Category Archives: Advocacy

The Jazz Ambassadors

“The Jazz Ambassadors” tells the story of when the U.S. State Department asked jazz icons to travel the world as cultural ambassadors during the Cold War. Their mission was at the intersection of race, civil rights and public diplomacy.

The film premieres on May 4, 2018 on PBS. Check your local listings.

Jane’s Walk: North Broad Street Then & Now

Since 2007, community historians across North America and around the world have taken to the streets to lead a Jane’s Walk, “a movement of free, citizen-led walking conversations inspired by Jane Jacobs.”

On Saturday, May 5, 2018, I will lead a Jane’s Walk, “North Broad Street Then & Now.” We will uncover North Broad Street’s forgotten past as an enclave of nouveau riche industrialists. North Broad was also an entertainment destination for African Americans. That was then.

Now after years of neglect and disinvestment, North Broad is experiencing a development boom. We will explore North Central Philadelphia’s jazz history and issues ripped from the headlines such as gentrification, civil rights and cultural heritage preservation.

The walking tour will begin at the Metropolitan Opera House that was commissioned by Oscar Hammerstein.

Metropolitan Opera House Collage

Points of interest along the way include:

  • Majestic Hotel/Beaux Arts Café
  • Flamingo Apartments
  • Loyal Order of Moose Lodge/Legendary Blue Horizon
  • Heritage House/Freedom Theater
  • Alfred E. Burk Mansion
  • Progress Plaza
  • Chesterfield Hotel/Ebony Lounge
  • Barber’s Hall
  • Linton’s Restaurant
  • Grand Opera House/Nixon Grand Theatre

The walk will end at Temple University Mitten Hall, where John Coltrane last performed in Philadelphia. That night, Coltrane played “My Favorite Things” which he first recorded in 1961. The show tune is from “The Sound of Music,” a Broadway musical with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, the grandson of the industrialist who commissioned the Metropolitan Opera House.

Mitten Hall Collage

We will meet at the Metropolitan Opera House, located at 858 N. Broad Street (at Poplar Street). The free event will be held, rain or shine, on Saturday, May 5, from 10:00am to 11:30am. No reservations are required.

Waiting While Black at Starbucks

During the Jim Crow era, Louis Armstrong asked, “What did I do to be so black and blue?”

In 2018, men in blue uniforms arrested two African Americans whose only sin is in their skin. Their offense – waiting while black at Starbucks.

While implicit bias led to the 911 call, Police Commissioner Richard Ross is complicit in the criminalization of black men. In a video posted on Facebook, Ross said:

They did a service that they were called to do. And if you think about it logically, that if a business calls and they say that someone is here that I no longer wish to be in my business, [police officers] now have a legal obligation to carry out their duties.

There is nothing logical about implicit bias.

In an open letter, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said the arrest was “reprehensible”:

By now, you may be aware of a disheartening situation in one of our Philadelphia-area stores this past Thursday, that led to a reprehensible outcome.

I’m writing this evening to convey three things:

First, to once again express our deepest apologies to the two men who were arrested with a goal of doing whatever we can to make things right. Second, to let you know of our plans to investigate the pertinent facts and make any necessary changes to our practices that would help prevent such an occurrence from ever happening again. And third, to reassure you that Starbucks stands firmly against discrimination or racial profiling.

In the coming days, I will be joining our regional vice president, Camille Hymes—who is on the ground in Philadelphia—to speak with partners, customers and community leaders as well as law enforcement. Most importantly, I hope to meet personally with the two men who were arrested to offer a face-to-face apology.

Meanwhile, Mayor Jim Kenney is “heartbroken”:

I am heartbroken to see Philadelphia in the headlines for an incident that — at least based on what we know at this point — appears to exemplify what racial discrimination looks like in 2018.

However, Kenney is not “heartbroken” enough to launch an independent investigation of the incident. Instead, the Philadelphia Police Department is investigating itself. A fact noted by the Washington Post:

Kenney said little about the response of his police force beyond mentioning an ongoing review from Police Commissioner Richard Ross.

In his Facebook monologue, Ross said the police department sends all new recruits to the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum because “we want them to know about the atrocities that were, in fact, committed by policing around the world.”

The Commissioner encouraged us to “make our own value judgment.” So here’s mine — Negro, please! Did you send new recruits to visit the African American Museum in Philadelphia’s exhibit, “Arresting Patterns: Perspectives on Race, Criminal Justice, Artistic Expression, and Community?” The museum is located one block from police headquarters.

Ross declared his “officers did absolutely nothing wrong” in arresting two black men whose only offense is the color of their skin. But he will not have the last word.

POWER, a coalition of clergy leaders representing more than 50 interfaith congregations in Southeastern and Central Pennsylvania, will hold a march and sit-in on Monday, April 16. Protesters will gather at 3:30pm at The Philadelphia Ethical Society, 1906 Rittenhouse Square. From there, they will march and occupy the Starbucks located at 1801 Spruce Street from 4-6pm.

#Starbucks - POWER Sit-in2

Commissioner Ross, just so you know, they will not make any purchases. So get your paddy rollers ready.

Blue Note Salon

On December 8, 1956, the Miles Davis Quintet, featuring Miles Davis (trumpet), John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums) performed at the Blue Note. The set was featured on the Mutual Network live remote radio broadcast, Bandstand, U.S.A.

That same night, the police raided “the town’s swankiest jazz emporium.” The Blue Note was a “black and tan” club, an integrated nightspot where blacks and whites socialized on an equal basis. As such, it was the target of police harassment.

Philadelphia Tribune - Dec. 11, 1956

From the beginning, jazz was a tool for social change. Jazz musicians’ unbowed comportment created a cultural identity that was a steppingstone to the Civil Rights Movement. In remarks to the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said jazz is “triumphant music”:

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.

On April 21, 2018, All That Philly Jazz and Black Quantum Futurism will present the “Blue Note Salon” which pays homage to jazz musicians’ legacy of resistance. The community discussion will feature creative change makers who work on social justice issues. Their work is at the intersection of art, community engagement and social change.

Blue Note Salon

The event is free and open to the public. To RSVP, go here.

Philly Celebrates Jazz 2018

April is Jazz Appreciation Month. There is a lot of appreciation for jazz in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection so Philly is getting the party started early. On March 29, Mayor James Kenney will join the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy to kick off Philly Celebrates Jazz by honoring the 2018 Benny Golson Award recipient, fashion-forward bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma.

Jamaaladeen Tacuma

From the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy:

Jamaaladeen Tacuma is celebrated internationally for his creatively free and funky approach to the electric bass. His innovative style caught Ornette Coleman’s ear, and he became the first bassist in Coleman’s electric band, Prime Time, touring and recording with the group throughout the 1970’s and 80’s. Viewed as one of the most distinctive bassists of his generation, Tacuma is credited for redefining the potential of the instrument. Tacuma debuted as a bandleader, composer, and arranger in 1983 with the album Showstopper, going on to develop compositions that blend Prime Time’s elaborate harmonies with engaging melodies. His 1988 album Jukebox was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1989; in 2011 his ongoing achievements were recognized by the award of a Pew Fellowship in the Arts; he is the 2017 recipient of Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz Best Bassist Award. Tacuma’s artistic and experimental approach to jazz music has been and continues to be a source of great pride for the Philadelphia jazz scene.

The March 29 event is free and open to the public

Philly Loves Jazz Kickoff Event - March 29

To RSVP go here.

Help Get Muddy Waters a Google Doodle

We all have seen Google Doodles. The drawings “celebrate holidays, anniversaries, and the lives of famous artists, pioneers, and scientists.”

Google Doodle - Ella Fitzgerald

Google Doodle - Dizzy Gillespie

Google accepts suggestions from the public. You can help one of the most celebrated bluesmen, Muddy Waters, get a Google Doodle.

Muddy Waters Google Doodle

American Blues Scene, a popular website, is petitioning Google to create a Muddy Waters doodle:

No figure has inspired an international music explosion quite like blues musician McKinley “Muddy Waters” Morganfield, who left a log cabin in a Mississippi cotton field to break much greater ground with his inimitable guitar and vocal style. After more than 100 years, Muddy Waters’ continuing impact has proven the blues singer to be one of the most significant figures in the history of American Music, inspiring generations of artists and cultural movements like Folk, Chicago Blues, and Rock n Roll.

You can sign the petition here. You can also email Google at proposals@google.com and tell them about the “Hoochie Coochie Man.”

The blues master is memorialized on a Chicago high-rise.

Muddy Waters Mural

With your help, Muddy Waters will be immortalized for all Google users.

The Lost Tapes: Malcolm X

February 21 was the 53rd anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.

Malcolm X

Two years ago, I nominated a former residence of Malcolm X for listing on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. In the statement of significance, I wrote:

Malcolm X, aka El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, is a world-renowned human rights activist and American icon whose charismatic leadership laid the foundation for the growth of orthodox Islam among African Americans in the City of Philadelphia, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the nation. His life story is an American story. It is a “Horatio Alger” tale of a misspent youth, personal redemption and triumph in the struggle for racial equality.

During his “misspent youth,” Malcolm was known as “Detroit Red.” He was a fixture on the jazz scene in Harlem. His former residence, 2503 W. Oxford Street, was located a short walk from Philadelphia’s storied “Golden Strip.”

I also noted:

In the years since his assassination, Malcolm has become an American icon. He is the subject of countless books and academic studies, and documentaries, including PBS’ “Malcolm X: Make It Plain.” Spike Lee’s movie adaptation of The Autobiography of Malcolm X was released in 1992. “Malcolm X” featured an Oscar-nominated performance by Denzel Washington.

While the nomination was not successful, all was not lost. We raised awareness of Malcolm’s presence in Philadelphia. “The Lost Tapes: Malcolm X” will introduce a new generation to the human rights activist. The documentary premieres on the Smithsonian Channel on February 26 at 8pm EST.

The Lost Tapes

The documentary traces Malcolm’s life through rare archival footage from his speeches and media interviews. In comments following a recent screening Malcolm’s daughter, Ilyasah Al-Shabazz, said:

We finally have the opportunity to hear directly from our father’s mouth. … I was overwhelmed with emotion when I first saw it and I thought that it was a great piece of work.

For more information, visit the Smithsonian Channel.

We Knew What We Had: The Greatest Story Never Told

Like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh once had a robust jazz scene with legendary venues, including the Granada Theater and the Crawford Grill.

Crawford Vintage

Crawford Grill - Pittsburgh - Historical Marker - 2001

Pittsburgh produced jazz greats such as Art Blakey, Billy Strayhorn, Mary Lou Williams, George Benson, Ahmad Jamal, Stanley Turrentine, Billy Eckstine and Kenny Clarke.

We Knew What We Had2

Thanks to a new documentary, “We Knew What We Had: The Greatest Story Never Told,” the world will know what Pittsburgh had.

The one-hour documentary includes live performance clips of the Jazz Masters, interviews and archival photographs. As important, the filmmakers contextualize Pittsburgh’s jazz culture by exploring social conditions and historical events.

“We Knew What We Had: The Greatest Story Never Told” will air in February. For more information and air dates, visit their website.