Posts Tagged ‘Italians’


“It’s all American music.”

–Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown

I had a long talk this pm with my pal George, an old-pro and great drummer I still sometimes play with, an Italian guy from New Jersey, who was Frank Sinatra Jr.’s drummer for years; we talked about music, musicians, and racism. (George loved Frank Jr., says he was a great guy.)

He told me a story about one of the first things that happened after he moved here (Tucson) from New Jersey. George has the gift of gab, and he got a job working for one of the local Ford dealerships. On his first day, he all but sold a Lincoln to one of the ranchers from up Route 77 north of town, and the jerk came in the next day, spoke to the manager, and said he wanted the car but didn’t want to buy it from an Italian. The manager saw George, said “stay out of the way, I’ll sell the car, you’ll get the commission, and from now on your last name is Joseph.”

George was shocked by the anti-Italian prejudice, something he’d never run into on the East Coast.

But race prejudice and anti-semitism was something he well understood, from anti-black, anti-white, and anti-semitic prejudice in daily life and the band scene in NJ. (There were white-racist and also all-black clubs where they didn’t want mixed-race bands, which is what George always played in.)

It’s so fucking stupid as to be mind boggling.

But it’s there.

And it breeds in isolation. In isolation from people of different races and ethnicities.

That’s one of the great things about most types of American music, especially blues and jazz: you end up playing, often for long periods, with musicians of other races and ethnicities. And you become friends, you come to understand the brotherhood of man (at least the brotherhood of musicians).

In my case, I’ve for years played with black folks, white folks, Mexicans, Native Americans, and Jewish folks. That’s pretty much par for the course for a blues musician. After a while playing with someone, you simply stop thinking about race or ethnicity. You just take them for who they are: Cliff, my black pal the drummer, becomes simply Cliff, my pal the drummer.

About the only places where you’ll still find race prejudice in the American music scene is in (yes — shocking, I know) country and certain types of hard-core rock and roll.

Other than that, we all tend to get along. We have to. It just works that way.

It works out the same in neighborhoods. I live in the most densely populated, most integrated neighborhood in Tucson, which is the most integrated major city in the country. My neighborhood (Keeling — neighborhood motto, “It’s better than it looks”) is about 65% Mexican, 25% white, and 10% black (almost no Native Americans or Asians). And we mostly get along fine. We’re on top of each other, interact every day. And it’s fine, very relaxed.

As a middle-aged ex-gang banger neighbor from Cleveland (a self-described “retired Crip”), put it, “it’s paradise.” In other words, almost no racial tension and almost no overt race prejudice. I couldn’t agree more. This neighborhood is dirt poor, “hard scrabble” as the local paper put it a decade or two ago, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

If you want to get rid of race prejudice, get rid of race isolation. That’s the way it works in bands, and that’s the way it works in neighborhoods. Isolation breeds fear and hate.