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Music and the Movement

Jazz luminary Ron Miles provides the soundtrack to a multisensory celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.

January 18, 2019

By Cory Phare

Synesthesia is an intermingling of the senses; it’s what happens when someone “sees sound.”

Attendees at the 28th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Breakfast Friday at Metropolitan State University of Denver were invited to take part in this phenomenon, creating real-time personal artistic responses to the musical keynote from Ron Miles, professor of music and co-director of jazz studies.

A recent Grammy nominee for his work on Joshua Redman’s album “Still Dreaming,” Miles’ set featured “Alabama” by John Coltrane, said to be inspired by King’s eulogy for the 1963 Birmingham church bombing; two new original pieces evoking the connection between music and civil rights; and “Is there Room in your Heart for a Man Like Me?”, a tribute to King and his wife Coretta Scott, off the renowned 2017 release “I am a Man.”

In advance of his performance at the legendary Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Miles was joined by an ensemble consisting of faculty members Roger Green on guitar, Anisha Rush on alto saxophone and Solomon Chapman on piano; along with Amy Shelley on drums and Bill McCrossen on bass.

The signature event, emceed by media personality Gloria Neal, also honored four winners of the 2019 MLK Peace Award: Rebecca Dobbin, program assistant with the College of Letters, Arts and Science; Wilton Flemon, Ph.D., professor of chemistry; Virginia Castro, community activist and partner in MSU Denver’s Richard T. Castro Distinguished Visiting Professorship; and Tammy Garrett-Williams, author, senior pastor at Transformed Ministries, founder of Above Waters Project.

Additional University tributes to King included the recent Illuminate service drive and participation in the annual Marade taking place Jan. 21.

Miles concluded the multisensory performance hosted in the Tivoli Turnhalle with a concise benediction for attendees to carry back with them into their communities.

“It was an honor to play for you this morning – God bless,” he said.

Painting of MLK

MSU Denver Art student Brigitte Thompson paints an image of King in real-time during the 2019 MLK Peace Breakfast. 

“Jazz speaks for life. The Blues tell the story of life’s difficulties – and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph.

“This is triumphant music."

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., from the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival.


Gloria Neal, Janine Davidson and Tammy Garrett Williams

“Now I understand Dr. King’s dream, and his dream is mine. As he asked, ‘What are you doing for others?’ My answer is: I will continue to fight for social justice.” Rev. Tammy Garrett-Williams

Left to right: Event emcee Gloria Neal, MSU Denver President Janine Davidson and Garrett-Williams, receiving the 2019 MLK Peace Award.

Janine Davidson and Wilton Flemon

“What would (King) think if he were here today? What would he say to us – and what would we say to him? Have we kept his promise? I hope so.”

Wilton Flemon, Ph.D., professor of chemistry, receiving the 2019 MLK Peace Award recipient with MSU Denver President Janine Davidson. Flemon is going into his 51st year with the University.

People holding hands and singing in the Turnhalle

2019 MLK Peace Breakfast attendees clasping hands in song.

“Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.”

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., from the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival.

Ron miles

Ron Miles performs at the 2019 MSU Denver MLK Peace Breakfast.

"Everybody has the Blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for faith.

“In music, especially this broad category called Jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.”

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., from the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival.

Ron Miles and ensemble

Miles and ensemble performing in the Tivoli Turnhalle at the 2019 MLK Peace Breakfast.

Student painting a picture to the music

Artist Zach Armijo, painting to Miles' performance at the 2019 MLK Peace Breakfast in the Tivoli Turnhalle.

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