“Everybody in all countries tries to play jazz.” – Thelonious Monk
As Europeans have produced some of the most important musical icons of the classical music genre, all over the world there are concert halls that dedicate their performances and seasons to Beethoven, Wagner, Brahms, and endless composers. Hundreds of years has gone since many of these legendary composers have died yet the educational and political stigma of classical music over the years here in the United States seems to be steeped in that this is and still is, ‘a music for the rich and those in power.’ I happen to love and appreciate all musics including classical, but as I was growing up as a child into an adult, all I kept seeing at concert halls were upper-middle class white folks attending these concerts. Very seldom, and still today, do I see people of color reach out to classical music community.
Over the last 30 years that I’ve watched, followed, and covered music, jazz music has become like classical music in regards to how it’s being perceived in the public eye as well as how many people of color don’t support the music like they did when jazz music was the popular music during the 1930’s until the mid-1970’s. Ragtime and the blues evolved into big bands, be-bop, avant-garde, Latin jazz, Afro-Cuban, gypsy jazz, and later fusion. The late jazz trombonist J.J. Johnson said, “Jazz is restless. It won’t stay put and it never will”. Many of the old jazz heads loved Miles Davis from his “Birth of Cool” and “Kind of Blue” days, but, when he went electric, it was like the equivalent of Bob Dylan ditching the acoustic guitar and harmonica and going electric and rock and roll full-time. Miles was moving in another direction musically, socially, and mentally. Just like jazz and hip-hop, the movement progresses onward.
Jazz music gave birth here in the United States due to the lack of education music studied in schools due to lack of resources as well as the racial and political climates that permeated during the racist Jim Crow era. After the Civil War in the south during the late 1860’s, Blacks were forced into a new period called Reconstruction. It was this period when people of color began to form black colleges and introduce academia to cater to services that blacks could earn a decent living and take care of their family and community. Sharecropping was also another form of indentured slavery to the plantation owners who provided food and housing for their labor services. The educated and the working class Blacks during this time came together at the end of the day and generally on weekends to two places. The church and the juke joints, which later became the nightclubs and bars. These two venues served as a place to seek refuge in the Lord as well dancing and drinking. Music at the time was steeped in the gospel as well as the blues. Since music wasn’t modern then, musicians of this era had learned how to sing spirituals and blues songs from memory from their ancestors. The music was played on the instruments that become the foundations of jazz and blues music in the early 1900’s. The harmonica, banjo, trumpet, guitar, piano, and drums were used in the church and juke joints as a means of economy and lack of resources. Whereas in Europe, the musicians were classically trained in theory and composition and that’s how schools of academia had kept the classical music tradition alive and well for hundreds of years.
The musicians here in the United States, especially people of color didn’t have the resources nor couldn’t really grasp of the strict discipline to play the music at the start of the century. Plus, musicians here in the states couldn’t relate to the music because it wasn’t ours from the beginning and also no soul! Thats the beauty of this music called jazz, Blacks express themselves from the depths of their souls to create a music here that was both dirty, beautiful, original, and innovative. It is the only original art-form that was created by architects like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn, Benny Goodman, Charlie Christian, Thelonious Monk, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, and the other endless icons that shaped this glorious music.
On April 30, 2012 the world took part in one of the most important cultural events that paid tribute in honor to America’s only true art-form, jazz music. For 24 hours, many live concerts, jazz seminars, documentary screenings, and jazz music workshops were held on the first International Jazz Day created by 14 time Grammy-Award winning pianist and composer Herbie Hancock. Hancock, is UESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Intercultural Dialogue and Chairman, Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.
“In November 2011, during the UNESCO General Conference, the international community proclaimed April 30 as ‘International Jazz Day.’ UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization along with Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, were this year’s keynote organizers of this global gala. The festivities kicked off in Paris, France with performances and educational programs at UESCO headquarters. Then, a special sunrise concert in New Orleans, Louisiana, the birthplace of jazz music at the famed Congo Square. International Jazz Day concluded at General Assembly Hall at the United Nations for a special sunset concert in downtown New York City.
This year’s International Day participants included: Terence Blanchard, Tony Bennett, Richard Bona, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Candido, Ron Carter, Vinnie Colaiuta, Robert Cray, Eli Degibri, George Duke, Jack DeJohnette, Sheila E., Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Heath, Zakir Hassain, Chaka Khan, Angelique Kidjo, Lang Lang, Joe Lovano, Romero Lubambo, Shankar Mahadevan, Wynton Marsalis, Hugh Masekela, Christian McBride, Danilo Perez, Bobby Sanabria, Wayne Shorter, Esperanza Spaulding, Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, Hiromi Uehara,Tarek Yamani, and soul music legend Stevie Wonder.
Herbie’s vision was keen on that a real International Jazz Day reflects a day where the musicians and the music is put on the pedestal globally. It also shows the world how jazz music has influenced musicians all over the world. The night showcased that with pianist Hiromi who hails from Japan, Lang Lang from China, Eli Degibri from Isreal, Danilo Perez from Panama, and Hugh Masekela from South Africa. This music started here and has expanded all over the world, just to think the music is under 120 years old! Herbie also did an outstanding job appointing pianist/keyboardist George Duke as the music director for the evening’s concert. Duke did an amazing job putting together a show that showcased all spectrums of jazz music. From the vocal side featuring performances from Dee Dee Bridgewater, Chaka Khan, and Esperanza Spaulding, to the blues tribute with guitarists Robert Cray, Derek Trucks, and Susan Tedeschi.
Overall, this event was a masterpiece for jazz music and somewhat of a resurrection of the music brought back to life to the mainstream. International Jazz Day is something that we should all look forward to as well as support year round.
To find out more about next year’s International Jazz Day or to watch the entire sunset concert, please visit them on the web at http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco/events/prizes-and-celebrations/celebrations/international-days/international-jazz-day/
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