Black History Month – Rashaan Roland Kirk – The Power of Jazz
Rashaan Roland Kirk was one of the most outspoken Jazz musicians during the period of the Civil Rights Movement. Often when performing, Kirk would make statements about Black history, Civil Rights and other topics to raise social awareness in between songs. In the 1960s and ’70s Kirk and trumpet player Lee Morgan started Jazz and the People’s Movement, an organization that tried to bring awareness to the lack of fair representation for African-American in the studio and music industry. The group would highlight television shows such as the Ed Sullivan Show, Dick Cavett’s show and Johnny Carson’s that they was not giving equal treatment to African-American musicians as guests on their show.
When Kirk was invited to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show out of fear of backlash from Jazz and People’s Movement, Rashaan brought an all star band with Archie Shepp, Charles Mingus and Roy Haynes. The band was supposed to play Kirk’s version of “My Cherie Amour” but when they got on stage they began playing an ‘out’ version if Mingus’ tune “Haitian Fight Song” and did not hold back. Some declare this a wasted opportunity in that Kirk showed why Jazz wasn’t featured more on television because the music they played wasn’t accessible to the average listener. However it could be argued that the reason this music was difficult to listen to is simply because mainstream media had refused to present it to the American people and they were hearing it for the first time. Whatever is around you on a daily basis would appear normal and that includes music as well.
Rashaan Roland Kirk’s musical approach and desire to raise social awareness was inspirational to his generation and generations to come. Kirk’s refusal to tone down his right and desire to freely express himself and what is meaningful to him is one of the most defining qualities of his genius.