Pure Jazz Magazine is a semi annual magazine featuring in depth Jazz stories, interviews plus other information you may find interesting. Based in Brooklyn, USA for the world.
Jo Ann Cheatham Jazz Evangelist Founder/Publisher Pure Jazz Magazine A Remembrance “Jo Ann was born in the same year as me, but she was one of a kind; when the Gods made her they broke the mold.” Playthell G. Benjamin Harlem, April 15, 2016 According to religious convention an evangelist is the “bearer of good news.” Hence when it comes to the art of Jazz, I place Jo Ann Cheatham right alongside such great Jazz proselytizers as Jackie McLean, Betty Carter, Dr. Billy Taylor and Wynton Marsalis. However while all the others were musicians and used their notoriety as performers to gain a platform, Jo Ann was a connoisseur of the art and created her own platform: Pure Jazz Magazine – which she brought into existence and sustained with wit, grit and determination. And through this literary vehicle she spread the good news about the triumphs of Jazz and the virtuosos who play it. Pure Jazz is a unique voice in the world of music criticism: It was black owned, offered a unique forum for black critical voices, and was founded by an extraordinary woman of boundless energy and creativity. Jo Ann was a photographer, writer, editor, videographer, and educator. And she was a very good friend who extended a helping hand to many writers and musicians. Her effect on my life was profound, although I didn’t know her for very many years. From the moment I met her it was apparent that she followed the works of others and was quick to offer compliments and encouragement. It was at the memorial for the master percussionist and innovator Max Roach, who had lately danced and joined the ancestors that we had our first encounter and it was clear from “jump-street” that it could be the start of something big. I made a speech at the memorial, talking about the great influence that Max had on my life. As a boy in Florida studying the drums, Max was a giant figure larger than life. Page 14 - Pure Jazz Magazine I recalled how my Aunt Marie, a music teacher, had bought me a set of white mother of pearl drums that was an exact replica of the drum set Max was playing at the time. They were all set up when I walked in my living room, where a surprise party was awaiting me. Those drums quickly became my prize possession and I spent many hours listening to the Max Roach / Clifford Brown Quintet. I recounted how I had originally started out trying to play the trumpet, but when I heard Clifford Brown I became so demoralized I quit the instrument. Hearing Max had the opposite effect. As I spoke I noticed a lady who was very animated by my talk, and when I was finished I played a bit on congas, recounting how I had grown up to become good friends with the Master and had even played a couple of gigs with him on conga drums. When the program was over she made her way over to me and announced that she was such an avid fan of my radio show, “Round ‘Bout Midnight” on WBAI that she had retired from a job a year early just so she could stay up and listen. I was flabbergasted! She also told me that she had been reading me for years and asked if I would write some pieces for her magazine, Pure Jazz. I was delighted because she was the first Afro- American I had ever met that published a magazine on our Classical music. I had written on Jazz for a wide array of publications both here and abroad especially for the great British publications, The Guardian Observer and the Sunday Times of London, but I was more excited about the opportunity to write for Pure Jazz. For some time I had come to the conclusion that Jazz was the premiere artistic achievement of the African World in the modern era. Jo Ann usually answered her phone, “Cheatham” Furthermore I also considered Jazz the most original contribution of American civilization to world culture. And I had argued in writing and lectures that Jazz embodies the purest expression of the most cherished American values. Jazz is democratic, values individual freedom, promotes innovation, and moves to the rhythms of our machine age milieu. Hence it always puzzled me that although the American cultural apparatus controlled by Euro-Americans chose to glorify the classical arts of Europe – the symphony, opera and ballet – due to their racism, Afro-Americans themselves didn’t do more to promote this great art. Hence Jo Ann Cheatham was a cultural hero to me. She was not a woman of great personal wealth, nor did she have extensive backing from philanthropists, yet she managed to publish a quality magazine dedicated to a complex art form. Her main assets in this venture from what I observed was her enthusiasm for the project, boundless energy and imagination and a winning personality that made serious Jazz lovers want to pitch in and
help. When I asked the Senior Editor Fikisha Cumbo how she became involved with Pure Jazz Magazine, the story she told mirrored my own. Jo Ann just walked up to her at a public affair and simply beguiled Fikisha with her inimitable charm; she told Fikisha that she was a fan of her television show on BCAT, introduced herself and they were soon talking about their mutual love for Jazz and their individual efforts to document and preserve this priceless legacy. Thus began a friendship that produced a body of very valuable work. Looking over the course of Jo Ann’s life one can easily see how she became dedicated to the project of preserving our cultural legacy. Even before she earned a degree in communications from Hunter College, graduating Magna Cum Laude, she was involved in important cultural work. For several years she worked as an administrative assistant to Joan Maynard, Founder of the Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford Stuyvesant History, which evolved into the Weeksville Heritage Society. It was here that she learned the critical importance of preserving the Afro-American cultural heritage, and she also discovered the difficulties of disseminating that vital information to Afro-American youths who desperately needed this kind of cultural literacy as equipment for living. Jo Ann could see that black youths needed cultural enrichment as much as the economic stability that comes with employment. She understood that while jobs were essential to make a living, they needed a rich cultural experience in order to make a life. In this sense her attitude echoed that of Dr. DuBois who noted that Booker T. Washington’s idea of education, with its single-minded focus on the acquisition of wealth would produce “money makers but not men.” The things Jo Ann learned from working on the Weeksville project and her later work as Circulation Manager for Unique New York Magazine, published by radio personality/ entrepreneur Vy Higgenson, converged in the founding of Pure Jazz Magazine, whose publication was a labor of love and a testament to what one can accomplish with dedication and hard work. Over the course of 17 years she published the most unique magazine dedicated to covering the art of Jazz. Unlike much better financed and broadly distributed publications like Jazz Times or Downbeat, there is no debate about whether Jazz is a complex art music invented by Afro- Americans, who also produces virtually all of the art’s major innovators. As the San Francisco based sociologist and Jazz D.J. Frank Kovsky pointed out in his insightful book Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music, whites that are not involved in Jazz readily admit that it was invented by black people but it is not art. While whites that are involved in Jazz admit that it is art but black people didn’t invent it. There was none of that nonsense at Pure Jazz Magazine, and that was purely the result of the vision of its publisher. Although I had published essays about Jazz in a wide array of publications, writing for Pure Jazz was a special pleasure. Jo Ann shared my vision of the importance of the art form, and she was especially enthusiastic about my essays on black women performers. These include essays on the incomparable Valadia Snow, “Forgotten Genius; Jean Carn, Arise and Shine; Abbey Lincoln, The Death of Sister Soul; etc. In looking over the life and work of Jo Ann Cheatham several things stand out: her desire to preserve and pass on the best of our cultural traditions; her commitment to teaching the youths in ways that will help them become the best that they can be; and her dedication to working with and raising up other women. The best of what she was came from her tutelage under strong black women, and her good works represented the fruits of their labors. And in her dedication to teaching young people places her squarely in the tradition of such great black women as Mary McCloud Bethune, Dr. Anna Julia Cooper, Marva Collins, et al. Nowhere is Jo Ann commitment to helping black journalists develop or improve their skills more apparent than my own experience with her. I had begun taking pictures with very small ambitions. I did not think of myself as a photographer and with no aspirations of becoming anything approaching an artist. I only wanted to be able to take clear pictures to accompany articles I was writing. But one day Jo Ann, a highly skilled photographer, looked at some of my pictures and told me that she thought I had a “good eye for capturing an image.” However she told me that I needed a better camera, and then she gave me a Nikon as a gift and bade me to go forth and do something special. That was about eight years ago. On March the 6 th , this year, my first solo photographic exhibition opened in the gallery of the beautiful Dwyer Cultural Center in Harlem. Since I had been living mostly in California for the last two years - where I am working on a book length photo-essay on the work of San Francisco Bay Area Ceramic Sculptors, under the auspices of the Oakland Museum of Ceramics – I had been out of touch with Jo Ann. Alas, when I called her excitedly to inform her about my forth coming exhibition, “The Elegance of Afro-America: Black style as a Weapon of Liberation,” I was informed that she had lately danced and joined the great ancestors in that place which the poet William Cullen Bryant call “That mysterious realm where each shall take his place in the silent halls….” Jo Ann was born in the same year as me, but she was one of a kind; when the Gods made her they broke the mold. I do not believe we shall see her likes again. Playthell G. Benjamin Harlem, NY April 15, 2016 More from Playthell at: https://commentariesonthetimes.me/ Pure Jazz Magazine - Page 15