The localization of International Jazz Day

I’m just thrilled UNESCO partnered with the Monk Institute to produce the second International Jazz Day, April 30 — the culmination of Jazz Appreciation Month (so designated by the Smithsonian Institute) and what the Jazz Journalists Assoc., over which I preside, called JazzApril. The rest of this post might be considered self-promoting, ’cause I’m going to kvell over how the JJA celebrated the localization of this global event and why I think it’s important. So read on only if you’re interested in Louis Armstrong, trumpet music, Jazz Heroes, local scenes, what’s happening in the U.S. and the media that might carry news of culture to people as they get news now.

The live and mostly exciting two-and-a-half-hour webcast of a star-studded concert from Istanbul

is on Youtube for universal free access. The music starts 37 minutes in, with Joss Stone singing what MC Herbie Hancock calls “music of your soul” — “Some Kind of Wonderful” w/Joe Louis Walker, Ramsey Lewis, James Genus and Vinnie Coliauta, followed for tw0 hours by musical segments featuring Ruben Blades, Al Jarreau, Dianne Reeves, Esperanza Spalding and Robert Glasper, Milton Nascimento, Hugh Masakela –a lot of singing, but always with very strong instrumentalists (Keiko Matsui, Alevtina Polyakova, Imer Demirer, George Duke, Marcus Miller, Terri Lynne Carrington, Eddie Palmieri, Terence Blanchard, Anat Cohen, Igor Butman, John McLaughlin duetting with Lee Ritenour, Jean-Luc Ponty, Christian McBride, Zakir Hussain, Wayne Shorter — all organized by pianist/music director John Beasley) engaged in what they do best: Playimg. Purists and snobs may carp there’s no experimentalism (other than that inherent in fresh, spirited improvisation!) and nothing specifically harkening back to traditional jazz of the ’20s/’30s/’40s. But this event is intended by definition to be mainstream, and overall it’s rousing, upbeat, high quality entertainment.

Admirable as the far-reaching nature of  such an event is, considering the state of jazz here in the U.S. where it was born IJD’s global ambitions must be balanced with near-at-hand realizations. To enable that, and impress upon jazz audiences the decentralized nature of jazz (which has always been the case, though the power of New York-based press and recording companies long obscured it), the JJA encouraged two dozen parties organized by local jazz activists celebrating local Jazz Heroes. Although this year’s heroes include such instrumentalists as Beegie Adair, Craig Alston, Marcus Belgrave, Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso, Mwata Bowden, Kidd Jordan and Julian Priester, these Jazz Hero Awards and the others were presented not principally on the basis of their musicianship, but due also to their activities presenters, educators, community stalwarts, broadcasters, mentors. There are newly-named Jazz Heroes from Atlanta and Austin to Baltimore, Bloomington, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Gainesville, Nashville, New Orleans, Nogales, Philadelphia, Portland OR, Schenectady, Seattle, Tallahassee, Tucson, Washington DC, Woodstock, Ottawa (the Bay Area, Chicago, NYC and Newark still to come).

Several mayors and other local officials issued proclamations extolling jazz, and even showed up at the celebrations to read them. Newspapers ran coverage, photos were posted online, radio stations picked up the news, journalists blogged about the Heroes, social media postings emerged, buzz was raised, profiles lifted, jazz was noticed. And this is essential to getting future coverage of jazz, funding for jazz, building audiences for jazz, instilling appreciation for and pride in jazz, validating jazz musicians and their followers, fostering the enjoyment of it every day all over America — not only in the Big Apple, in major festivals, with the occasional tv special 0r melodramatic bio-pic, but as a reflective, evolving aspect of our environment, the audible expression of our creative best.

Here in NYC, the Louis Armstrong House Museum — one of the most stunning of all institutions situating jazz squarely in mainstream residential communities — co-hosted a party with the JJA at the Langston Hughes Library and Community Center in Queens, a similarly down-home establishment. What could be more fitting? Armstrong the  genius with genuine, career-long love of his fans, who lived in a modest bungalow when he could have bought a palace, and Hughes, poet of “The Weary Blues,” portrayer of low-income Harlemite Jesse B. “Simple” Semple. About 100 people, all attending for free. Trumpeter Stephanie Richards composed a Fanfare for Louis, performed by a hastily rehearsed quartet of brassists — herself, Jeremy Pelt, Igmar Thomas and David Weiss.


from left: Michael Cogswell, Stanley Crouch w/Bloomberg proclamation
and Howard Mandel
photo by Susan Brink

Then Dan Morgenstern, dean of jazz journalists and a member of Armstrong’s coterie from 1949 until his death in 1971, detailed some memories of Pops, especially at his early ’60s performances at Freedomland Amusement Park in the Bronx. Dan was there. Ricky Riccardi, the extraordinary scholar of Armstrong (and official archivist at LAHM) who has a palpable delight in this man and deep knowledge of his every era, spoke of the newly discovered 1961 recordings spun for us, including a beautiful, noble version of Armstrong’s classic “West End Blues,” first recorded in 1928. Finally Stanley Crouch spoke, marveling at Louis “sound,” and joined LAHM director Michael Cogswell, Hughes Center director Andrew Jackson, Ricky and Dan and me in reading the handsomely inscribed statement issued by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg hailing Jazz Day. And we ate soul food from Keicha’s Catering— red beans and rice, quite good and seemingly healthy lightly fried chicken cubes, meat balls, pasta salad, cookies and little cream puffs.

JJA members and unaffiliated colleagues turned out (and I should have introduced them from the stage): Ted Panken, Russ Musto, Jared Negley, Paul Devlin, Tim Wilkins, Dan Kassell, Susan Brink, Alan Nahigian, Morgenstern of course (a winner of the JJA’s Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Journalism Award, as well as of the NEA’s Jazz Master honor) — and also Jimmy Heath with his wife Mona, pianist-composer Amina Figarova (originally from Azerbijan, just last fall she received her green card) and her husband flutist Bart Platteau (originally from Belgium; now they live in Forest Hills), and singer Antoinette Montague. Cable network NY1 covered us (I can’t find the video online, though — looking! or the UStream video, which may have not been saved). Maybe some of those journos have written us up. Thanks to LAHM public relations specialist Jennifer Walden we were mentioned in Queens neighborhood papers, the New York Daily News (thanks to Greg Thomas!) and the NYTimes listings last Friday. Following the event there was a flurry of  social media notes of appreciation, and Ricky Riccardi didn’t blog about it but did put a photo on fb. Stephanie Richards has sent a score to the House Museum for its archives.

So everyone was happy. We feted jazz with new music and enduring music, talk about music, food and schmooze. We were international and local. We were free and inclusive. We felt like we’d celebrated a holiday, and planned to do it again next year. But not waiting ’til then — I’m off to hear some jazz tonight.

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