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Ornette Coleman. Paris, October 9, 1969

By August 19, 2011Blog

No, you can’t do nothin’ by yourself.

We live in a world where someone can ask who the richest man in the world is and be given a name. But you can’t name the poorest man in the world. They come in the millions. If you can do something by yourself, you are automatically above the others. What you must try to do is bring the ones who are down up to the level of what you believe it could be for everybody. Not that you’re there yourself, but you just know what the level could be. If more people supported that level, you would have others to work with. Unfortunately, people think, What’s in it for me? They can all calculate that very quickly.

What’s very strange about music is that there isn’t any measuring point. You can’t know how good someone is unless you have something to check what you have already accepted. Like myself—I have never in my life seen anyone explain how and what I’m doing in music. But everybody knows that it’s not important enough to back. It’s strange; they don’t do that with material values. If something is rare, then it’s more important than anything common; but that isn’t  the way it goes in human affairs. That’s funny, huh?

Its backward.

Yeah, that’s what it is. I think if people know you’re doing something well and they know that you’re not trying to destroy them, they will support you. I grew up in a white society with white rules and white philosophy, but I grew up with a black conscience. My consciousness of myself as a black man makes me realize that unless I can be integrated into white society and its values, I can’t  achieve the wealth they have created. They have created a society where any unknown white person can put something on the market and become successful. I don’t see why a black person can’t do that. They have to control what you do first, then give it to you like welfare.

Maybe it’s in the nature of a white person to be against anybody who is not white. But in that case they shouldn’t have schools and rules. They should say no black person is allowed to read and write. They should let you know what your limitations are. They shouldn’t say you can succeed if you can learn, because you can’t.

I haven’t had a booking agent or a manager in ten years. Every gig I’ve had I got myself. I haven’t made any money, but I haven’t been without too many meals. People see me with new clothes on and think I have lots of money and that I’m successful. I was born in the black community, where the best thing to do is be clean and not let anybody know what your problems are. I have walked the streets wearing silk suits when I was hungry. I know that if you’re clean, at least the dignity of being human is still there. I would rather think human first than think of being defeated because I’m black. I met a white guy the other day who accused me of being an agent for some secret black society. I said: “Man, you got to be crazy.” They can’t put their finger on me, because I don’t belong to any organization. People don’t realize you needn’t belong to an organization for the betterment of this or that just to do something you believe in. You can do it without joining anything. 

from Notes and Tones: Musician to Musician Interviews by Arthur Taylor