Arts Listings

Sankofa Institute Presents Charlie Parker Symposium

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Friday August 25, 2006

“We want to bring Jazz back to the fore, make it relevant again—and bring it back to black audiences,” said Duane Deterville, founder of the Sankofa Cultural Institute, of the two-day symposium “Bird, Bop, Black Art & Beyond” at the House of Unity, Suite 230 in Oakland’s Eastmont Mall, 7200 Bancroft Ave., this Saturday and Sunday. 

“Jazz has been presented too much as music of the past, not for young audiences,” he said. “We’ll be looking at how great players like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were catalysts for art and style of worldwide appeal, and how they were part of a cultural movement that germinated in black neighborhoods, communities like Brooklyn and the Bronx that gave birth to Hip Hop in more recent years.” 

The symposium, running from 2-8 p. m. Saturday and 12:30-4:20 p.m. Sunday, will feature a Norwegian documentary film, never released in the United States, with interviews of musicians who played with Parker, shown over the two days of the event. A one act play, “Wounded Feathers, A Jazz Tragedy,” will be performed Saturday by its author, actor and jazz promoter Robert Carmack. 

Both days will also feature panel discussions, with Arthur Monroe, an artist and historian who was acquainted with Parker; Karlton Hester, musician and director of Jazz Studies at UC Santa Cruz; musician and scholar Rudy Mwongozi; archivist Julian Carroll; and jazz promoter Melva Young, as well as Robert Carmack. Duane Deterville will moderate the panels.  

Monroe met Parker in New York, through black abstract expressionist painter Norman Lewis, who had a studio near Willem De Kooning’s. 

“Bird not only had an impact on the painters and writers who gathered at places like The Five Spot,” Deterville said, “but also studied painting with Harvey Cropper. Most of his canvases are gone, but one or two apparently survive. Part of what we want to do is to resurrect him from the stereotypical image of being just a slave to his own addiction, the myth of him and other Jazz artists as being just about emotions and ‘natural talent,’ not the rigor of study. Charlie Parker was well-read, basically an intellectual, and listened to everything in music. Downbeat put him through a blindfold test of a wide range of music, which he got all right, including Stravinsky and other composers, some of whom he had met. We want to make him more three-dimensional.”  

Deterville also told the story about how Monroe met Jan Horn, the Norwegian documentarist who made the Parker film on a grant from his government. 

“It includes interviews with Red Rodney, the Heath Brothers—from some great players no longer with us,” he said. He also mentioned other artists who traveled back and forth between the black community, jazz, “beat” and other scenes in American and international society, like the late poets Ted Joans and Bob Kaufman (long a San Francisco resident). 

“We want to show that these things that originated in the African diaspora in Black communities in the U. S. occurred more than once,” Deterville said. “Hip Hop is in that way almost an echo of Be Bop, and not only in the sound. Like jazz, it’s got a world-wide appeal, moving youth culture, inspiring painters like Keith Haring and Basquiat, as well as sparking poetry slams, fashions in dress, literature ... We’d like to make Jazz relevant to younger listeners, show how these are materials that can be used in their current aesthetic--and that there are words to draw upon as well.”  

Deterville founded the Sankofa Cultural Institute in 1999 to bring about encounters, workshops and cultural exchanges concerning African Diasporic cultural expression. The Institute has both a local and an international focus. 

Past conferences have brought artists and cultural leaders from as far away as Brazil and Nigeria. Yet Deterville’s focused on the future, culturally speaking. 

“You have to wonder what’s next on the horizon after this,” he said. “Looking back, who knows what brings these things in and out of vogue?” 

He’s making sure the discussions will be documented, so in the future younger people will be able to hear the participants talk, “and hear other people chiming in, to know there was still an interest in jazz in the black community in Oakland, that it wasn’t completely forgotten in the 21st century.” 




A symposium on legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker and the significance of black artists in the 1950s. Saturday, Aug. 26 and Sunday, Aug. 27. House of Unity, Suite 230, Eastmont Mall, 7200 Bancroft Ave., Oakland. $5-15 per day, sliding scale. For more information, call 836-6234.