ANNENBERG CENTER @ HOME / By / Alexander Freeman

Reflection: Jazz as protest music

Alexander Freeman  ·  Posted August 19, 2020


Max Roach's We Insist! addressed political and racial issues during the 1960s.
From the beginning, jazz – rooted in slave songs and the blues, born in New Orleans in the early twentieth century, and coming of age during the Harlem Renaissance – has been at the nexus of musical expression and social justice. Wynton Marsalis says jazz is “unbelievably democratic” and jazz historian and critic Stanley Crouch wrote, “jazz predicted the civil rights movement more than any other art form.”

As early as the 1920s, jazz musicians were using their music to call attention to discrimination. In his 1929 recording of Fats Waller’s tune, “(What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue,” Louis Armstrong altered the lyrics to emphasize the notion of racial prejudice. Ten years later, Billie Holiday recorded Abel Meeropol’s “Strange Fruit,” a song written in response to the 1930 lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Indiana. TIME magazine named it the best song of the century in 1999. Read more...

Dr. Guthrie Ramsey’s A Spiritual Vibe, Vol. 1

Alexander Freeman  ·  Posted June 25, 2020

Special Features Music

On the eve of Black Music Month a few weeks ago, pianist, composer and Penn Professor of Music Dr. Guthrie Ramsey sat down to talk about his new album, A Spiritual Vibe, Vol. 1, with musicology scholars from across the country including Alicia Lola Jones from Indiana University, Fredara Hadley from The Juilliard School and Mark Anthony Neal from Duke University.

In the conversation, Ramsey shared that the project features updated versions of spiritual songs that he has heard since childhood. “I wanted this [project] to sound different than the things I had been writing. That makes you feel alive as a musician – to keep experimenting with different sound worlds and not just get locked into one thing.” Ramsey goes on, “A key [to growing] is to hang around younger musicians and see what they’re up to.” Ramsey does just that. The album includes a host of talented singers and instrumentalists, including Vince Anthony, Bridget Ramsey (Ramsey’s daughter), Rod McGaha and Brendan McGeehan, as well as one of Ramsey’s students at Penn, Anna Fleming. Read more...

Spotlight on composer James Primosch, Professor of Music at Penn

Alexander Freeman  ·  Posted May 27, 2020

Special Features

At the top of May, acclaimed composer and Penn Professor of Music James Primosch wrote on his blog, “Sometimes not much is happening, but suddenly when things do happen they come in clumps. I’ve seen it with performances that cluster together, with empty weeks before and after. And now I have two CDs coming out a week apart.” How fortunate for music-lovers: proverbial May flowers in the form of magnificent music.

The album Descent/Return features piano and vocal works by Primosch and John Harbison, Primosch’s teacher, mentor and friend. Primosch studied composition with Harbison in the summer of 1984 during his Tanglewood Fellowship. Read more...

Penn honors composer Henry Threadgill with an Honorary Doctor of Music

Alexander Freeman  ·  Posted May 13, 2020

Jazz Annenberg Center Recommends Special Features

Photo by Caitlin Ochs / The New York Times
Last year, Annenberg Center staff clocked in to work very early in the morning on Monday, May 20. The caterers wheeled in the continental breakfast at 4:30 AM. By 7 AM, Facilities had set up chairs and flags throughout the main lobby, and the Penn Bookstore arrived to begin setting up their regalia stations. Faculty members arrived around 8:30 to robe and mingle over bagels and coffee, and by 9 AM, President Gutmann made brief remarks to the 390 people that had gathered. By 9:30, everyone exited the Annenberg Center in an orderly fashion, and the 263rd Commencement Procession began, complete with marching bands blaring down Locust Walk. It was one of the most important celebrations of the academic year.

This year, the 264th Commencement will be held Monday, May 18th at 11 AM. Like every year since 2003, the event will be live-streamed; however, due to the unprecedented circumstances of COVID-19, this year’s celebration will take place exclusively on-line. Read more...