Hi Code Switch readers! I’m here from NPR Music, where I mostly cover jazz. I thought you might be interested two big performances we recently featured in which the artists took a moment to talk about police intimidation and violence against African-Americans.
When Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah — a bold, new-school sort of trumpeter —played a Tiny Desk Concert for us, he played “Ku Klux Police Department,” which he says stems from a time he was harassed by police officers in his hometown of New Orleans. The full story, and the song that emerged from it, can be heard around 15:40 in this video:
Many black jazz musicians have been vocal about this subject since (and well before) Ferguson. Terence Blanchard told us recently that his new record was a reaction to the Black Lives Matter campaign. And going further back, no less a superstar than Miles Davis was beaten in public by New York City police officers for, in his telling, failing to “move on” outside a jazz club where he was performing.
The severe beating of pianist Bud Powell for disorderly conduct directly led to mental health issues that would trouble him throughout his career. Thelonious Monk was once refused service at a highway motel while traveling to a gig, leading to a heated exchange. Delaware state troopers showed up, and Monk was beaten, arrested, and detained. In the fallout, he was hospitalized in a psychiatric ward, and his New York City cabaret license was revoked, meaning he couldn’t play in nightclubs.
Monk’s next performance in New York City took place half a year later at a theater called Town Hall (one of the few venues not under the purview of cabaret card legislation). The pianist Jason Moran has assembled a concert-length re-imagining of that particular performance, which we filmed for the public media program Jazz Night In America. Jason sat down to reflect about Monk’s experience — and how it relates to his own. Watch from 20:10 specifically:
We often think about jazz history as a stylistic narrative, a succession of great masters who contributed a series of new innovations. But that view has a way of omitting the day-to-day experiences of jazz’s practitioners. These two moments are a reminder that this history has resonance in the present day as well.