Martin Luther King’s Jazz Dream


In MLK Days past, I have shared a famous quote that outlines Martin Luther King, Jr.’s love of jazz, a passage that has been something of a mantra for me ever since I first came across it in 2009.

Today, I’ve linked to it again but also want to share another, perhaps less-well-known quotation that ought to resonate with what jazz can mean for our continued struggle against racism in the United States and around the world.

I first got hip to this quote via the prolific and oftentimes hilarious antiracist advocate John Randolph, aka Jay Smooth. Here’s his video of ten OTHER things MLK said: 

That first bit about creativity caught my ear, so I went to find the larger quotation that gave rise to that unforgettable phrase “creatively maladjusted.” Here it is one place where it cropped up:

This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed nonconformists. Our planet teeters on the brink of annihilation; dangerous passions of pride, hatred, and selfishness are enthroned in our lives; and men do reverence before false gods of nationalism and materialism. The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.

What were Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and on and on and on, if not exemplars of creative maladjustment? It’s no wonder (to me at least) that Dr. King entrusted the project of human salvation in this “nonconforming minority.” I hear the fruits of this project in the work of so many jazz musicians today: a deep respect and understanding for this lineage coupled with an unflappable will to sound out that tradition in the 21st century. Today, I think, is a good day to take stock of that.

About Alex Rodríguez

Writer, Organizer, Trombonist
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