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Jazz and Activism Relationships Essay

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Updated: Feb 11th, 2022

Civil Rights Movement and jazz played a major role in giving African American communities their rights as citizens of the United States. Although institutionalized racism and discrimination did not disappear, it is safe to say that the issues became less transparent and obvious. Ingrid Monson’s article describes how jazz artists became major influencers and contributors to the Civil Rights Movement by raising funds through their performances. These types of concerts and jazz, in general, were vital contributing factors for the Civil Rights Movement.

In the given article, the author attempted to analyze the musical-theoretical and cultural foundations of jazz from the 1960s to the 20th century in the socio-cultural aspect, establishing the relationship between socio-political events and the development of jazz style. The given influence was manifested in the fact that jazz performers conducted fundraising concerts in order to sponsor organizations, such as NAACP. For example, the Duke Ellington orchestra funded the NAACP legal defense and education fund in 1951 (Monson 155). It is important to have a desire to comprehend many events of the specified period in aggregate and draw parallels between them.

The above author did not consider all aspects at the same time. One can indicate that there is a relationship between jazz and African American folklore, cult music, and political events in the country. The purpose of this part was to establish the degree of influence of the sociocultural situation prevailing in the United States in the 1960s on the jazz styles of this period, musical vocabulary, and the conceptual development of jazz.

Important elements of this article are to consider the main socio-political events that took place in the USA in the 60s and to define jazz as a form of musical art. In addition, it is necessary to identify the main changes in the music of this period and analyze how events related to the aggravation of the racial and political situation, as well as the crisis of social and bourgeois morality and the search for new spiritual guidelines, influenced jazz.

The 1960s are characterized by the aggravated problem of war and peace. The US military invasion of Vietnam in 1965 brought to life youth anti-government protests that began at the University of Michigan and Washington and then spread to many US universities. However, the Civil Rights Movement was gradually advancing its main message. It is stated that a number of fund-raising events were held at Village Gate during 1965-1970 (Monson 165). Student demonstrations, called teach-in, took the form of political disputes, which discussed current social problems. A series of such speeches led to the outbreak of anti-war demonstrations in the fall of 1965 (Perchard 102).

In 1961, the idea of Black pride was tightly interlinked with Freedom Now Suite (Monson 172). At the beginning of the 20th century, jazz became a symbol of musical America, reflecting the ethno-musical features of the country. The history of jazz can rightfully be considered the history of overcoming performing stereotypes – mastering improvisation as a form of creativity, expanding the range of musical instruments, increasing technical fluency, and later – using the achievements of science and technology in relation to electric musical instruments.

The appearance of jazz styles was largely dictated by a certain social situation, socio-political events in the life of Americans. Civil Rights Movement continuously implemented fund-raising events format, where jazz and other musical celebrities would perform and allocate their resources to the movement. However, it is important to note that there were certain problematic cases. For example, in 1961, Sammy Davis Jr. and his colleagues conducted fund-raising concerts in New York, where posters stated that it was a tribute to Martin Luther King (Monson 166).

The event was highly successful in terms of visitors, but performers overspent the acquired money, which resulted in the fact that no funds were raised for the movement. The musical world of the 60s of the XX century has changed significantly (Carles et al. 47). Rock music, which struck its listeners with a new revolutionary sound, a number of different styles, and social texts, took the leading positions.

The main advantage of jazz musicians being involved in politics is the fact that their popularity can be used for a greater purpose of popularizing the movements’ objectives and delivering their message in a more appealing way. However, the main disadvantage of allowing musicians to be politicized is the problem of cases, such as Sammy Davis Jr.’s performance. Some artists can abuse the interest of citizens in funding certain political groups, where the musicians overcharge the tickets. For example, Davis Jr. concert tickets were sold at $25, which was five times more expensive during the 1960s (Monson 167). Therefore, the musician can bring both benefit and harm to the political arena.

In conclusion, it is important to understand that jazz played a major role in activism and fund-raising for the Civil Rights Movement during the previous century. They greatly assisted the movement by performing and allocating the gathered resources in order to provide financial aid for the friendly groups. Black pride was an essential part of advancing African American rights in the political arena, which resulted in the mass popularization of jazz and musicians.

Works Cited

Carles, Philippe, et al. Free Jazz/Black Power. University Press of Mississippi, 2015.

Monson, Ingrid. Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call out to Jazz and Africa. Oxford University Press, 2007.

Perchard, Tom. From Soul to Hip Hop. Routledge, 2017.

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