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Wadada Leo Smith: Ten Freedom Summers and Me, 2013

A poem by Langston Hughes

As I Grew Older

It was a long time ago. 
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then, 
In front of me, Bright like a sun-
My dream. 
And then the wall rose,
Rose slowly, 
Between me and my dream. 
Rose until it touched the sky-
The wall.
I am black.
I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Above me.
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow. 
My hands!
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Of sun!

The following is a verbal collage of how I have absorbed Ten Freedom Summers by Wadada Leo Smith. Reviewing this composition, having heard both the Roulette performance in May 2013 in New York and the Los Angeles premiere in October of 2011 and a sampling of the entire six hour piece in between is a moot point at this point for me. So much has already been written since it was premiered. I do not need to indulge in commenting on the excellence of the musicians and the excellence of the music they play. I do not need to impose the view on the music that it is not jazz, nor classical, nor “third-stream,” nor contemporary “third stream.”  Ten Freedom Summers defies labeling. Ten Freedom Summers is a work of art that knows no bounds in its meaningfulness and is, therefore, an apotheosis of the articulation of a dedicated purpose lying on the crest of one man’s spiritual and artistic being.

The music that is Ten Freedom Summers exists apart from music which is extemporaneous. The music is scored traditionally, multiple black books titled on the front covers in silver pen. The music of Ten Freedom Summers has been literally composed over Wadada’s lifetime: a lifetime that was filled with personal struggles and personal choices about which he remains reticent, but which were experiences that shaped the composer’s fearlessness. 

The bond that Smith has with his music shall never wane.  

Memories of the music measure the sensitivity of our hearts.

Memories of the music paint portraits of themselves.

Memories of the performance paint portraits of determination. 

Dare we appreciate the history that feeds the music and express compassion for the inhabitants of that history? Smith points to the very moments we need to think about; what we do with the thoughts about those moments is up to us. Do we cry? Do we wonder why they happened? Do we take action to follow up on or rectify the actions that were being taken?

Do we become stronger and offer our talents for healing wounds, heightening awareness, creating community, pursuing the change which will degenerate the bad-ness, cruelty, thoughtlessness, lack of initiative.

Or do we remain weak and passive and complain. And only stand on the sides of the oppressed, whom we might not believe really are, but who continue to be treated poorly, impolitely and ignored, as if not even alive.

Poetry lies in the dignified way in which the music is presented multi-dimensionally through live performance and imagery that begs to surround it.

Poetry lies in the image of Rosa Parks, no matter what the contention of the “real-ness” of the photograph.

Poetry lies in the picture of the Little Rock Nine: Black Students being escorted by soldiers to school.

Poetry lies in the near profile Martin Luther King, showing a peacefully audacious face.

Poetry lies in the photo of the signing of the Civil Rights Bill in 1964 by President Johnson, flanked by Martin Luther King.

Poetry lies in our bygone beliefs when all these people did what they did. And said what they said. There was our hope. There was the hope of the breakdown of inequality.

Poetry lies in Wadada’s loud exhalation before the music of “September 11th, 2001: A Memorial” begins: a heavy sigh denoting the deaths of thousands. No different from the “deep emotion” portrayed in the “The D.C. Wall: A Memorial for All Time.”

Perception of Ten Freedom Summers fulfills its value to us as human beings and raises significant, fundamental questions as if it were a rarefied editorial.

How are we actually equal, even though each is strikingly different: genetically, ethnically, ethically, psychologically, economically, and socially? 

How are we actually driven to render the world a better place, a more peaceful and morally healthy environment?

How do we behave towards one another?

How do we stop taking advantage of one another?

How are we kind to one another? How do we love one another? As lovers or as neighbors?

How do we stop aggravating our anger?

How do we stop creating wars and fighting them?

How do we return to the simplicity of our beginnings?

How do we deal with complexity of our situations? As peoples, as families, as tragic, suffering, beaten-down individuals?

How do we find the Messina of the Contemporary World? Is there already such a society unknown to us?

Poetry lies in the music’s phrasing, its grandeur, its quietness. In the compelling boldness of opposites: its high pitches juxtaposed to low tones; in the integration of strings and percussion in the same measure; in the coincidence of opposing dynamic. And in that single brass horn which masterfully sings above and leads a dozen instruments in three ensembles.

How can the truth be told through the music that has no language other than itself? Wadada's way: "Let's do it this way. Let's see how good we are."

Closure comes not from the point at which Ten Freedom Summers ends. Closure comes when we realize that we do not necessarily cry for freedom when we lack it. We sing about it when we have it. Because that consciousness compels us to take responsibility for our rights and, in their embrace, go where we go.

copyright 2013 Lyn Horton
Photos: Lyn Horton


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