Why jazz is no longer as political as in the days of "Fables of Faubus" and "Alabama" has been the subject of much recent Internet chatter. You can point to Dave Douglas, Don Byron, Vijay Iyer, and the Kerry fundraisers, but they're exceptions. Nor do I buy the idea that today's complex issues call for more nuanced forms of protest, or believe that musicians have become apathetic. I think they fear nobody outside their small circle is listening, so what's the use? Jazz's motto could be Las Vegas's "What happens here stays here," only said in self-loathing, not self-love. Jazz still dared to hope for a larger audience in 1970, when saxophonist Gary Bartz and his five-piece NTU Troop featuring vocalist Andy Bey recorded Uhuru and Tafia, now reissued together as Harlem Bush Music. With what passed for a revolution going on in the streets, black musicians like Bartz felt a special urgency to stay relevant. Simplified hard bop that borrowed liberally from free jazz, Bartz's consciousness raising was livelier and more down-to-earth than Pharoah Sanders's meditations. Bartz's alto and soprano solos were adventurous given the context, and the supple Bey never lapsed into the solemn declamation some of Bartz's lyrics invited. The LPs sold, too: Fledgling Milestone could hardly keep up, and the store I worked in would be out of stock for weeks at a time. The catchy "Uhuru Sasa" was a particular favorite of our black customers. I bet you find yourself chanting along with it too, even after all these years.
Check out this week's featured ad for Entertainment