Today we celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King displayed a deep appreciation for jazz and understood its symbolic role in the struggle for civil rights. In honor of his memory, allow me to share one of my favorite jazz-related quotes, courtesy of Dr. King:
Now, jazz is exported to the world. For in the particular struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the universal struggle of modern man. Everybody has the Blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for faith. In music, especially this broad category called Jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.
King’s insights always remind me of what we in the jazz community are always aspiring to do: illuminate the “stepping stones” that the music offers us in understanding human suffering, faith, dignity and joy. As the music continues to resonate all over the world, may it continue to convey these deep truths that Dr. King felt when he heard it.
2011 UPDATE: David Demsey and Bruce Jackson of William Paterson University have recently uncovered some new historical information about this famous excerpt. The quote is usually attributed to a speech that Dr. King gave at the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival. The only problem: King wasn’t at the festival. As it turns out, King had been asked to share his thoughts as a foreword for the festival’s printed program, which gave rise to this quotation. Demsey and Jackson’s research will appear in this month’s issue of Down Beat.