Archive for Martin Luther King

Tributes to a King – Max Roach – Billy Taylor – Duke Ellington

Posted in In Memoriam, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , on April 4, 2015 by curtjazz

martin luther kingAs most of you know, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 47 years ago today in Memphis. Much has been written over the years about that tragic day in American history, including a previous post in this blog. So today, I choose to honor Dr. King with musical tributes from three of jazz’s all-time greats; Max Roach, Dr. Billy Taylor  and Duke Ellington.

Hope you enjoy them…

Max Roach plays a duet with excerpts from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech 

If You Are Concerned Then Show It – from Dr. Billy Taylor’s Peaceful Warrior Suite – Dedicated to the Memory of Dr. Martin Luther King

“Martin Luther King” was the 3rd Movement of Duke Ellington’s Three Black Kings suite; one of the last symphonic works completed by Mr. Ellington. As he lay dying in his hospital room, Ellington dictated instructions for the performance  and orchestration of this piece to his son, Mercer. It was not publicly performed until after Duke’s death.

An added bonus! Here is a fourth clip that I just stumbled upon, describing a meeting between Dr. King and Duke Ellington – both, understandably, were in awe of each other…

I Have A Dream – The Entire Speech

Posted in In Memoriam, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , on August 28, 2013 by curtjazz

Martin Luther King - LPI’ve written posts here before about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and how he and his life and work meant so much directly to my parents and indirectly to me as I was not quite eight years old when he was assassinated. I’ve studied him at length over the years and I’ve grown to admire him greatly.

I recall that a few weeks after Dr. King’s murder, my parents bought the album that you see pictured here, which included Dr. King and many other speakers from the day, including Roy Wilkins, A. Phillip Randolph and John Lewis. The liner notes by the way, were written by the great jazz writer and 1st amendment advocate Nat Hentoff.

That album was on heavy rotation in my home for at least a year, maybe more. In that time I became extremely familiar with Dr. King’s words from that day and the majesty of his oratory. In addition, I was exposed to the stentorian tones  of Mr. Randolph and the youthful passion of Mr. Lewis both of which have stuck with me to this day.

As I got older and did a little acting, I was asked on many occasions to recreate Dr. King’s word from that day in 1963. As I took on the daunting task of memorizing the entire 16 minute plus speech, the words grew in meaning for me exponentially. I always felt that the public was cheated each year during January and February when television would truncate everything down to the words “I have a dream” and “Free at last, Free at last…”. To me it was if you had reduced the entire Holy Bible to “Jesus Wept” (John 11:35).

In most cases, I was asked in performance to “skip to the good part”, beginning with “I say to you today my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream…”. (This is the first mention of the immortal words, which occurs about 11 minutes in, when King decided to abandon his prepared text and decided to “preach”, using words he first had used in a speech in Detroit two months earlier.)   As a performer,  I understood why folks asked me to do this. There’s still a little over five minutes left in the speech and all of it is highly memorable.

But it was still frustrating as even five minutes was too much for some. I remember the youth pastor of a church that I was attending, begging me to come out to Jones Beach one Sunday evening to deliver “the good part” at a summertime concert. He asked me to come in full suit and tie, which made me feel ridiculous while everyone else, this pastor included, was in t-shirt and shorts. He then took a few minutes to apologize to the audience before I came on, because I was going to deliver “the whole speech” as he called this 5 minute segment and he then begged them not to leave while I performed.

Having been set up for failure, I nevertheless went on, in spite of being now mocked by some drunks who felt empowered by this man’s apology. The final insult came when this youth pastor returned as I finish to literally hold me in place on the stage while he told people “you see, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” While a loud, bad Christian rock band played behind us and he screamed about “Freedom” and “Brotherhood”, while hoisting my hand in the air with his. I’d never been a theatrical hostage before. It was a new experience. And I left feeling totally used and extremely angry.

Anyway I told that story because I had to finally get it off my chest after twenty years. I can now put it to rest. The main reason I write today is to post this video of the entire 16 minutes of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which was once titled “A Cancelled Check” during earlier drafts. If you watch this you may figure out why. I’ve also included a clip of Dr. Billy Taylor’s beautiful King tribute “His Name Was Martin” featuring  Dr. Taylor on the piano and the wonderful Ingrid Jensen on trumpet. And a fascinating piece by the great Max Roach, featuring his drum solo against some of the famous quotations from the speech.  I hope that you’ll enjoy that as well.

Until the next time, the struggle (and the jazz) continues…

April 4, 1968 – A Personal Recollection

Posted in The Jazz Continues..., Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on April 4, 2011 by curtjazz

“It is no wonder that so much of the search for identity among American Negroes was championed by Jazz musicians. Long before the modern essayists and scholars wrote of racial identity as a problem for a multiracial world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was stirring within their souls.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 43 years ago today in Memphis, TN. 

Though I was not quite eight years old at the time, my recollection of some things about that day are still quite vivid.

My parents were tailors who ran their business out of the basement of our Long Island home. I remember them working that evening at their sewing machines, which sat at right angles to each other. I sat with one of my coloring books and my Crayolas at the massive cutting table in the center of the room, working on my latest masterpiece.

WGLI, the local top 40 radio station, was playing on the AM table radio on top of the fabric shelf, when the deejay broke in with the news that Dr. King had been shot in Memphis.

Both of my parents stopped what they were doing. My mother spoke first, saying to my dad “John, did you hear that?”. My father immediately went to the radio and switched it to WINS, the all news station. By the time he got the New York City signal, the news had gotten worse. Dr. King was now dead.

My dad was a  stoic man. In his era, men did not display great emotion. Though he laughed easily, tears were just not an option. So, as my mother cried out “Jesus!”, my father quietly uttered what for him, was a wail of grief: “Ummf, Ummf, Ummf…”, each one with increasing emphasis.

We had no TV in the basement workshop. But neither of my parents moved yet to go upstairs and turn the TV on. They seemed to be hoping that if they remained in the basement long enough, somehow when they did go upstairs, Walter Cronkite would make the radio out to be a liar. 

By now, my mother was working the phone, calling friends, neighbors and relatives and checking to see if they had heard the news. My dad had sat back down at his sewing machine and he tried to return to work. I saw a little tear form in the corner of his eye and make its way silently down his cheek.

I knew of Dr. King. I knew he was a great man, because my parents had told me so; but at this point, he was still years from having a profound affect on my life.  I was seven; all I really knew is that I had never seen my father cry. So, I asked my dad what was wrong. He just responded gently “Nothing…I’m alright, Curtis…” and his voice trailed off. A few minutes later he shut off his machine, went upstairs and turned on the television.  He would not return to the basement that night. Dad generally worked seven days a week, from 7 a.m. until the end of the 10 O’Clock News; this was major indeed.

By the time of Dr. King’s funeral a few days later, the small black and white TV had been moved to the basement. My dad had gone to great lengths to set up the antenna to get reception. I don’t know if it was Easter Recess or not, but I remember being off from school that day. My parents tried to work but couldn’t, as they watched the scene play out in Atlanta.

My mom cried throughout the service. My dad maintained quiet composure until the portion where they played the excerpt from Dr. King’s final Ebenezer sermon (“The Drum Major Instinct”). At that point, he began to weep openly.

Over the years, I’ve become a student of Dr. King. I’ve read and researched copious amounts of information concerning his life, his ministry and his work.  I did this because I wanted to know about the man, warts and all; not the deity that our society has created.  Frankly, the more I’ve gotten to know about his successes and his shortcomings, the more my admiration for Dr. King has grown.  

One thing I did not learn until a few years ago was that Dr. King had a great respect for jazz. When asked by an acquaintance, he penned some eloquent and profound words that were used as the foreword to the program from the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival. 

We end this remembrance with those words and with a musical tribute by the late, great Dr. Billy Taylor:

God has wrought many things out of oppression. He has endowed his creatures with the capacity to create—and from this capacity has flowed the sweet songs of sorrow and joy that have allowed man to cope with his environment and many different situations.

Jazz speaks for life. The Blues tell the story of life’s difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph.

This is triumphant music.

Modern jazz has continued in this tradition, singing the songs of a more complicated urban existence. When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument.

It is no wonder that so much of the search for identity among American Negroes was championed by Jazz musicians. Long before the modern essayists and scholars wrote of racial identity as a problem for a multiracial world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was stirring within their souls.

Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.

And now, Jazz is exported to the world. For in the particular struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the universal struggle of modern man. Everybody has the Blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for faith.

In music, especially this broad category called Jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (September, 1964)