In my early recording days with Clef Records (owned and operated at that time by Norman Granz), I from time to time would discuss intended recording sessions beforehand over the phone from L.A. to Toronto with him. On one of these telephone discussions Norman brought up the fact that he wanted us to do an album that had a definitive blues feeling to it. The date was finally set and the Trio came to L.A. to fulfill a nightclub gig, and it was during this engagement that Norman pressed for us to get the album done.We started the recording session one afternoon just shortly after midday, and as the session progressed, Norman from time to time would leave the control room and come into the studio to go over each tune verbally with us, pertaining to the feeling that he would like each selection to have. It is true that various tunes on the album do not fulfill the blues harmonic pattern, some of them being ballads, and others being more uptempo, such as "Band Call" and "Honeydripper."
After we had recorded almost enough time to fill the album, Norman returned to the studio once more and said, â€œI want one tune that has a distinctive blues pattern to it. I don't care about all the modern harmonic changes and riffs; I want you to revert to the earliest blues-type format in playing this particular take.â€
I decided that the only way that we could satisfy his unquenchable thirst for the early blues feel was to revert to a Baptist-type church approach. I told the group (Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen) to let me have the first chorus by myself, and they were to join me from then on throughout the tune.
I tried, to the best of my ability, to recall the various church renderings of numerous Negro spirituals that I grew up with, and within this form I attempted to construct the melodic and harmonic first chorus of what was to become the "Hymn to Freedom." The melodic and harmonic line is total simplicity within itself, and to my thinking, personifies a form of Negro spiritual that might be sung in almost any of the black churches of America.
After I finished the first chorus, I looked up at Ray and Ed and nodded for them to join me on the tune. They did so, with Ray taking a two-beat approach to the bass line, and Ed joined in softly with his brushes. During the improvised solo passages that followed, I glanced up at the control room glass, and could see Norman with his eyes closed and his head buried in his hands. As the blues spiritual deepened, we all seemed to react with exactly the same impetus. When it was over, Norman came into the studio smiling and said something about, "That's the way you guys should have played this whole session." Realizing that the material was original, he asked me what the title should be and I decided, due to the predominance of Martin Luther King, Jr. at the time, and the intense focus on the Civil Rights Movement taking place, that it should be called "The Hymn to Freedom."
A few months after the session, Norman and I were discussing the album and he brought up the possibility of having lyrics put to the tune. He contacted a lady by the name of Harriette Hamilton, and asked her to write the lyrics, which she did, and thus was born the true "Hymn to Freedom" song as we know it today.
Sometime after its release, I started receiving calls from various parts of the United States and Europe about this selection, informing me that in various parts of the country, and the world for that matter, the "Hymn to Freedom" was being sung in various places as an anthem to the Civil Rights Movement.
Over that period of time, up to and including the present day, the song has been performed by various choral groups of varying sizes. I had the honor of being present in Aachen, Germany to hear the Deutsche Welle Choir of fifty voices perform it at the ceremony during which I was given the UNESCO International Music Prize.
I am indeed truly proud of this composition, which came about due to Norman's insistence, and I feel that he deserves to be considered part composer of the selection.
During a very personal memorial tribute that my wife and members of St. Peter's, Erindale Church arranged after Norman's death, "The Hymn to Freedom" was the final selection played on a tape during the ceremony.
I feel that perhaps in reality the Hymn realistically belongs to my dear friend, Norman Granz.
NOTE: On a recent visit to Canada by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II celebrating her Golden Jubilee, the Hymn was once again performed as a closing selection of a Gala Tribute Concert by various Canadian artists, including yours truly and my quartet. During the rehearsal in the afternoon, a lady was brought to my dressing room and introduced herself as Susan Wright, Choral Director of the Newfoundland Symphony Youth Choir, who joined the Quartet, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelsohn Choir in performing the "Hymn To Freedom" as the finale of the Tribute to Her Majesty and Prince Philip. Ms. Wright informed me that the "Hymn to Freedom" has been adopted as the unofficial anthem of youth choirs throughout the world, and that these choirs always close their concerts with "Hymn to Freedom."
I consider this to be another ongoing honor to a great musical visionary and a dear and unforgettable friend, NORMAN GRANZ.