The Race Riot Suite was written by Chris Combs for the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey quartet (Brian Haas piano, Chris Combs lap steel, Josh Raymer drums, Jeff Harshbarger bass) plus horn quintet. In January 2011 the band recorded the piece at Tulsa’s hallowed Church Studio with guest horn players Jeff Coffin (Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, Dave Matthews Band), Steven Bernstein (Sex Mob, Levon Helm), Peter Apfelbaum (Hieroglyphics, Don Cherry), Mark Southerland (Snuff Jazz), & Matt Leland (a founding JFJO member).
In 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma was home to the most powerful and affluent African-American community in the country. In one of the largest racial conflicts and cover-ups in America’s history “Black Wall Street” was burned to the ground. The Race Riot Suite is a long form musical work that tells the story of the evolution & destruction of one of America’s greatest cultural epicenters in one of the least understood atrocities of the Jim Crow era.
The Suite serves as vehicle for insight & reflection on the event itself, as well as a tool for understanding the ways in which these issues continue to pervade our modern day culture and society. In addition the suite is a celebration of the vibrant and resilient Greenwood community that has risen from the ashes again and again, and continues to endure to this day.
The 1921 Riot was essentially a real-estate motivated ethnocide, with Tulsa’s oil-elite and KKK ridden local government and press working to take advantage of the racially tense climate that pervaded Jim Crow era Oklahoma. Much of the Greenwood neighborhood was rebuilt after it’s destruction, once again becoming a cultural centerpiece of the Midwest through the 30’s & 40’s. Many of Jazz’s biggest names regularly stopped through Tulsa on their way to and from New Orleans, Kansas City, and Chicago.
The district was destroyed yet again by the city in the early 1980’s in the name of “urban renewal”. Interstate 244 now cuts through the heart of Black Wall Street, while the new Drillers Ballpark rests atop the ashes of the Greenwood neighborhood of years past. Finding ourselves in the midst of an a beautiful local Tulsa pride movement, our community must ensure that Greenwood’s independent, locally owned businesses are warmly embraced.