Music Alert: Summer of Love

All of you ex-hippies and peaceniks out there won’t want to miss the Summer of Love Concert when it comes to South Park in July.  Glen Burtnik – an alumnus of Styx and the original Beatlemania – and his Summer of Love Experience have been touring and sharing the love – all those iconic songs from the late 1960s – for a few years now. Pittsburgh, always a little behind, gets its dosage on July 22nd.

Nineteen sixty-seven was dubbed the Summer of Love, you’ll recall, when the establishment media belatedly discovered the burgeoning youth and hippie movements that were converging on the San Francisco Bay Area and needed a handy way to explain the occurrence. They were generally portrayed as pampered, confused and ungrateful teenagers and young adults in search of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll – and many were.

But the youth movement had been steadily growing throughout the decade, finding inspiration in the old Beats, an ideology in the Free Speech Movement, and a cause in the anti-Vietnam War movement. Growing up in the stifling atmosphere of the Cold War 1950s, free love, drug use and rock music did indeed help them differentiate themselves from their conservative parents.  The music of the period reflected the exuberance and idealism of these young people and the songs remain popular today, and not only with baby-boomers.

Summer of Love Experience concerts have gotten good reviews. The music is said to recreate “note for note and absolutely live the songs, and the psychedelically flavored spirit, of the Woodstock Generation.”  It sounds like a good time, as well as an opportunity to run into old friends and acquaintances and rekindle the spirit of revolution that animated those times.

Long Hot Summer

 Nineteen sixty-seven also saw yet another “Long Hot Summer” of black urban rebellions. Martin Luther King Jr. came out forcefully against the war in Indochina, Muhammad Ali refused to be inducted into the military, Black Power was in the air, and people were decisively answering Langston Hughes’s question about what happens to “a dream deferred.”  Yes, it explodes, time and time again.

The social and political climate affected the popular music produced by African-Americans and some black artists are forever associated with the Summer of Love/Woodstock period: Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, Richie Havens, and Otis Redding.

Noncommercial black artists working out of the jazz tradition were also coming up with new ideas and new sounds in step with the times. In 1965, a group of experimental artists in Chicago founded the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), one of the most successful artists collectives in US history. The AACM insisted on artistic freedom and control, practiced cooperation and community engagement, emphasized original compositions and performances and, for the most part, rejected the “jazz” label as being too restrictive.  It celebrated it’s fiftieth anniversary last year.

Trumpet player Wada Leo Smith joined the AACM in 1967 after getting out of the army and has been making creative music ever since.  Smith, performing in duet with pianist Vijay Iyer, is one of the featured acts of this year’s Pittsburgh JazzLive Festival. Pittsburgh is home to many important jazz figures, but the city has never been hospitable to the “New Thing,” free jazz, or whatever you want to call it.  This year, however, the organizers of JazzLive have thoughtfully included creative improvisers like Smith and Iyer, Nu Grid (guitarists Jean-Paul Bourelly and Vernon Reid, cornetist Graham Haynes, and DJ logic) and the Chick Corea Trio – all on the evening of June 25.

The festival’s three days are jam-packed with scheduled performances from scores of accomplished artists; there is (most likely) something for everyone. So check out the schedule and head on downtown, June 24-26, and mingle.  Social change will be helped along when we spend more social time together.

— Jim Collins

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