Tag Archives: Social Justice

Jazz and TV

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 the 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 read, 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.

The 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.

#TBT - Jazz and People's Movement Protest - August 1970

Also in the ‘70s, trumpeter, arranger and all-around musical genius Quincy Jones was on the board of the Institute of Black American Music whose mission was similar to Jazz and People’s Movement.

Billboard - IBAM - Nov. 6, 1971

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.

Qwest TV

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.

Checker Café

The Checker Café opened in 1934. Located at 2125 Ridge Avenue, it was in the heart of the Ridge Avenue Entertainment District.

Ridge Avenue Cultural District

The Checker Café was a place to see and be seen. On May 23, 1935, Philadelphia Tribune columnist, “the Negro Councilman,” wrote:

When the show has nearly ended you will then see no other than our own sepia Gloria Swanson, who is direct from the Grand Terrace in Chicago and then you can tell the world that you have seen a real show.

As with many jazz venues, the Checker Café was about “intersectionality” before it became a thing. The “sepia Gloria Swanson” was a female impersonator.

Checker Cafe Ads

In the 1980s under new ownership, the nightspot was renamed the Checker Club.

2125 Ridge Avenue - Checker Club Sign

Trumpeter Cullen Knight is the recipient of the 2015 Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts “Living Legend” Award. Knight shared some memories with Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron who wrote:

It’s a bit ironic that the Checker is the only one of those Ridge Avenue joints to survive. It wasn’t the biggest or best known of the venues that lined the avenue during North Philadelphia’s jazz heyday in the mid-20th century. That distinction was probably held by the Pearl Theater on the next block, where Bailey and her sister Jura worked as ushers, and brother Bill tended the candy counter.

Trumpeter Cullen Knight, who grew up a block away, says the Checker was where musicians hung out before and after the shows, partly because the food and the house trio were equally reliable. Its motto was “Good Food. Good Cooks. Good Service.” Among those providing service was Pearl Bailey, who did a stint as a singing waitress and is now immortalized by a mural on the building’s south side. In the ’30s, a gay singer known as the “Sepia Gloria Swanson” was also a regular.

While some clubs, like Ridge Cotton Club and Blue Note, took their inspiration from famous Harlem venues, the Checker got its name from the black-and-white pattern painted on the ground floor. Its horseshoe-shaped bar had just enough space in its curve for a small band. Tables occupied the rest of the room.

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Church of the Advocate

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).

An inspiring collection of large and vivid wall murals commissioned in the 1970’s records the “stations” of the Civil Rights Movement.

Church of the Advocate Mural

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 Nov. 6, 1966. In an interview with DownBeat, Michael Brecker said he was asked to leave because the concert was for the black community.

Church of the Advocate - Michael Brecker Collage

For more information, visit Church of the Advocate.

Church of the Adocate Historical Marker