JazzTimes is honored to present the premiere of “Jubilate” by pianist Christopher Parker and vocalist Kelley Hurt, a track taken from the duo’s upcoming album No Tears Suite, scheduled for a Sept. 25 release on Mahakala Music in conjunction with the Southern literary magazine Oxford American. A few years ago, that magazine commissioned Parker and Hurt—who are married—to write and perform a piece of music to honor the 60th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock, Arkansas’ Central High School in 1957; that commission resulted in No Tears Suite.
During their time researching the Little Rock Nine crisis, Parker and Hurt came across Warriors Don’t Cry, a memoir by one of the Black students who integrated the school, Melba Pattillo Beals. That book became the main source of inspiration for their piece, which was premiered at Central High in 2017—the performance heard here. In addition to Parker and Hurt, the band included trumpeter Marc Franklin, saxophonists Bobby LaVell and Chad Fowler, bassist Bill Huntington, and drummer Brian Blade.
Two years later, No Tears Suite was performed (and recorded) again, with bassist Rufus Reid not only replacing Huntington but also adding orchestral arrangements that were performed by the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra; the rest of the lineup remained the same. That performance will also be released on September 25 as a free bonus album.
Regarding “Jubilate” in particular, Parker—who grew up in Little Rock and whose playing was also heard recently on the Dopolarians’ album Garden Party—says: “The purpose and feeling behind this composition is to celebrate the bravery and accomplishments of nine children and two adults (the Little Rock Nine and [local journalists, publishers, and civil-rights activists] Daisy and L.C. Bates). Traditionally, in Arkansas, especially Little Rock, the Central High Crisis has been viewed as a dark period, an ugly part of our history. With ‘Jubilate,’ we seek to change the narrative by celebrating the fact that school children bravely did the work of adults, resulting in the integration of Little Rock and Arkansas public schools, and ultimately leading to the integration of all U.S. school systems. In this day and age, we have much to do regarding racial relations, as seen in the daily news, but imagine where we would be without the Little Rock Nine.”
Go here to preorder No Tears Suite.