, we’ll definitely share that
RAY BRIGGS: A book signing.
OLIVIA SATHER: Yeah, that'd be great. Absolutely, that's fantastic. To close every session I’ve been doing just a couple I call them rapid questions, just a couple few fun things to share with the audience. So we'll we'll dive into those now, what are you listening to right now, do you have any recommendations for what you think, what you want to share with our audience, what they should be listening to what you've been enjoying over the past few months.
RAY BRIGGS: Wow um you know my my listening tastes are pretty eclectic. I listen to a lot of music and different types of music. Some of it, you know, is in line with my professional kind of main emphasis. But a lot of it might be somewhat surprising, right. So so [I] listen to a lot of classical music recently, I’ve been listening to a lot of Beethoven, I really like. He's my favorite composer. There’s a piece that I often encourage students to listen to and it's might sound a little weird but here's here's a here's the piece and here's a way to listen to it. All right okay so Beethoven's 6th symphony, the Pastoral. Not number five: bup bup bup ba. That's the famous one… the one after that. That to me is the one that is, I don't know subjective, but most beautiful. Because I think it captures all the types of the feelings, the emotions of being human. Think it's all in it, like…anger, sadness, happiness, the hope the courage is all in it like different parts of it so listen to this piece, in a car, as you're driving on the 210 freeway. I live in Pasadena so the 210 freeway. Not just any day, but in the wintertime, think January, February. One day, the morning or so, after a rain. It has to rain the day before, it has to be clear, the next day. You drive on the 210 and you're looking at the mountains—that's the soundtrack.
OLIVIA SATHER: Okay. In L.A. when it rains, the next day it's usually clear.
RAY BRIGGS: You got it.
OLIVIA SATHER: If you haven't seen the mountains in a while they're there.
RAY BRIGGS: That’s it.
OLIVIA SATHER: Yeah, okay, alright. I’ll have to do that.
RAY BRIGGS: So that’s one, another kind of thing that I find…exciting, there's an Egyptian singer, part of my studies studying looking into Arab music so music of the Arab world and it's an Arab singer and Umm Kulthum was like the Elvis Presley of the Middle East, right, she's a she's a woman, she was an incredible singer. And so, of course, she’s singing in Arabic so you have to look at what she's singing about, but she was she had a religious upbringing, where she could you know recite the Quran, but she also became like a popular icon because she could interpret songs and their meaning so well, and and she became, she’s now deceased and she died in the 70s, I think, ’75 or so, but even if you don't understand Arabic, listen to and hear that there's this kind of…she has the ability to express something, you feel it, right, so as a musician I’m in awe of it. As a musicologist, I’m excited about it because the way that she tended to speak to people in that region of the world, so much so that the the more or less the entire so-called Middle East would shut down on Thursday nights when her broadcasts we're going on, shops would close, taxicab drivers wouldn't drive, people who pulled over on the side of the road and made sure they hear: go home turn on the radio on Umm Kulthum is singing. Right, so I’m listening to her and thinking, wow, do we have anyone like that? We have some great artists, don't that you can say when this person is singing United States shut down. I don’t think we have that. We’re too compartmentalized first of all, maybe how we take music is so very, very different, but to think about that, it could be a time thing as well, so, I’ve listened to a lot of lot of her stuff as well. Gospel music, you know some of it being, back to my father passed away a few weeks ago, unfortunately, so I went back home to Memphis and you know, I’m thinking more about you know my younger years and how I grew up, and certainly Gospel was a big part of it, so when I hear certain pieces it's like time travel. You know, we all have that, there’s this music that can take you back to what it was like when you were five years old, what kind of smells were in the house, what kind of food are you eating, what kind of clothes were you wearing, what were you thinking. Music can be like a like a time transport like that, so I feel a growing interest in Gospel that depicted period of Gospel music, think about what was going on, what's happening. And of course jazz. I’m listening to a lot of jazz every day. So it depends on which space I’m in, what I’m listening to. Like I kind of have certain things in my car, and certain things in my home studio, and certain things on my phone. Some of it is based on teaching, so a lot of a lot of ways that I go. I also like country music, one of the surprising parts that you know…when I tell people I like country, some are like: what really? You like country music? And in some ways ways I’m I’m interested in the response, I think, know what is it, what is it, I have some ideas about what it is, but what is it that, that would be a shocker? Right obviously when you think about country music you think okay working class, rural, so-called white, you know, singers and communities. But while I’m not white, I’m not from a working class background, I am a Southerner and I’m from Tennessee, right, so that's like the Mecca of country music. So it's not strange if you didn't see me and I just say look I’m I’m a man born in Tennessee, born and raised and I like country music, if you didn't take into account my so-called race, you see, of course, you do. Right, it makes sense, but when you think oh, but he's Black, then now you start to think well what should you like. And what should be outside of his listening choices, so I find that music really is about humanity and the same thing, I appreciate my students that it's a it's a it's a journey and you have, do you have the courage to go against the grain, do you have the courage to step outside the box. We celebrate that in American culture lot, movies celebrate it, we talk about it…you say all that stuff, but when people step outside of the social expectations, they usually pay a penalty. They usually pay a price, even though we just said: don't follow the pack, do your own thing. We don't add, but if you do it in a way we don't like… you're gonna be an outcast, right, and so, when I was younger I didn't tell anyone that I liked country because I was afraid I was afraid that people would say: Oh, you wannabe or you’re a sellout, you're not really Black. Now I’m old enough and confident and comfortable enough in my own skin to say yes, I like country music. And if I if I didn't admit that, I will be denying a part of my humanity. I would also be not fostering the conversation that, which to me, is very logical, given that I grew up hearing it, it will be strange if I didn't have some kind of connection to it. Right, much in the same way when you mentioned your mother having a British accent, like okay well kind of a no brainer with me, as a British accent she grew up hearing people with a British accent. So if I grew up here, people playing country music, I’d probably like country music or at least know something about it, right. But even though professionally if I joined a country band, there will be a whole different experience, professionally in terms of acceptance like, than if I joined a jazz man. Right, so I think that's in the mix as well, like where do you find yourself being received? What do you find yourself, kind of in your in your place—I’m not saying your place—but, you know, kind of comfortably received. That's a part of it too. If you’re going to make your living so you’re going to be in an area where you can excel are you allowed to excel or find the audience, so I think you know it is changing that Blacks are showing up more in country music. It’s still a way to go for that, the association of Black people [with] country, even though country is southern rural music. Well… there are lots of southern rural Black people. Who hear country music, but you say no, no, no that's not for you. It's a very kind of you know kind of a head trip, that we do that.
OLIVIA SATHER: Thank you, thank you for sharing that.
RAY BRIGGS: I know. It’s always a lot. I never answer a question simply.
OLIVIA SATHER: It’s great you know there's a lot to think about and I mean I don't know if I think I remember reading somewhere, maybe I heard it on on a video or something, interview somebody was doing that, like a lot of country music actually has its roots in Black music, Black American music and so it's interesting that it's it's that's now the narrative because that, that it actually has its roots somewhere else, and so, when when did that happen. Maybe.
RAY BRIGGS: Yeah. Yeah, another discussion, but yeah. But you’re right, and I think that is also a part of America. There's also a very common part of American society that often, with the way things start versus if they're commercialized how they are marketed and who they're marketed to, might be different than their origins, you know were showing. So there's all these forces at work, and I think that's that's worthy of study, because I think that affects our understanding of who we are, who we think we are. Certainly you're right, it's happening in country, it happened with rock and roll. It happen to a degree with jazz, it happened to a much lesser degree with hip hop. Certainly there is a sense of: okay, like what does this music come from and since most most of us are, we are we are knowledgeable of the commodified version of the music. That's what we would come away with what is sold. Right, well how about just happened on the way to that spot, you know, in the market. Like where did it come from? We only know, based on what they tell us it is, and if the if the object of just to get us to become fans, they may or may not want to share with us what the origins are if it’s incongruent with the demographic they're trying to sell it to. When I think about country music, if you told a lot of whites, not say all, but many in the south: by the way this music was heavily influenced by an African American some probably wouldn't like it. Or if you said that we know for sure, but when I taught a history class, even in California, then we started sharing where rock and roll came from, even in 2021 there's some like: Oh, are you sure? Is that right? Yeah, because it's now messing with their narrative, it's messing with what they thought they knew, and so rather than going through the work of reassessing and more honestly looking at the the origins, they’d rather resist your you know kind of your your opening…trying to open up the thinking of it, so I definitely you’re right, that has happened, and it is happening. And the more we study where we have been and how it’s happened, I think we are aware that's a part of who we are. In other words, we are looking at this as a one-off thing or what happening…it is happening. It has happened. It is happening. Are we aware of it? Right, this is looking at you look at, for example, the gender inequalities. Is it just happening here, no, hundreds of years, maybe thousands of years in the making. We’re just looking at…now we have a name for “me, too.” It’s been happening, we have a name for it now. And so, much in the same way, it's hard to get people to really stay focused on that because I think it's so ingrained in what we expect and in our interactions and so forth. I mean there's some men, unfortunately, that believe that a woman's sexuality is for only their pleasure, or a body is just for them to gawk at, and if they want to grope her they they can, and she shouldn't be so uptight, right, that she really is to be a compliment, now it's like that kind of craziness, but I think it's the same thing this is who we are. It's not like well, let me say one thing…sometimes in our country we don't have a deep understanding of things and it’s not because we’re not smart people. I think it's because of how we're taught to think. Like we all can be thinkers, but we if we can be taught to think a certain way, and I think it’s what happens. So, when something gets to a an egregious state, in other words, is like is now really obvious that there's a problem. Then we respond. And sometimes we only look at that in its kind of like, now I’m using an analogy, it’s like if it's cancer stage four then we see it. But at this stage one, oh no, there's no cancer here. It has to get really bad for many people to say: oh yes, I see what you me, oh that's horrible. But what about you know, a woman walks down the street, and construction workers whistle at her. Was it rape, no, but it's that mentality, it might it might know, in other words, some might think: well, I can whistle at you, and, in fact, if you don't turn around and acknowledge my whistle I’m gonna start cursing at you next, because you should have received my my compliments. What is that? Some kind of ownership, there's something there, and if we're in a space, which is just you and I, I might think I had that same right to control your body…see it as being connected right, so I think we talk about race, gender inequality as Americans, I think, sometimes we we only respond when it gets to a…that's a problem right, because we will always be dealing with symptoms and not really causes. Because symptoms, like having a disease, well once there are outward signs now we’ll deal with it, it might be too late. I’m just saying with race it’s too late, with gender it’s too late, but at that time you already let it fester right, it's already manifested. What if we started dealing with that sooner, right, of course, there was a fight against that, like it, some people don't want to get that they don't want to have that conversation when they think there's no issue. That what that says to me is: they see this as a one-off thing. They see this just just an incident, yeah a few bad apples, whatever it is. But it's not really something that we all have to be concerned with. That shows that they don't understand it. There's something wider there, but do we have the freedom to express ourselves, do we foster conversation with people that it’s happening to. Do we open spaces to hear what's happening with the minority so-called Black people to know what's happening. With women, do they feel safe and saying here's how I think, in some ways is like you know, Like like a victim, victim’s syndrome, not sure of the name, I’m not a psychologist, but when you condition so long in that it seems normal, it seems natural, and you don’t even realize how oppressed, you are. Right, so sometimes they will say things like: you know, oh, he just he just you know men being men. No. How is that okay? Right? So how much do you tolerate before you say it’s a problem. There should be a zero tolerance for it; teach young men to be respectful. And to know that you know if you want anyone to to abuse you and use you and make you a piece of an object—you wouldn't like that. So why are you doing it to someone else? We got to keep pressing that, and it can’t be like when things get bad conversation, it has to be, no, let's make it with…it’s really like kind of like you know, we're going to have some some bumps along the road let's prepare the car for it now. It's coming, let's just be ready for it now let's not wait till we hit it, then say we need some new tires. Too late, so you didn’t ask me all that, but kind of where I’m going.
OLIVIA SATHER: You know, it's all it's all related, definitely. Um I have one last question. And that is, you know, we're at the point now, California is talking about June 15th is the opening date. Not sure what that's going to mean yet, but things are, we're we're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for this pandemic, at least to some degree and I’ve been asking everybody, what are you most looking forward to, not not just professionally, not just in terms of the campus but you personally, what are you looking forward to as we near the end of this pandemic and whatever comes next.
RAY BRIGGS: Yeah, what am I looking forward to? I’m looking forward to, I’m most looking forward to changing spaces. Living in Pasadena, teaching in Long Beach I am used to being in different spaces and I realized over this COVID hiatus, that there's an energy you get from certain spaces and the movement from one space to another, even though it requires energy, it also gives you energy. Right, so I teach from home now, so I wake up, you know, get dressed, take a very short walk to my studio behind the house, now I’m at work, right, and I can’t get in the car, there's no drive, and so, while it is easy and some levels like you know I’m just kind of I’m just doing it. I also realized what have I lost? Right, it's like a give and take. I lost that drive time which you might say, well that's great. Yeah it is, but also, I realized that there's a transition point. When I leave home, I’m getting ready mentally. I’m playing some music, you know, I’m listening to the news, whatever. When I get to campus, now I’m ready to teach. I had to get a different rhythm, because now I wake up and it could be, you know, 30 minutes before my class starts and I'll get ready and I go on and teach, so I had to figure out how do I get that same energy, that same momentum. I’m trying, I’m starting to figure it out. But it is different, it’s certainly different. I never realized how much, I’m sure there's a word for it, I never realized how much I’m connected to the spaces that I’m in, right, that I feel a certain way in certain spaces, I feel like: this space is for work, this space is where I relax, this is where I go to practice, this is where I go to read—I’m very spatially oriented. And I’m having to do a lot of things I didn't have to do before in the same space. That's a that's a that's a kind of a challenge for me, to figure out how do I do my professional work and my, you know, and my own private studying and my music writing and and and practicing. All the same, space now, right, so I’m looking forward to changing spaces. Like I’m going back to an office, I’ve not been to my office in Long Beach for so long. Right, it's like will be nice it's…wow this is nice to sit down, I got my books here, and it'll be wonderful seeing students walking around. I’m looking forward to that. Do you know that is a southern saying: you don't miss your water to your well runs dry. Right, when it's gone you realize: hey, that was really nice. While you're doing it…any old day. Now you realize actually I can't. And it would be nice to go back to some of that. I’m sure, once I’m driving again, I’ll be like: Oh, this is awful there's so much traffic and…a complainer you know, complaining so but uh it's this idea. I do, I look forward to that seeing people and moving around. Can of like we said at the beginning of the session that, you know, when you have that kind of balance, then coming back home–not to say it's not pleasurable already—but you just feel like: Now I’m back home when I can rest. But if you’ve been home all day, you don't really feel… look there’s the couch again, but that couch is golden after coming off the freeway for an hour and a half. Wow. So I think it taught me that we need that. I need that. I don't know if anyone needs it, but I need this kind of changing of space. I function well with that. Well, moving around I guess the same thing, but no human human beings, as you know, from moving around, we're very flexible, we’re more flexible more than we understand. We can adapt to all kinds of situations right. We can make it work, but it's just sometimes situation have to teach us that we can make it work. Right. Life life changes…you know, actually, you can do it, if you told me, before going to teach your going to teach over a year online, oh no, no, not me. Like no, I’m an in-person kind of teacher, I don't want to do it online. Now I’m like, hey this ain’t half bad. You know I think I think I can do it, it has been all right, I’ve been getting information across, and some things that can actually do better online. I wouldn't have known that unless I’ve been forced to do it. So, it's also taught me, you know, don't always think you know, how it’s going to be because life can show you other things, so I’m looking forward to getting back to that, but also, not forgetting what I’ve learned in this period.
OLIVIA SATHER: Absolutely, and it’s interesting, we kind have come full circle now to like a conversation we were having at the beginning about space and about you know teaching online and taking things forward with us, absolutely. I can, I can totally agree with that. That you know and changing spaces sparks our creativity, sparks our imaginations it gives us fresh perspective on the world around us, I find.
RAY BRIGGS: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely.
OLIVIA SATHER: Ray, I just want to say thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. I really appreciate it and I’m excited when we come back in the fall to see what the FEED program is doing, and for continuing the Voices for Justice series as well. We made that announcement at our last event, and I know we're in the planning stages, but thank you so much, I really appreciate it.
RAY BRIGGS: Thank you Olivia. Been a great host.
OLIVIA SATHER: Thank you, thank you.
END OF PART 2