The tumultuous times of the 1960s are constantly scrutinized, and discussed, documentaries of the Black Panthers, panel discussions with the Young Lords, Dr. King’s speeches, his letters, various video footage of the Civil Rights Movement, I Am A Man , voting rights protests, police beating heads, police dogs biting and fire hoses blasting.
So, what did America learn from the 1960s, police still beating heads and killing, church bombings persist this time in Charleston, the civil rights struggle continues with more voting rights protests but Black Lives Matter is a beacon. Most significant America elected its most racist president “the Orange Baron” since two-term elect Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921). The only difference between the two was that Wilson had a brain (former governor of New Jersey and president of Princeton University). However, both presidents were strong supports of white supremacy aka KKK. As it was witnessed with the Orange Baron’s instigation that led to the Jan. 6 domestic terrorist insurrection by white supremacists.
Despite America’s political scenery and how it relates to the people, jazz musicians have always used their musical voices to represent the truth of the times.
On Feb. 26 at 8 p.m., the violinist and composer Majid Khaliq will speak to the times and its truth thru Ma*JiD: BLACK AMERICA MATTERS––A 2021 Tribute to the Beauty of African American Music on YouTube. “I called long time band members Jonathan Thomas (Keys), Alex “Busby” Smith (E. Bass), McClenty Hunter (Drums) and me (violin/compositions/arrangements); as well as personal friend and Amsterdam News writer Ron Scott to read some Langston Hughes,” said Khaliq during a phone interview. ”I planned to present music from African American jazz composers who made it a point to express their struggles of justice for their community in musical expression. And we came up with this concert set list.” Herbie Hancock’s “I Have a Dream,” Joe Henderson’s “Power to the People,” Khaliq’s original “Black American Matter,” Glory Medley is a configuration of four different pieces. “Glory” (Common/J. Legend),”What’s Going On” (M. Gaye), ”One Nation Under a Groove” (G. Clinton) and ”A Dream” (Common/ Will.I.Am) “Someday We’ll All Be Free” by Donny Hathaway.
“During 2020, America was cursing the Black community for standing up for equal rights after the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement,” stated Khaliq. “We were simultaneously being plagued by the disastrous coronavirus and being killed for just existing. Even jazz’s own, Keyon Harold Jr. was assaulted for just being a Black teen in America. “I had to do something!” To see Black America Matters video visit YouTube Ma*JiD- Black America Matters 2 Stream.
“Music While We’re Inside” is a happening every Sunday at 6 p.m., a free jazz concert via Zoom that features formerly incarcerated musicians alongside jazz and pop luminaries. Since the organization’s inauguration in March after the CDC’s global pandemic announcement guests have included vocalists Alyson Williams and Janice Siegal, pianists Arturo O’Farrill, Emmit Cohen and Danny Mixon, bassists Marcus Miller and Russell Hall and saxophonist Don Braden.
The concert is presented by Musicians On the Inside, Inc. (MOTI) with associate producers singer Antionette Montague and Richard Miller, and executive producer Alina Bloomgarden, The nonprofit brings music education and hope to individuals impacted by incarceration.
Prior to the coronavirus Montague, Miller and Bloomgarden were teaching music lessons at the Queensboro and Edgecombe correctional facilities. Bloomgarden originally started the program at Riker’s Island youth facility. “I originally started the organization based on my learning of Louis Armstrong’s early incarceration as a youth (sent to detention at the Colored Waif’s Home for firing a blank into the air with his stepfather’s gun),” said Bloomgarden. “It has inspired me how so many jazz musicians have become involved in our effort to bring music to incarcerated young men.” MOTI is celebrating its fifth anniversary.
The organization initially worked with youth offenders but later shifted focus to adult offenders in re-entry programs, preparing them for their soon to be release date. “We can’t change the whole system but we can do what we can,” stated Bloomgarden during a telephone interview. While the pandemic doesn’t allow MOTI to visit the correctional facilities, individual classes are being offered on Zoom.
The Sunday Zoom concert series blossomed out of the drudgery of the coronavirus and everyone confined to the four walls. “Music While We’re Inside is our way of giving people relief and joy through music on this new platform we call livestreaming,” says Montague. “It also showcases a few of our music students, who have since been released. As the singing instructor I am honored to teach these young men and watch the joy that comes over their faces when they are hitting those high notes in song. We want them to come out and become community builders and protectors and jazz music offers inspiration.”
Allan Harris the smoky honey coated crooner returns with his latest CD “Kate’s Soulfood” (Love Production Records). In past albums Harris has brilliantly recorded the music of bebop scat singer Eddie Jefferson, the lyrical memorable tunes of Nat King Cole and his representation of Black cowboys of the west.
Here the Harlem native brings the music back home with 10 original compositions that, as he says, “Here I sing to you in a voice filled with hope and promise, paying tribute to my aunt Kate, who owned a popular diner behind the Apollo Theatre.”
The CD’s first cut “Grew Up” (Kate’s Place) is a hand-clapping big brass, organ playing Ondre J. Pivec and Gregoire Maret playing a hot harmonica. The lyrics offer a brief soulful glimpse into his growing up in Harlem from the jukebox to girls’ double dutch: “I grew up with people who believed in hard work.” The second cut “One More Notch” (Put Down Your Gun) is a mid-tempo message stop the neighborhood shootings “We must live as one” with a nice, muted trumpet solo by Curtis Taylor. “Color of a Woman is Blu” and “99 Miles” are two love songs oozing with the smokey timbre of Harris as he croons away. The final cut “Run Through America” is a re-issue of Harris’ protest song that was released last summer during the cross-country and international protests in response to the horrendous police murder of George Floyd. The lyrics reflected protesters sentiments, as well as the anger and outrage that persists today within the walls of institutional injustice that still allows policemen to walk away from murder. His lyrics note, “Tired of singing/Tired of praying/It’s hard to believe you never felt our pain/take it to the streets and shout out their names.”
Harris is accompanied by an all-star large ensemble that include his regular bandmembers; drummer Shirazette Tinnin, pianist Arcoiris Sandoval and bassist Nirmrod Speaks. Others rounding out the ensemble are percussionist David Castaneda, alto saxophonist Alex Budman, tenor saxophonist Keith Fiddmont, and Tonga Ross-Ma’u (guitarist on “Color of a Woman”). Love Production Records is Harris’ label that he co-founded with his wife Patricia.
“Kate’s Soulfood” is a delicious taste of Harlem revisited, spiked soul sprinkled with a message to the people, Harris’ ballads dipped in his original smoky honey croon sauce and a searing anthem to keep the truth in sight.
Carnegie Hall, due to the ongoing effects of COVID-19, has cancelled all events in its three performance venues from April 6 through July 2021. Drummer, composer and educator Terri Lyne Carrington, and Social Science is one of the performances to be missed. The Hall’s planned Voices of Hope festival will moved online and run from April 16–30.