Revolutionary EcoMusicOn February 18, 2014, a revolutionary musical exchange was witnessed by the packed audience of the Engleman Recital Hall of Baruch College. The genius of Fred Ho, internationally renowned Baritone saxophonist, was celebrated by a big band full of notable musicians honoring the artist now battling the final stages of cancer.
For the first time, jazz aficionados were treated to Mr. Ho’s “The Revolutionary Gardens of Harlem Suite: A Tribute to Clifford Thornton,” an ambitious big band orchestration integrating Mr. Ho’s passion for environmental consciousness with cross-cultural awareness.
The Red, Black, and Green Revolutionary Eco-Music Tour, a collaborative effort of Scientific Soul Sessions, Goddard College of Vermont, and the EcoSocialist Horizons team, seeks to promote cross-cultural conversation musically with the mindset of supporting ecological justice efforts going on globally. The global economy, resource depletion, and climate change are just a few examples of the ecological factors for which the tour seeks to raise awareness.
Beginning the evening was a captivating introduction by Dr. Salim Washington, jazz scholar and accomplished tenor saxophonist in his own right. Mr. Washington succinctly traced the evolution of African-American music in the United States, starting with the abhorrent “Middle Passage” journey of those enslaved in Africa and deported to the “New World” of the Americas. Because of the grisly conditions, disease and death aboard was commonplace, and music became a tool for promoting survival amongst the subjugated throng.
Washington noted, “Some intrepid slave owner thought if they brought music on the Middle Passage, more people would survive.” It was true that such an integration supported hope, faith, and a shared will to endure, and the music came to reflect its intended audience. Washington asserted that this imposed musical atmosphere had newly “American” Africans “entering into modernity from slavery,” during a time in which the white majority essentially “wrote us [African-Americans] out of humanity.” The three strongest musical influences of African-American culture — ragtime, blues, and jazz — came during “the 1890’s, a nadir for African-Americans in modern history.”
The first piece of the evening, Cal Massey’s opus “The Black Liberation Movement Suite,” was composed in 1970, a fitting response to the turbulent civil rights movement still seething its way through American society.
Brass heavy and brash, the Black Liberation orchestration created an ambiance reminiscent of a smoky basement bar during the Harlem Renaissance. Improvised saxophone and violin, rap soloists, and even intermittent chanting from the musicians echoed the frenetic atmosphere of the movement, the constant collision of influences, and the striving for order among the chaos. The cacophonous horn solos evoked the labored breaths of the age, the stifled voices crying out for swifter progress but tinged with the undeniable burden of the past. The peaks and valleys of the piece mimic the steady progress felt after each pitfall of the expanding justice system. With their shared energy, the band infused moments of crescendo forceful enough to bring the space and all within it to the brink of eruption.
In an especially poignant section of the Gardens of Harlem Suite, entitled, “Babylon,” there is the allegorical collision of instruments — violin, saxophone, trumpet — dissonant notes striking a resonant chord with listeners familiar with the biblical tale, which describes the advent of ‘foreign’ languages as a punishment for self-interest outweighing deference to the Divine. Much the way dominant Anglo-Saxon Americans exercised cultural hegemony and detrimental stereotyping that would reinforce the cycle of discrimination between white European and African-American society, “Babylon” (like much of The Gardens of Harlem Suite) exposed the painful process of integration with a musical conversation incomprehensible as a single language. To this day, racial tensions continue, and the civil rights movement is far from complete.
Overall, the evening was a beautiful experience, a touchstone for the healing, connective power of music as a social phenomenon. With its lofty, powerful themes of revolution, cultural identity, and cross-cultural influence, the Revolutionary EcoMusic Tour will imbue the soul with compassion and understanding, aiding in the ongoing quest for a fully cooperative society.
For further information about the tour, contact Chris DiGirolamo.