New Jazz And The Civil Rights Movement

Bebop is a style of jazz that was popularized in the 1950s. It was a new and innovative music that demonstrated the technical skills, artistic depth, and passion of Black musicians. In the 1950s bebop became the most popular form of jazz. Black musicians (such as Dizzy Gillespie Charlie Parker Duke Ellington), were given the attention they deserved. In no time, the bebop crowds would see a new style of expression that was suited to a complex new age emerge. In the 1960s political unrest and social unrest forced Black Americans in the United States to rethink and reassess their place within society.

In the late 50’s and 60’s, Blacks developed a social consciousness that was focused on the respect of Black personhood. Cecil Taylor of jazz, John Coltrane of saxophone, and Ornette Coltrane began to rethink space, time and harmony in bebop. This led to the creation a new sound which was more focused on their own thoughts and feelings. As “artists”, they were entitled to the respect of great painters and writers. Black jazz music became more than just music as Black leaders began to break free from oppression. Their work was a demonstration to Whites of their willingness to go beyond bebop and express themselves in a radical way. This “New Jazz”, unlike bebop’s dissonant tones and unconventional rhythms, reflected more of the emotions and souls of players than merely their technical skills. This music, which mirrored the political upheaval of the time, served as a wake-up call that marked the end to African American appeasement. The music of this era was heralding a new era in freedom.

Black Americans thought that White record company owners had monopolized the music industry during the bebop years. They also believed they weren’t earning any money from the sales of records. Archie Shepp’s summary of the situation is “you are the owner and we are the makers”. Black musicians maintained that they had been blazing a trail in innovation and creativity, and were working hard to achieve this. White record labels took all the profits and collected them. Frank Kofsky a Trotskyist and historian of jazz explains:

The decisions made by these owners and managers are crucial to determining the amount of black musicians employed and who will have access to that employment.

Ornette described his personal experience of this as “Here is a Negro being used to play jazz. All the people who recorded me and for whom I have worked act as though they are my owners and own my product.” They made me think that my product should not be profitable because they were the ones who won the channels. It almost seems like he’s attempting to convey a Marxist message. Kofsky expanded this idea in 1970 when he stated that the Whites controlled the “major institutions” of the jazz industry, including nightclubs, record companies, magazines and radio stations. Blacks have nothing more than their own talent. White executives from the bebop age had it easy ripping of these talented musicians. There were many young, well-trained musicians who were ready to fill up any open spaces on a CD or concert. Jazz shifted away prepackaged acts and towards individual artists that had a genuine, authentic voice. This allowed the power to be equalized.

The disparity between Dave Brubeck’s financial success and that of his Black contemporaries in jazz has been a topic of debate among jazz musicians. Time magazine featured a photo of Dave Brubeck on its cover in 1954. It also ran a story about a “new type of jazz age,” which omitted contributions from Black musicians. Time magazine reported in its article that Brubeck made $100,000 in 1954 while Black jazz musicians with equal talent and accomplishments could hardly pay their rent. In some respects, it’s similar to slavery. Whites benefitted greatly from the ripe economic waters that slaves created. Instead of slaves securing cotton, Jazz musicians gained new heights of creative expression and expressed their souls by creating harmonies and beats. And they did so without a fair monetary return.

Martin Luther King delivered “I Have a Dream,” to a crowd in excess of 200,000 people, during the summer of ’63. In Birmingham, a bombing occurred 18 days after the march. Four young Black females were killed. Americans watched police in Birmingham blast Black children using high-powered hoses. White racist acts and statements of hatred were shown on TV screens in American homes, forcing Americans to confront the harsh realities of discrimination that Black Americans face. Malcom X – the most important spokesman in 1965 for Black Power and Black Independence through Separation from Whites – was assassinated. Watts riots began in August 1965. Shops were looted and set on fire, 34 people died, and thousands of arrests. Blacks criticized the U.S. Government for its hypocrisy, focusing solely on the anti-colonialism fight in Vietnam but ignoring the struggle of freedom fighters at home. Kofsky argues that “could it be more absurd to claim that US government fights for non-whites’ rights and freedoms in Vietnam while it allows those same rights be violated with impunity, by KKK rednecks who want to gain status among their peers by ‘getting them a nigger ‘?”.

Unavoidably, Black Americans were becoming more frustrated. The volatility of times, consciously or not, infiltrated the music created by New Jazz pioneers Coltrane Coleman Taylor. These musicians, who had broken away from the rigid boundaries of hard bop and bebop imitators, which jazz musicians were used to, connected their music with Civil Rights Movement energy. Jazz historian A.B. Spellman noted that Coltrane was working on different, but related, principals. Taylor, Coleman, and Taylor were all involved in the same project. Rashied Al explained, in an interview he gave to Shipton on 7 May 2000, how Coltrane and his group viewed this time: “Those trying times of 60s”. We were dealing with civil rights, King, Malcolm and the Panthers. It was a time of great diversity. People screamed and demanded their rights. The music of that time reflects this period. . . This whole period of time influenced us in our play. I think this is where the really free-form came in. “I think that’s where the really free form came into it.

Coleman’s major contribution to Jazz is rhythmic despite much discussion about his tonality. Coltrane has a harmonic style, putting his wildest improvisations up against chordal patterns. Taylor’s role is to construct and organize sound. These musicians created a unique and brilliant musical production. The musicians were continually improving on each other’s ideas, creating a living and evolving organism.

John Coltrane’s music and the Free jazz movement were shaped by his music and the New Jazz musicians. When it comes to John Coltrane’s music, there are no arguments. Jazz historians debate and make assumptions about what Coltrane’s music was trying to convey in terms of conscious social or politically motivated intentions. A Love Supreme presents a love message and was released by Coltrane in 1965 at a time when the Vietnam War had just begun to escalate. He said that he was against war, and therefore, the Vietnam War. Coltrane’s works following A Love Supreme, notably Ascension and Black Political Movement, were perceived by jazz critics as closer to the racial upheaval of that time. Ascension, a jazz album by Archie Shepp and Pharoah S. Sanders, was perceived as a political statement by Black activists and jazz music critics. This is because it sounds so different. Coltrane was not as vocal about his political views and opinions as many other Free Jazz musicians. Kofsky, in a 1966 Coltrane interview, asks if “new music” and Malcolm X have any relationship. Wilmer quotes Albert Ayler who said, “John is like a guest on this planet. He came and left in peace. During his time on earth, he continued to strive for new levels in spirituality, awareness, and peace. John’s spiritual music is what I consider his music to be. We must evaluate a man in this way. It’s all up to you, the musician. The artist is recognized by me. When I hear a particular sound or see a specific contribution, I can recognize the artist. This is how I see it. I’m not interested in labels.

Black musicians such as Charles Mingus and Miles Davis began to use political music in order to speak out against racism, segregation and other issues. They also used it to mobilize the Black community and address the Vietnam War, racism and segregation.

Charlie Mingus’s “Fables of Faubus,” which was recorded in 1959 for the album Mingus Ah Um and ridiculed Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus because he tried to prevent desegregation of Little Rock Public Schools, is an example. Columbia Records censored “Fables of Faubus”, a song that refers to Governor Faubus as a Nazi Nazi Klan fascist. Charles Mingus presented Charles Mingus in 1960 was the first album to include lyrics. The mocking lyrics and satirical chant that ends the song is similar to segregationists’ political chants. Scott Saul says that “Fables of Faubus”, which is a mocking and searing song, attacks segregationists by stumbling them with professionalism.

Max Roach used jazz to discuss racial, political and social issues. Roach recorded an album with singers-songwriters Oscar Brown (on the cover of the album) and Abbey Lincoln in order to celebrate the centennial Emancipation Proclamation. We Demand! Freedom Now Suite includes the spiritual, heavy song “Driva’man”, which is based on the urgent struggle of Blacks for equality. Abbey Lincoln’s screamed vocals on “Protest” evokes the emotions of slavery and the brutality perpetrated against King’s protestors by police in modern black andwhite on American televisions. Mingus’ and Roach’s protest songs were inspired by Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”. Mingus recalled, “It was then that I re-thought my concept of a song as a narrative.” The white world needs to hear about the racism they committed through music.

Liner notes and essays on free jazz provided a platform for the artists to discuss their beliefs, inspirations, and influences. LeRoi’s liner notes for Coltrane Live at Birdland, which were written by Jones, make a powerful connection between “Alabama”, a tune by Coltrane, and the racism faced by Blacks in the south. Coltrane composed the song “Alabama” to pay tribute to the young women who died in Birmingham’s bombing. We Insist!’s liner note. Freedom Now Suite is a jazz composition by Nat Hentoff that emphasizes the link between the music of the Civil Rights Movement and the music.

If you’ve heard Slow Dance or after the rain, you may be familiar with the feeling Alabama brings. I had no idea how beautiful Alabama was until recently. Art has the function to bring out beauty, whether it is common or unusual. Trane is a company that does exactly this. Bob Thiele, I believe, asked Trane about the meaning of the title. Coltrane replied, “It’s a musical representation of something I saw in my mind and translated into music.” That is, Listen. Elvin appears in the distance, amidst a delicate sadness and almost hopelessness. It’s an emotionally charged portrait of a certain place through the musicians’ emotions. If “real Alabama” is what was behind the destruction, may it remain beautiful, despite its destruction.

Free Jazz musicians, as the civil rights movement, Black Power, and jazz musicians grew, became more vocal about their connection to racial inequity. Archie Shepp, in an essay entitled “An Artists Speaks Bluntly”, published by Down Beat Magazine on December 16, 1995, asked: “Don’t You Ever Wonder What My Collective Rage Will Be Like, When It Is – As It Surely Must Be – Unleashed?” Our vindication is going to be as black as suffering, Fidel and Ho Chi Minh. Shepp’s 1965 album Fire Music includes the song “Malcolm Malcolm – Semper Malcolm”, a eulogy of Malcolm X that combines music with poetry. While many historians attribute the “uncompromising, aggressive nature” to free jazz in order to reflect “the fury of the ghetto”, it’s not accurate to claim that all free jazz innovators were particularly politicized. Whites may have been alarmed by Malcom X’s separatist statements, Black Nationalist philosophies or the shift from peaceful protests to violent riots in urban areas. Archie Shepp said in a 1965 LeRoi-Jones interview that the Negro musician was a reflection on the Negro culture and social phenomenon. Shepp would go on to continue speaking out against racial injustice. His aim must be to liberate America both socially and artistically from inhumanity. The inhumanity displayed by white Americans towards black Americans, and vice versa, is not a fundamental characteristic of America. It can be exorcised. I believe that the Negros, by the strength of their struggles, are the sole hope to save America.

In the New Jazz period, jazz musicians’ motivations changed from proving their skills to make a living to expressing themselves and identifying with what they were saying. The New Jazz movement was a time when every musician embraced their individual style, and music identity. They were all able to express themselves freely and without fear. Artists and activists, they were not afraid to speak out and express their desire for freedom.


  • spencerknight

    I'm Spencer Knight, a 29-year-old educational blogger and teacher. I write about a variety of topics related to education, from teaching strategies to student success stories. I hope to help others achieve their educational goals and help them develop a lifelong love of learning.



I'm Spencer Knight, a 29-year-old educational blogger and teacher. I write about a variety of topics related to education, from teaching strategies to student success stories. I hope to help others achieve their educational goals and help them develop a lifelong love of learning.

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