published Friday, April 25th, 2014

Cook: Nazis ain't got no swing

I hate Illinois Nazis.

— The Blues Brothers

Really want to protest the Nazis?

Resurrect Martin Luther King ... Boulevard.

It's already happening, or has been in temporary ways recently. It's called the Jazzanooga Festival, and we're on the exhale-end of a monthlong celebration of the one thing that's the complete opposite of fascism.

Jazz.

"There is no better example of democracy than a jazz ensemble," first lady Michelle Obama once said.

Jazz is the people's music and the first cousin of the blues, both of which are grandly American. Born out of the soil of suffering that leads to liberation, jazz has always lived on the streets, near the bars and rafters. It is some fallen angel, at times tainted by dope and sorrow, yet more divine than earthly. Even the names are godlike. Monk. Mingus. Bird. Coltrane and Miles.

The improvisation of jazz -- its individualism -- is counter-balanced by its community. Everybody plays together, and everybody plays their own. Find jazz and you've found democracy.

"Jazz is democracy. It is democracy at its best," said saxophonist Jimmy Heath. "Because everybody who's playing has an opportunity to speak their own mind."

The enemies of jazz are conformity and group-think, which are the banners of Nazism. Totalitarianism hates the jazz trumpet. Goebbels is the opposite of Gillespie.

"Jazz calls us to engage our national identity," Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has said. "It gives expression to the beauty of democracy, and of personal freedom, and of choosing to embrace the humanity of all types of people. It really is what American democracy is supposed to be."

Come see for yourself. (And someone bring Jesse Jackson.) On Saturday, just hours before the Nazis gather at the courthouse, Jazzanooga has planned a second line parade: the New Orleans funeral tradition of a street band playing low and long on the way to the grave, and then resurrection tunes on the way back.

Death, then rebirth. Mourning, then morning. It is the perfect counter to the soulless Nazi rally. The parade begins at 11 a.m. at Whiteside Park, and concludes at Bessie Smith Center for an afternoon party. The route is down M.L. King Boulevard, which is perfect.

For that's the path our city needs to travel.

"Bring music back to the Big 9," said William Price.

Price plays the bass, and is a Chattanooga jazz man from long ago. He remembers the day when King Boulevard -- then called Ninth Street, and nicknamed the Big 9 -- was the happiest place in town.

"A regular night would be a people's night," he said. "It was a joyful time. You could stand out on the sidewalks. They'd be full of people talking and listening to the music."

The ghosts of the Big 9 are still there. The music still echoes in the sidewalk. If our city planners can build rock-climbing walls in the heart of downtown to honor our outdoor community, we can assuredly give tribute to the Big 9 through the rebirth of several local blues and jazz clubs on M.L. King Boulevard.

"Anyway possible," Price said. "It's a good idea. What we've been lacking in the Big 9 and Chattanooga is good music."

It would be a political, spiritual and moral act, something done to alter the economic blues of King Boulevard while also opening a door to a more diverse and loose downtown. That street is a jazz street, and we ought to make intentional decisions that restore the music to those city blocks and bring back the folks who once danced there, like returning an old deed to its rightful owner.

"Even in slavery, when there was no social freedom, there was musical freedom," Price said. "We developed a type of music that relieved ourselves of the tension. You sung to get some relief."

Identity. Community. Joy. Relief. Emma Goldman once said revolutions should have dancing.

And cities should have jazz.

"We need Big 9," said Price. "We need music back down there, period."

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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