What role did race play in the perception of Marijuana?

I’m not favorable toward legalizing marijuana, but I promised you to write a post about the history of marijuana to emphasize its place and its role as an important part of Jazz History.

Indeed, I know the damages it can create on a desperate society, such as every drugs. It destroys families and youngster’s beliefs. They lost their dreams and let the drug eat them until they reach the no-return point. Progressively, they lose their ability to concentrate and imagine. They become anxious, depressed and unpredictable. Nothing can give them their soul back. The coming-off is a living hell as well. They have nightmares, cold sweat, nausea, high irritability and so forth.

Even in Mexico, the population was worried about the impact of the drug on the society. Nowadays I think it is not achievable. In the consumption society, people get too easily addicted in order to compensate their loneliness or their material lacks.

However, the prohibition was made on the base of racism and licentious decisions.

“Sailors and West Indian immigrants brought the practice of smoking marijuana to port cities along the Gulf of Mexico. In New Orleans newspaper articles associated the drug with African-Americans, jazz musicians, prostitutes, and underworld whites. “The Marijuana Menace,” as sketched by anti-drug campaigners, was personified by inferior races and social deviants.”

Mexicanos, Hindoos ( In India marijuana was a “Sacred Grass” for the Hindus. From 1200 – 800 BCE, it was used as a medication and an offering to Shiva.), Afro-american and the ones that newspaper called the “underworld whites” became the center of a conspiracy and unfairly the scapegoats of the war against marijuana. Their motives were not about the health of these people but more about WASP safety.

By angleman48 on Flick

Here, I offer some quotations to illustrate the atmosphere of the period and how  the racial hatred was prevailing on morality.

“I wish I could show you what a small marihuana cigaret can do to one of our degenerate Spanish-speaking residents. That’s why our problem is so great; the greatest percentage of our population is composed of Spanish-speaking persons, most of who are low mentally, because of social and racial conditions.”

The government had a very low idea about the real risks associated with the consumption of marihuana. All their accusations were basically based on myths.

“People who smoke marihuana finally lose their mind and never recover it, but their brains dry up and they die, most of times suddenly.”

The perfect counter example is Louis Armstrong who died from a heart attack at the age 72 and he was of sound mind.

“Driven mad by marihuana” and attacking his fellow soldiers (El Monitor Republicano, 1878), a pot-crazed soldier murdering two colleagues and injuring two others (La Voz de México, 1888), a prisoner stabbing two fellow inmates to death after smoking up (El Pais, 1899).”

[…].”Assassin” has two explanations, but either demonstrates the menace of Indian hemp. According to one version, members of a band of Persian terrorists committed their worst atrocities while under the influence of hashish. In the other version, Saracens who opposed the Crusaders were said to employ the services of hashish addicts to secure secret murders of the leaders of the Crusades. In both versions, the murderers were known as “haschischin”.

Extract from the book of Hammer-Pugstall’s : The History of the assassins (1835)

Ansligner used to rely on this explanations to convince the Congress and deliberately stopped the liberal scientific studies on the drug. (He has is own scientific, his friend James Munch). He used to create new reasons to forbid and reinforce his argumentation against the drug. In the early 1950’s, he declared without quoting his sources that marijuana was a step to heroin addiction. He also states that the Communist were actively distributed cannabis in the U.S to weaken the American and make them easy to conquer. The fever of the Cold War accelerated the decisions about the prohibition of the consumption and the possession of marijuana in United States. He convinced President Truman to sign the Briggs Act which required a minimum twenty years in jail for marijuana possession when a murderer gets minimum fifteen years and ten years minimum for a rape.

In 1961, Anslinger conquers the world with his nonsensical arguments. He addressed the United Nations and convinced one hundred countries to sign an international agreement against marijuana. By 1963, added to the previous 270 million, this war against the drug had cost an additional $1.5 billion.

Still, Anslinger wrote a book entitled The Protectors in 1964 and he dedicated a chapter to the Jazz community: “Jazz and Junk Don’t Mix”. According to him Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday died after years of heroin and drugs abuse. He wrote :

“Jazz entertainers are neither fish nor fowl. They do not get the million-dollar protection Hollywood and Broadway can afford for their stars who have become addicted – and there are many more than will ever be revealed. Perhaps this is because jazz, once considered a decadent kind of music, has only token respectability. Jazz grew up next door to crime, so to speak. Clubs of dubious reputation were, for a long time, the only places where it could be heard. But the times bring changes, and as Billy Holiday was a victim of time and change, so too was Charlie Parker, a man whose music, like Billie’s, is still widely imitated. Most musicians credit Parker among others as spearheading what is called modern jazz.”
The Protectors by Harry J.Anslinger, p. 157 (1964)




“Were Jazz musicians actively promoting the use of marijuana?”

The Dr. James Munch (Professor of Pharmacology from Princeton) was the closest departmental associate and probably also the best friend of Harry Aslinger. He was promoted as the no. 1 expert on marijuana’s effects on health throughout the 1930s and 40s. Larry ‘Ratso’ Sloman interviewed Munch over the phone in 1978 and recorded their conversation. Sloman was determined to know Munch’s opinion on Anslingers’s jazz crusade.

By kt_mo on Flickr

This interview is really amazing in the way it displays a certain inability to grasp the real nature of Jazz at this period. Munch has the sincerity to answer to the question “Were Jazz musicians actively promoting the use of marijuana?”. Actually, if he had said “Yes” he would be categorized as a backward extremist. His strategy was to line up the bad influences of Jazz musicians on the young Americans with an interest for the american teen-agers, the education etc…

Here is the complete interview :

Dr. Munch:

Because the chief effect as far as they (Anslinger, FBN) were concerned was that it lengthens the sense of time, and therefore they could get more grace beats into their music than they could if they simply followed the written copy.

Munch has completely lost Sloman, right out of the gate.

In other words, if you’re a musician, you’re going to play the thing the way it’s printed on a sheet. But if you’re using marijuana, you’re going to work in about twice as much music between the first note and the second note. That’s what made jazz musicians. The idea that they could jazz things up, liven them up, you see.

Sloman felt his head spinning. He felt that he had been at the bottom of an ink
well for 200 years. With a Herculean effort he managed the next question:

-So what’s wrong with that? I mean, I don’t see why Anslinger went after these people.?

-They were spreading it around at sources, because they were looked up to by a good many of the teenagers as being idols.

Sloman lied:

-Oh, I see

Munch continue:

In other words, their example must be all right, or the jazz musicians wouldn’t do it. Teen-agers, who were no different then than they are today, though that if they did it, then it was all right for us to do it. What we’re trying to do is not so much to grab individual teen-agers as to go after the source from which it has been obtained. I told you that before.

Sloman asked:

-Were the musicians actively promoting the use of marijuana?

Munch admitted:

-Not directly, At least most of them didn’t. but the fact was that youngsters found out they were using, so therefore they decided that they were going to use.

-They wanted to try it, like imitation, huh?

Munch dismissed the subject again:

-Yeah. Teen-agers…. etc

Sloman asked:

-I’ve talked to some of the counsels from the old Bureau, and they thought that the marijuana thing was used as a political thing by Anslinger. In other words, to get more appropriations…

Munch protested:

-No, he was genuinely interested in the welfare of the people. He was the same way on cocaine, he was the same way on heroin…

Sloman interrupted:

-I bet he was…I bet he was…



“And I don’t mean good musicians, I mean jazz musicians.”

Harry J.Anslinger by H J. Anslinger papers, 1835-1975 (bulk 1918-1963) , HCLA 1875, Special Collections Library, University Libraries, Pennsylvania State University.

Marihuana and ethnicity has always been closely related since its arrival on the American continent and it remains the main reason of the drug arrests in the U.S. Despite the similar rates of usage among whites and blacks, the vast majority of marijuana arrests concern African-Americans. (Most of time they are guilty of possession only). During the 1930’s, tales of homicidal mania touched mostly the immigrants and many tales about “locoweed” were spread until the ultimate prohibition.
A war against marihuana led by Harry Ansligner began from 1937 through 1950. The government spent about $270 million in that war. In 1948 Anslinger went to Congress to ask for more money and to increase the number of drug enforcement agents. When senators asked for precisions about the guilty who were perpetually violating marijuana laws, Ansligner replied:

“Musicians. And I don’t mean good musicians, I mean jazz musicians.”

He also stated:

“The worst group we had there were the jazz musicians. And I wouldn’t tell you what proportion of them were marijuana users, but it was more than half. In those days.”



Once upon a time in New Orleans, a courtesan called Mary Warner…

I will start by this soothie reference to the beloved Maryhuana. I chose this song that reminds me a little the bitterness of the famous jazz song « Summertime” allied with some mexican tango notes. This desperate love story between the female singer and the “sweet marihuana” wreak havoc on America in 1934. The star among all drugs (that looks ironically like a green star) could eventually help Gertrude Michael : a damsel in distress with a broken heart. It seems that it was the only one who can bring her love back to her through her halluciantions…it sounds depressing. Unless, you find it a morbid kind, it’s poetry….an anthem for junkies. I officially  feel empathy for all the singers who suffer or suffered from withdrawal symptoms, broken hearts and…hallucinations.

The same year, one episode of Betty Boop have been censored for drug use. Actually, it was just an abuse of…laughing drug. The final scene reminds me the smile of Armstrong without mentionning the exhaustion that is clearly a reference to the side effects of drug uses.

The fairy tale between the  so called “Mary Warner” (a nickname given by Louis Armstrong) and Jazz music started in 1901, in Storyville. During this period, the city was considered as the red light district of New Orleans. It attracted all the night butterflies, the magicians, the dreamers and the flying carpets…


It’s also the city where Louis Armstrong was born. What a strange coincidence for these two devils ? It’s like they were made to be put together, just like puzzle pieces.

In jazz terms, it was called « pot » and lead to expressions such as « pot culture ». It designates the universe that has been soon created around drugs and its connection with the global music sphere.

To come back to the title, Mary Warner enchanted Louis Armstrong in the 1920’s. Since, they got many vinyles and never broke up…

He sealed his wishes and remembered it devilishly in his old days :

« If we all get as old as Methuselah, our memories will always be of lots of beauty and warmth from gage. Well, that was my life and I don’t feel ashamed at all. Mary Warner, honey, you sure was good and I enjoyed you ‘heap much. »

Louis Armstrong comes to Chicago by Floyd Webb archanjo2008  on Flickr
Louis Armstrong comes to Chicago by Floyd Webb archanjo2008 on Flickr



Jazz and racial segregation in the 1950’s

Jazz is a way to explain the collapse of racial segregation era in United States. This is an untold story started to be studied by a handful of historians recently. In fact, Jazz music helped to shape and accelerate the elaboration of the Civil Rights. How?
You must be aware about the popularity of Jazz music during the segregation. When a “White” Jazz band were created they could not perform with “Black” Jazz bands publicly. When a “White” Saxophonist had met a Black guy to share his passion, they could not perform together. Here, they had a room for militancy and protestation against segregation. Hopefully, this situation was not impossible to counter. Progressively Jazz Cafes started to impose their rules.

During the tour All-Star tournament entitled “Jazz At The Philharmonic” in the 1950’s, the producer and impresario Norman Grantz -a brave WASP- charged of the organization of the event, decided to conduct his personal war against segregation. He got rid of the segregated seating in the auditoriums.

The whole reason for Jazz at the Philharmonic was to take it to places where I could break down segregation.”

In Houston, he stood up to the opposition and kept leading his fight against segregation by specifying his conditions on tickets sales. He removed the notices “White Toilets” and “Negro Toilets” and assigned places for every invited. When they complained, he only answered this to them:

“You sit where I sit you. You don’t want to sit next to a black, here’s your money back.”

As Jazz Music was getting more popular each year,”White” Americans increased their interest in segregation issues.
Louis Armstrong offered as well another testimony that proves Jazz could erase racial hatred. In 1941, he wrote to a Jazz critic named Leonard Feather:

“I’d like to recall one of my most inspiring moments. I was playing a concert date in a Miami auditorium. I walked on stage and there I saw something I’d never seen. I saw thousands of people, colored and white, on the main floor. Not segregated in one row of whites and another row of Negroes. Just all together – naturally. I thought I was in the wrong state. When you see things like that, you know you’re going forward.”

Now the only border I can recognize is the one made of theories, techniques but, it should not be perceived as realm of theories. Jazz should always be seen as a realm of feelings where every folk are allowed without any racial notices.
Concerning the Caribbean Jazz artist, when they arrived in Paris in the 1930’s, they did not face these kinds of difficulties but it was not easy for all that. When the Jamaican saxophonist Joe Harriott set in England, it was primarily to find a job. Ken Johnson (Guyana), Leslie Thompson (Jamaica) also had this ambition but sometimes they could not create a complete band due to their impossibility to hire White musicians. Reciprocally, usually Black artist were not allowed in White bands in England…

Improvisation is the ability to talk to oneself. (Cecil Taylor)


Improvisation requires codes…

I recognized my old secrets in some Jazz songs but they hide a fathomless secret.

Improvisation is a journey and all the different possibles paths exists into somebody,

Sometimes it’s you…

Sometime it’s somebody else….

The thing I mostly admire in this exercise concerns the ability to offer a part of yourself to your audience.

Nietzche said something about inspiration that would be nothing but a convenient and usefull myth for the artist. They need to make their audience believe in the grace of sudden intuitions and inspirations fallen from the sky. However, improvisation is work. The artist detains the sharpness to cut, add, combine and polish his oeuvre.

His passion is so intense that he forgets he is trained to do this mind process each time he creates. Then the improvisation is not totally the action of creating without preparation; it’s all about the ability to spare the time of preparation by training every day until this pre-work got totally integrated into the process of performing. The improviser is creating, classifying, picking and delivering his art while he is performing. This is the ultimate outcome of many years of practice and syncretism.

If there was a frontier….

I had to do some researches about Louis Armstrong, his “Hot Fives” music group, the Creole-like mix of blues and all the roots of common Jazz and the Caribbean jazz. I expected to find a frontier between the both. Actually, I have discovered something more important, and more interesting. Surprisingly, as I have already mentioned it before, at the very beginning, in pain there was a plan. I was only doing a sentimental approach of Jazz when it was more complicated that it looks like.

I tried to find a sociological way to analyze jazz before going into all the technicals and professionnal things about it.  During my researches I found people who tries to “neutralize” the origins of the Jazz by recreating another puzzle of facts that made it appear more “white”. I asked myself, why and how should they do that?. In fact, my favorite jazz song is not creation from the “common” Jazz mainstream artists. “April in Paris” has been written by Vernon Duke and Yip Harburg and these two men were both emigrated from Europe (Russia and Poland). When I knew this, I was truly surprised at the first time even pleasantly satisfied. Later I realized, I loved the interpreters, the lyrics, the rhythms, the writers and the whole was just a brilliant mix of cultures. Jazz had the wonderful power to link every fields, every people through all the exercises and works its requires. The need of adrenline, the love for the unknown … both hardly craved by mankind and definitely achievable through Jazz. It’s the main reason why there is no frontier in and it can be mixed with Rock, Salsa or Varieties. The word “frontier” is alien to Jazz universe.

  The brilliant pianist  Dave Brubeck said:

“There’s a way of playing safe, there’s a way of using tricks and there’s the way I like to play, which is dangerously, where you’re going to take a chance on making mistakes in order to create something you haven’t created before.”

I was searching for the origins of jazz. Here it is! The perfect and mysterious delight of the sincere creator is my deeper subject of curiosity. How does it feel to jump into the void when you are seriously convinced about your ability to fly?

 Well, it was really not the good way to come up to a kind of sociology of Jazz. All the point of this investigation should be made of the different purposes of Jazz. What was its political role for example? The question about the way it belongs to the white or the black culture or community is meaningless and I don’t understand the main role of these persons who  fight and argue about this point. The reality is less complicated: Jazz helped to fight against racism for example …

The jazzy cat in me !

Marijuana Illusions by BrooklynSheWrote on Flickr
Marijuana Illusions by  BrooklynSheWrote on Flickr

“It was in these bordellos, where music provided the background and not the primary focus of attention, that marihuana became an integral part of the jazz era. Unlike booze, which dulled and incapacitated, marihuana enabled musicians whose job required them to play long into the night to forget their exhaustion. Moreover, the drug seemed to make their music sound more imaginative and unique, at least to those who played and listened while under its sensorial influence.”

Ernest Abel, a cannabis historian

I will put a little story of cannabis and its interaction with music and more especially Jazz music in a new post.

The Jazz Art master of Martinique: Henri Guedon

Henri Guedon is a fully accomplished artist born in Martinique in May 22nd 1944. This date is the anniversary date of the abolition of slavery in Martinique and became an important symbol for him along his career. Even though he was born in Fort-de-France, Henri Guedon spent his life at Sainte Marie, my hometown. He died in February 12th 2006 in Paris after heart surgery complications.

He was a painter, a musician and a sculptor with huge ambitions. He did realize at least so many things than I could not tell you everything about his career. To me, the most important was his contribution to Caribbean Art. I have identified his work as a very rich kind of Jazz Art. In fact he respected a strict palette of colors (red,blue,orange, yellow and green) and strong dark lines. Otherwise, he had a very warm personality and an important interest in percussions. To him the most important in music was the rhythm, the tempo… the heartbeat.

He cultivated his soul with all the things that he could find around him and thanks to this philosophy, he was also recognized as a brilliant educator for young minds.  The first Jazz Fusion concert in Paris could not be what it was without him. His participation and contribution to this event with his group Big Band Jazz Caraibes marked a start in the spreading of the Caribbean Jazz wave in France. He is as well considered as the inventor of Zouk . He got his inspiration from Afro-American music (he deeply appreciated Dizzy Gillepsy) but also Latin American music like Salsa or Samba.

For some people, (including me) he is the precursor of a large reconstruction of the Caribbean History through the exploration of its music. Although, the reconstitution of this puzzle that could not be totally done by only using music. His paintings show the dematerialization, the pain, the sweat of the slaves, their blood, the hope.

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 Here is the collection of Limoges porcelain dishes illustrated by Henry Guedon. All this pictures are from the website of the company L’Art et la Paix.

All the dishes were available for sale on their website: http://www.artetpaix.net

Nevertheless, they have been victim of their success. All of them are unfortunately out of stock.

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I have choosed to share some of his paintings with you also. They are on sale as well on the Art et Paix website.

His paintings had something from Africa, India, South America and North America. His main will was to find peace with our ancestors.

Tanya St Val finally reveals us her “jazzy” soul

Tanya Saint Val by Henry Salomon
Tanya Saint Val by Henry Salomon

After twenty seven years of career in Zouk music, Tanya Saint Val changed her mind and discovered her love for Jazz since her attendance at the Îlo Jazz festival in Haiti. She invited us to enjoy the new colors of her voice in her new show Tanya Autrement. It was also the opportunity for her to introduce her new album entitled Lune. Her new work is deeply influenced by Soul and Caribbean Jazz  culture. Her exploration of Caribbean rhythms will carry you into an odyssey of enchanting sounds.

Her new album has followed the precedent one entitled Soleil. These two albums are the essence of all her new musical universe. She called her new music Caribbean World creations due to the various influences she mixed after her travels on other Island in West-Indies. These Graceful mixes are also the result of a rich and brilliant career. Indeed, she is a successful music singer from Guadeloupe and released not less than twenty albums. Here are the most famous and appreciated ones.

 Missie pierrot


Boogie Zouk


Her voice got naturally gospel, soul and jazzy influences from the beginning and this particularity drove her under the lights. She started very early and recorded her first album of Caribbean traditional music at the age nine with her father. He was a guitarist and entire Saint Val family was quite into music. Tanya’s grand mother was an operetta singer and she largely influenced the voice of her grand daughter. Tanya benefited from the support  of well-known artists like Jacob Devarieux from Kassav and her success exploded abroad when she reached the Top 50 with the song Tropikal in 1991. I hope her sensual and warm voice has not finished captivating our senses.