[JPL] Howard Mandel: Civil Rights-Jazz document, 1963

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Sun Jan 18 23:23:37 EST 2009

  Civil Rights-Jazz document, 1963

Prior to tomorrow's inauguration, the New York Times (and I suspect many 
other publications) has focused in many columns 
book reviews 
<http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/18/books/review/Boynton-t.html> and 
<http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/18/us/politics/18civil.html?_r=1> on 
Barack Obama's election as a turning point in the U.S.'s movement 
towards full civil rights for all people. The entertainment section 
makes the case for movies 
having led the way to our first not-completely- "white"-identified 

I maintain that the jazz community was in the forefront of the civil 
rights movement, and remains in the lead for demonstrating how 
all-inclusive meritocracies 
<http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/meritocracy> look, sound and 
work. A historical document highlighting the conjunction of jazz and the 
Civil Rights movement has come to hand -- programs from two nights in 
1963 when major players performed and major jazz journalists emceed in 
benefit for CORE <http://www.core-online.org/> (the Congress of Racial 
Equality) at New York City's Five Spot Cafe, plus a letter of thanks to 
bassist Henry Grimes <http://www.henrygrimes.com/> for his participation.
CORE has been one of the most powerful organizations driving the Civil 
Rights movement from the late 1940s to this day, employing Gandhi's 
principles of nonviolent civil disobedience 
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_disobedience> with 1950's sit-ins 
and 1960s' Freedom Rides to combat segregationist policies in the United 
States. James Farmer <http://www.interchange.org/jfarmer.html> was a 
co-founder of CORE and its first national director. Click here 
<http://www.artsjournal.com/jazzbeyondjazz/COREBenefitProgramFiveSpotOct1963-2.pdf> for 
the program of the benefits CORE held October 20 and October 27.

The extraordinary gatherings on October 20 and October 27 of musicians 
now regarded as jazz giants -- among the most recognizable saxophonists 
Ben Webster (playing tuba? or not the tenor saxophonist Ben Webster?), 
Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Booker Ervin, Eric Dolphy, guitarist Kenny Burrell, 
brassman and composer-arranger Thad Jones, pianists Bill Evans, Paul 
Bley, Sal Mosca, Horace Parlan, Billy Taylor (now Dr. Billy . .. ), Don 
Friedman, Dick Katz, drummers Roy Haynes, Ben Riley (mispelled "Reilly" 
-- and other misspellings abound), Paul Motian, Joe Chambers, bassists 
Gary Peacock, Ronnie Boykins (of Sun Ra'sArkestra), Ron Carter and 
vibist Bobby Hutcherson, singers Helen Merrill and Sheila Jordan -- was 
likely prompted by the Civil Rights rally at the Lincoln Memorial on 
August 28 (occasion of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have A Dream" 
speech) and the September 15 bombings by the Klu Klux Klan of 
Birmingham, Alabama's 16th St. Baptist Church, which targeted 
church-going children and killing four little girls. That bombing caused 
enormous outrage (and inspired John Coltrane's beautiful, heart-rending 
composition "Alabama").

The Five Spot, site of legendary performances by Thelonious Monk (with 
Coltrane), Cecil Taylor, Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman's 1959 
breakthrough band with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins, was 
on the southeast corner of Third Avenue and St. Marks Place (now a bagel 
and pizza joint). The CORE benefits' emcees, besides Dr. Taylor 
<http://www.billytaylorjazz.net/> who has made his mark as a jazz 
televison and radio broadcaster, educator and activist as well as 
pianist-composer-bandleader, were Don Heckman 
<http://www.blogger.com/profile/17588280520789862643>, then writing 
about music for the Village Voice, soon to go to the New York Times, and 
today, after a lengthy tenure with the now beleaguered Los Angeles 
Times, is a key blogger at Notes from the Left Coast 
<http://notesfromtheleftcoast.blogspot.com/> and The International 
Review of Music; <http://irom.wordpress.com/> Alan Grant, then WABC disc 
jockey behind the radio show "Portraits In Jazz" eventually retired with 
his wife to New Zealand but with his own Last.fm channel 
<http://www.last.fm/listen/artist/Alan%2BGrant/similarartists>; and Ira 
Gitler, a '50s record producer and in '63 the New York editor for Down 
Beat, a jazz historian, author (with Leonard Feather of The Biographical 
Encyclopedia of Jazz 
and journalist these days teaching at Manhattan School of Music and 
often read in New York's Jazz Improv 
<http://www.jazzimprov.com/guides/ji_nyc_v04n05.pdf> magazine.

Many of the musicians at the 1963 benefits are still creating vibrant 
music today, Among these are bassist and violinist Grimes, who provided 
the documents. Farmer wrote to him:

    "Dear Mr. Grimes, All of us at CORE are deeply grateful for your
    help in making the benefit performances at the Five Spot a
    resounding success.

    In the extremity of the Civil Rights battle that now confronts us,
    this kind of tangible and practical support is essential.

    Thank you again, I remain yours in freedom, James Farmer.

This photo 
by Lee Tanner 
(thanks, Lee!) is of Grimes in the early '60s, when he was a first call 
bassist for everyone from Benny Goodman to Cecil Taylor. After his 
relocation to the West Coast at the end of that decade, Grimes fell into 
a 30 year period of musical inactivity, but since his 2003 return to New 
York has made an extraordinary comeback to performing and recording, 
poetry writing and other forms of expression.

He and his wife, jazz advocate Margaret Davis Grimes, are proud to see 
the election of Barack Obama. At a dinner party in Berlin the day 
following Obama's election, Grimes said, "We are rejoicing in getting 
used to this great new feeling. We have had all the years of wondering 
when things would ever come right, and nw it's all coming together as we 
have always know things have the power to do." His wife added, "In one 
brilliant moment, the American people have risen to a higher level of 
consciousness, elevated and purified by the great light and grace of 
Barack Obama." 

For all the hope and trust of the majority of the jazz community, that 
community has never been naive, and acknowledges that the struggle 

Dr. Jazz
Dr. Jazz Operations
24270 Eastwood
Oak Park, MI  48237
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SKYPE:  drjazz99

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