A Note to Decades

I will tell you how often
I find myself standing
ten years past high school
when the body burdens the mind.
I will tell you how
I find myself standing
sideways, the mirror shows
the degeneration,
what’s to come
in my sixty-fourth year,
my neck craned, hair white
frame offering its thin reminder.

Hoisting myself,
as night comes over
the house, I stretch
past another ten years
and count my breathing
in the clean air, voices pass,
each breath deliberates,
avoids potholes, spills
forward into moon-cast shadows
as each foot shatters.

Tomorrow I will prepare
a great meal,
I will lean on the stove,
watch my fingers on enamel.
Eating alone I can stomach
the past, the meat pinkening
in oil and wine.
I scrub the plate,
stains shimmer, reflected
on my face and spread
like spots that won’t wash off.

I will tell you how
once, back in Virginia,
we talked till dawn, laughing
about the great adolescent pain,
in the gold iridescence of leaves
in the green veins of sentimentality
in the history without prediction
but dawn, like talk, leaves
only the black funnel
of ten more years.

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Shooting Digital Like Film: Lessons From Dad

I was around eight or nine years old when my dad first put a camera in my hands. Maybe I was younger, if I was, I don’t remember. We were gearing up to go to Philadelphia to see some family members, and over the course of the trip, we were slated to go visit Longwood Botanical Gardens.I still have the camera. It was a 1960’s Nikkormat, a Nikon-adjacent model that worked smoothly and had that characteristic silver and black style of the era. I remember attempting to pick the worn gold “certified” sticker off of the lens and my dad stopped me, saying that “a well worn sticker is a badge of honor for a photographer.” So I left it on the camera.

As we geared up for our trip I remember cleaning the body of the camera almost obsessively. I would dip cotton swabs into rubbing alcohol and watch the patina’d crust that had built up over the years dissolve. I would use these disposable lens cloths that come in a little booklet on the lens almost every time I used it. Something about the manual action of winding the film and holding the weighty body of the camera felt indescribably cool and professional, but decidedly not modern.

At this point of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, digital cameras were certainly present, but had not yet reached the full level of market (and pocket) saturation that they currently enjoy. I remember our first Nikon “CoolPix” with approximately 3.1 megapixels and the tiniest, grainiest, thumbnail screen. Memory was expensive, and my dad’s film SLRs were still the family cameras of choice.

Dad was an avid photographer throughout his life, a member of the Villanova “Photography Department” (which was in fact the photo club, the department moniker was probably added to attain some sense of 1960’s east-coast collegiate largesse). He would tell me how the “Department” would train their green members by making them shoot sports events. Following the action of the ball, trying to shoot a still of the ball leaving a player’s hand, capturing movement in an evocative and dynamic composition could all be practiced through shooting sports, namely basketball and football games.

During the 1970’s he took photos for the Philadelphia Eagles. I remember looking through the old team yearbooks from the 71, 72, 73, and 74 seasons. What a time for facial hair. Apparently Dad was the spitting image of a player named Bill Bergey. The practice that he got in shot composition at Villanova had carried over.

So it was fitting that, in a sense, began my photo journey in Philadelphia. For the trip, Dad gave me a box of three rolls of film to use over the duration of the trip. I immediately put the first roll of film into the camera and began shooting around the house and in the front yard. By the time we got to Philadelphia, I had already used up an entire roll of film. I remember walking around Philadelpia’s historic district and shooting vertical format pictures of the cobbled streets, of pigeons, and other mundanities of city life. I had already used up my second roll of film.

As I wound up my second roll, with a full intention to pop the third in, my Dad interjected and suggested that I wait to put the third roll in until our arrival at Longwood Gardens. I was having so much fun shooting freely that I was resistant to the idea and pouted about the fact that I could not document every little thing I saw.

One restorative hot pretzel later and we were en route to Longwood Gardens. As I put the third roll of film in, As I wound the film to take the first shot, Dad instructed me that I should think about what I want to portray before I shoot. This guiding question of “which story do you want to tell with your image?” has been central in my current nature photography work, and has been a theme of the class.

As I walked through the steamy greenhouses at the gardens, I looked at each flower specimen, scrutinizing its photographic potential. “Was it worth an exposure on my third roll?” “Would it make the cut?” “What if I mess it up?” are questions that probably came to mind. By the end of the day I had two shots left, but my economical approach to shooting the third roll left me feeling better about the shots I had taken at Longwood, as opposed to those taken in Philadelphia. I felt a pang of regret about shooting a whole roll of film on test shots at home, but then quickly forgot about it, as the mind of a nine-year-old has little room for regrets. Most of the photos came out blurry, unfocused, and obviously done by a nine-year old, but the lesson stuck.

I still take photos with a film camera from time to time. I took film photography classes in high school and developed film in UVA’s darkroom. I am glad that it is still a category of photography. It is a different beast than digital, and is in my opinion, much much harder. I am glad that film is still being made and being developed (despite the increasing costs and decreasing efficacy of the process).

The “economy of shots” may purely be a phenomenon of film photography. With modern digital cameras, extremely cheap memory, and a camera phone that is on my person nearly 100% of the time, I can take thousands of photos with little regret. I can take bursts of photos to capture action shots. I can get by on auto mode if I really wanted to, but I must say, something about the thriftiness of film photography still sits with me and informs, albeit passively, most of the shots I take.

While I may not be actively thinking about how many exposures are left, I am always trying to make shots count, and to take fewer shots well, rather than dozens of poorly composed shots that lack purpose or narrative. Much of the “story of the shot” can be added in post-production, but there is still an undeniable value in doing as much “in-camera” editing as possible, i.e. taking the right photo the first time.

I will say that MLA 326 has gotten me to branch out and take more shots. I am more willing to mess up, but experiment and learn something new. I am more willing to take dozens of exposures on a single item and crop it later to tell the best story. Hey, I will even balance light levels on my RAW exposures to try and tell the best story I can.

Going Out and Getting It: Working for Your Photography

Sometimes you have to sweat to get the shot. Professional photographers already know this, many do not. What does sweat entail in this case? Waking up early, driving, hiking out, waiting, whatever it is that gets you to the right place at the right time. It might be the way that the early morning light plays upon a cactus, lighting it up from behind. It might be the diurnal nature of the western fence lizard that brings you to a sunny spot in the middle of a hot California Summer. It might be waiting in stillness and silence to capture the right shot of a flighty Great Blue Heron. Whatever it is, there is going to be some legwork involved.

Before taking MLA 326, I admit it, I was a lazy photographer. I would drive down to Big Sur for a weekend campout in Los Padres Forest and stop at each of the pre-prescribed photo ops along the way. Every two and a half minutes, I would turn off the majestic Highway 1 and snap a quick one on my phone. Alongside me would be 5 other cars filled with 4 passengers each taking the same photo. But mine was special! (Was it?). I also must admit that for some reason, I felt a sense of artistic and aesthetic superiority even though I TOO was using a phone to take a picture.

Why does this happen? Why would I become so annoyed by people who are just trying to catalogue their trip to the coast? Perhaps it was the idea that the highway pull-offs were such low-hanging fruit, hand-picked spots to take the perfect vista pic without having to even exit the vehicle, like a fast food drive through for nature observation. I suppose this is it. Americans are so fond of, nay, too fond of convenience. It is ruining us. We are getting complacent. And this carries over to our photography.

Something about the universal access to photo-imaging devices through our phones has made us poor photographers. Sure, a panoramic shot of Bixby Bridge looks good on instagram and may make people say “oh wow moving to California RIGHT NOW,” but taking those shots at the turn-offs, on a cell phone (or worse, a cell phone on a selfie stick) is not Photography. (Or is it?).

Okay. I do see the value of cataloguing a beautiful vista for future reference, or for sentimental purposes. Our phones are great for that real-time archival work. For the person who has never and may never pick up an actual camera with manual settings, the phone may be as close as they ever get to photography. Let them have their fun then, and I am glad that they at least have a remarkably efficient camera tucked away in their pocket at all times.
So cell phone photography has validity, but good things should be hard. I want to be challenged by the task-at hand, not fed the perfect framing for a photo of McWay Falls. There is a certain reward in having to amble up the side of a mountain to capture a red tailed hawk (or in my case, fumble with the shutter speed in failed attempt to photograph a red tailed hawk). There is a certain reward in waking up early so that you can capture the mist or the eerie light of dawn.

I would liken this feeling to waking up and leaving to go surfing at 7 am on a Saturday morning. As I drive down CA-17 to Santa Cruz, there is nobody around, and I feel as though I have outsmarted the world with my earlybird-dom. There is a parking spot when I arrive, there are fewer people in the water, the conditions are better, and there are fewer kooks out hogging waves. On the drive back up around noon, I laugh as I drive past all of the fools who could not muster themselves out of bed until 10. Perhaps that is a little cruel, but it is a very real feeling.

Perhaps this sense of hard-won iconoclasm carries over to photographic compositions, and is what compels the best amateur and professional photographers to access the toughest terrain to capture a shot of some rare invertebrate. Like most things, you get out what you put in, and photography is no exception. Whether it be learning the camera’s complex optical functions inside and out, lugging a bag full of camera equipment, enduring barrages of insects or poison oak, or having the patience to sit and wait for the right moment, one must be willing to exert themselves in some way to get the right shot.

a work of real importance

I looked at “The Abbey in the Oakwood”
then at all the material ghosts
exploring ways of finding meaning
in administered society
education reduced to skill
flattening, flattening, flattening
docile and reliable workers
ideological-freedom-plastic-box
escape-as-rich-hedonistic-consumption
in the private sphere
all empty clichés
the value of choice
diminishing, diminishing, diminishing
sense of selfhood unexpressed
what barbarisms lie below?
narcissism and madness
punctuated by
humdrum poetic visions
possibilities of significance
within roiling industrial-commercial culture
devoid of any providence
devoid of full dynamic energy
without evident purpose
and so on, and so on, and so on.

Routine/Redemption

A daily habit
I walk my beat
forgetting, breathing
I bike my soul thin
sweating sap trees
rustling safely
I never thought to look
for the filthy leaves
guttered after the rain.

Near the Oregon Expressway
coast redwood felled
chainsawed into
thick trunk segments
waiting to be hauled off
sheltered by branches
of drooping honeysuckle.

Cooking dinner for myself
toast and something
feeling stagnant, secret
forgetting and creating habits
memory after memory after memory
the joy, excruciating

I stand dead tired on the edge
the sky bright with
orange-plum gasps
every blade of grass breathing
I become everything
I see
nothing else happens

Eucalyptus

Overturned shipping truck
catching the opalescent half-light,
bent metal balanced
on the rail guard, rubber neck,
making a whole world rise
out of the roadway detritus
I sniff the scent of grief on I-280.

West, the exit to Half Moon
stoops low through ranges
of eucalyptus, invasive, prepossessing,
anxious to make itself known.
I was short and small,
not in size, but in patience.

The peeling exotics
large and imperial,
obscure my memories
with their sticky scent,
granting new vision and effort.

The late sun crawls along
the bleached stem
of the afternoon, the warmth unfurls
nervous clenched hands.
No longer tremulous.

How often I’ve sat beside empty roads
and listened for new wheels,
humming like an industrial fan
but heard only wind or birds,
where shadow blends with shadow.

I approach the cove.
Confronted with shapes that,
flowing, moves as a shadow moves
and takes on such substance,
moon-pale under the dying day,
mouth full of the taste of ocean.

Towards a Musical Modernity: Jazz in the Iranian Context and Imagination (1925-1979)

The notion of modernity is central to the study of twentieth-century Iran. One of the most significant cultural aspects of modernity is that of the aesthetic, and few forms of music embody the modernist aesthetic quite like jazz does. The history of jazz and jazz-adjacent musical forms in Iran is intimately tied to the advent of modernity. While jazz played a relatively marginal role in Iran’s musical and socio-cultural landscape, it found some receptive audiences, and its impact on the imagination of Iranian thinkers and musicians as an expression of dissent is significant. Iran also represented a proving ground for emergent hybrid forms of jazz music that combined traditional elements with established modes. Iran’s radical shifts in political affiliation have shaped its musical landscape and as such, jazz became a representation of the West, modernity, and eventually, “Westoxification.”

From 1925 onwards, the two Pahlavi Shahs sought to modernize Iran by force, and forms of criticism could be met with harsh retribution. As a part of this modernization effort, Iran’s leaders sought to control elements of popular culture, including music. During the reign of the Pahlavi Shahs, jazz was largely, if not singularly perceived as a Western music, and the implications surrounding such perceptions of Western music changed with each regime. Under Reza Shah, the regime tended to compare Iran’s cultural milieu to that of Europe, while the regime of Mohammad Reza looked to the United States as the primary source of Western ideas (Breyley 299). This constant comparison and importation of “modern” values was not popular among many Iranians. Indeed, as a result of ongoing imperialistic interference by Britain and the United States, many Iranians resented the unequal distribution of wealth and the perceived theft of the nation’s resources by outsiders.

In the period from 1925 to 1953, the term “jazz” was applied to nearly all popular music of the West. Reza Shah’s regime, seeking to demonstrate Iran’s “modernity” imported selected aspects of Western popular and musical culture, but did not actively promote jazz as part of this effort, as the regime did not view jazz as sophisticated or respectable (Nikzad 64). As such, jazz did not fall in line with the regime’s particular vision of Iranian modernity and was of marginal popularity and cultural significance.

By the 1950’s the Cold War context had fully began to make its way into Iranian statecraft. The election of Mohammad Mossadq as prime minister in 1951 reflected a growing disenchantment with and rejection of the West. Mossadeq’s oil nationalization program contributed to his widespread popularity and stoked the fears of the Shah and the United States. In the CIA-backed coup of 1953, the United States reinforced the Shah’s supremacy and a new distrust of the West by the people of Iran. Mohammad Reza welcomed much of the cultural soft power promoted by the United States at this time, and simultaneously restricted what he saw as backwards left-wing revolutionary agendas.

The coup established a new relationship with the United States that permeated all echelons of cultural activity in Iran, as U.S. citizens began to work in the oil, education, media, arts, and other industries. Such migrants to Iran lived privileged lives and authorities catered to their cultural tastes, marking them as new objects of resentment for some Iranians (Breyley 306). The U.S.-backed regime did not actively promote jazz, but was tolerant of its performance and production in select cases. During this time, it was American jazz musicians living in or visiting Iran who enjoyed considerable freedoms in their practice, whereas Iranian jazz musicians encountered active resistance from the state. Musicians who were seen as promoting dissent through their music faced almost certain persecution by SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police force, either in the form of arrest, imprisonment, torture, or even execution (Breyley 300). In this case, jazz was not singled out as a specific musical form to be suppressed, but any music that could be deemed offensive to the regime was at risk of punishment.

Jazz found a receptive audience under Mohammad Reza Shah’s regime. Jazz was popular with many pro-Shah Iranians, who viewed the musical form as a reaffirmation of their special connection to the United States. Alternatively, the inherent creative disobedience of jazz music and its role in the underground made it popular among some leftist dissidents. Much of the commercially viable popular music at the time carried traces of jazz. Two such practitioners of this jazz-inflected pop are singers Farhad (www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5eNaqX_g0o) and Dariush (www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpDXSyH9Ye4), whose works employ trace elements of jazz piano, brass, and guitar.

Jazz and other popular musics of the West influenced a form of hybridized national and cultural expression when fused with Iranian art and music. Such hybridity is present in the jazz-adjacent works of Iranian artists Vigen Derderian, Googoosh, and Hassan Golnaraqi. Golnaraqi’s evocative track “Mara Beboos” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3pL4FKwoqU) which contains some of the downtempo style of jazz guitarists like Django Reinhardt.

Known colloquially as the “Sultan of Jazz,” Vigen Derderia was perhaps the most commercially successful star of the era. Vigen began his career in the early 1950’s in the cafés and nightclubs of Tehran, and developed a smooth “crooner” pop style that was deemed acceptable to the Shah’s cultural requirements. While Vigen’s music does not sound explicitly like jazz as many Western audiences know it, it is reflective of some of the most Westernized music in the post-war period. He is often compared with Elvis Presley, and like “The King,” he appeared in popular films. Vigen’s musical work is emblematic of jazz in Iran. There exists a complex relationship between Western and non-Western traditions, as the Western elements and aesthetics of Vigen’s music are inexorably tied to the non-Western (Breyley 307). His stage demeanor, hairstyle, costumes and album design are all decidedly non-Western, but contain currents of Western popular forms of music like swing and early rock and roll, both of which contain jazz-derived rhythmic and harmonic elements.

Some colorful YouTube commentary on a video of Vigen’s music sheds light on the complexities in understanding diasporic jazz and the problems of discussing jazz as a generalized form. In the comments section of one of his major hits “Lalai” (Lullaby) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpB5Enr3iaI), two commenters engage in a debate about whether Vigen’s music should be called jazz:

Kadkhoda Ahvazi: “this was not a jazz singer and he never sang even one jazz song” [translated from Persian]

Nasir Delshaad: “WHAT DIFFERENT [DOES IT] MAKE WEATHER HE WAS CALLED KING OF JAZ OR KING OF POP, HE WAS THE BEST IN HIS [PROFESSION]”

Challia25: “Sir, between pop and jazz it makes no difference, don’t take it so seriously” [translated from Persian]

These commenters encapsulate the struggle in defining whether one of Iran’s most prominent musical figures should be grouped into the broader umbrella of jazz. Whether or not he deserves the nickname “Sultan of Jazz” is beside the point, perhaps attempting to generalize or sort all music into restricted individual genres is a fool’s errand.

New Iranian pop music also incorporated this notion of hybridity. Following the advent of television in Iran during the late 1950’s, stars like Googoosh and Fereydun Farrokhzad began to enter the musical fold. While seen as primarily Westernized, such artists incorporated elements from a myriad cultural contexts including Turkish psychedelic, Arabic, Indian, Latin American, and Eastern European styles (Breyley 309). While jazz had contributed to the mainstream pop of these other influences, and therefore found its way into Iranian music through transitive relation, it remained in the minority of musical popularity. It was reserved for some left-wing intellectuals who would frequent Tehran’s small clubs and cafés in search of contact with the more creative side of the West, which would have been, in this case, those traveling “the hippie trail,” or the overland journey taken by members of the hippie subculture and others from the mid-1950s to the late 1970s between Europe and South Asia, primarily through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal. As such, elements of jazz, beat, and folk mixed with traditional musical forms (MacLean).

During the Cold War, the United States employed jazz as a “sonic secret weapon,” in which American jazz performers would visit other countries to transmute American cultural practices (Belair). In 1956 the U.S. state department sent bebop trumpeter and bandleader Dizzy Gillespie to perform in the oil city of Abadan, kicking off a regional strategic tour of cultural dissemination stretching across the Middle East, Asia and Eastern Europe (Von Eschen). Subsequent campaigns were led by jazz giants like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Benny Carter, Harry Edison, and others (Breyley 308). These cultural ambassadors would have attracted young fans as well as foreigners who were working in Iran. These tours in turn influenced American musicians like Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, whose composition ‘Isfahan’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2U1MGX8SLU) was certainly impacted by the Persian musical forms which they gleaned on their tours.

The emergent musical dialogue between the two countries was instrumental in the development of new forms of jazz. One particularly noteworthy jazz practitioner who embodies the cultural osmosis between Iran and the United States was Lloyd Miller. Dr. Miller is known for his research work on Persian music, is fluent in Persian, can play 100 instruments in 15 jazz, ethnic and world music traditions, and holds a doctorate in Persian studies. During the 1950’s and 60’s, Miller played Iranian instruments with top jazz artists in Europe like Don Ellis and Eddie Harris, and often played at the famous Blue Note in Paris, where he sat in for Bud Powell to play with Kenny Clark. Miller learned Persian art music formally under the Iranian master Dariush Safvat, who was also living in Paris at the time (Breyley 311). Miller lived in Iran for six years, absorbing the music of the country and blending it with his own jazz practice. During the 1970s, Miller even hosted his own prime-time main network jazz show on NIRTV in Tehran, “Kurosh Ali Khan and Friends,” where he performed under a pseudonym Kurosh Ali Khan (https://youtu.be/5Oegi6LlG90?t=328). The show featured improvisational performances by mostly unknown Iranian artists. (JazzScope).

Dr. Miller’s magnum opus, aptly titled “Oriental Jazz” elegantly fuses traditional American bebop, hard bop, cool jazz, and big band forms with traditional Persian instruments like the tar, zarb, and santur, 6/8 time signatures, and microtonal scales, all cornerstones of traditional Persian music (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=478hfvZ9Tqw). As Miller seamlessly melds Persian instrumentation and modes with American jazz, his music showcases the dialogue between the two. When one first sees the album art and title, there is almost an expectation that the music will be a stiff, buttoned-up imitation of Iranian music, indeed the application of the term “oriental” already implies a certain degree of cultural appropriation. Upon hearing tracks like “Gol-e Gandom,” “Amber Eyes,” and “Hue Wail,” the listener is immersed in a swirling, kaleidoscopic dreamscape of jazz-fusion. The style is not necessarily academic, but contains an ineffable sophistication and clear evidence of the work that Miller put in to learn and play these native instruments from players in Iran.

Miller describes his successful dialogue between jazz and Iranian music as less of a blending and more of a meeting, stating how, “I’d play this Iranian stuff with the Arab oud and Turkish clarinet and Vietnamese flat harp, and we’d play some jazz things with [Western] instruments. So instead of trying to play jazz on [Persian instruments], or trying to play Persian music on Western instruments…I played those instruments…not blended at all. They met, and went side by side” (Breyley 311). Miller’s concept of “side by side” music reflects the aversion to fusion or contamination shared by the supporters of the Golha radio program, discussed below.

“Oriental Jazz” was part of a body of work that kicked off the genre of “spiritual jazz.” Stylistically, spiritual jazz is marked by a mixture of jazz with approximations of ethnic music styles (often a blend of styles evocative of African, Indian, and East Asian musical traditions), religious music of non-Christian traditions, and the ecstatic, transcendental aspects of Free Jazz. Other practitioners of “Spiritual Jazz” include John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane, Pharoh Sanders, Sun Ra and His Solar-Myth Arkestra, and Dorothy Ashby. All of these artists participated in a musical movement that saw jazz artists striking out beyond jazz’s constraints, be it chord changes, predetermined tempos, or “standard” melodies, striving toward freedom and spiritual transcendence amidst the great cultural tumult of the 1960’s.

One of jazz-harpist Dorothy Ashby’s most critically-acclaimed albums takes a cue from Iranian cultural heritage, reflected in the title of the 1970 masterpiece: “The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby: Original compositions inspired by the words of Omar Khayyam, arranged and conducted by Richard Evans.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KdmAM0abahs). Ashby’s downtempo harp and vocals represent a mannered, lush, and cinematic listening experience, with lyrics supplied by the notoriously inaccurate Fitzgerald translation of Omar Khayyam. The record is self-consciously philosophical, with a grandiosity and mystical sensibility present in the works of other spiritual jazz or soul jazz practitioners.

By the mid-fifties, some of Iran’s urban intellectual communities expressed their concerns about a perceived lack of appreciation and taste for singularly Persian art and music. Such communities saw the emergent popular music as infected by Western, Arabic, Turkish and other influences, which included jazz (Breyley 308). Such fears prompted Davud Pirnia to develop a music program on national radio called Golha or “Flowers,” a reserved space to play authentically Persian music with no sense of cultural interference. Such a narrow goal is nigh impossible to achieve, but nonetheless Pirina established a newfound appreciation for certain new forms of Iranian music that came out of an interdependent musical atmosphere. Golha represented an accumulation of musicians who improvised in the Motrebi or “light-urban” form of music style, lyricists and composers, and some proponents of the Westernized style who emphasized harmony and fixed-meter works (Breyley 308). In many ways, Golha became part of the “back to roots” movement that played a significant role in the revolution.

Lloyd Miller played a role in the ideological preservation of “uncontaminated” Iranian music during this time. His master, Dariush Safvat returned to Iran out of an intensified concern about the Westernization imposed by the Shah’s regime. As such, he established the Centre for the Preservation and Propagation of Iranian Music in Tehran in the late 1960’s. Miller was awarded a fulbright scholarship in 1970 to move to Iran, where he promoted the Centre and its concerts of both traditional art music and jazz. As Miller recalls “[The Centre] wanted to promote the thinking that “Iranian music was going down the tube, it’s the fault of westernization, it’s all the fault of America and its crummy culture and let’s get the Yankees outta here…I didn’t mean it that way, but all these guys were left-wing and loved me ragging on America, and how our music was destroying theirs. I wrote about how great Safvat was saving traditional music” (Nikzad 67)

Additionally, an English-language Iranian magazine article about his television show “Kurosh Ali Khan and Friends” published in the late 1970’s quotes Miller, or “Kurosh” as saying that the United States’ musical landscape was “riddled with union dictatorship, hoods, fakes and swindlers” (JazzScope). Such an ideological position is reflective of a contradiction at the center of Miller’s position in Iran as a jazz practitioner, as Miller enjoyed many of the privileges of being an American in Iran in the 1970’s. Miller was sheltered from, if not immune to the very real and ever-present threat posed by SAVAK, which many Iranian dissidents and aspiring experimental musicians would have faced. Miller enjoyed unprecedented freedom of expression in public contexts while Iranians themselves could only practice and perform their music in private.

For those Iranians who feared cultural colonialism and gharbzadegi (westoxification), jazz represented a prime example of American decadence and moral rot. Critics of the West argued that musical traffic only flowed from West to East, and along with it came the ills of Western society (Milani 831). Indeed, Iranian socio-political critic Jalal Al-e Ahmad declared the West morally and aesthetically bankrupt, as it celebrated what he called the “primitive art of Africa” (Milani 832). This trend of aligning jazz music with the primitive extended to Egypt, where writer and ideologue Sayyid Qtub argued that:

“The American is primitive in his artistic taste, both in what he enjoys as art and in his own artistic works. “Jazz” music is his music of choice. This is that music that the Negroes invented to satisfy their primitive inclinations, as well as their desire to be noisy on the one hand and to excite bestial tendencies on the other. The American’s intoxication in “jazz” music does not reach its full completion until the music is accompanied by singing that is just as coarse and obnoxious as the music itself. Meanwhile, the noise of the instruments and the voices mounts, and it rings in the ears to an unbearable degree… The agitation of the multitude increases, and the voices of approval mount, and their palms ring out in vehement, continuous applause that all but deafens the ears” (Qutb).

Such vehemently racist attacks on jazz were popular, as other thinkers in Iran conflated jazz with westoxification. Indeed, Ayatollah Khomeini and his ideological circle approved and appropriated those views, promulgating anti-modern thought as a function of ecclesiastical doctrine. As thinkers like Al-e-Ahmad provided the ideological underpinnings to the 1979 revolution, it follows that jazz would come under direct censorship and suppression under the new regime. Jazz could not be publicly performed or commercially recorded in Iran between the 1979 revolution and the mid-1990’s (Breyley 313). As such, there exists a complex relationship between the free form musical medium and the totalitarian regime. I hope to touch on the significance of such a frenetic and improvisational art form in the context of a highly regulated society.

In terms of defining an aesthetic modernity, jazz represents one of the most salient art forms in the minds of Iranian thinkers and experimental musicians. Most often, jazz represented a form of dissent, and was perceived as being purely of the West. Jazz also represented a significant pillar of the cultural Cold War, employed by the United States as an overture of the superpower’s aesthetic sophistication, with Iran as one of the proving grounds for the so-called “Sonic secret weapon.” While it did not enjoy the same mainstream success as it did elsewhere, jazz made an impression upon Iranian popular music during a unique moment of cultural osmosis. This musical dialogue also presented the West with traditional Persian music as a new form of inspiration, which sparked the development of new experimental forms in the United States. As for its role in the 1979 revolution, jazz was categorized as an object of resentment by the intellectuals behind “Westoxification,” who attacked the musical form indicative of the moral rot of the West, and of modernity.

Bibliography

Belair Jr., Felix. 1955. ‘United States Has Secret Sonic Weapon – Jazz’. New York Times, 6 November.
Breyley, G.J. “Jazz in Iran since the 1920s.” Jazz and Totalitarianism, by Bruce Johnson et al., Routledge, 2017, pp. 297–324.
Collier, James Lincoln. 1978. The Making of Jazz: A Comprehensive History. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Devlin, Paul. 2015. ‘Jazz Autobiography and the Cold War.’ Popular Music and Society 38 (2): 140-159.
“Music in America’s Cold War Diplomacy.” Music in America’s Cold War Diplomacy, by Danielle Fosler-Lussier, University of California Press, 2015.
Kajanova, Yvetta. Jazz from Socialist Realism to Postmodernism. Peter Lang, 2016.
MacLean, Rory (2008), Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to India, London, New York: Penguin Books, Ig Publishing.
Milani, Abbas. Eminent Persians: the Men and Women Who Made Modern Iran, 1941-1979. Syracuse University Press, 2008.
Nikzad, Ramtin. 2013. “Music Side By Side: An Interview with Lloyd Miller.” B’ta’arof: A Magazine for Iranian Culture, Arts & Histories 2: 64-67.
Qutb, Sayyid. “The America I Have Seen: In the Scale of Human Values.” CIA.gov, Central Intelligence Agency, 1951, http://www.cia.gov/library/abbottabad-compound/3F/3F56ACA473044436B4C1740F65D5C3B6_Sayyid_Qutb_-_The_America_I_Have_Seen.pdf.
Von Eschen Penny M., Satchmo Blows up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War, Harvard University Press, 2006.
http://www.jazzscope.com/OJ.html

Waking and Leaving Before Dawn

Late March.
Rain and clouds sweep
across the moonlight.
Winds reveal patches,
constellation’s stars,
hollow as skeletons,
fall in the dawn.
I let them sleep.
Driving down that coast
of flowered fields
in dripping fog rubble.
The humming mind
veers off course,
more trees, clear springs,
as morning clouds are
picked apart by sparrows.
There is still work to do.
I hear the roar,
the distant freeway.

I buy a bag of oranges

What should I get?
Spring.
Blossoms on the trees,
examine, the fallen petal,
walking out the drive.
Dodging an impulse
to lie on the ground,
pressed into it,
to take its shape.
It is a pleasure,
to breathe this air,
feeling the chest rise,
ribs up,
standing still,
strained and upwards,
letting it free,
in the crowded Sunday
street market.
I don’t say much anymore.
Box of citrus slice samples,
I try cara cara,
it tastes…
of a complete life.
I buy a bag of oranges.

Patio Scene (A Floating World)

It’s our backyard, July.
Nearly afternoon, the trees
hold back the amber light,
its delicate flush fixed in place.
A breeze moves
between branches
jostling the shadows
on the pickwick siding.
Clear light fills the kitchen window,
I wait under the tree
in the absence of sound,
save for a vivid rush of wind.
The neighbor’s cat leaps down
from the slotted fence,
a quiet departure, anxious.
A small flock of cliff swallows
cross the rounded sun,
the earth lightens again.
Each beam summoning
still silence, waiting,
waking dream
smuggled under wing.