Last week was the anniversary of the first sit-in, right here in Greensboro NC, Black History Month has hit home this year as we uncover, with events in the very recent past, that we have much work still to do to ensure the diversity, and inclusion we seek. In recognition, JazzArts Charlotte, seeks to offer a lens of jazz and civil rights history to illuminate the efforts of the past and demonstrate their impacts and messages for today.
Beginning this week, we have invited back Dr. Kelsey Klotz for a brief 4-week Workshop to share with us the connection between jazz and the civil rights struggle. Her first week, the class took a deep dive into the impact of Billy Holiday’s Strange Fruit, plus Charles Mingus and Louis Armstrong. Each was thrust into a dynamic moment in music and civil rights, and each was understood differently over time. Next week the class continues with an interesting view of Brubeck and other white jazz musicians in the movement. The discussion class takes music and moments we’ve heard and offers insights that add significance and meaning.
Tuesday, February 9th, our Conversations with Curtis will focus on the great work “We Insist!! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite”. We will be speaking to most of the dozen performers who participated, from historian Willie Griffin to the choreographer and the musicians. The discussion will cover the history of why this music was created by Max Roach and Oscar Brown Jr, how the music itself was created to reflect its message of social change, and the experience of recreating this performance in the atmosphere of today.
To wrap up this full month of recognition, JazzArts Charlotte is excited to present an online performance of the “We Insist!” jazz suite – which was recorded on the Black Lives Matter mural plaza in October.
This large production performance, featuring over a dozen accomplished regional and world-renowned artists, will broadcast its Carolina premiere on Friday, February 12th, 8pm EST on JazzArts Charlotte’s website and Facebook/YouTube channels. This special broadcast event is free to the public.
“Our goal is to educate and share all aspects of the music, including its role in the struggle for civil rights and equality”, says Lonnie Davis, President of JazzArts Charlotte. We Insist! is a masterful work that captures the movement, with many references to today’s ongoing challenges. Our city’s Black Lives Matter mural was an obvious location for this meaningful 60th Anniversary Tribute.”
Legendary drummer and composer Max Roach, born in Newland, North Carolina, is considered one of the most important jazz figures in history. His 1960 suite, “We Insist!” carries powerful messages in support of civil rights and racial justice.
As part of the performance, internationally recognized trumpeter Sean Jones visited Charlotte to join accomplished local/regional musicians to create the Carolinas premiere of “We Insist!” Jones is a performer, composer and jazz educator. He has served as lead trumpeter for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and is currently the president of the Jazz Education Network. In addition to the exceptional slate of musicians, the multi-disciplined performance incorporates African-inspired choreography and spoken word.
“North Carolina is the birthplace of several prominent jazz figures including John Coltrane, Nina Simone, Thelonious Monk, Nnenna Freelon, Billy Taylor, and Max Roach. Like many artists in the 1960s, jazz musicians channeled the turmoil of the era into their art,” said Dr. Willie Griffin, historian at the Levine Museum of the New South. “Max Roach’s ‘We Insist!’ Freedom Suite is one of those albums. In many ways, We Insist! served as the keynote of jazz albums for the 1960s, as it and subsequent music produced by prominent jazz artists served to inspire many of the young civil rights activists of the period.”
This program was made possible through support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and U.S. Bank. “We are proud to sponsor this remarkable performance of Max Roach’s famous ‘We Insist! Freedom Now Suite,’” said Reba Dominski, Chief Social Responsibility Officer at U.S. Bank. “This piece is just as inspiring today as it was 60 years ago, and it reflects our strong commitment as a company to promoting social justice.”
Additional partners include Charlotte Center City Partners and Levine Museum of the New South.
Participants in the performance include:
• Musicians: special guest Sean Jones on trumpet; regional musicians: Dawn Anthony, vocalist; Elijah Freeman, tenor saxophone; Lovell Bradford, piano; Ocie Davis, drums; Shannon Hoover, bass; Tyrone Jefferson, trombone; Johnny Vegara, congas; Noah Mumford, Gary Mumford and Rajuma Bey, djembe drums; Quentin Talley, spoken word.
• Speaker: Dr. Willie Griffin, Historian, Levine Museum of the New South
• Choreography: Tamara Williams/Moving Spirits. Dancers: Dinora Ramirez, Lydia Heidt, and Raquelah Conyers.