For Anthony Brown the art of music must carry a purpose, a politic, a call to action and/or a healing. I ended this interview with him talking about current and upcoming work.
I always enjoy your performances but the recent iteration of Max Roach’s We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, and much earlier Coltrane’s India and Africa really stand out for me. Do you feel an obligation as an artist, as an Afro-Asian artist, to artistically speak to certain issues through your music? If so, how and why?
Thank you, Dear Sister! I can best answer this question with something I recently wrote on a grant application, “The courageous examples and hard-won achievements of artists/activists Paul Robeson, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Pete Seeger and others are the wellspring of my inspiration for (my work), and the source of strength to prepare for what lies ahead for our country and the world.
We worked together creating a jazz in the schools program which has been a part of elementary, middle and high school arts programming on both sides of the Bay. Why do you feel a need to be an arts educator as well as a performing artist?
Yes! We pioneered a groundbreaking model for artist/musician in-class residency programs. I recently received an email from Mr. Earl Crawford, Jr. at EOSA /Castlemont HS thanking us for the residency we conducted in his class nearly 10 years ago—he is now the Principal and credits our residency “for showing me the power and possibilities of art infused education.”
You probably would agree that good teachers have contributed much to shaping that which is foundational to our achievements. I always felt fortunate to have had teachers who inspired me to learn more, to be the best that I can be. I try to pass on what they gave me.
You are a performer, arranger, and producer of music. Did I leave out anything? Does any role have primacy over the others? If so why, if not how do you balance the various roles?
Actually, composing is my primary artistic focus since it allows me the full palette of musical resources to realize what I hear inside. Also, it is the most lucrative, and allows for more opportunities to collaborate.
Collaboration seems to be a big part of your art, with other musicians, with dancers, with vocalists, with poets, with film makers- How does this collaboration expand your own art form?
Jazz performance is a collective creative endeavor, unlike most visual arts, composing, or choreography, which are usually solo undertakings. The sharing of ideas and co-creation with visionary artists is a very special and inspiring experience when efforts synergize.
What are the projects you are working on now and how can people keep up with you?
Our next performance features Freedom Now Suite 2017 on September 24th for SF Music Day at Herbst Theater. Freedom Now Suite 2017 is a contemporary re-imagining of the first jazz album with lyrics and poetry dedicated to the international struggle for freedom and justice. The original We Insist! Freedom Now Suite was recorded and released in 1960 to critical acclaim and remains a landmark musical milestone composed by band leader/percussionist Max Roach in collaboration with poet Oscar Brown, Jr. and featuring vocalist Abbey Lincoln. In commemoration of the courage of their forbearers’ convictions and commitment to human rights, the Asian American Orchestra together with vocalist Amikaeyla Gaston and poet Genny Lim (re)present this significant project as Freedom Now Suite 2017 to share its timeless message. The 2016 national election has brought to light many of the harsh realities of America’s political system’s failure to effectively address the nation’s socioeconomic and racial inequalities, a harbinger that requires all artists/activists to come to the defense of civil liberties and justice in their work and to have it reach the public.
I know you have some other exciting projects coming this Fall and in Spring of 2018. Can you tell us a bit about them?
GO FOR BROKE! A Salute to Nisei Veterans will be the centerpiece of a musical presentation commemorating the 75th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066 (EO9066) in 1942 that forced over 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry into desolate internment camps until after the end of WWII.
GO FOR BROKE! honors the courageous Nisei (second generation Japanese in America) soldiers who served and fought in WWII while their families were imprisoned.
The multi-movement work (“I. Call to Duty II. Letters From Camp III. Uncommon Valor IV. Last Post”) will be composed to complement the Asian American Orchestra’s (AAO) presentation of EO9066: Truth Be Told, Anthony Brown’s Rockefeller commissioned extended work commemorating the internment experience. EO9066: Truth Be Told has served as the soundtrack for documentaries including Witness to Hiroshima (2009) and A Divided Community (2011) about internment camp draft resisters. “Rhymes (For Children)” from EO9066 served as the theme music for KQED-FM’s “Pacific Time,” a Public Radio International (PRI) syndicated weekly newsmagazine.
The Presidio Trust will mount their commemorative exhibition on the internment, “Exclusion” in Spring 2017 and will partner with Dr. Brown and the AAO to present a musical concert and lecture-demonstration on the Japanese American internment experience on Friday, November 3rd. The AAO will also perform on Veterans Day, Saturday, November 11th when the National Japanese American Historical Society(NJAHS) will host a daytime event to support their exhibition at the Presidio Military Intelligence Service (MIS) Building commemorating the 75th anniversary of EO9066.
The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 found Executive Order 9066 to be unconstitutional and survivors of the injustice were officially apologized to and received reparations. The reasons given by the federal commission for its execution that led to the mass incarceration were “racial prejudice, wartime hysteria and the failure of political leadership.” In 1998, a federally funded, national multimedia education project addressing the internment was created, and the Asian American Orchestra was founded as a touring cultural component.
Twenty years later, the Grammy-nominated flagship ensemble of Asian American Jazz continues its original mission of promoting public awareness of the Japanese internment experience of World War II. The public premiere of GO FOR BROKE! A Salute to Nisei Veterans and presentation of EO9066: Truth Be Told are programmed to provide the public contemporary artistic interpretations of major historic events that have shaped and continue to inform our society. Today now more so than ever, every American must know that President Trump said that he “might have supported Japanese American internment.”
You are doing some exciting and important work. I’m loathe to ask since your plate is already so full, but what about 2018?
In 2018, the Asian American Orchestra will collaborate with Dr. Angela Davis to premiere the commissioned musical composition, DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE Requiem for a King commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the death of our nation’s foremost leader of the modern Civil Rights Movement.
On April 4, 1967, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his most controversial speech, “Beyond Vietnam—A Time to Break Silence” at the Riverside Church in New York City. In this speech, Dr. King declared a strong antiwar stance questioning our nation’s military role and morality in killing Vietnamese people. This opposition to the war was deemed anti-patriotic; he was vilified in the media, and mainstream America and even fellow civil rights leaders turned against him. One year later to the day, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968 at 39 years of age. Dr. King’s steadfastness to his moral compass inspired him to proclaim, ” ’A time comes when silence is betrayal.’ As I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. The spiritual, “Study War No More” will inform the foundational core of the work musically, lyrically and philosophically:
I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside, down by the riverside,
Down by the riverside.
I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside.
I ain’t gonna study war no more.
Down by the Riverside will be presented as a work-in-progress at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center on Sunday, February 18, 2018 to honor Black History Month and Day of Remembrance (annual Japanese American commemoration of the WWII internment experience). The premiere performance will be held at the SF International Arts Festival at Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture on Saturday, May 26, 2018, and will feature recitation by Dr. Angela Davis. We hope the audience will experience this performance as an emotionally evocative and thought-provoking celebration of Dr. King’s prophetic work and aspirations that continue to inspire the ongoing activism for peace and social justice globally.
For more on Anthony Brown, including hearing some excerpts of his work please visit his website .
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