CELEBRATING
50 YEARS

We Insist!: Jazz and Racial Injustice

Editor Mac Randall opens our September 2020 issue with comments on the music's connection to police violence

The intersection of 38th and Chicago, Minneapolis, June 2020 (photo: Melvin Gibbs)
The intersection of 38th and Chicago, Minneapolis, June 2020 (photo: Melvin Gibbs)

Sixty-one years ago this August, Miles Davis was brutally attacked by white policemen on 52nd Street in New York for the crime of standing outside the club where he was working while being confident, well-dressed, and Black (and possibly for having the audacity to hail a cab for a white woman leaving the club). Bleeding profusely from a head wound, he was then charged with third-degree assault on a patrolman named Gerald Kilduff. No police were charged with anything. Thirty years later in his autobiography, Davis (with Quincy Troupe’s assistance) wrote, “I was surrounded by white folks and I have learned that when that happens, if you’re black, there is no justice. None.”

Just as the July/August issue of JazzTimes was closing, news of a similar yet even more disturbing event came from Minneapolis. At first, it seemed like George Floyd’s death at the hands of city police would be just another horrendous case of American white-on-Black brutality to add to an endless litany of previous ones. But within a few days, a less resigned, more hopeful feeling crept into consciousness, a feeling that this time maintaining the status quo would not—could not—be allowed. The city, the country, the world rose up. And things at last began to change. Just how much, of course, remains to be seen. But we already know this: Jazz music and jazz musicians were there in spirit and in person with the protesters, as they consistently have been for more than a century whenever racial injustice needs to be combated.

For this issue, our first to be published since Floyd’s killing, Melvin Gibbs, a superb musician (named Best Electric Bassist in our 2019 Critics’ Poll, purely coincidentally) and a fine writer, traveled to Minneapolis to speak with jazz musicians who took part in the protests there. With those conversations as a starting point, he constructed an essay that draws welcome attention to the long-held bonds between jazz and social protest. It’s as sharp and knowledgeable as you’d expect from a guy who plays in a band called Harriet Tubman. And it ties in well with the traditionally historical slant of our September issue, which also includes features on Erroll Garner, the ESP-Disk’ label, and Charlie Parker, whose birth 100 years ago was another epochal August event.

Mac Randall

Mac Randall

Mac Randall has been the editor of JazzTimes since May 2018. Prior to that, he wrote regularly for the magazine. He has written about numerous genres of music for a wide variety of publications over the past 30 years, including Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The New York Observer, Mojo, and Guitar Aficionado, and he has worked on the editorial staffs of Musician, LAUNCH (now Yahoo! Music), Guitar One, Teaching Music, Music Alive!, and In Tune Monthly. He is the author of two books, Exit Music: The Radiohead Story and 101 Great Playlists. He lives in New York City.