(left to right) Debo Ray (seated), Sean Jones, Braxton Cook. PHOTO: CAROLINE ALDEN
On Saturday, May 7, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology presented an immersive music and multimedia event on the themes of racial injustice and healing. Held live at Kresge Auditorium and viewable online through May 17, “It Must Be Now!” culminates a year-long series of virtual events and MIT campus residencies to advance social justice actions through music and media.
“It must be now!” and the programs that preceded it were curated by Frederick Harris Jr., Ph.D., director of wind and jazz ensembles at MIT, as an artistic, multidisciplinary response to the racial reckoning spurred by the Breonna Taylor murders. , George Floyd and other black Americans.
The two-hour program features world premieres of commissioned works by three guest artists who also conducted the online sessions and residencies: Emmy Award-winning alto saxophone virtuoso Braxton Cook; Sean Jones, renowned trumpeter and professor of jazz at Johns Hopkins University’s Peabody Institute; and Terri Lyne Carrington, three-time Grammy Award-winning drummer, 2019 Doris Duke Artist Award recipient and Founder/Artistic Director of the Berklee College of Music Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice.
They perform their new works with 125 musicians, multimedia artists and singers, including the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble, the Vocal Jazz Ensemble and the Wind Ensemble, other student musicians from MIT and Berklee, and guest soloists.
Cook’s composition reflects the pain of the pandemic and police brutality as well as the movement towards healing. In a pre-concert video, Cook says, “Hopefully this sequel I’m working on will help me feel a little more whole.
Jones discusses the Afrofuturistic concept of Pangea, an ancient supercontinent, and considers its potential to help imagine a better future. “What if in 2022 all the continents were united again? Jones asks in the video. “Could we be more united?
Carrington says her piece “investigates the sheer resilience of black women” and explores “the legacy of creativity and inquiry.”of enslaved Africans and their descendants and aims to find a way to abolition, self-determination and justice. Visual artist Mickalene Thomas accompanies Carrington’s score with a montage of archival photos.
The program also includes reimaginings of four landmark jazz works that chart the country’s rocky path to racial justice.
“Duke Ellington said this music is about freedom of expression,” says Harris, who opens the program with Ellington’s witty grand “Come Sunday,” from the sequel “Black, Brown, Beige.” Ellington and newly arranged for big band and choir by Laura Grill Jaye, director of the MIT Vocal Jazz Ensemble. When Ellington premiered the sequel in 1943 at Carnegie Hall, Harris says, he pitched it as “parallel to the history of Negroes in America.”
Producer/pianist/turntable player Wendel Patrick samples a recording of Charles Mingus singing his protest track “Fables of Faubus,” which satirizes Orval Faubus, the governor of Arkansas who summoned the National Guard to prevent nine black teenagers to attend Little Rock High School.
As a DJ, Patrick joins Orlando Watson to perform his poem “Strangest Fruit”, the title of which evokes the ballad about the lynching made famous by Billie Holiday.
The fourth signature piece, “Freedom Jazz Dance”, was composed by Eddie Harris in 1965 to mark the passing of the Voting Rights Act.
“I don’t see it as a concert,” says Harris, who sees music as a powerful storytelling tool. “This is an initiative to create empathy, education and change.”