This year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s address before the 1st Berlin Jazz Festival. In his opening remarks, Dr. King reflected on the importance of jazz:
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.
On Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, the Pennsylvania State Chapter National Action Network (PA NAN) will return to its roots and present the 3rd Annual Jazz for Justice Fundraiser.
I hope you will join us as we party for a cause and kick off PA NAN’s 2014 advocacy in action. Tickets are $20.00 and include live jazz (the Unity Band) and a fish platter.
Proceeds from the event will help fund PA NAN’s social justice initiatives, including voter protection and voter mobilization for the midterm election.
Tickets may be purchased on PA NAN’s secure website (please click this link).
U.S. Postal Service Judicial Officer William Campbell said:
Frank Sinatra, himself a stamp honoree, once characterized Ray Charles as “the only true genius in show business,” and certainly, if anyone was a musical genius, it was Ray Charles. Despite being blind and having a young life marked by tragedy, hardship and tremendous challenges, Ray Charles went on to have a remarkable 58-year career playing music that blurred the lines of jazz, gospel, blues and, in later years, country. In doing so, he became the personification of the American Dream.
The Postal Service also made available an unreleased recording of a Ray Charles song, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.”
Indeed, they can’t take that away from me -- loving Ray Charles.
Jazz history was made in Philadelphia. It’s the city where such legendary musicians as John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Philly Joe Jones, Shirley Scott, Billie Holiday, Jimmy McGriff, Bill Doggett, Stan Getz, Benny Golson, Lee Morgan, Grover Washington Jr., Trudy Pitts and Jimmy Smith made major contributions to jazz.
Philadelphia is the most important focus of John Coltrane’s development as a virtuoso musician. Philadelphia’s rich black jazz milieu in the 1940s nurtured the novice teen reed player just up from the South. The house on North 33rd Street was special to Coltrane. In this house, he wrote “Giant Steps,” a title that foreshadowed his future musical stature. In this space, in 1957, Coltrane experienced a life-altering epiphany when he freed himself from heroin addiction cold turkey.
All That Philly Jazz, a digital history project, is mapping Philadelphia’s jazz heritage, including historic landmarks and events, legacy clubs and other points of interest. Sadly, much of Philly’s jazz legacy has disappeared. As a result, the history largely resides in the memories of those who were there.
So we have launched a mobile platform to crowdsource collection of stories, photos and videos. All That Philly Jazz’s free app is available on Google Play and iTunes (search term “icihere”).
Philadelphia’s jazz legacy is like that family secret that everyone knows about you and your family, yet you have no idea about it. Our city’s musical status in the world is rich and valued. Our story is well known in places like London, Paris, Osaka, Berlin and Rio de Janeiro while at home we have yet to explore, appreciate and celebrate the greatness that emerged from these very streets. It’s time for us to look into the Philadelphia family album of jazz and understand just how wealthy we truly are and can continue to be.
Jazz enthusiasts anywhere in the world can go to http://ph.ly/MyPhillyJazz and share their memories of Philly’s jazz scene back in the day. If you were there, that would be awesome. If someone shared a story, photo, etc., with you, please share it with us. After all, if we don’t tell our story, who will?
With our app, residents and visitors can, say, stand on the corner of Broad and Lombard Streets, and reimagine Billie Holiday leaving the Showboat, which was in the basement of the Douglass Hotel.
If Billie walked south on Broad, she would have arrived at Pep’s in less than five minutes. Along the way, she would have passed the Dunbar (Lincoln) Theatre.
Although we’ve barely scratched the surface, the first iteration of the map is telling the story. Broad and South Streets, and Columbia Avenue (now Cecil B. Moore Avenue) were chock-a-block with jazz spots.
But All That Philly Jazz is not just about the past. It’s about building new audiences for jazz musicians by exposing Millennials and others to a unique American art form.