Saxophonist Tim Ries has a song called “What Happened to Ya?” with lyrics that cite a lack of political resolve among the aging ’60s generation. Some would extend this critique to the jazz community itself, arguing that protest jazz-what Archie Shepp once called “fire music”-has fallen by the wayside, and today’s musicians are as disengaged as anyone else. A close look at jazz expression in the Bush era reveals this to be false.
Appearing late last year in Philadelphia, the cradle of liberty, Ries prefaced his song with an admonition: “We’re in dire straits in this country.” Not only is he far from alone in that view; he’s far from unusual in stating it publicly through music. Albums released in recent years with a political thrust include Charlie Haden’s Not in Our Name, Doug Wamble’s Bluestate, Bobby Previte’s The Coalition of the Willing, Chris Washburne’s Land of Nod, Ben Allison’s Cowboy Justice, World Saxophone Quartet’s Political Blues, Terence Blanchard’s A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina), Kenny Werner’s Lawn Chair Society, Andrew Rathbun’s Affairs of State, Vinson Valega’s Awake and the Vijay Iyer-Mike Ladd multimedia projects In What Language? and Still Life with Commentator.