Jazz Ensemble draws inspiration from U.S. civil rights struggle for latest performance

- April 13, 2023

This year's Jazz Ensemble performance showcased both concert and popular African American music.
This year's Jazz Ensemble performance showcased both concert and popular African American music.

The Dalhousie Jazz Ensemble’s collaboration with distinguished scholar and performer Dr. Tammy Kernodle was more than three years in the making.

Ensemble director Chris Mitchell was deeply moved when he attended a lecture by Dr. Kernodle as part of the Fountain School of Performing Arts’ annual David Schroeder Music and Culture lecture series in January 2020. The talk called attention to the ways that music has consistently underscored the African-American civil rights movement. 

Dr. Kernodle, a celebrated musicologist who currently teaches as a distinguished professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio,  has become a sought-after voice in musicology for her work illuminating both concert and popular African American music. 

Mitchell and the Jazz Ensemble were thrilled to finally have Dr. Kernodle in their midst in a major way as partners on This Is What Freedom Sounds Like, the Jazz Ensemble’s show last Thursday (April 6) at the Joseph Strug Concert Hall. 

Dr. Kernodle, for her part, appreciated the dynamic energy of collaborative music-making. 

“Once all parties involved come together, and the different aspects of the program from narration to repertory intertwine, and the real purpose comes forth and link together — there's nothing like that feeling.”

Last week’s performance recontextualized elements from Dr. Kernodle’s Dal lecture as a unique blend of spoken word and musical performance. The show served to highlight the importance of Dr. Kernodle’s message, while simultaneously engaging directly with the musical traditions that epitomize the racial justice movements of the 20th century — such as gospel, blues and jazz.

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Strength in solidarity

Fourth-year trombonist Dylan Hay says he was honoured play a solo in the ensemble’s rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Black and Tan Fantasy.” 

“The piece expresses sorrow and mourning alongside joy and hope for a brighter future,” says Hay. “Though I’m obviously coming from a different background, it feels very powerful to express solidarity through music, and to help bring voice to Ellington’s composition in the present moment.” 

The composition is one of several of Ellington’s works that the ensemble brought to life.

Interviewed ahead of the performance, Dr. Kernodle says she hoped that the concert’s interdisciplinary approach would leave the audience with a deeper understanding of how music has served as a conduit for social change and for mobilizing people  on a mass scale to bring about social change.

“I believe this concert will widen understanding of protest music, particularly that which is associated with the struggle for civil rights in America. This concert explored the fullness of the long civil rights movement from slavery to modern day protest movements.” 


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