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The Power of Black Music

recorded 12/20/07

1) 2:31 Radio Essay - short - Mp3

2) 4:34 Radio Essay - long - Mp3

The Power of Black Music

[col. writ. 12/19/07] (c) '07 Mumia Abu-Jamal

 

    Music is far more than a multi-million dollar business in the US, and around the world.

    It is far more than the stuff that comes out of your radio in an unending roll.

    For some people, music, the right music, can transform one's way of looking at the world, and even change lives.

    By music (as you may have guessed) I'm not talking about bubble gum pop, or rap.

    I'm talking about a music form that has been called classical (at least by Black listeners) for generations.

    I speak of jazz.

    I speak specifically, of the music of the late saxophonist John Coltrane (1928-1987), an adherent of the form that came to be called avant-garde (French for advance guard), or free form jazz. In the '50's he was a star player in the Miles Davis quintet.

    Later, he would lead several groups, and when not zonked out high on heroin, would play such music as would move millions, even now, decades after his death.

    

    In San Francisco, a church stands today, which has named the musician a Saint of the African Orthodox rite.  This is the same church that was the religious branch of the Marcus Garvey Black nationalist movement of the early 20th century.

    At the St. John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church, Archbishop Franzo Wayne King presides, and his appreciation of Coltrane's music may be shown as often by his preaching as by his playing of the saxophone in tribute to the Saint.  In a recent interview, Archbishop King explained that he heard Coltrane live in 1966, at a local club called the Jazz Workshop, where he and his girlfriend (soon to be wife, Marina) got front row seats.  What they heard that evening almost literally blew him away.

    King would later explain the experience as his "sound baptism."*

    So taken was he by the power and beauty of Coltrane's music that her first organized a small congregation called the Yardbird Temple, named after the nickname of another famous sax player, Charlie Parker.  In this initial gathering Coltrane was worshipped as a god, and Parker was seen as a John the Baptist - type figure.

    Years later, when he joined the African Orthodox Church, Coltrane was "demoted" to saint.

    Today, People come from all around the world to visit the San Francisco church.

    The influence of Coltrane has also had far less spectacular, but still meaningful impact, on the lives of people during the '60's.

    As Black revolutionary and later scholar, Muhammad Ahmad (who worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), and other such movements) would later write in his political autobiography, We Will Return in the Worldwind: Black Radical Organizations: 1960 - 1975 (Chi., IL: Karr Publishing, 2007), music opened his mind to political ideas and possibilities:

First was going to see Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln present their "Freedom Now" suite at the national convention of the NAACP, which was held in Philadelphia that year.  I had been raised on Jazz and had done my homework with Eddie Collier while listening to John Coltrane's Giant Steps. I had gone to the Newport Jazz festival and was an avid fan of both Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderly.  But this was the first time I had heard "message music" so direct for my generation.  The "Freedom Now" suite immediately raised my political/cultural consciousness.  It wouldn't be until a year later that I would listen to John Coltrane's My Favorite Things and become a "Tranite" until "Trane" passed on in 1967. {p.xxvi}

    As Ahmad explained, music was a powerful social force that opened new ways of looking at and thinking about, and living in the world.

    Music is more, much more than a commodity.

    Free jazz of that period represented, quite simply, freedom, in breaking away from the restraints of the past.

    This power of music must be recaptured, to become a resource for a people, who are still not free.

--(c) '07 maj

{*Source: Freedman, Samuel C., "Sunday Afternoon Faith, Inspired by Saturday Nights," New York Times, (12/1/07), p.85:Ahmad, M (a/k/a Max Stanford, Jr.) We Will Return in the Whirlwind: Black Radical Organizations, 1960 - 1975 (Chi., IL.: Karr Publ., 2007.}

 

[Mr. Jamal's recent book features a chapter on the
remarkable women who helped build and defend
the Black Panther Party: *WE WANT FREEDOM:
A Life in the Black Panther Party*, from South
End Press (http://www.southendpress.org); Ph.
#1-800-533-8478.]
===============================


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[Check out Mumia's latest: *WE WANT FREEDOM:
A Life in the Black Panther Party*, from South
End Press (http://www.southendpress.org); Ph.
#1-800-533-8478.] 

"When a cause comes along and you know in your bones that it is
just, yet refuse to defend it--at that moment you begin to die.
And I have never seen so many corpses walking around talking about
justice." - Mumia Abu-Jamal

For additional information and to order Mumia's new book We Want Freedom,

visit: southendpress.org

Check out Mumia's NEW book:
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