Martin Luther King on the Importance of Jazz
My friend Jacques Lesure (a great musician as well as someone who speaks eloquently about all sorts of issues) posted this on his facebook page today. It’s a great reminder of the scope, power, importance, and possibilities of music. It also serves as further example of the extraordinary wordsmith, speaker, and thinker (as well as just a courageous man all around) that Dr. King was. One of the more unfortunate unintended consequences of honoring a man who wrote and spoke so prolifically is that, inevitably, many of his most moving letters, essays, and speeches are often overlooked in favor of the moments that were most visible and iconic. I’d encourage anyone to check out this enormous volume of nearly every word King ever set to paper. It’s well worth it.
Anyway, onto Jacques’ post and Dr. King’s address:
“Here is what Dr. Martin Luther King said about the music we play:
On the Importance of Jazz
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Opening Address to the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival, WPFW News (Washington), [23 August 2002]
God has wrought many things out of oppression. He has endowed his creatures with the capacity to create—and from this capacity has flowed the sweet songs of sorrow and joy that have allowed man to cope with his environment and many different situations.
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.
And now, Jazz is exported to the world. For in the particular struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the universal struggle of modern man. Everybody has the Blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for faith.
In music, especially this broad category called Jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.”
HAPPY MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY TO ALL!!