Legendary composer, bandleader and pianist Duke Ellington was not an outspoken activist. His activism was expressed in benefit concerts, non-segregation clause in his contract and his music. In the 1960s, Ellington was asked when he was going to compose a civil rights piece. His reply, “I did my piece more than 20 years ago when I wrote Jump for Joy.”
Debuted on July 10, 1941, at the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles, the musical addressed African American identity and representation. For Ellington, showcasing black excellence was an act of resistance to racial caricatures. Although Jump for Joy received rave reviews, it ran for only 122 performances. The musical never made it to Broadway. The “Great White Way” was not ready for Ellington’s unapologetic blackness.
Nearly 80 years later, audiences still jump for joy when they hear songs from the musical, including “I’ve Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good) and “Rocks in My Bed.”
In the year since the deadly white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, there has been a growing awareness that public art is about public memory. It matters whose story is told in public spaces. From Maryland to Texas, Confederate monuments have been taken down. It took Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh three days to send the Confederate monuments in “Charm City” packing.
Conversations about public memory and symbols of hate were also held “Up South.” The Pittsburgh Art Commission voted to remove the monument to Stephen Foster, the “Father of American Music,” who is memorialized with a barefoot slave seated at his feet.
A task force appointed by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered the removal of the statue of Dr. J. Marion Sims, who operated on enslaved African American women to develop advances in gynecological surgery.
In Philadelphia, calls grew louder for Mayor Jim Kenney to remove the monument memorializing Frank Rizzo, a former mayor. As police commissioner, Rizzo presided over a police department whose practice of beatings “shocks the conscience.” That was the finding of the U.S. Justice Department which, in 1979, filed an unprecedented civil lawsuit against the city over its abusive policing tactics.
On the eve of the first anniversary of Charlottesville, Kenney did an about-face and said the Rizzo monument would stay at the gateway to municipal services for at least two to three years. The Mayor claims he is concerned about “incurring additional costs” of $200,000 $100,000. Truth be told, the police department will likely spend at least $100,000 quarterly protecting a monument to police brutality, racial bigotry and misogyny.
But get this: Kenney presides over a city government that spent $5 million on a computer system and has nothing to show for it. Also, City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart recently reported the city cannot account for a whopping $33 million in taxpayers’ money.
Mayor Kenney has taken pains to publicly underscore the value of our city as welcoming and diverse. That’s a message undercut by the delay in moving the controversial statue that for some stands for oppression. That it was confirmed so near the anniversary of Charlottesville is sadly tone-deaf — especially at a time when better listening is critical.
Meanwhile, Frank Rizzo Jr. said that if his father’s statue is removed, “there’s going to be a fight.” Listen up, Junior: It’s on.
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.
@Starbucks The police were called because these men hadn’t ordered anything. They were waiting for a friend to show up, who did as they were taken out in handcuffs for doing nothing. All the other white ppl are wondering why it’s never happened to us when we do the same thing. pic.twitter.com/0U4Pzs55Ci
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.
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.
Commissioner Ross, just so you know, they will not make any purchases. So get your paddy rollers ready.
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.
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.
The event is free and open to the public. To RSVP, go here.
In 1970, a band of musicians sounded a call to arms over the exclusion of black jazz musicians in the mass media, specifically commercial television. Broadcast TV was the dominant medium of the era. Multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk spearheaded Jazz and People’s Movement. Kirk circulated a petition in New York City jazz clubs which was signed by, among others, Lee Morgan, Charles Mingus, Andy Cyrrile, Freddie Hubbard, Cecil Taylor, Elvin Jones, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp and Roy Haynes.
The petition reads, in part:
Many approaches have been used through the ages in the attempted subjugation of masses of people. One of the very essential facets of the attempted subjugation of the black man in America has been an effort to stifle, obstruct and ultimately destroy black creative genius; and thus, rob the black man of a vital source of pride and liberating strength. In the musical world, for many years a pattern of suppression has been thoroughly inculcated into most Americans. Today many are seemingly unaware that their actions serve in this suppression – others are of course more intentionally guilty. In any event, most Americans for generations have had their eyes, ears and minds closed to what the black artist has to say.
Obviously only utilization of the mass media has enabled white society to establish the present state of bigotry and whitewash. The media have been so thoroughly effective in obstructing the exposure of true black genius that many black people are not even remotely familiar with or interested in the creative giants within black society.
Action to end this injustice should have begun long ago. For years only imitators and those would sell their souls have been able to attain and sustain prominence on the mass media. Partially through the utilization of an outlandish myth, that in artistic and entertainment fields bigotry largely no longer exists, and by showrooming those few blacks who have sold out, the media have so far escaped the types of response that such suppression and injustice should and now will evoke.
Jazz and People’s Movement took action. Demonstrators disrupted tapings of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Dick Cavett Show and The Merv Griffin Show. On signal, group members played noisemakers and instruments that they had smuggled into the studios. They also passed out leaflets and displayed placards.
Fast forward to today, the multi-Grammy winning Jones is taking a journey into jazz and beyond with Qwest TV, the world’s first subscription video-on-demand platform dedicated to jazz from bebop to hip-hop.
In a statement, Jones said:
The dream of Qwest TV is to let jazz and music lovers everywhere experience these incredibly rich and diverse musical traditions in a whole new way.
At my core, I am a bebopper, and over the course of my seventy-year career in music I have witnessed firsthand the power of jazz – and all of its off-spring from the blues and R&B to pop, rock and hip-hop, to tear down walls and bring the world together. I believe that a hundred years from now, when people look back at the 20th century, they will view Bird, Miles and Dizzy, as our Mozart, Bach, Chopin and Tchaikovsky, and it is my hope that Qwest TV will serve to carry forth and build on the great legacy that is jazz for many generations to come.
Qwest TV co-founder Reza Ackbaraly added:
By bringing Qwest TV to the general public and to universities everywhere, we seek to promote the values inherent to jazz: hard work, diversity, openness towards others, mutual respect and consideration, cooperation, and improvisation. Jazz touches people across all national, social and cultural boundaries. Qwest TV is of course about extending that reach, but it is also about bringing exciting music from around the world back to jazz and music lovers who have yet to discover it. Quincy and I plan to build a community where the love goes both ways.
The streaming service will launch in fall 2017. For more info, visit Qwest TV.
The Church of the Advocate became a center of activism for the Civil Rights Movement embracing the cause of African American and women’s rights. It was the site of several nationally significant events, including the National Conference of Black Power (1968) and the Black Panther Convention (1970).
In the 1960s, Father Paul Washington invited musicians to come to the church for jam sessions which were held weekly on Tuesday. Tenor saxophonist Bootsie Barnes said the Church of the Advocate would be packed.
A collection of murals records the “stations” of the Civil Rights Movement.
These murals draw on Old Testament verses to dramatically illuminate parallels in African American history. Together, the medieval revival presentation of the building and the modern murals document the critical social role played by America’s inner city churches.
John Coltrane’s next-to-last performance in Philadelphia was held here on November 6, 1966. In an interview with DownBeat, Michael Brecker said he was asked to leave because the concert was for the black community.