By Request: My Thoughts On International Jazz Day

I am posting about this topic because of a special request via my Facebook account. If you’d like me to blog about something, just let me know and I’ll do my best to honor your request.

This past Tuesday was International Jazz Day. Did you celebrate? How does one celebrate Jazz day? How long have we been celebrating this holiday, and by whose decree? It is a most peculiar holiday to me – since I’m not sure if it’s a sincere holiday or a marketing ploy (if it’s a marketing ploy it’s an utterly ridiculous one, who will celebrate Jazz just because someone tells them to?). Is it even a proper “holiday” or should I call it something else? Why is it April 30? Why not April 28, Duke Ellington’s birthday? Why April?! Obviously I find it very confusing. As a Jazz musician or Jazz fan everyday is “Jazz Day”; if you like Jazz (or love it) then it does not need to be compartmentalized into one day, and if you don’t like Jazz (or rather, if you don’t know about it) then you aren’t going to discover it on an arbitrary day.

I consider myself an advocate for Jazz and I appreciate every effort to help introduce people to something that I truly believe will make them happy and their lives better. In that sense, I really want to support International Jazz Day, I say – “Yes, shout Jazz from the rooftops!” At the same time, however, I don’t think anyone is doing Jazz any favors by separating it from our daily lives and making it seem like a lost cause the United Nations had to save from obscurity. But, maybe I am wrong and JazzDay doesn’t actually exist to advocate Jazz, maybe it’s advocating something else? The JazzDay website says the day is to “celebrate and learn about jazz and its roots, future and impact; raise awareness of the need for intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding; and reinforce international cooperation and communication.”

Hmm…that’s quite a mission statement right there. Reinforce international cooperation? Why doesn’t it say, “teach about the music of Louis Armstrong”? Or Charlie Parker? Or Wayne Shorter? Or Albert Ayler? It seems to me that in that entire mission statement Jazz gets very little attention.

All that being said, I hate to rally the troops against the idea of a day for Jazz recognition and I’m sure that some good came out of this past April 30, but I am undecided about it. Maybe if they have a parade next year I’ll be more supportive – after all, who doesn’t love a parade?

Did you have a positive experience regarding Jazz Day? Did you know it was Jazz Day? Do you think it’s ridiculous? Tell me….

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8 Responses to By Request: My Thoughts On International Jazz Day

  1. Hans Schuman says:

    Firstly, any initiative dedicated to elevating jazz music’s stature and profile in the world is a good thing. When it happens (April or otherwise) is arbitrary. Secondly, the objectives of International Jazz Day are not to save or preserve the art form (as if it’s dying) or promote the legacies or achievements of any of the genre’s central contributors, but to merely celebrate its rich vitality and dynamism and illuminate its unique capacity to (at its best) reflect the highest levels of artistic expression and aesthetic self-realiztion. The triumph of the jazz tradition is (however ironic) a triumph of our democratic heritage and the notion that if we are free, anything is possible. Making jazz (among other things) requires great empathy, compassion, conviction, feeling and soul and has often bridged ethnic, cultural, economic, religious differences. That said, taking a day to make jazz a greater part of our collective consciousness and using it (metaphorically) as a means to illustrate that which is possible when we collaborate in the spirit of creativity and a single, unified mission, is a day well spent. – Hans Schuman, Founder / Executive-Artistic Director, JazzReach, Inc., NYC (http://www.jazzreach.org)

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    • eenan says:

      Hans,
      You need an intervention. If you are being paid for what you do, you are very clever.

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    • Hans, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I don’t disagree with you outright – I can’t argue that any initiative dedicated to elevating Jazz’s stature in the world is a bad thing. But it troubles me that you, and the International Jazz Day website, both speak about celebrating Jazz without celebrating it’s individual contributors. Without those individuals contributors there is nothing to celebrate. It’s all very well and good to say that “the triumph of the Jazz tradition” is a triumph of our democratic heritage, but it’s actually a triumph of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Earl Hines, etc. They made this music and I don’t want to see them written out of their own history. Freedom did not create Jazz. Democracy did not create it, nor did America. Those things might have been involved of course, but without the people who made this music, there is no music. I don’t want to see their legacy white washed (no pun intended) and forgotten so that we can celebrate the concept “if we are free, anything is possible” instead.

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      • Hans Schuman says:

        You’re absolutely correct. Freedom did not “create” jazz. On the contrary, oppression and the struggle, yearning and desire to be free did. And, you’re right again, artists such as Armstrong, Ellington, Miles, Earl Hines etc. most certainly made major contributions to the development and refinement of the art form, but not in a vacuum. Who they were and what they contributed could not have been possible outside of a democratic context. At the end of the day. International Jazz Day is nothing more than diplomatic pageantry. The genre (and what it signifies to the rest of the world) is larger than the artists themselves (i.e. the sum is greater than the parts). Just because its not called “International Jazz History Day” doesn’t make it a rejection or denial of any particular artists’ stature or greatness. In fact, the day could not have been conceived or carried out if it were not on the shoulders of all those who have dedicated their lives to it.

        The list of participants in the International Jazz Day “global concert” in Istanbul includes: pianists John Beasley, George Duke, Robert Glasper, Herbie Hancock, Ramsey Lewis, Keiko Matsui and Eddie Palmieri; vocalists Rubén Blades, Al Jarreau, Milton Nascimento, Dianne Reeves and Joss Stone; trumpeters Terence Blanchard, Imer Demirer and Hugh Masekela; bassists James Genus, Marcus Miller, Esperanza Spalding and Ben Williams; drummers Terri Lyne Carrington and Vinnie Colaiuta; guitarists Bilal Karaman, John McLaughlin, Lee Ritenour and Joe Louis Walker; saxophonists Dale Barlow, Igor Butman, Branford Marsalis, Wayne Shorter and Liu Yuan; clarinetists Anat Cohen and Hüsnü Şenlendirici; violinist Jean-Luc Ponty; Pedrito Martinez and Zakir Hussain on percussion. These artists (among many, many others around the world) reflect the vitality, diversity and dynamism of jazz today. All of them are as serious as they come and (in my humble opinion) deserve recognition (like all the great artists who preceded them) for their artistry, creativity and representing the highest standards of excellence.

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  2. Lynn goucher says:

    You are such a great writer Champian! I love the questions you raise about International Jazz Day! “a lost cause the United Narions had to save from obscurity”!!!! Very funny yet thought-provoking too. I wonder what it really does mean to people. I hear people say”I don’t like jazz.” How can you not like jazz? Do they even know what jazz is? If you ask them if they like Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington they’ll probably say yes so ….. I say everybody likes jazz! It has a special power all it’s own. It doesn’t matter if you are a first grader or a convict in prison you’re gonna start snapping your fingers and dancing as soon as you hear some jazz!

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  3. Well said. Exceptional piece. A parade and festival would certainly make it a legitimate.

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