Let Freedom Swing: A Celebration of Human Rights & Social Justice

Thursday 28, Friday 29 and Saturday 30, October 2004, at 8pm in the Rose Theater, The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis celebrates the charismatic leaders who gave voice to the struggle, and whose words and deeds continue to be invoked as new struggles emerge.
Six extraordinary world premiere musical commissions will paint a backdrop for inspirational oratory on liberty and triumph by Vaclav Havel, Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Performed by celebrity readers and set to music by an international array of composers including Darin Atwater, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Darius Brubeck, and Zim Ngqawana, Jimmy Heath, Emil Viklicky and Stevie Wonder, this is a rare evening of ideas and ideals.
Freedom swings.

Read an article about this event on NY Daily News:

With liberty – and jazz riffs – for all

Here’s the lineup of heavy hitters tonight for Jazz at Lincoln Center’s show at its new Rose Theater:
Vaclav Havel and Alfre Woodard; Glenn Close, Jimmy Heath and Lyndon B. Johnson; Nelson Mandela and Morgan Freeman; Martin Luther King Jr., Billy Childs, the Rev. Calvin Butts.

And Eleanor Roosevelt.

The three-night production, “Let Freedom Swing,” features new works accompanied by the words of heroes in freedom’s struggle.

So Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic, comes here as a jazz artist, figuratively speaking. He has adapted some of his own writings about freedom and social justice into a libretto, paired with new music by Czech composer Emil Viklicky and read by Woodard and Mario Van Peebles.

The other pieces include:

Robert F. Kennedy’s words set to music from the Soulful Symphony’s Darin Atwater and read by Keith David;
A speech by Johnson, read by Close, and accompanied by music from tenor-sax master Heath;
Pianist Childs accompanying King’s words, read by Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church;
Words by Nelson Mandela read by Freeman, with music by Darius Brubeck and South African saxophonist Zim Ngqawana, a former student of Brubeck;
Japan’s leading jazz composer, Toshiko Akiyoshi, providing music to accompany Roosevelt’s words, which will be read by Patricia Clarkson.
The compositions will be played by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, led by Wynton Marsalis.

“Wynton feels that in many ways, jazz is a music and freedom is a goal that is reflective of people striving to get something they don’t have,” says Lincoln Center Executive Director Derek Gordon. “Jazz is a way of approaching that struggle.

“The issues are the same whether you’re African-American or Central European,” says Gordon. “America is a country that has struggled for its own human rights.”

It’s not entirely coincidental that “Let Freedom Swing” arrives on the eve of a presidential election. “But these are not partisan issues,” stresses Gordon. “They are American issues. We have been at crossroads before, as we were at the time of Lincoln.”

What’s unequivocal is that “Let Freedom Swing” wants listeners to consider those big issues.

“There is music that is sort of mindless and encourages you to disengage,” says Gordon. “And that’s all right. But what we call ‘serious’ music engages you on both an emotional and a visceral level. That doesn’t mean it’s something you can’t enjoy, but it can also convey an important message.”

Toward that end, he says, it was essential to get the right speakers as well as the right composers. “When you marry great words to great music,” he says, “you quadruple the impact.”

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