Monday, January 11, 2010

Currently listening to John Coltrane's 1963 civil rights masterpiece "Alabama

Photo of the 16th Baptist Church courtesy of the Birmingham Library from the website like rain whispers mist

If you stay home, keep the same purpose,
to meet the innermost prescence
as it lives in people

End of a long day. Fed eight people tonight at short notice, including my step son and his girlfriend and my step daughter and her friend and partner who are visiting Perth from Paris. A most enjoyable evening.

It's late, the house is quiet now and I am listening to John Coltrane's haunting meditative piece Alabama, which he wrote in response to the murder of 4 young girls by white supremacists in Birmingham Alabama in 1963. I know of no other musical piece like Coltrane's Alabama. It is mesmerizing music of immense beauty and power. Youtube clips of the piece can be found here.

Here is some background to the piece from the Jazz website All About Jazz
In the early morning of Sunday, September 15, 1963, a gaggle of malcontents planted 12 sticks of dynamite in a window well outside the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The dynamite exploded eight hours later killing Denise McNair, 11, and Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Addie Mae Collins, all 14, in the process galvanizing the Civil Rights Movement. Three months later, on November 18, 1963, John Coltrane stepped up to the microphone in fabled Englewood, NJ studio of one Rudy Van Gelder and over a McCoy Tyner Tremolo, blew his searing and definitive statement on the subject of the bombing-- "Alabama."
Here is some more background to the piece:

“Coltrane wrote the song ‘Alabama’ in response to the bombing. He patterned his saxophone playing on Martin Luther King’s funeral speech. Midway through the song, mirroring the point where King transforms his mourning into a statement of renewed determination for the struggle against racism, Elvin Jones’s drumming rises from a whisper to a pounding rage. He wanted this crescendo to signify the rising of the civil rights movement.”

Martin Luther King's deeply moving eulogy for the murdered girls, on which Coltrane's piece is mirrored, can be read here.

John Coltrane died in 1967 at age 40 from liver cancer. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis in 1968.

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