Reginald Chapman

instrumentalist / arranger / composer / educator

Filtering by Tag: jazz

"We Shall Overcome" single out now



premiered by Music Is My Sanctuary 

“We Shall Overcome” has been used as an anthem for activism since the early days of slavery and has persisted through the civil rights movement of the 1960s and continues to be relevant today. Although this song has been performed in a variety of contexts (from Joan Baez at the March on Washington to Bruce Springsteen following terrorist attacks in Norway in 2011), this song reminds me of Dr. Martin Luther King and the black struggle for civil rights in America. During the 1960s, civil rights movement protestors of all colors and creeds marched in solidarity in the face of racism and police brutality to the soundtrack of “We Shall Overcome.” 

As a kid, I vividly remember my father playing recorded MLK speeches, often set to early 1990s electronic music. He would later remind me not to ever forget that the freedoms I have as a black man in America today were paid for by earlier generations. King’s “We Shall Overcome” speech mixes lyrics from the original spiritual song to encourage its listeners that the fight for freedom - which may include jail, the loss of job, or even physical death - is worth the effort if it can ensure freedom from psychological death for future generations. 


I first debuted my arrangement of this song for a Black History Month event at The Krannert Center for Performing Arts at The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. At the time, I had just started my doctoral degree in jazz studies and was getting into post-bop era John Coltrane. During my research, I came to learn that in 1963, Coltrane released his composition, “Alabama,” as a tribute to the four black girls who lost their lives in the white supremacist terror attack bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The tone of his improvisations mimicked that of King’s eulogy for the victims of the bombing. Black American music was and is linked to the history of struggle, perseverance, and overcoming.


Like Coltrane’s tribute, this rendition of “We Shall Overcome” combines a cry for racial equality and personal freedoms of the Negro spiritual, with musical elements of John Coltrane’s 1964 album, “A Love Supreme.” It is presented in 3/4 time in a droning modal minor key with plenty of dissonances throughout the accompanying harmony. The immutable melody is kept intact as it rises above the rhythm section, the same way it has managed to sail through history unchanged. Drummer Corey Fonville (Christian Scott, Butcher Brown) channels Elvin Jones with an apocalyptic approach to rhythmic superimpositions, while Devonne Harris (Stones Throw), conjures the spirit of McCoy Tyner comping swirling fourths harmony patterns on the keys. 


I have seen people who look like me murdered by the officials who have sworn to protect. I have watched these officials  walk free. I have seen modern cities, still segregated. I have walked into uneasy spaces. I have been forced to become an expert at portraying an unarming social anatomy. However, being sympathetic to marginalized and terrorized communities, I want to emphasize the “we” of humanity in the release of this single. I hope to subvert the “us and them” rhetoric to help us realize that it is not flesh and bones that we are fighting against, but broken systems and ideas. We are all in this together. We have come a mighty long way and overcome much, yet there is still ground to cover. As echoed in the lyrics of the original song, “deep in my heart I do believe” that “the arch of the moral universe leans towards justice” and “we shall overcome someday.”





In an interview in 1966, Coltrane told Frank Kofsky: “music is an expression of higher ideals… brotherhood is there; and I believe with brotherhood, there would be no poverty… there would be no war… I know that there are bad forces, forces put here that bring suffering to others and misery to the world, but I want to be a force which is truly for good.”[1]In his forward to the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1964, King writes, “Jazz speaks for life.... When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument. It is no wonder that so much of the search for identity among American Negroes was championed by Jazz musicians. Long before the modern essayists and scholars wrote of “racial identity” as a problem for a multi-racial world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was stirring within their souls.”

[1]Kofsky, Frank. Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970.





Pressure Fit Spring Tour 2018


     The very first tour under my name is completed. Of course I couldn’t do it alone! The contribution from my road brothers Elijah Harris, Kurt Shelby, James Russel Sims, Robert Brooks, Melvin Knight, and Ryan Easter was integral in making it a complete success. 

    We got cut by bass trumpet master Ryan Shultz’s band at Martyr’s on May 17th. I mean Pressure Fit sounded great, but we got cut. Although... I did get to see my name on a marque.         

    Due to the opportunity given to us by Hot and Dirty Brass we were able to play a very local watering hole in Milwaukee May 18th to a receptive audience. In return I ended up playin two 90 min sets. One with Pressure Fit on my sponsored BAC Bass Trumpet and Bass Trombone and another set with Hot and Dirty Brass on Mike Clobes’ Vintage sousaphone. To say the least I had to ice my chops all the next day. 

    On Saturday May 19th we had home field advantage we played Blackbird Urbana to a room packed with familiar and non familiar bodies and faces, dancing and smiling back at us. It was by far the biggest crowed we’ve played for in town. 

    On Monday may 21st we played in Louisville, Kentucky. Rebecca Rego graced us with a duo set of her autobiographicaly drenched, cryptic and subtle sonic songstress prowess. Following that was Local Heroes Billy Goat Strut, I had never heard 20’s and 30’s jazz and popular music played with such conviction by people who obviously identify highly with the form. Our set was litty and took us by surprise considering we were playing on a Monday night in a death metal bar in a foreign market. Huge thanks to new friends and fans made there, as well old friends. Also… we stayed at a goat farm that night, and I touched the electric fence even though I was warned multiple times not too… I’m that dude. 

    The next day, (may 22nd) after touring the goat farm and seeing the guard lama, we trekked to Cincinnati where we played at a brewery at a church on the most diverse bill ever known to singular cells growing out of the primordial sludge. It was tite tho!!! Shout out to Tomato Dodgers and to the music scene in Cincy. 

    The Tonic Room show in Chicago (may 24) with Emily Blue and Fay Ray was the most exciting in my opinion. It was like a reunion for old friends, I have had meaningful personal experiences with everyone that graced the stage last night. All the sets were next level and the fire in the room was contagious. 

    Our Founders Brewery show was a testament to the power of music. It took them a while to warm up to us, it might have been our avant tinged opening song… by the end we had people at the edge of the stage freaking out and we had to hide Melvin Knight from the ladies. 

    I am feeling super blessed from above and grateful to see the fruits of hard work, community, love, support and determination as shown through the last 10 days of touring with some of the most solid people I know. #Pressurfit #Dangustour

                        — Reginald Chapman 


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