Story & Photos by James Walker, Jr. - Copyright 2009
With the exception of Rosa Parks, Emmett Till's brutal murder in Mississippi in
1955 became the leading symbol for the early Civil Rights movement in the South.
Chicago's master saxophonist and composer Ernest Dawkins marked the anniversary
of Till's death with a powerful piece of music that tells this tragic story in a
format that only Bro. Dawkins seems capable of capturing.
In conjunction with the Jazz Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Park District, Dawkins unleashed this historic piece at Hamilton Park on December 4th, in the
same neighborhood that Till was reared in.
Dawkins and The Chicago 12 recorded this last "Trilogy of Tragedy" for events
and heroes of Chicago in Paris, France, in February, 2008. Joining Dawkins at
Hamilton Park was: Khari B spoken word; Dee Alexander, vocalist; Aaron Getsug,
baritone saxophone; Norman Palm III, trombone;
Harrison Bankhead, bass; Josh Abrams, bass; Justin Dillard, piano; Isaiah
Spencer, drums; Hamid Drake, drums; and Larry Bowen, trumpet (Corey Wilkes is
trumpeter on original recording).
Prior to the actual concert, the Neighborhood Writing Alliance representatives
read pieces inspired by Till. Those participating included Delores Tolliver,
Aileen Taylor, Pamela Dominguez, Phyllis Humphries, Malvin Jefferey,and Charlene
While Khari B retold the story and Chicago's first lady of jazz, Dee Alexander
rendered vocals through the eyes of Emmit's mother Mamie, and the "12" blasted
triumphant sounds from their instruments, while the capacity crowd at Hamilton Park
seemed to be in awe of this inspiring night of celebration.
Bro Dawkins, a task master when necessary, seems to bring out the absolute best
in these young performers. Throughout the two hours, all musicians were called
upon for an opportunity to express their feelings through music. This was
especially evident by the renderings from Dee Alexander, Khari B and pianist
Justin Dillard. It was easy to see that these three in particular were
emotionally involved and were truly expressing their inner self. It was almost
akin to being in a historical African American church on Sunday morning.
This is not to say that others didn't excel, as highlight moments were also
captured by trombonist Norman Palms III, trumpeter Larry Bowen, and the double
bass duo of Harrison Bankhead and Josh Abrams. And when he wasn't directing the
august group of exceptional musicians, Dawkins reminded all that he's one of
Chicago's finest tenor players.
Dawkins continues to do his part to keep on the consciences of all the
historical events that shaped the American Social Movement , no matter how much
it hurts. And for those jazz aficionados, this was done through the lens of a
master musician and composer. How fortunate we are to experience such an
important lesson in our history through music.
Congratulations to Ernest Dawkins, the Chicago Park District and The Jazz
Institute of Chicago for the audacity and foresight to bring to the neighborhoods
such important programing. Perhaps the Institute and Park District will join
forces a present this "must see" event downtown at the Millennium next summer
as part the the 2010 summer jazz series.
For details about future JazzCity events, refer to www.JazzinChicago.org.