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53 West 19th Liner Notes

In my attempt to do what is right in regards to social equality for all people, I have chosen to use my liner notes in an unconventional way. The music recorded here speaks for itself but what is not heard is the social and political context that this and all music exists within. Many will agree with the brief essay to follow, many will feel indifferent but most, I fear, will disagree. Regardless, I ask you, in the jazz tradition, to become self critical and question, "how does my response to this essay support and maintain the pre-existing social and economic system we live in today?"

As we approach the year 2000 I am aware of the continuing social crisis that has existed in the world throughout history. It is the reoccurring theme of the oppressor and the oppressed, the rich and the poor, the exploiter and exploited. In short, it is the reoccurring reality of class society based on the private ownership of the means of production. That is, a society in which a minority of people (the ruling class) own all of the social resources and profit off the labor of workers who have only their labor to sell in order to survive. The majority of the people on planet earth today are poor, exploited, oppressed, manipulated and used as a cheap labor force for the rich of capitalist America and its elite first world counterparts. This simple truth has been buried since the beginnings of America. We live in a class system in which there is an increasing disparity between the haves and the have nots. The ruling class controls the money, media and politics and maintains an illusion of equality, democracy and freedom when, in fact, we are all slaves to capitalism.

The Jazz musician, who's labor generates millions of dollars each year to support this system, has become so isolated from politics that he or she has become easily manipulated in the hands of the record industry not seeing his or her role in feeding the oppressor. Today, the Jazz musician lives under the illusion (maintained and cultivated by the rich, ruling class) that art exists above and beyond its social and political system. This "anti-intellectual" position is supported throughout the arts community and society as a whole. Furthermore, the university education system endlessly produces graduates in fields so specialized that a general understanding of the inequalities inherent in capitalism are never or seldom understood. This specialized work force, uneducated to see it's own situation clearly, enters into its invisible bonds in corporate America without resistance or critical awareness of this fact. These so called educated, combined with the relatively uneducated masses, have been conditioned through education, media, politics and ruling class ideology, not to think or act in ways that can change the system that exploits their labor.

Historically, Jazz music originated in the epitome of the cheap, exploited labor force; the African American Slave. It is ironic that music that grew from this poor, oppressed, laboring class, the music of freedom, equality, and liberation has now become a commodity whose profits support the very ruling class that enslaved its creators. The jazz artist must realize this paradox and become active in educating him or herself and others to these historical truths as well as organizing and unifying with others of this exploited global working class to create and maintain collective base for social transformation. The Jazz musician today generally has a very self centered position often due to individual struggle to maintain a subsistence for self and family. Very few work toward real lasting social and political transformation that would end all their suffering permanently. The hip, stylized and commodified personality of the artist generally falls short of the principal based character needed to create choices that lead to the material equality of all people.

The few individuals who climb partially or fully to the upper class tend to view their "success" as a blessing and fail to recognize the vastly unfair conditions that this society upholds for the exploitation of the majority of its people. The struggling Jazz artist, making it to the top, feels that if he or she can make it anyone can. This obscures the fact that America is based on a structure that depends on a cheap, poor, uneducated and unthreatening labor force to maintain a rich ruling class. No matter how many individuals make it to the top, the majority of the people will always be impoverished, exploited and oppressed here in America and so much more in the third world.

Furthermore, the inequalities of race and sex are purely a manifestation of class society and have no basis in biology or human nature. Racism developed in capitalism to help justify and support the exploitation of slave labor, by creating ideologies and beliefs that depicted Africans as biologically inferior. Simultaneously, racism divided the exploited white labor force from uniting with African slave labor force in a common class based uprising, thus eliminating a unified threat to ruling class America. Today, racism functions in the same way, often without the awareness or understanding of its subscribers, by turning peoples of the working class against each other, diffusing their unified power base and their threat to the ruling class. Sexism, and ideology claiming women to be biologically inferior to men, helps maintain women's social position as a cheap, submissive labor force in and out of the home. This also further divides the working class men and women weakening their potential unified strength. Often, in our struggle to overcome racism and sexism we forget that these are important tools used to help the ruling class divide and disempower its oppressed people. Thus, if the political and economic system does not change, the ideologies of racism and sexism and many others will re-manifest out of a ruling class necessity, forever.

I believe the jazz musician must become committed to changing this system that promotes, allows and thrives on the exploitation of labor. The artist must become aware of these issues in great detail in order to bring about the massive change necessary to create equality for everyone globally. I want the Jazz musician to reconnect with his and her heritage as a voice of the working class. I want the Jazz musician to educate one another, gain solidarity with the working classes of the world and demand a true global democracy that holds equality for all first and foremost.

Matt Otto (1996)