Music is a powerful tool.
Every Genre of music in the 60s and 70s had a wide range of protest music, songs about liberation, themes of hardship and struggle, all focusing on facets of the African American experience as well as the overall spectrum of inner city American life. We all have our favorite iconic tunes; Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On full length album and title track to give as example. Marvin Gaye’s lyrics are the voice of an era. Like other songs of the same vain, lyrics are used to convey the message, but many jazz musicians who lived the same struggle and wanted to express their lyrics through song, they may not have had the luxury to use their voice, rather they voiced their emotion through instrumentation. Because the message was not blatant, some of these jazz songs may not have had the landmark significance as What’s Going On, and the only mention of protest is in the title of the song. This is where we pay homage to Herbie Hancock‘s album entitled The Prisoner, recorded in 1969, his last album on Blue Note Records.
Herbie Hancock is one of the longest tenured living jazz musicians, and he is recognized by his changing sound, and his ability to adapt. His commercialization is one of his greatest assets, and his ability to repeatedly bring jazz to new audiences is remarkable. Herbie Hancock may not be known as a political activist, but his recordings on The Prisoner are his versions of protest music. The themes of the songs revolve around Martin Luther King’s famous I Have A Dream speech, to African Americas “not yet being free”, to equality and humanitarian issues.
Tonally, The Prisoner is a wide ranging album, displaying a great example of free jazz and mostly acoustic jazz. This era in jazz was on the cusp of straight ahead jazz, electric jazz, and jazz fusion, and The Prisoner is a great representation of that. Songs such as The Prisoner are more abstract, while Firewater and I Have A Dream are more traditional with a quintessential jazz rhythm and sound. Overall, The Prisoner is a fabulous listen full of complexity and substance, as well as a reference of the revolutionary culture of 60’s black America.