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Gil Scott Heron penned and produced iconic classics such as The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
and Winter in America.
Les McCann and Eddie Harris posed questions in Compared to What.
Billie Holiday sang out our pain with Strange Fruit.
Through the years jazz music, or more specifically jazz musicians, have always responded to the perils that American life has presented to segments of its citizens.
More often than not - this meant people of color.
In 1929, Louis Armstrong recorded Fats Waller’s What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue? The lyrics were written by Harry Brooks. Armstrong in his distinctive voice pushed the pain further, singing - “my only sin, is my skin, what did I do, to be so black and blue.”
Ten years after Armstrong asked the question, Billie Holiday released Strange Fruit.
The songstress was inspired by the 1930 lynching of two blacks to sing out her pain with lyric's that depict black bodies swinging from a tree.
Equally inspired to use their craft to proclaim unrighteousness were Max Roach, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane and Ray Charles. Many jazz artists refused to perform
in the South because of its blatant pro-segregation and Jim Crow stance. Years later artists such as Gil Scott Heron would also take to the mic and the pen to address social injustice.
These are just a few of the many jazz and message music fighters for human justice and equality that our minds and ears have been blessed to hear.
Thank God for Jazz music messengers! They put out the call. They enlisted others to join. R&B songsters rallied up and a grand musical ensemble of social music messengers sang out in accord: Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield, The Staple Singers, Marvin Gaye and more and more would take up the mantle in lyric, instrumentation and song.
What is important to note is that while other musicians and their genres also responded musically for the cause, the improvisational nature of jazz became a welcomed artistic home for musicians to address social issues and concerns. And you can rest assured that the next time society gives a reason to speak out - our Jazz Fighters will lead the way!
Black History. What It Is. What It Isn't. And What It Should Be.
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Craig Neely is a seasoned 40-year veteran in the music industry. His background includes professional work with major labels including Warner Brothers, Sony Music, Capitol and Arista Records. Neely has worked with artists in genres ranging from jazz to pop, R&B to gospel. Neely now heads his own music marketing, publicity, promotions and recording project consulting firm - Pro Marketing Entertainment, based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Jazz. And Social Unrest.
By Craig Neely
Marvin Gaye erased the musical genre divide between jazz and rhythm & blues with his epic suite
- What's Going On.
The Congressional Black Caucus.
Our Founding Mother & Fathers.
Jazz Maestress Nina Simone gifted us with an entire body of works that encompassed lyrics central to cementing jazz to play an evergreen role in social music messaging.
Sport Mirrors Life. A Commentary by Atty. Everett Glenn.
Literally playing it forward, a more recent cause of concern that has caused jazz musicians to rise in song was the 2011 execution of Troy Davis in Jackson, Georgia. Davis was convicted for the 1989 murder of an off-duty police officer.
In addition to Mr. Davis' claim of innocence, serious doubt was created based on the recanted testimony of seven witnesses from his trial and the possible confession of another suspect.
In response to this perceived injustice, musician, composer and arranger Peter Drew has written Blues for Troy a part of his new Where & When CD. As Peter comments about its genesis "this composition was written in memory of Troy Davis but it is also a protest to the vast injustices of the American legal system."