Political activism among jazz's ranks -- think Charles Mingus' 1959 "Fables of Faubus," Max Roach's 1960 "Freedom Now! Suite" and Sonny Rollins' pointed liner notes to his "Freedom Suite" -- has been largely in response to racial injustice, but it also has concerned the tough moral and metaphorical questions about American identity, not to mention a public call to action. Still, that was another time.
"Our generation of musicians fell in love with all the music that was a product of that progressive and outspoken consciousness," Goldberg said, "yet in some ways we had divorced ourselves from that instinct. The climate we make music in was less politicized and safer. It was easier to just concentrate on cultural and artistic goals -- until Bush.
The Bush administration -- its march to war on questionable premise, its callous inaction in the face of devastation in New Orleans, its consistent chipping away at very image of America jazz has long evoked -- has in fact rekindled to some extent the spirit of resistance and protest within jazz's ranks.
Bassist Charlie Haden was moved to reconvene his Liberation Music Orchestra. The group's 2005 CD, "Not in Our Name," featured a minor-key rendition of "America, the Beautiful." "Playing with this group is my way of demonstrating," he told me, "And this sort of expression is, sadly, more appropriate than it has been in decades."
Louis Armstrong once rebuffed President Dwight D. Eisenhower, canceling a State Department tour over the school- integration controversy in Arkansas. "The way they are treating my people in the South," Armstrong told newspaper reporters, "the government can go to hell." Trumpeter Terence Blanchard, who was born and raised in New Orleans and returned to live there a decade ago, opted out of a Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz reception hosted by the Bushes at the White House. As artistic director of the Institute's masters program, it would be a conspicuous move. " I couldn't go," he told me. "Couldn't act like it was fine. So I made my statement with my absence."
When I interviewed singer Dee Dee Bridgewater in 2006, she recalled speaking out against the Iraq War while touring in Southeast Asia and Europe. "I started getting calls from my agent, my publicist, and my record company. 'Please -- you need to shut your mouth,' they told me. 'People are starting to boycott artists who are speaking out.'" Bridgewater, was both surprised and disturbed by what she sees as "a rising McCarthyism in this country." But she was resolute. "I have to do what I have to do. I am an adult. I am intelligent human being."
In 2004, Goldberg encountered some protective artist managers, not to mention musicians who preferred "not to go there," when he called. His concert raised $50,000 for the Kerry campaign and the music was well received, but not all the response was positive. Goldberg got some emails from jazz musicians who were offended, some because he had "politicized the music." He got even more vehement emails from jazz fans, especially Bush supporters who felt alienated. But for the most part, Goldberg said, the musicians were responsive and the fans receptive.
For the Obama fundraiser, Goldberg made a special effort to recruit some older musicians who have roots in a different era of social activism; saxophonist Joe Lovano brought in pianist Hank Jones; bassist Christian McBride reached out to drummer Roy Haynes. Whereas n 2004 he let the music do the talking, he was considering inviting musicians to speak their minds this time around in addition to playing. He hoped to raise at least the same amount of money he did in 2004.
"But it's about much more than the funds," he says. "It's about raising awareness and identifying with a message. Between Obama and McCain, we are on the edge. We have a choice: pretty good government or very bad government. And I'm saying, 'I'm a citizen, here are my resources, and this what I can do."