James Reese Europe and the Absence of Ruin
On New Year’s Day 1918, James Reese Europe – an iconic figure in the evolution of African-American music – landed in Brest with the Harlem Hellfighters. As well as their achievements in combat, Europe’s crack military music ensemble popularised the new spirit of jazz to a war-torn French nation fascinated with black culture. And this is but the beginning of a story that continues to fascinate and intrigue.
A century later, composer, pianist and visual artist Jason Moran – himself a major and innovative force in today’s jazz – celebrates the legacy of a hero of Black music, in a multi-dimensioned reflection on the impact of the African-American presence in Europe in the closing years of WW1, and its resonance both in Europe and in the USA, with contributions from John Akomfrah, and visual materials from acclaimed cinematographer Bradford Young, in a new project specially commissioned for the final year of 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary.
The Harlem Hellfighters story provides the genesis of the extraordinary impact of African-American music on Europe and the Americas, and a century of profound cultural and political change that is still evolving.
The performing ensemble will include members of Moran’s long-established trio, The Bandwagon, and a group of brass and wind players drawn from today’s richly talented new generation of British musicians. Moran himself has created projects that have offered a profound insight into the creative world of key figures in jazz history, Fats Waller and Thelonious Monk. His most recent UK performances included a two-night residency at Tate Modern with his long-term collaborator, performance artist Joan Jonas, and a duet with fellow pianist Robert Glasper at a sold-out Festival Hall.
On February 17 1919, the 369th Infantry Regiment famously marched up Fifth Avenue and into Harlem before some 250,000 onlookers. A spirit of determination, inspired by the war, surged throughout black America.
W.E.B. Du Bois voiced such sentiment in the May 1919 Crisis editorial ‘Returning Soldiers’, declaring, "We return. We return from fighting. We return fighting. Make way for Democracy! We saved it in France, and by the Great Jehovah, we will save it in the United States of America, or know the reason why." Words that echo down the decades…
Jazz may be American music, but it is African American Music
James Reese Europe
* * *
Tickets: £15, £13 concessions (Under 25's Half Price)
20% for booking two concerts in the three day jazz special, 30% off for booking all three concerts in the three day jazz special (Tord Gustavsen Trio, Jason Moran: The Harlem Hellfighters and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes)
James Reese Europe and the Absence of Ruin is co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW:
WW1 Centenary Art Commissions, Serious, Jazzfest Berlin and the Kennedy Centre.