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Arts & Culture
These articles were excerpted from Tapestry, a weekly newsletter that examines the arts and entertainment world in Charlotte and North Carolina.

JazzArts Charlotte's 'We Insist!' Performance Honors Black History Month

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TYRUS ORTEGA GAINES / Courtesy JazzArts
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"We Insist" was performed on the Black Lives Matter mural in uptown Charlotte in October.

Back in October, a 12-piece ensemble, along with a spoken word poet, gathered at the Black Lives Matter mural on Tryon Street in Charlotte to perform a concert. It wasn't advertised, and they weren't looking for an audience.

But because it was in the middle of uptown Charlotte, of course people paused to look.

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TYRUS ORTEGA GAINES / Courtesy JazzArts
Elijah Freeman performs on the tenor saxophone during the concert of Max Roach's "We Insist" album.

"We were not looking for a crowd. We didn't want we didn't want to crowd because we did still have restrictions, of course, during that time," said Lonnie Davis, president and CEO of JazzArts Charlotte. "But, you know, of course, it's a public thoroughfare. And so whoever happens to be walking down the street at the time will receive a free concert.

"We had people start to accumulate -- everyone was socially distanced, everyone had on masks and it was a very organic process. And those who just happened upon it got a great performance, an impromptu performance."

What they saw was a performance of "We Insist," the 1960 album by North Carolina native Max Roach. That recorded performance will be shown online Friday at 8 p.m. on YouTube and Facebook Live to honor Black History Month.

Davis says the time and place it was recorded — on the Black Lives Matter mural months after sustained protests against systemic racism — make the music more meaningful and applicable to life today.

"Many jazz musicians of that time (in 1960), they were releasing music that spoke to the time that they were living in," Davis said. "And many of the African American artists were dealing with a lot of discrimination. And so the music reflected some of the hardships that they were dealing with.

"So Max put out this amazing piece that was heavily underrated and did not receive the acclaim that it probably should have."

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TYRUS ORTEGA GAINES / Courtesy JazzArts
The performance included internationally recognized trumpeter Sean Jones.

Roach's avant-garde jazz protest album is considered groundbreaking and features tracks about enslavement, the Emancipation Proclamation, subsequent struggles for African Americans, the civil rights movement and the African independence movements of the 1950s.

The album's cover references the July 1960 Greensboro sit-ins.

"In many ways, We Insist! served as the keynote of jazz albums for the 1960s, as it and subsequent music produced by prominent jazz artists served to inspire many of the young civil rights activists of the period,” Levine Museum of the New South historian Willie Griffin said in a statement.

WFAE's weekly arts and entertainment email newsletter, Tapestry, will keep you in the loop on arts and culture in the Charlotte region.

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