March 18 2013 12:00 AM

MSU jazz studies director Rodney T. Whitaker honors Martin Luther King's legacy with “Jazz: Spirituals, Prayer and Protest”


Thursday, Jan. 12 — The Michigan State University College of Music takes part in a campus-wide celebration commemorating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. with “Jazz: Spirituals, Prayer and Protest,” two free concerts featuring MSU’s Jazz Orchestras, under the direction of Rodney T. Whitaker.

“This concert gives our jazz orchestras and our faculty an opportunity to mix it up and offer something different — something with a social and political flair,” said Whitaker, director of the jazz studies program at MSU.

This is the 12th year the concert has been running, with new music selected to fit the theme of the 2012 commemorative celebration, “Social Injustice … Your Turn to Act.” The concert will feature MSU Jazz Orchestras I, II, and III, performing pieces that send a political and historical message.

The program features the music of Stevie Wonder, Mike Tomaro and Oliver Nelson, and includes “Too High,” “Let the Word Go Forth,” “A Genuine Peace,” “I Wish,” “The Right of All,” “The Artists’ Rightful Place,” “John Kennedy Memory Waltz” and “Higher Ground.”

“We look back to a time when great change was affecting our country, and to one of the major agents of change, Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Whitaker said. “We hope to help inspire the MSU community — and one another — and to step up and become more interested, educated and involved in what’s happening in our community, our country and globally as well. Our country still has much to do.”

In addition, the program will include a musical tribute to John F. Kennedy, titled “The Kennedy Dream,” written by Oliver Nelson and arranged by Kristopher Johnson, a 2005 and 2008 alumnus of the MSU College of Music. It is a semi-orchestral suite, in which seven of the eight compositions are launched by brief sections of JFK’s speeches about equality and positive change.

“[Kennedy] was a champion of civil rights,” Whitaker said. “He embodied the same principals of human rights and racial equality of Dr. King. They had the same common ideology of what it meant to be an American.”

Whitaker hopes that the selection of jazz music will not only appeal to the ears of the audience, but encourage listeners to be activists against inequality, whether it’s about race, gender or sexual orientation.

“I think Dr. King would be proud of this concert,” Whitaker said. “Jazz has always been bringing people together. It has always been about freedom. This whole concert is about us coming together.”

The concert is performed twice on Sunday, Jan. 15 (3 and 7 p.m.) at the Wharton Center’s Pasant Theatre. General admission tickets are free but required, and available at the Wharton Center Box Office on a first-come, first served basis.

‘Jazz: Spirituals, Prayer and Protest’

3 and 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 15

Wharton Center’s Pasant Theatre

Free, but tickets are required

Contact Wharton Center Box Office