Ear to Ear: Jazz Music of Resistance, Change, Revolution and Love

Many songs of protest, struggle, hope for justice and a better way to live that were written in the 1960s and 1970s seem just as relevant today as they were back then. gave birth. Let’s take a look back at some timeless classics from socially conscious musicians who have never been afraid to speak their mind.

Sam Cooke – “A Change Will Come”

Sam Cooke’s heartfelt rendition of “A Change Is Gonna Come” remains a civil rights-era anthem. Released in 1964 (on the B-side of “Shake”), its memorable composition was inspired by Cooke and his company being denied a whites-only motel in Louisiana. In 2007, the song was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress.

Bobby Hutcherson – “Black Heroes”

Inspired by the poetry of Paul Lawrence Dunbar, vibraphone master Bobby Hutcherson made a landmark recording in 1969 for Blue Note Records titled “Now!” Bobby’s collaboration with saxophonist Harold Land and songwriter/vocalist Gene McDaniels remains a timeless piece of deep social commentary. Land’s “Black Heroes” salute Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and Bobby Kennedy, and call for “Freedom Now!”

Doug Carn – “Time is Running Out”

In the early 1970s, Doug and Jean Carn released three Afro-centric records for the short-lived but powerful Black Jazz label. “Time Is Running Out” comes from the 1973 date “Revelation,” on which Jean Carn’s angelic multi-octave voice steals the show. His gritty rendition of this song includes the lyrics, “400 years, that’s what it’s all about!”

Archie Shepp — “Blues for Brother George Jackson”

Archie Shepp’s avant-garde sensibilities meet soulful groove on 1972’s Impulse album “Attica Blues.” Shepp’s “Blues For Brother George Jackson” pays tribute to the African-American author who published “Soledad Brother,” a Marxist manifesto addressed to black American audiences. Jackson was killed during an attempted prison escape in 1971. Shepp’s plaintive cry on tenor saxophone contrasts nicely with the propulsive groove of this swinging arrangement for a large ensemble.

Joe Cuba – “Do You Feel It?”

In 1972, salsa master Joe Cuba released an album called “Bustin’ Out”. Although Donny Hathaway had a huge hit with “The Ghetto” in 1969, no song better illustrates the challenges and frustrations, but also the pride and joy, of ghetto life in New York’s Spanish Harlem than “Do You Feel It?”

Leon Thomas – “The Creator Has a Master Plan”

In 1969 Leon Thomas released “The Creator Has A Master Plan” on an album titled “Spirits Known and Unknown”. Thomas’ patented yodelling and scatting takes precedence over his more subdued spiritual approach here, expressing the hope for peace and love for all mankind on this classic recording.

Buckshot LeFonque – “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”

In 1994, Branford Marsalis hired Maya Angelou to recite “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” for an album by his musical group Buckshot LeFonque. Marsalis’ jazz and hip hop hybrid provided an amazing platform for Angelou’s recollection of his 1969 autobiography on overcoming racism and trauma.

Cannonball Adderley – “Walk High”

Cannonball Adderley recorded his album “Country Preacher” live at a Southern Christian Leadership “Operation Breadbasket” church meeting in Chicago. This 1969 album featured Joe Zawinul’s infectious and moving “Walk Tall,” a message of black empowerment written by a white musician who grew up in Austria. Such is the power and universality of jazz music!


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Ada J. Kenney