Whether it is painting, photography, poetry, speech or song, it is the artist that provides premonition of change. The artist, being an integral part of a community is the first to document murmurs of discontent. Having been exposed to the artist’s work, the community then decides whether change will be by evolution or revolution.
There were several factors that led to the music of the sixties;
- Lincoln’s efforts toward the abolition of slavery include issuing his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, encouraging the border states to outlaw slavery, and helping push through Congress the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which finally ended all slavery in December 1865. The hidden agenda was to provide the same cheap labour to populate the factories of the North which was experiencing monumental growth due to the invention of machines that simplifies production and more specifically to the 1940’s; the munitions factories.
- Late forties: President Truman tried to enact legislation to give Afro-Americans the vote. While the law was passed it was so diluted as to be ineffective. His hidden agenda was to provide himself with millions of new loyal voters.
- Black soldiers returned from Europe with stories of being treated very well and without racial bias. Furthermore there was an expectation that the US government would offer the black soldiers favourable conditions (work, education, etc) as recognition of their effort.
- 1954 – Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. U.S. Supreme Court declared school segregation unconstitutional.
- 1955 – Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a Montgomery, Alabama bus as required by city ordinance; boycott followed and bus segregation ordinance was declared unconstitutional.
- 1956 – Coalition of Southern congressmen called for massive resistance to Supreme Court desegregation rulings.
- 1957 – Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus used the National Guard to block nine black students from attending a Little Rock High School. Following a court order, President Eisenhower sent in federal troops to ensure compliance.
- 1960 – Four black college students began sit-ins at the lunch counter of a Greensboro, North Carolina restaurant where black patrons were not served. Congress approved a watered-down voting rights act after a filibuster by Southern senators.
- 1961 – Freedom Rides begin from Washington, D.C., into Southern states.
- 1962- President Kennedy sent federal troops to the University of Mississippi to quell riots so that James Meredith, the school’s first black student, could attend. The Supreme Court ruled that segregation is unconstitutional in all transportation facilities. The Department of Defence ordered full integration of military reserve units, the National Guard excluded.
- 1963 – Civil rights leader Medgar Evers was killed by a sniper’s bullet. Race riots prompt modified martial law in Cambridge, Maryland. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered “I Have a Dream” speech to hundreds of thousands at the March on Washington. Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, left four young black girls dead.
- 1964- Congress passed Civil Rights Act declaring discrimination based on race illegal after 75-day long filibuster. Three civil rights workers disappeared in Mississippi after being stopped for speeding. They were found buried six weeks later. Riots in Harlem, Philadelphia.
- 1965 – March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to demand protection for voting rights. Two civil rights workers slain earlier in the year in Selma. Malcolm X assassinated. Riot in Watts, Los Angeles. New voting rights act was signed.
The result of this was;
- A rising well-educated middle class who could intellectualise and strategise.
- The dominance of the N.A.A.C.P. (spokesman: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) and The Nation of Islam (spokesman: Malcolm X) and towards the latter part of the sixties, The Black Panthers and several other radical groups.
- A large and mobile population of Afro-Americans in almost every city which could communicate quickly and effectively to represent the two groups… and had nothing to lose!
- Liberal whites, many of whom were the children of Jews who saw similar (if not worse) treatment in Europe were equally outraged, joined the NAACP and participated in its actions.
The first music of protest was bebop. Born in the forties, its main vehicle of protest was speed. The previous ‘Swing’ music (in 4/4 time) was totally colonised by white bands which did their best to alienate black bands from fame and therefore the profitable gigs. Benny Goodman was one of the significant perpetrators. Bebop (in 8/4 time – double the speed) was almost impossible for the old-time musicians to play. A new and different harmonic structure based on substituting notes within a chord, also baffled the older musicians. There were a few exceptions including Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge.
Drugs were a significant part of the problem. It had a detrimental effect on the musicians’ health as well as keeping them poor. As they always needed instant money for the next hit, songs were sold for next to nothing. This allowed the (white) establishment of publishing companies and record labels to keep control.
Gradually, the new (white) generation of musicians began to understand the music and more often than not, got the high-paying gigs. However things did change. Musicians like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie became either famous or notorious as the young white liberals saw the music as a generational change (‘A white sports coat and a pink carnation’ didn’t fit with goatee beards, berets and chest-high trousers). Nor did it fit with the ‘beat’ poets’ view of the generation that would change the world.
Free Music Icons
The first icon of free music, he is one of the most important figures in twentieth century American music. Charles Mingus was a virtuoso bass player, accomplished pianist, bandleader and composer.
Read more and listen to some of his tunes here:
The below clip is one of Mingus’ tracks called “Faubus Fables”. It was written as a direct protest against Arkanas governor Orval E. Faubus, who in 1957 sent out the National Guard to prevent the integration of Little Rock Central High School by nine African American teenagers.
Coleman began performing R&B and bebop initially on tenor saxophone, and started a band, the Jam Jivers, with some fellow students including Prince Lasha and Charles Moffett. Even from the beginning of Coleman’s career, his music and playing were in many ways unorthodox. His approach to harmony and chord progression was far less rigid than that of bebop performers; he was increasingly interested in playing what he heard rather than fitting it into predetermined chorus-structures and harmonies.
Read more and listen to Coleman here:
Listen to “Blues Connotation” below; the first track of free jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s album ‘This Is Our Music”.
A twig grows into a branch and flowers for a time before it either wilts & dies or seeds a new flower. The ground-breaking creations of Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler and John Coltrane influenced generations of artists each of whom created a new direction.
This program will trace the evolution of Free Jazz from its beginnings in the early 1950s to its wilting & dying in the 1980s. Traces remain, they always do. Few of today’s saxophonists play without reference to Coltrane’s sound or harmonic development. Many quote verbatim. Which musician doesn’t reference some of Miles Davis’ vocabulary?
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