Asked to “find a few minutes in your busy day to write a few paragraphs which could serve as a foreword in the program book,” Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote the following for the inaugural Berlin Jazz Fest in 1964. The music selections are from artists who performed at the festival.
God had wrought many things out of oppression. He has endowed his creatures with the capacity to create, and from this capacity have flowed the sweet songs of sorrow and of joy that have allowed man to cope with his environment in many situations.
Jazz speaks of life.
[Champion Jack Dupree - Bring Me Flowers While I'm Living]
The blues tell the stories of life’s difficulties, and if you will think for a moment, you will realize that they take the harshest realities of life and put them into music only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph. This is triumphant music.
[Miles Davis - So What]
Modern Jazz has continued in this tradition, singing the songs of more complicated urban existence. When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of earth which flow through his instrument.
It is no wonder that so much of the search for identity among American Negroes was championed by jazz musicians. Long before the modern essayists and scholars wrote of ‘racial identity’ as a problem for a multi-racial world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was stirring within their souls. Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its powerful rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when Spirits began to lag.
[Sister Rosetta Tharpe - Up Above My Head]
This has been true from the early days of the simple Negro Spiritual. And 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 that broad category called Jazz, there is a stepping stone toward all of these.