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Reflecting on Dr. King in jazz interpretations
January 14, 2005

WHAT: Martin Luther King Jr. Day Family Celebration.

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday.

WHERE: Newark Museum, 49 Washington St., Newark. (973) 596-6550 or


Listening to avant-garde jazz from the '60s can teach you about a lot more than freestyle playing. The shrieks and moans of the horn offered a way for young African-American musicians to protest what was happening to their peers during the Civil Rights Movement.

Jazz pianist Eric Reed will offer his interpretations of this style of jazz along with a handful of black spirituals in his "Music as Protest" program during Martin Luther King Jr. Day activities at the Newark Museum.

Reed's program highlights popular jazz pieces such as "Free at Last" and "I Had a Dream" that were about King's speeches; a discussion of spirituals will include "Oh, Happy Day."

"The whole avant-garde movement reflected life in the early '60s. It's that old saying, 'Art reflects life,'Ÿ" said Reed, 34, who has recorded six albums as a band leader, including his most recent, "Manhattan Melodies," in 1999. He was a member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra for several years and performs regularly in Jazz at Lincoln Center events.

"There are some who complain that this style of jazz sounds too angry, but it's a reflection of how the musicians felt emotionally," said Reed, who began playing the piano at 2 and was influenced early on by the gospel music in his father's storefront Baptist church in Philadelphia.

As an example, Reed points to John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme."

"This music is an expression of beauty about the love he feels for God, but it also has a lot of anger and frustration in it," he said. "Today young blacks express their frustrations through hip-hop."

Reed will discuss jazz musicians such as Archie Shepp and Max Roach during his program Monday, as well as the noted civil rights leader Marcus Garvey and his influence on jazz.

Other activities include the opening of "Ÿ'O, Write My Name': American Portraits - Harlem Heroes." The exhibit features 50 portrait photos of black Americans taken by Carl Van Vechten between 1930 and 1960. The portraits - of 25 women and 25 men — are presented with quotations by or about each of them. A screening of "Our Friend, Martin," an animated adventure movie inspired by King's life and voiced by Angela Bassett, Levar Burton, Whoopi Goldberg and Samuel L. Jackson, takes place at 11:30 a.m. Footage of speeches by King will be shown in the museum auditorium at 1 p.m. Reed's program starts at 3:30.

Discussing history is important, Reed said, because young people need to remember the struggles of those who went before them.

"I wasn't around, so I'm getting what I know about Dr. King third- and fourth-hand," he said. "I feel very blessed, and I am grateful for the sacrifices made by my parents and grandparents to make a better life for me."

Staff Writer John Zeaman reviews, 'Write My Name': American Portraits - Harlem Heroes." Next week in Go!
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