Jazz beyond Jazz: January 2009 Archives
Prior to tomorrow's inauguration, the New York Times (and I suspect many other publications) has focused in many columns, book reviews and reports on Barack Obama's election as a turning point in the U.S.'s movement towards full civil rights for all people. The entertainment section makes the case for movies having led the way to our first not-completely- "white"-identified President.
I maintain that the jazz community was in the forefront of the civil rights movement, and remains in the lead for demonstrating how all-inclusive meritocracies look, sound and work. A historical document highlighting the conjunction of jazz and the Civil Rights movement has come to hand -- programs from two nights in 1963 when major players performed and major jazz journalists emceed in benefit for CORE (the Congress of Racial Equality) at New York City's Five Spot Cafe, plus a letter of thanks to bassist Henry Grimes for his participation.
If anyone needs a primer on how jazz leads directly to the inauguration of Barack Obama as 44th president of the U.S., see Nat Hentoff's Wall Street Journal article on the history of musicians, audiences, presenters and producers of all "colors" in the struggle for Civil Rights.
The march from Buddy Bolden playing in New Orleans' "back 'o' town" to a man of diverse ancestry leading the free world from the White House has been direct (if not necessarily "straight") and determined.
Six emerging jazz acts, playing in their hometowns from Fresno to Brisbane, Australia competed publicly via video clips to win a Coltrane boxed set and $1000 cash prizes -- that was the First World Internet "Cutting Contest", results announced January 31 online (of course). Pretty good gimmick -- er, marketing idea -- to use the web, expose new talent, enlist the audience in interactivity, among other things the endeavor of TruthInMusic.com (among its motto's: "This is John Coltrane's world . . . we just live in it") seems to be about.
The Winterjazzfest held at three venues in Greenwich Village last Saturday, a smorgasbord of almost two dozen acts offered up to attendees of the Association of Performing Arts Centers conference, gave a hint of some sounds to be heard around the U.S. in the months to come. What I witnessed was diverse, engaging, virtuosic but not didactic. The musicians seem to know they've got to be audience-friendly, or go without. So they've tailored their acts for clarity, balancing familiarity and novelty but not dumbing down.
The Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) convenes in Manhattan this weekend, demonstrating the greatest health and resilience of any sector of the jazz-new music economy. Last year more than 4000 attendees registered to schmooze, exhibit, theorize and opine on panels, take in showcase performances and make deals with musicians eager for gigs.
We -- I -- need a deep-winter burst of positivity. The Presidential election was two months ago, and nothing has changed! Except the pres-elect is getting heat for all he hasn't done (bring peace to Israel-Gaza, fix the economy, justify appointments) while the sitting lame duck gets a virtual pass for what he's ignoring (Israel-Gaza), what he's flubbed (US economy, world affairs, environment -- need more examples?) and what he's doing now (opening wilderness to development, putting appointees in protected jobs, spinning his legacy).
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So here's an Obama praise song by Fula Flute, an internationally-constituted band featuring a felicitous West African sound: two unusual flutes in not-quite-unison, kora and balafon, upright bass, congas. Vocalist Adoulaye Diabate sings, "If you're looking for a great leader, you have to find a good person . . . Good evening, Barack Obama." Fula Flute dedicates its new, second album Mansa America to Big O, with the note "May he help lead the World into a new enlightened era." Amen to that.
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