This post is the third of three to celebrate Freddie Hubbard’s born day 2023, I’m going to take a look at probably the least well known album of the Freddie Hubbard pantheon, one that received “pushback”. I think this album stands-up well 53-years later; Freddie himself was less than positive about this period and the criticisms he received. It’s most likely because people were critical of Freddie as they wanted him to “stay in his lane”. It wasn’t as simple as that.
This is also the first post about albums involving CTI artists of the time, working on social / political protest records in the early 1970’s.
In 1970, Freddie Hubbard would have been 32-years old and still a young man, the Vietnam war was still raging. Creed Taylor served a year on the front line of the Korean War a decade and a half earlier, They were very different times.
As bad as the Vietnam War was, it was worse for black African American soldiers. Vietnam was the first American war with a fully integrated military, black soldiers were more likely to be drafted than whites and were disproportionately sent to the front lines . They were also disciplined at a higher rate and promoted less often than their white counterparts . Upon their return to the United States, many black veterans faced menial job opportunities and were denied support by Veterans Affairs . Some veterans reported being fed up with the disrespect and wound up dishonorably discharged, denying them any benefits for the rest of their lives https://time.com/5852476/da-5-bloods-black-vietnam-veterans/ https://www.whitehousehistory.org/racial-tension-in-the-1970s.
Black soldiers made up 11% of the young male population nationwide but accounted for 12.5% of all casualties https://www.americanwarlibrary.com/vietnam/vwc10.htm. In the early phases of the war, black casualty rates were much higher than for other races and ethnicities, with some reports showing that black soldiers accounted for 25% of the casualties recorded in 1965 https://www.archives.gov/research/military/vietnam-war/casualty-statistics.
Many black musicians used their talents to protest against the Vietnam War. Edwin Starr released a song called “War” in 1970 that became one of the most popular anti-war tunes of that era. Freda Payne who released “Bring the Boys Home” in 1971. These songs played an important part in educating people about the war and its impact on the black community.
As a young man, Hubbard would likely have had many friends who would have been impacted by the Vietnam war, some potentially killed. In the memory of most Americans, the plight of African American soldiers is forgotten, if it was ever really known. Like much of black history, it’s overlooked, not talked about, and largely forgotten.
Hubbard wouldn’t have been immune to the treatment of black American soldiers, who faced discrimination and unequal treatment both during their service in the Vietnam War and upon their return home.
On May 21st, 1971 black popular music changed forever with the release of Marvin Gaye’s album “What’s Going On” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What%27s_Going_On_(Marvin_Gaye_album). Protest in the USA about the war came to a crescendo following a decade of events that disrupted the American psyche. At the same time black protest over domestic racism, treatment and conditions was also peaking.
Sing Me a Song of Songmy
This is a streaming link of the remastered album. Further down the post is a link to a streamable / downloadable version of the vinyl album that links directly to side-2 featuring Hubbard.
At the end of his 2016 Freedom Now speech https://ctproduced.com/freddie-jazz-and-people-movement/, former Downbeat editor Dan Morgenstern said “music speaks most effectively when it does so on its own terms and not mixed with political rhetoric.” Library Of Congress & Library Of Congress. Music Division, S. B. (2016) Freedom Now: Jazz & the Civil Rights Movement. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, -04-21. [Video] Retrieved from … Continue reading.
This presumes that musicians of any race are not allowed to have actual positions on issues or that they can adequately voice them through their instrument. It is further conflated, as it was with the JPM, with both the issue and race, in this case race is an overlay on the issue. This is seen in many of the reviews of the 1970 Atlantic records controversial “Songmy”. Most reviews simply passed it off as anti-war The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz (ISBN 051753343X) described it as “The anti-war concept album composed by Ilhan Mimaroglu (Sing Me A Song Of Songmy) featured the lyrical, emotional … Continue reading – Scott Yanow reviewing the album for Allmusic describes it as “sincere” but says “jazz fans should look elsewhere.” https://www.allmusic.com/album/sing-me-a-song-of-songmy-mw0000870405.
Uniquely, in billing Hubbard for a live performance visit in November 1977, the University of Alberta said “His stay with Atlantic Records is probably best remembered by the controversial and revolutionary “fantasy for electro-magnetic tape” called Sing Me a Song of Songmy which featured poetry and a chorus in a protest of war and violence. The Gateway (1977-11-24) – University of Alberta. Perhaps, this was precisely because Hubbard was performing in Canada rather than America where both the Vietnam war, and this album were received very differently.
Rather than simply anti-war, the album is both anti-violence, anti-hate, and uses choir and voice to parallel the role of organized religion in atrocities.
Son My village is located in Quang Ngai province, Vietnam. My Lai is a subdivision of Son My. My Lai was the location of one of the USA’s darkest incidents among many during the Vietnam war. The site of what was known as the “My Lai Massacre” where the US Army murdered, raped and mutilated some 400 unarmed civilians in Vietnam in 1968. The cover picture on the album sleeve is “MASSACRE IN KOREA” by Pablo Picasso.
İlhan Mimaroğlu https://www.discogs.com/artist/76038-Ilhan-Mimaroglu was an established Turkish producer for Atlantic. He was among a famous cohort of Turkish émigrés at Atlantic Records that included co-founder Ahmet Ertegun and his brother Nesuhi. The album includes Arif Mardin in conductor and organist role, Mardin would produce the Bee Gees, Hall & Oates, Anita Baker, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Donny Hathaway, Roberta Flack, and so many others.
Mimaroğlu has Freddie and his Quintet then consisting of which consisted of tenor-saxophonist Junior Cook, pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Art Booth and drummer Louis Hayes, to overdub on the album which includes many innovative, unique techniques and is a new benchmark in music. The album though is just a little on the left of avant-garde. In addition to Hubbard and Quintet, the album also includes a chorus and string orchestra, led by concertmaster and CTI regular Gene Orloff. Importantly, as well as tape it includes recitations, and here Freddie Hubbard makes an important contribution.
The album whose full title is “Sing Me A Song Of Songmy (A Fantasy For Electromagnetic Tape)” https://www.discogs.com/master/70371-Freddie-Hubbard-%C4%B0lhan-M%C4%B0maro%C4%9Flu-Sing-Me-A-Song-Of-Songmy-A-Fantasy-For-Electromagnetic-Tape was recorded in November and December 1970, and released July in 1971. This was after Hubbard had recorded his first album for CTI “Red Clay” and it definitely was NOT “in the middle of his CTI run” as described Music Hound, 7th Edition, Penguin.
Half a century later, Mimaroğlu’s album is seen by many, including me, as innovative and historic. It presents both musical, societal and political statements, using innovative tape loop techniques and early synthesizers. The album features Freddie Hubbard and his quintet providing for the dramatic, emotional music that underscores the words. It also features Hubbard himself giving a reading.
Rather than being part of Hubbard’s pantheon, this should be seen as a bold step towards free jazz in an avant-garde setting, that blends improvised music with composed music. Hubbard had performed free and avant-garde before in his collaborations with Eric Dolphy during the 1960’s. He also appeared on Coltrane’s “Ascension” (1965) and Ornette Coleman’s “Free Jazz” (1960), both significant milestones of 20th century avant-garde music.
The album opens with disjointed track using words from films of Sharon Tate https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharon_Tate and the trial for the murder of Tate by members of the Manson Family cult in 1969. The words reflect a violent and religious devil worship paradox, that was frequently used in popular culture of the time, including Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and more.
The Hubbard Quintent enter on “This Is The Combat I Know”, the first musical track and sees Hubbard in bombastic and lyrical mood. This makes it clear Hubbard was a key part of the album, rather than simply a drop-in artist with a featured track and reading. Between Arif Mardin as conductor of the orchestra and choir, and Mimaroğlu’s arrangements using tape and synthesizer, they marshal the sounds so that the darting synth’ from side to side as well as the quartets rhythm continues to flow.
“This Is The Combat I Know” sets the tone for the rest of the album, and marks it as music a music album as a protest album.
Another track, “What a Good Time for Kent State.” tackles the Kent State shootings, on May 4, 1970. A quiet opening leads to a frenzy of Hubbard, while the choir chants the names of the four unarmed students killed by the Ohio National Guard while protesting the American invasion of Cambodia. Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer, and William Knox Schroeder. It is this rather than the Vietnam war that Picasso’s “MASSACRE IN KOREA” is used on the cover to illustrate – Robotic soldiers preparing to shoot unarmed people.
Side two of the vinyl album opens with the Quintet in fine form on “Monodrama” followed by Freddie reading Fazıl Hüsnü Dağlarca’s poem “Black Soldier”. Another from the Turkish cohort, Dağlarca’s poem picks up from Langston Hughes First World War poem, “The Colored Soldier” which expresses similar sentiments, albeit from half a century earlier https://www.si.edu/object/AAADCD_item_9538. Kenny Baron’s piano is a fine foil for Hubbard on “Interlude 1” that follows.
You black man,
Private First Class
For freedom you shoot down
your own freedom.
Your body lies crucified on a steel cross.
The cross is profit and forced slavery too.
It sells an abuse.
Your palm bleeds whenever they shake your hand.
You black manFazıl Hüsnü Dağlarca’s poem “Black Soldier”
Private First Class
You are the night,
which has locked itself into darkness.
The audio linked below is provided by the Internet Archive’s Boston Public Library LP Records / Music, Arts & Culture / Unlocked Recordings collections where you can download the entire album and see the original gatefold album cover https://archive.org/details/lp_sing-me-a-song-of-songmy-a-fantasy-for-ele_ilhan-mimaroglu-freddie-hubbard.
“Songmy” is an epic album, full of emotional playing and advanced electronics. Musically it uses the full range of voices available in 1970 and is artistically excellent. The overlapping sounds of voice, orchestra and Hubbard’s trumpet and Kenny Barron’s piano blur the lines. It’s neither poetry and readings with music, or music with poetry and readings.
It would be easy to point the sell-out finger at Hubbard and probably forget “Sing Me a Song of Songmy”. It seems that later, this is exactly what Freddie wanted. In my hand written notes about various pieces and performances by Freddie I had this quote, with no source or citation. Anyone?
You have to wonder if this album had Dylan reading the poetry a reciting his own words over his electric guitar if reviewers would have dealt with the album in the same way?
In 1983, Freddie Hubbard would be reunited with İlhan Mimaroğlu to record and produce another Atlantic Records album, “Sweet Return”; In 1991, Hubbard would release his album “Bolivia”, produced by one time CTI staffer David Snyder. The album track titles included “Third World” and “Bolivia,” the latter written by the pianist Cedar Walton. The album carries more than a hat-tip to Gato Barbieri’s 1973 album of the same name, produced by Bob Thiele for Flying Dutchman. Irrespective of where the above unsourced quote was from, in 1991 Hubbard’s own ongoing sociopolitical commitment was still there.
Mimaroğlu would go on to start his own imprint, Finnadar Records https://www.discogs.com/label/21130-Finnadar-Records?sort=year&sort_order=asc distributed by Atlantic Records. Finnadar issued a series of albums that were both experimental and electronic and included a number of his own albums between 1972 and 1984. From 1973 until 1980, he produced a show on culture and politics on New York City’s WBAI radio station. He also contributed art criticism to Voice of America https://findingaids.library.columbia.edu/ead/nnc-rb/ldpd_12572058#using_collection. The original recording tapes for the “Songmy” album are held in the Columbia University Libraries, in the İlhan Mimaroğ̆lu Papers, 1926-2012 https://findingaids.library.columbia.edu/ead/nnc-rb/ldpd_12572058/dsc/4#subseries_3
The album was a commercial flop making, “Songmy” is hard to find at all, much less in the $1-bin on vinyl, so be prepared to pay >$20. It took me some 2-years of record store shopping to find a quality copy. Mimaroğlu discusses the label and briefly the “Songmy” album in this October 1975 interview with Charles Amirkhanian https://archive.org/details/AM_1975_10_10.
In August of 1972 the last American combat soldiers left Vietnam, leaving the Air Force and support personnel.
If you are not acquainted with the fate of African Americans and the bitterness they felt toward anything related to Vietnam, recommended reading would be Wallace Terry’s book “Bloods” – Published by Random House Duck, Duck Go search for copies of the book https://archive.org/details/bloodsblackveter00terr. It includes the oral testimony of 20 black military veterans, and totally makes a great partner to the album.
Dan Morgenstern – Freedom Now
In 2016, Morgenstern was invited to give a talk on Jazz and The Civil Rights Movement, it is recorded and available from the Library Of Congress and can be streamed below.
Dick Cavett’s Vietnam
The second post for Hubbard’s 2023 born-day celebration is about Freddie’s appearance on the Cavett show. The first post has a video of Hubbard on Late Night with Letterman in 1984.
This is the much lauded Dick Cavett’s history of Vietnam. It lasts some 56-minutes. Remarkably, and somewhat predictably as good as it is, it makes no mention of the black protest and doesn’t include a single black person from the military, political, entertainment or civil rights fields. Cavett in his show, and included in a segment in the film even has a panel of five veterans from the Vietnam war, not a single black man. It is still worth watching, even at 1-hour in length.
April 18th, 2023 10am – added “Black Soldier” poem; added details on tracks dropped in a late draft.
April 18th, 2023 12pm – Added brief bio details for Mimaroğ̆lu plus details of his personal papers.