Last year I recorded a 4-part series on Jazz and Politics. Here is Part 3—probably my favourite of the four. It explores a few different political issues relevant to jazz music, and I play lots of great music.
If you consider ‘politics’ to be about power and influence, then Jazz was political right from the get-go in terms of the struggle for the black originators to gain recognition and wrest some of it away from the white artists who had the money, the power, and the influence to profit from the creativity and innovation of these black musicians. I start this program with a 1917 recording by the white man (not Paul) who claimed to have invented jazz.
Bassist and Vancouver native Brandi Disterheft records a tribute to Nelson Mandela while Wadada Leo Smith salutes Martin Luther King. Joni Mitchell pays tribute Lester Young and Charles Mingus in Goodbye Porkpie hat, with lyrics that focus on the prejudice that Lester Young experienced. Saxophonist Bobby Watson wrote what might be described as a ‘tone poem’ about black bicyclist Major Taylor who, in 1899, thwarted the attempts by white bystanders to stop him from winning a bicycle competition in Montreal.
Other political issues: Toronto’s Elizabeth Shepherd plays and sings about the attempt in Quebec to ostracize veiled Muslim women. Kurt Elling calls our attention to the rise of tribalism and fascism in the western world, singing Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall”. Alex Samaras and the Queer Songbook Orchestra out of Toronto sing Bronski Beat’s Small Town Boy, about being gay in a world hostile to gays.
If you like this program, give a listen to Episodes 38, 39, and 41, which are also about Jazz and Politics.