Jazz, Swing and Soul: The Legacy of Black Musicians
Down for the Count is a collective brought together over the years by a love of music and performing. Specifically, we share a love of jazz, swing and soul music – and our passion is to perform this for audiences, to lift their spirits and get them dancing.
Whilst there have been great performers and composers of all races and backgrounds within these genres of music, it is well known that the pioneers and originators were black musicians living in the United States. These are great artists whose music has endured the test of time, and we celebrate it through performance today – however, this music has a complex and difficult history, and one that all too often sees black musicians exploited and unjustly treated, both by the industry and by white audiences.
We believe that the pleasure of performing and sharing this great music comes with a responsibility - to understand where it came from, and to recognise the issues that still persist today. The 2020 Black Lives Matter protests and the ensuing conversations about racial injustice have highlighted the need for us to educate ourselves further, and to ensure that we continue to re-evaluate our approach in light of what we learn.
The following is a list of books, films and other media that have informed and inspired us as we learn more about the lives of the artists we love. If you love this music, we urge you also to engage with this list to learn more about the music’s origins and the issues that continue to impact the lives of black artists.
This list will continue to grow and be refined, so if you have any thoughts or recommendations that you’d like to share with us, please get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.
A Change Is Gonna Come (Craig Warner) - A history of American popular music in the 20th Century, exploring how almost all popular music today can trace its origins back to gospel, jazz and blues music originating in African American communities at the turn of the century.
Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans and Swing That Music (Louis Armstrong) - Two autobiographies of Louis Armstrong, detailing his early life and future career. Louis came from humble beginnings and these books describe his incredible rise to fame.
Lady Sings The Blues (Billie Holiday) - A frank and detailed autobiography of Billie Holiday, who told story through song unlike anyone else before or since.
Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop (Frankie Manning and Cynthia R. Millman) - Frankie Manning was one of the most influential Lindy hoppers in history, dancing alongside the bands of Count Basie, Duke Ellington and others at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem and paying a crucial role in the revival of the Lindy hop in the 1980s and 90s.
Early Jazz: It's roots and musical development (Gunter Schuller) - A scholarly work for those really wanting to dig in to the origins of jazz music, exploring where the rhythms and harmony that underpin jazz music come form.
Duke: The Life of Duke Ellington (Terry Teachout) - Duke Ellington was one of the most important jazz musicians in history. This highly accessible biography describes how Duke continually innovated and inspired other musicians.
The Music Of Black Americans (Eileen Southern) - A comprehensive history running from the 16th-Century to the late 20th Century. Written by Eileen Southern, Professor Emerita of Music and Afro-American Studies at Harvard University.
Why is everyone always stealing black music? (Wesley Morris, New York Times) - An in-depth article about the complex issue of cultural appropriation of black music and the legacy of minstrelry. Read here
My Bill Evans Problem - Jaded Visions of Jazz and Race (Eugene Holley, Jr. - New Music USA) - A first-person account of becoming a professional jazz musician and the issue of ownership of black music. Read here
Wynton Marsalis & Ethan Iverson: A Conversation on Jazz & Race (www.wyntonmarsalis.org) - Included as both video and transcription, this discussion between Wynton Marsalis and Ethan Iverson took place on day one of the Jazz Congress 2018 in New York City. Read here
Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things (BBC iPlayer) - Documentary following Ella Fitzgerald's life and career, set against a backdrop of the civil rights movement. Featuring archive footage including her performances and interviews with prominent musicians. Watch on BBC iPlayer
What Happened, Miss Simone? (Netflix, 2015) - A documentary featuring extensive footage and interviews from the life of Nina Simone, from her childhood and aspirations as a classical pianist to her stellar career as a singer and civil rights activist.
Huey Morgan’s Latin Music Adventure (BBC Four, 2020) - Three-part BBC documentary series delving into the origins of Latin American music. Watch on BBC iPlayer
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix, 2020) - A screen adaptation of August Wilson's play about real-life Blues musician Ma Rainey. The story takes place in a recording session and deals with the music industry's mistreatment and exploitation of black artists in the jazz age. Featuring acclaimed performances from its small cast starring Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis, with music performed by jazz great Branford Marsalis.
Ronnie’s: Ronnie Scott and His World-Famous Jazz Club (BBC Four, 2020) - A history of Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in Soho, for many the epicentre of jazz in the UK for the past few decades. Watch on BBC iPlayer
Over the past year we have created a playlist of some of our musical influences. Each musician in the band has submitted some of their own personal tracks. As well as being fantastic to listen to, it serves as a celebration of these artists and reminds us to stay connected with the incredible legacy of so many black musicians to whom we owe our profession.