Why Did Lenin and Muhammad Hate Music?

For jazz is not jazz if it doesn’t contain a considerable element of improvisation, and improvisation is an expression of the individual soul par excellence. A musician who is improvising has nothing to fall back on except his own inner reservoir, and that is why jazz at its best is so immediate, so personal, and so affecting. Miles Davis and John Coltrane improvising on the same piece couldn’t sound more different from one another, not just because one plays trumpet and the other tenor sax, but because they are so very different from one another as human beings, and in their improvisations, one can hear into their very hearts and souls. One may learn their solos note-for-note (as I did back in the pre-9/11 days when I played a bit of saxophone myself), but this is just a musical exercise; the music itself can be copied but never replicated, for their individual expression is inherent and essential to it.

Totalitarian collectivists hate that individual expression. They are only interested in the individual not for the expression of his own soul, but as a cog to fit into their great machine that is marching toward the worker’s paradise, or the Sharia state, or whatever the outcome of their reign of terror is called today. As such, jazz music, a unique product of the nation that has enabled a flowering of the individual spirit unparalleled in human history, is a rebuke to collectivism, and a defiant and joyful reassertion of the one thing that totalitarians fear most: the individual.

Now wait a minute, you will say: what about all those Muslim jazz musicians? There have certainly been a lot of them. The formidable drummer and bandleader Art Blakey was known to his friends as “Bu,” short for Abdullah ibn Buhaina, his Muslim name. Ahmad Jamal, Sahib Shihab, Idrees Suleiman, Yusef Lateef, Rashied Ali – the list goes on and on. The tenor and soprano saxophonist Pharoah Sanders actually titled his marvelous album Summun Bukmun Umyun after passages of the Qur’an that say that the unbelievers are “deaf, dumb and blind” (summun, bukmun, umyun, 2:18 and 2:171). The liner notes say that the album’s purpose is pure dawah (Islamic proselytizing): “This album is predicated on spiritual truths and to the future enlightenment of El-Kafirun or The Rejectors of Faith (non-believers).”