Jazz selections in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King’s memory

Posted by : admin | On : April 4, 2013

To commemorate the horrible day 45 years ago when Dr. Martin Luther King was killed in Memphis, Hard Bop Eights recommends a few jazz recordings to listen to as you reflect on the man’s legacy.

1) Marcus Shelby – “Soul Of The Movement: Meditations on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” (Porto Franco Records, 2011)
Key tracks:
Black Cab (Kenny Washington, vocal)
Trouble On The Bus (Freedom Riders)
Memphis (I Am A Man)

Marcus Shelby’s “Soul Of The Movement” proved once again why he is one of the best writers and arrangers in the big-band idiom since the heyday of Oliver Nelson, Quincy Jones and Lalo Schifrin. The album is brilliant across its 12 tracks, but these are my favorites. “Black Cab” — of course a reference to the Montgomery Bus Boycott — is a jaunty tune with a Kenny Washington vocal that truly sounds like an anthem of the period. “Trouble On The Bus” is another very strong melody that will have your head swaying, with a thoughtful bridge that reminds us of the dangers involved in the  Freedom Rides. Best of all is “Memphis,” a tune that is by turns ominous, determined and, in Howard Wiley’s soprano sax solo — unflinching in reflecting the pain of April 4, 1968.

2) Herbie Hancock: “The Prisoner” (Blue Note Records, 1969)
Key track:
“I Have A Dream”
Arguably the most memorable single jazz track dedicated to Dr. King, “I Have a Dream” was part of Herbie Hancock’s heartfelt rumination on events that had taken place only a year before.

3) Oliver Nelson: “Black, Brown and Beautiful” (Flying Dutchman Records, 1969)Key Tracks:
“Martin Was a Man, a Real Man”
I Hope In Time A Change Will Come”
“Self-Help Is Needed”
“Requiem: Aftermath”

As I think I’ve said on this blog, Oliver Nelson is my single favorite jazz musician. “Black, Brown and Beautiful” was, like “The Prisoner,” a reflection on Dr. King and The Movement. Certainly “Martin Was a Man, a Real Man,” makes a powerful statement. Of these three tracks, however, the one that affects me the most is “I Hope In Time a Change Will Come,” a slow-to-medium tempo melody that, so typically of Nelson, sounds like a man considering a thing — its implications of potential reward, and risk, with some degree of wistfulness about what has brought him to that point.

“Self-Help Is Needed” is an interesting look at what Nelson thought The Movement’s next step should be, and as such it is confident, indicating a people who have the toughness and skills to shape their own destinies. “Requiem: Aftermath” is  sad, but with a gradual sense of someone wearily soldiering on, even as excruciating memories intrude.

— David B. Wilkerson




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