Touching down in Salt Lake City is an unforgettable experience. As the plane descends, miles and miles of teal and turquoise from the saline waters bleed into the deep adobe and camel sands of the city’s bordering mountains. Driving through SLC’s major highway, one peak stands out from the mineral canvas. I asked my friend to pull over so that I could take a closer look at this anomaly – a steep, jagged hill completely covered in neon tags, fiery personal declarations, and cartoon portraits. This revolutionary formation is called Suicide Rock.
Legend has it that the natural structure was initially used by the indigenous American community as a watch tower. It received its harrowing nickname when a young maiden jumped from the top and plummeted to her death after hearing about the loss of her Brave. In the past few decades, locals have transformed the tragic site into a creative billboard, some of them falsely believing that anti-graffiti laws do not apply to this zone. Sitting at the mouth of Parley’s Canyon, this captivating rock face has evolved into a channel for the unpredictable, incendiary and misunderstood voices in the city.
The symbolic twist that Suicide Rock has taken brings to mind the trajectory of another instrument of change – the trumpet. As we cap off jazz appreciation month, we often reflect on all the groundbreaking composers who invented and progressed this art form. Where would we be today without Jelly Roll Morton’s lively rhythms? Or Thelonious Monk’s artful dissonances? Or Charlie Parker’s development of bebop?
But it is important to explore the power of the trumpet itself, an apparatus that has inspired the genius of artists like Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Chet Baker and Art Farmer. The earliest incarnations of this instrument dates back to 1500 B.C.E, where remnants were found in King Tut’s tomb. These were the first indications that the brass tool was utilized in religious ceremonies. The wake-up bugle call may be dreaded these days by non-morning people, but historically, the trumpet was used to relay pivotal messages in military settings.
The trumpet is deeply rooted in spiritual and communication contexts, but the pioneers of jazz broke it free from its sanctioned settings. The virtues of the instrument – its hypnotic brass timbre, the infinite range of notes it produces, its mobility – found new meaning in the late 19th and 20th centuries.
In the midst of the civil rights movement, Miles Davis simultaneously projects clarity and uncertainty in “So What.” Dizzy Gillespie charges from calmness to disruption in “Salt Peanuts.” Art Farmer sways between peacefulness and frustration in “Out of the Past.” In underground jazz clubs in New Orleans, New York, LA and various hot spots in the US, musicians used their trumpet to convey disparate and passionate messages in a changing world.
– Ria Nevada