Let Freedom Swing
What happens when a legend of American law, Sandra Day O’Connor, sits down with a legend of American music, Wynton Marsalis? A freewheeling conversation about jazz and democracy in America.
It turns out that America’s democracy and America’s first original art form have a lot in common. Both call on participants to engage with each other and to work together towards a common purpose. Both encourage participants to express themselves but at the same time require them listen to what each has to say. And both allow participants to reinterpret the work of the past in the present … and in the future.
America has always held out the ideals of freedom and inclusion, but even from the days the Constitution was written, the country has struggled to uphold those ideals. The very first article of the Constitution says that enslaved African-Americans are to be counted as only “three fifths of all other Persons.” For much of our country’s early history, only white men who owned land were allowed to vote; women didn’t get the vote until the 1920s. Segregation was the law across much of the land as late as 1954.
But almost from the moment it began, jazz has been a music of inclusion. Even from its earliest days, it brought all sorts of people, from all kinds of backgrounds, to the same stage. In the days before Jim Crow laws were struck down, jazz musicians crossed color lines to play together, often risking their lives. “Jazz,” says Sandra Day O’Connor in the film, “has helped us bridge the gap between the races in our country.”
Produced in partnership with Jazz at Lincoln Center, Teachers College at Columbia University and the Rockefeller Foundation, the three films that comprise Let Freedom Swing use innovative filmmaking techniques and interweave interviews with scholars and musicians of all ages and backgrounds to tell the story of these two spectacular innovations. “We the People” explores how both jazz and democracy give each participant a voice and a stake. “E Pluribus Unum” examines the idea that participants in both jazz and democracy must work together if they are to function, and certainly if they are to flourish. “A More Perfect Union” looks at America struggle to include all the people in its democracy, and how jazz often led the way as American society began to change.
“Our union is an imperfect union. We’re always working to make it more perfect,” Wynton Marsalis says. “We’re always trying to achieve something that would be better for all of us.”
- NEA Arts Magazine – Nat Hentoff
2010 CINE Golden Eagle Award
Let Freedom Swing is honored to receive the Fall 2010 Cine Golden Eagle Award for Adult Education and Entertainment.
- Let Freedom Swing Website
Jazz & Democracy Project
Jazz Lessons for K-12
Jazz and American Democracy: A Symposium (Video)
White House Jazz Studio
- Writer, Producer and Narrator, Robe Imbriano
Associate Producer, Gregory Blanc
Editor, Marc Tidalgo
Graphics Animators, Victoria Nece and Hiroaki Sasa
Photography, Edward Marritz
Production Associate, Andy Ogden
Field Producer, María E. Matasar-Padilla
Supervising Producers, Lowery and Heidi Christenson
Sound, Mark Mandler
Gaffer, Ned Hallick
Additional Photography, Michael Pruitt-Bruun and Daryl Patterson
Production Accountants, Mara Connolly and Andrea Yellen
Graphics Intern, Michael Troung
Interns, Emily Tango and Michael Chance
Assistant to the Executive Producer, Lauren Mitte
Senior Producer, Kayce Freed Jennings
Executive Producer, Tom Yellin