Martin Luther King Jr on Jazz


Painting by Bruni Sablan an amazing and highly productive painter.

While surfing the net I came across these words written by the late Martin Luther King Jr on the subject of Jazz. They were for the foreword of the program of the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival:

On the Importance of Jazz

God has wrought many things out of oppression. He has endowed his creatures with the capacity to create—and from this capacity has flowed the sweet songs of sorrow and joy that have allowed man to cope with his environment and many different situations.
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.
And now, Jazz is exported to the world. For in the particular struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the universal struggle of modern man. Everybody has the Blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for faith.
In music, especially this broad category called Jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.

An interesting article concerning the origins of this “speech” can be found here >>>. As it turns out, even though these words were written by Martin Luther King Jr, they were never an opening speech for the Berlin Jazz Festival 1964 as is claimed all over the internet. Martin Luther King Jr was never there. This is the foreword for the program.

A series of printed products is available at my zazzle shop: www.zazzle.co.nz/johndierckx

(picture by John Dierckx: several prints available here >>> and here >>>)

Beautiful words that capture the essence, spirit and history of jazz. Blues and jazz as “triumphant music” that turns our harsh realities into something beautiful. Jazz is about life and hearing the greats play, one can only conclude that no matter how harsh our existence may be at a certain point in our lives, no matter how big the challenges the Lord is putting on our path, they all form part of this beautiful thing called life.

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