News & Politics

Protest Returns to Jazz

Jazz music was the sound of protest long before rock 'n' roll took over the airwaves, and today's jazz artists are carrying on the tradition.
[Editor's Note: For this special AlterNet podcast, Reese Erlich interviewed percussionist Ray Barretto (shortly before his death in February 2006), bassist Christian McBride, trumpeter Dave Douglas and vocalist Roberta Gambarini. You'll hear lots of their great music as well. Reese Erlich produces Jazz Perspectives for public radio stations in the U.S. and Canada, which can be heard online at JazzCorner.com.

Be sure to listen to Erlich's companion podcast, "Stopping Cuban Music at the Border," also posted on AlterNet today.]


Since its beginning jazz has produced radical thinkers and non conformists. Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie advocated progressive politics, as did Billy Holiday. These days some jazz artists continue that progressive tradition.

Ray Barretto has been an immensely popular Latin musician since the early 1950s. He became famous as a salsa conga player with the Fania All Stars and as a jazz percussionist. Barretto was outraged at the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

"I was born a little after WWI. I would have lived through during WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the invasion of this country and that country, Iraq. I can't have a lifetime of peace. I can't tell my son, you will live the next 30-40 years in a time of peace."

Barretto was among a growing number of jazz artists speaking out against Bush administration policies. They are also angry at the government's slowness in rescuing the mostly African American victims of Hurricane Katrina and delays in rebuilding the devastated areas. Many musicians participated in benefits to raise money for New Orleans residents.

Bassist Christian McBride says the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina indicates that far greater problems with racism exist in the U.S. Jazz artists, he says, are particularly sensitive to that issue.

"There's no way you can be in any creative endeavor and not know what's going on politically. The hypocrisy is so completely clear. I really do think the 60s is going to have to happen all over again. There will have to be people willing to put themselves at great risk to be able to get their message heard."
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