DETROIT – Bassist Christian McBride and his quintet, narrators representing four icons of the Civil Rights Movement, J.D. Steele and the Second Ebenezer Majestic Voices, the Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra, and more than 2,000 people gathered in one mega-sanctuary Sunday night for The Movement Revisited, McBride's jazz opus, presented for free by the Detroit International Jazz Festival for Black History Month.
The first reading was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s opening address "On the Importance of Jazz." for the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival with the theme that “This is triumphant music." Anthony L. Brock Jr., a student at the Detroit School of the Arts, delivered it -- short and meaningful. (Link to text below)
Following the “Freedom / Struggle” overture, poet Sonia Sanchez spoke words of Rosa Parks, whose refusal in the mid 1950s to move back in a city bus launched the 381-day boycott in Montgomery, AL. Parks later lived in Detroit. Willis Patterson, Emeritus Professor of Voice from the University of Michigan, spoke Malcolm X's words; Malcolm Little grew up in Lansing, became known as Detroit Red. Dion Graham from The Wire spoke Muhammad Ali's words; Ali now lives near here. Bishop Edgar L. Vann II of Second Ebenezer re-created the "I Have A Dream" speech. King delivered the first known version at Cobo Hall on June 23, 1963. According to the Civil Rights Timeline in the printed program, 125,000 people marched on Woodward Avenue that day. The organizer was Rev. C. L. Franklin, Aretha's father.
Two weeks ago in a performance of TMR that I saw at Juilliard, students did the playing and speaking, to great effect. After all, the four who are now icons were young when they led the Movement. Yet Sunday night, I sensed that at least two of the narrators had lived the history and were drawing on experience. That perspective is perishable; savor the moment.
With the speakers on the left, the orchestra to the right, the center was for Christian's quintet -- Ron Blake, Geoff Keezer, Warren Wolf, Terreon Gully. Blake soloed on tenor in response to the words of Malcolm X, post Mecca -- “All credit is due to Allah; only the mistakes are mine.” Gully’s drums dramatized Ali. J. D. Steele and the choral music were true highlights with “She Said” for Parks, “Rumble in the Jungle” for Ali, "Free at last, free at last!" after King. The oratorio is Christian's vision, his music draws from the era, his bass lines are the foundation. His underscoring of the speakers’ words helped to inspire flawless reads.
As laid out in the Timeline, between 1962-69 Detroit was ground zero for the formation of the Freedom Now Party, Operation Negro Equality, Northern Negro Grassroots Leadership Conference, Freedom School (following a protest at Detroit Northern High School), Citywide Citizens Action Committee or CCAC, Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement or DRUM, League of Revolutionary Black Workers, to name some. There was violence and loss of life too. Many in the audience at Second Ebenezer lived the history, making this performance The Movement Revisited even more powerful.
Earlier in the week, Christian answered to Five Questions about the piece in the Detroit Free Press.
Jeff Gerritt's editorial "Michigan Man Malcolm X Deserves a Lasting Tribute"