Jazz writer James Lincoln Collier’s racially offensive op-ed headline


James Lincoln Collier


     James Lincoln Collier — a Louis Armstrong biographer who described listening to Armstrong’s 1935 – 1947 Decca recordings “one after another” as a “dispiriting experience” — has written a pretty dispiriting piece of his own. Published in the July, 2014 edition of the West View News (“The Voice of the West Village”), the op-ed, titled “N—-R in the White House” (full offensive word not edited out in the publication’s headline) is characterized by several major news sources as being “pro-Obama.” One of the claims Collier makes is that “The simple truth is that there is still in America an irreducible measure of racism,” and that “far right voters hate Obama because he is black.”

     The piece will likely find some sympathetic readers, but the headline was offensive and unnecessary (and mostly irrelevant) to the piece’s intent, and appears to have been utilized simply because, in the logic of publisher George Capsis’ twisted view, “Jim [Collier] reminded me that The New York Times avoids using the word which convinced me the West View should.” No doubt it was also utilized to gain some attention.

     In “Going Commercial,” chapter 20 of his 1983 biography of Armstrong (he also wrote biographies of Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman), Collier wrote that Armstrong (at the time of the Decca recordings) has become “painfully wearing.” Armstrong, according to Collier, “indulges in portentous acrobatic codas, the main point of which is to deliver Armstrong to the highest note he can reach…And especially in the horse-race numbers, there are long stretches of meaningless and irritating riffs.” He goes on to write, “An occasional error of taste is inevitable in a performer like Armstrong, who erred on the side of plenty rather than sparsity, and we accept the risk. But here the bad taste is not the result of a lost gamble but a deliberate effort to dazzle an audience by flashing a mirror in its eyes.”

     Mr. Collier, the “error of taste” headline of your “meaningless riff” is a “lost gamble” and is certainly a “deliberate effort to dazzle an audience” by “going commercial.”   It’s clear you (and Capsis) “erred on the side of plenty rather than sparsity,” and must now “accept the risk.”