International Jazz Day concert review (few elsewhere)

Read my short-hand review, please, in CityArts-New York of the sunset concert of International
Jazz Day in the General Assembly of the UN in New York City. The music of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Howlin’ Wolf , Leonard Bernstein and many more was manifest by all-stars of all ages (Esperanza Spalding, 28, to Candido Camero, 91), many ethnic backgrounds and aesthetic leanings (Chaka Khan, say, to Zakir Hussain).

This first International Jazz Day — April 30 2012 — was a phenomenal world-wide event, initiated by composer-pianist Herbie Hancock and reaching at the very least the 195 nations that had musicians playing Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” in tandem with his own performance of it at a sunrise concert in Congo Square, New Orleans. The sunset concert in the hallowed and vast
main hall of the UN was an impressively strong demonstration of jazz’s vitality and diversity, too. Videos of both entire shows as live-streamed (but poorly indexed) are now archived at the website of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, which co-sponsored the initiative with UNESCO.

It was amazing and for jazz devotees enormously heartening to watch the Secretary General of

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and kind of blue UN flag

the UN Ban Ki-moon on giant tv screens hung on the front wall of the General Assembly mention that “the UN flag is, after all, kind of blue,” and that he was “in the mood” to “sing sing sing,” thanking those of “take the A-train” to attend an event celebrating music that takes us from “April in Paris to autumn in New York, from a night in tunisia to Ipanema, and Birdland.”

It was inspiring to hear U.S. permanent representative to the UN Susan Rice say, “The origins and early developments of jazz are quintessentially American . . .Like democracy itself, jazz has structure, but within it you can say almost anything. . . . Now jazz is everyone’s music.” And she quoted Charlie Parker — “If you haven’t lived it, it can’t come out of your horn.” (Can you imagine George W. Bush’s UN ambassador John Bolton saying such things? Can you imagine these words being spoken on the floor of the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives? WHY NOT?)

It was incredible but so beautiful it brought tears to my hard old eyes to hear UNESCO General Director Irina Bokova say that although there is much disagreement and mystery about the origins of the term for our music , “to UNESCO, ‘jazz’ is another word for ‘life’.”

Irina Bokova, UNESCO General-Director

News of the first International Jazz Day events — held in Paris, New Orleans, New York City at the United Nations, some 200 nations in all — ought to be reverberating throughout jazz and other musics’ sites on the internet, but only the AP article, evidently crafted from contributions by music writer Nekesa Mumbi Moody, is besides mine an eyewitness account posted anywhere, so far.

JazzTimes has an advance article  DownBeat doesn’t mention International Jazz Day on its website at all. AllAboutJazz has re-posted R.J. DeLuke‘s blog article, buried in the “news” section under stories about bluesman Sonny Landreth performing and teaching at a festival next August, the Maryland Summer Jazz Festival next July, and an interview with organist Richard “Groove” Holmes (1931-1991, here named “Jazz Musician of the Day”). A Blog Supreme, usually dependable for relevant reports, also has only an advance article (but a nice picture of the UN General Assembly from Getty Images, which I can’t use here).

According to a jazz wife who gets her information first-hand, Herbie Hancock, appointed last year as a UNESCO cultural ambassador, had been walking around the rehearsals saying the U.S. has blown its chance to promote jazz as our own major, enduring contribution to humanity’s

UN General Assembly: Jazz was here

artistic heritage, but fortunately UNESCO has stepped up to embrace jazz for everyone the world-over. Whatever the reason the U.S. is so reluctant to support its artists and acknowledge other-than-commerical or classical arts, our nation has indeed created something in jazz to be proud of.

As UNESCO’s Ms. Bokova, who is Bulgarian, said in her remarks, “Jazz is the music that makes the most of the humanity’s diversity, that crosses all borders and brings people together. Jazz is not something that you only hear, it is something you feel deep inside that bursts forth in joyous expression. There is hardly a better school of sharing and cultural dialog.”

What a joy for those of us who have harbored that idea privately, perhaps thinking we must be

Herbie Hancock, initiator of International Jazz Day

delusional or sorely mistaken, to have the unique communicative powers of jazz certified from the podium of the one organization which, for all its flaws, attempts to oversee what’s happening on earth. Jazz is, evidently, a significant enough aspect of all peoples’ activities to rate one day a year out of 365 in its honor. Celebrating by playing it and listening to it globally, jazz people are trying to give back, and keep it going.

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  1. says

    Thank you, Howard. The Sunset Concert was truly remarkable for those of us who were fortunate to be present. Under the artistic leadership of Herbie Hancock (an NEA Jazz Master) and Tom Carter, President of the Thelonious Monk Institute, the 1st International Day for Jazz will go down as a defining moment for America’s music … jazz!

    • says

      Thanks for commenting, Wayne. I completely agree, Herbie and Tom and UNESCO did jazz a great service, which the jazz world ought to understand and, I believe, build upon. And thanks to the NEA for starting us down this road to official international recognition.

  2. says

    Thank you Howard for speaking about Jazz and the freedom of improvisation. Shame on all those publications for not mentioning and exalting the day. Jazz is an international language that is slowly (one by one) picking up followers. I’m sure next year the Jazz publications will all climb on board. Jazz is beauty, care, and love. It takes great dedication.

    • says

      Randy, thanks for your note. Those publications, I hope, still will comment on International Jazz Day, although their print schedules as monthly publications renders the “news” pretty old when it comes out 6 weeks or so after the fact. Yes, I expect next year the entire IJD will be planned further in advance, and more aggressively seek the press.

      JazzTimes, in fact, today posted a review of both New Orleans and New York’s UNESCO International Jazz Day concerts.

  3. Jeff Gaynor says

    I was fortunate to hear about this concert, if only an hour before it began, and was mesmerized throughout the webcast. Such an amazing array of talent, and music. I hope this phenomenal concert with such legendary performers gets wide distribution.

    As a bonus, it was very cool to see and hear Zakir Hussain, as I had just taken my 6th grade students to see him perform here in Ann Arbor a few weeks ago. As you might imagine, they had no idea what a tabla was – even after my in class prep, but they were entranced with both his commentary and his music. Of course, I had that same experience when I first witnessed Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Esperanza Spalding, Lang Lang, and others.

    • says

      Good you tog to see the concert, Jeff. I learned there was a PBS crew in attedance, doing a 10-camera shoot which captured a better sound mix than is on the current video (the live-streamed version). I hope they’ll leave in everything.

  4. Doug Moody says

    Howard – just catching up after a long road trip that thankfully included a stop at the UN for the concert, one I will never forget. It really doesn’t surprise me that you are one of the few reporting on this game changing event – after all, this isn’t the first time you’ve been out front on reporting something. I’m hoping that long after the memories of the remarkable music performances fade away that people will remember and spread the message of education being the cure for ignorance – music being just as important as math and science.

    • says

      Thanks Doug, I didn’t mean to getting a scoop — but I DO think that jazz journalists might consider how we can further next year, in advance and on the day itself, the mission of music and education that UNESCO has taken up. You certainly do your part, and the Monk Institute is lucky to have a financial donation resulting from every bottle sold of your Brother Thelonious Belgian Abbey Ale. Did you know that, readers? Have a Brother Theo, kick in to jazz ed!

  5. says

    Howard, I missed the news of this event until I read your piece. Kudos and thanks. This event demonstrates once again how jazz is truly an internationally performed and appreciated art form. Some insightful and inspiring comments by notable leaders. If only jazz were appreciated as much in its homeland — a complex and troubling cultural issue. Journalists can and must do their part…