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Malachi Thompson: The Evolution of Jazz and the Survival of Our Democratic Society

By Published: November 1, 2004
Let Freedom Swing...
Swing is the element of jazz that best reflects the principles of freedom. I don't mean swing as a type or style of jazz that became popular in the '30s, but "swing" being a transcendent goal to be reached or a level of awareness. Each individual in the ensemble is responsible for his own sense of swing. You can swing at any tempo. Any rhythmic pattern can swing. Swing creates a sense of joy and celebration that causes the body to move and dance, a kind of "Freedom Jazz Dance" (Eddie Harris). When a jazz band swings it reveals a hidden interconnectiveness between band members. In the best jazz groups this interconnectiveness approaches Extra Sensory Perception - "ESP" (Wayne Shorter). Within a swingin' jazz group, the relationship between time and space changes. Jazz that swings can put you in a relaxed or meditative state of mind or ignite the creative process in both the performer and listener. When listening to jazz, keep this in mind: "It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" (Duke Ellington).

The energy that the individual contributes to the ensemble becomes multiplied, greater than the sum of the whole. Jazz at its best is democracy at its best. In great jazz there will always be an exchange of energy and information between the band members, between the band and the audience and even between audience members. The principals of freedom that governs the performance of jazz is at the heart of what makes jazz a universally loved art form. Jazz is performed and enjoyed across the planet by many ethnic groups. Jazz is perhaps America's best contribution to world culture while the jazz ensemble serves as a model of democracy for the world to experience. As Americans and jazz lovers, let's do our part to keep freedom swingin' here at home! The late Lester Bowie, when asked about solutions for the world's woes, he replied, "Play more jazz!"

Malachi Thompson
Malachi Thompson is a trumpeter, composer, bandleader, writer, jazz historian, and arts activist. Born in Princeton, Kentucky, his jazz career took root on Chicago's South Side in '68 when he joined the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). In '74 Thompson migrated to New York City, where in '78, during the city's prolific "Loft Jazz" era, he formed his Free-bop Band which played at Sweet Rhythm for two nights last month, featuring longtime collaborators, saxophonists Billy Harper and Oliver Lake. Thompson has played with Lester Bowie, Sam Rivers, Joe Henderson, Jackie McLean, David Murray, Archie Shepp and many others.

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