History As Symphony: The African-American Experience In Jazz Suites
The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s inspired several black artists to explore their African heritage and the black experience in America, from enslavement to life after emancipation and migration to cities in the north. In the musical world, pianist James P. Johnson composed Yamekraw: A Negro Rhapsody, a 12-minute portrait of a black community in Savannah, Ga. Yamekraw was orchestrated for a 1928 performance at Carnegie Hall by black composer William Grant Still, who would write his own Afro American Symphony in 1930.
Since then, many more African-American artists have employed the expansive concepts of suites, symphonies and extended works to render the saga of black life from Africa to America. Here are excerpts from five extended jazz representations of black history.