“Liberation Music”: Defining an era of protest through jazz

The late 1960s and early ’70s produced seismic shifts in all aspects of human rights in our country. Music and art thrived, as the progressive mood of the people merged with creativity. Although jazz has always been a welcome realm for open minds and new ideas, it has rarely been in the forefront of political movements. Or has it? A new CD, Liberation Music: Spiritual Jazz and the Art of Protest on Flying Dutchman Records 1969-1974, is a compilation of jazz and spoken word recordings that reveals the close relationship between jazz and progressive politics.

Flying Dutchman Records was formed in 1969 by Bob Thiele. A lifelong jazz fan, the liberal-minded Thiele worked his way through several record companies as recruiter of artistic talent and producer. At a time when many other independent labels were fading, he set out to record the voices, music, and ideals of the radical era that was at hand. A sampling of the musicians and poets that Thiele recorded is the basis of this new collection, sure to enlighten every listener from the novice to the most astute.

The first voice the listener will hear on this CD is Angela Davis, freedom activist and member of the Communist Party USA at the time. Her powerful comments (“We’re Threatening The Oppressors”) on the continuing fight for independence set in motion by our Founding Fathers are an extract from her 1971 album Soul And Soledad. This sets the stage for a mix of spoken word politics, poetry, song and jazz instrumentals throughout 16 tracks. Poet Gil Scott-Heron proclaims the scathing testament “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” from his 1970 album Small Talk At 125th and Lenox. H. Rap Brown, former chairman of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, contributes with “Do Your Own Thing,” an excerpt from a speech he made Oct. 29, 1969, at Long Island University and featured on the album SNCC’s Rap.

It may not be widely known that Angela Davis preserved her thoughts and ideals on a vinyl record. The same might be said for groundbreaking politician Carl B. Stokes, the first African American mayor of a major American city. The mayor of Cleveland from 1968-1971, Stokes also recorded an album for Flying Dutchman entitled Mayor And The People. From that album, the emotionally charged “Sit Down” is an inspired reading of a poem written by Langston Hughes. Stokes also performs “Paint It Black” by Gil Scott-Heron. Superb background orchestrations are provided by the Oliver Nelson Orchestra, who also contributes a wonderful salute to Dr. Martin Luther King, “Martin Was A Man, A Real Man”.

Perfectly interspersed between words and poetry are the excellent musical selections. Lonnie Liston Smith contributes an incredible instrumental, “Sais (Egypt).” Jazz enthusiasts will also savor tracks by Ornette Coleman (“Friends and Neighbors”), The Horace Tapscott Quintet (“The Giant Is Awakened”), Gato Barbieri (“Tupac Amaru”), and Chico Hamilton (“Gonna Get Some Right Now”). There is a timeless spiritual vocal by Leon Thomas (“Echoes”), a previously unreleased pop-styled selection by Black and Blues (“Toast To The People”), and a track from the Norwegian group The Esoteric Circle (“Nefertite”). Bob Thiele is also represented with his own group performing “Lament For John Coltrane”.

A welcome addition is mainstream jazz great Louis Armstrong, who sings a duet entitled “The Creator Has A Master Plan” with Leon Thomas. The selection is from his 1970 Flying Dutchman release, Louis Armstrong And His Friends. This recording was near the end of Armstrong’s long career, and although he was never overtly political, the beloved jazzman was definitely there in spirit. The traditional style of Armstrong completes the circle of old and new. It also shows the wisdom of independent record labels from that period, embracing the avant-garde while still honoring and recording the masters.

Also included is an impressive 20-page booklet describing the history of Flying Dutchman Records and the featured artists and activists. It is expertly compiled by Dean Rudland, and draws information from new interviews conducted with musicians Lonnie Liston Smith and Brian Jackson. There is much to be learned within, both musically and politically. The disc and booklet present a well-informed and quality product.

Liberation Music: Spiritual Jazz and the Art of Protest on Flying Dutchman Records 1969-1974 is a new 2013 CD release from UK-based BGP/Ace Records Ltd., and is readily available now in the United States. The music is representative of the free style era that bore it, but there is nothing obsolete about this compilation. A number of jazz musicians listed on the tracks are still actively performing. The recordings illuminate a period in history when musical expression played an important role in progressive politics. More importantly, the spoken words and poetry present ideals that are as vital now as the day they were recorded.




Anthony Mangos
Anthony Mangos

Anthony Mangos served with the United States Postal Service and is a lifelong union member. As a freelance writer he contributes regularly to various film and literary publications. He resides in Johnstown, Pa., but considers the world as his neighborhood.