The Secret Lodge of the Masonic Jazz Musicians
Due to diffused reasons, the masonic rite was greatly appealing to the 20th century’s most acclaimed African American jazz musicians.
Perhaps because this was an opportunity to get to know other artists, because of the social aspects of camaraderie, or perhaps simply because of the pleasure of attending ceremonies and enjoying certain privileges, the Masonic Rite was always particularly appealing to musicians, especially to jazz players. Duke Ellington was one of the many who penetrated this mysterious world, along with characters such as Nat King Cole, WX Handy, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton and Paul Robeson.
Black Masonry actually began before the American Independence War, when a man named Prince Hall (1735-1807) was not admitted into St. John’s Lodge in Boston, Massachusetts. Hall was already a free man and an abolitionist, and thus, infuriated by the white men’s rejection, sought a different way of initiating his own order through different means. In 1775, he and fourteen other freed African Americans were initiated into Masonry by the British Military Lodge in Boston.
The Prince Hall Order became so popular that, merely three years later, the Grand Lodge of England gave them permission to expand to Philadelphia and Rhode Island. Throughout two centuries, Hall’s Masonry extended across the entire country, becoming the largest black fraternity in the world. By the 20th century, it had already become a political forum with members such as Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King Senior and Malcom X. On the other hand, some musicians found in Masonry an extravagant place with unlimited access to books; references to Ancient Egypt and alternative interpretations of the bible, which enabled them to combine pre-Christian ideas with the remnants of African religions. Perhaps the latter is somewhat similar to the very structure of jazz music, which combines fresh rhythms and lyrics derived from African music with the melody and harmony of Western musical tradition.
The Masonic Rite, additionally, tends to appeal to a more inspiring and cultured lifestyle that might be attractive, and necessary even, to the eccentric and elegant lineages that represent Jazz, so foreign to the focus of mainstream.
What we know about Jazz in Masonry is mainly taken from the diaries of musicians that partook in this society, but because of the brotherhood’s occult essence, how the Rite translated to music (or the other way around) remains a mystery. It is not hard to imagine, though, that the depth of Jazz would be the perfect hiding place for this secret.
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