My Brooklyn neighborhood, called Kensington, is full of musicians, because residences are large and still semi-affordable. So I hear the guitarist across the street get excited while practicing, run into NEA Jazz Master pianist Kenny Barron when walking to the bakery and go to Sycamore, a flower shop-bar with basement recital room where on Sunday nights the Brooklyn Jazz Underground stages intimate, advanced concerts, one of my favorites being the Schoenbeck Eisenstadt Family, featuring drummer Harris E. and his wife bassoonist Sara S., with good buddies Mike McGinnis on clarinet and Marika Hughes, cello (young Owen Eisenstadt was left at home, which is nearby, with a sitter).
The local scene is unique, but also akin to jazz communities across the country and throughout the world, as the Jazz Journalists Association highlights with its first Jazz Day Blogathon.
Jazz Day — April 13 — was designated as such by the U.S. Council of Mayors; go to the blogathon to read reports (or watch brief eyeJAZZ style videos) of activities in Kuwait (!), Italy, Finland, Sweden, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Spartanburg SC, Philly and Ambler PA, Ottawa, Cleveland, Indianapolis and Cambridge MA, not to mention Manhattan’s Upper West Side and Washington Heights neighborhoods — all posted just in the first 24 hours of an online “event” that will last through April 30 (“International Jazz Day” as designated by UNESCO, thanks to Herbie Hancock).
What all the communities reporting in share is that local folks live the jazz they play and listen to. Jazzers in every community are scrappy, unpretentious, meritocritical (word?), fun-seekers. Jazz isn’t all they do, but jazzers are self-defined by keeping jazz very much in mind. We accept that jazz isn’t the commercial blockbusting, mainstream media darling that other musical forms can boast of being . . . and we tend to think that’s cool, as long as our music isn’t threatened by extinction, because we tend to think it has to last. Jazz has, after all, lasted for 100 or so years without being for most of them highly regarded much less generally respected or richly rewarded. But it rewards those of us involved in it, because the music, the process of creating it, the world-view it reflects seems to ring with something honest and true.
Which is not to say jazz communities can thrive without a little do-re-me, but on the other hand jazz activists learn how to make big fun out of what’s at hand. And we recognize each other wherever we go, so I’ve been able to make good friends fast on the island of Ponta Delgado in the Azores, in Amman, Jordan, in Kiev and Armenia, Cuba and Mexico, Gambia and London and Paris and Siena. Of course I really work at it — and I’m communitarianly (not so much communally) oriented. I still feel like part of the jazz community in Chicago where I grew up, though I moved out 30 years ago (I go back regularly). I have a stake in the jazz community in D.C., where I lived for only six months, decades back, and in San Francisco, Portland OR, Boston and New Orleans, all of which I like to visit. The ‘net lets us cast our communities broadly, and sustain ties cheaply, with ease — all to the good.
Some jazzers swear by the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer standard, “Free and Easy,” with its tagline “Any place I hang my hat is home.” Personally, I don’t go that far. Home is where I store my books and cds, snuggle up to my baby, keep my flutes, bang on the piano, sit at my desk, do the cooking. My current neighborhood is probably the most diverse, ethnically speaking, I’ve ever lived in, with an African Apostolic church on the corner, Russian emigrés up and down the block, our nice landlord and his large family representative of the greater Bangladeshi settlement around here, Hassids next door, people from the Caribbean isles and Mexico, cab drivers from everywhere and an influx of hipster refugees priced out of Manhattan. I ride my bike through this community, shop in its stores, explore its potential, try to be part of it, but in truth I only sorta fit in. Whereas my jazz community — I’m pretty comfortable in that. It’s not just a Brooklyn jazz underground; it’s everywhere, it’s everywhere. As the JJA blogathon starts to show.