Tag Archives: International Jazz Day

The Showboat

The legendary Showboat was located in the basement of the 1409 Hotel, formerly the Douglass Hotel.

#TBT Showboat - Douglass Hotel

The historical marker out front notes that Billie Holiday “often lived here.”

Douglass Hotel

In 1964, Herb Spivak bought the property and renamed the jazz spot in the basement “Showboat Jazz Theatr” (purposely leaving off the “e”). All That Philly Jazz Director Faye Anderson interviewed Spivak on International Jazz Day 2019.

Herb Spivak - Faye M. Anderson

Spivak increased the seating capacity from 100 to 200. The small bandstand was behind the bar. The Showboat played host to jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Cannonball Adderley, Bootsie Barnes, Philly Joe Jones, Thelonious Monk, Dinah Washington and Ramsey Lewis.

On June 17, 1963, John Coltrane Quartet recorded “Live at the Showboat” featuring Coltrane (sax) McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums).

Hot Jazz and Cold War

In his opening remarks at the International Jazz Day global concert at the White House, President Barack Obama said:

Jazz is perhaps the most honest reflection of who we are as a nation. Because after all, has there ever been any greater improvisation than America itself? We do it in our own way. We move forward even when the road ahead is uncertain, stubbornly insistent that we’ll get to somewhere better, and confident that we’ve got all the right notes up our sleeve.

That “honest reflection of who we are as a nation” became an instrument of cultural diplomacy during the Cold War. Jazz musicians-turned-cultural ambassadors toured in more than 35 countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. Jazz diplomacy was intended to win hearts and minds and promote a positive view of America as the land of freedom.

The irony of being ambassadors of freedom was not lost on jazz musicians who were treated as second-class citizens at home and subject to racial segregation.

As part of Jazz Appreciation Month, the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, the Public Diplomacy Council and the DC Jazz Festival presented a program on jazz and public diplomacy.

Dizzy Gillespie was the first Jazz Ambassador. The legendary Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was the catalyst behind the tour. His son, Adam Clayton Powell III, President of the Public Diplomacy Council, recently wrote:

Americans underestimate the impact of jazz on audiences around the world. And in a way that contributes to the power of international tours by U.S. jazz musicians, including and especially tours sponsored by the U.S. State Department.

[…]

During the Cold War, America’s most prominent “jazz ambassadors” included Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong – at a time when segregation was the law of the land in much of the U.S. and the civil rights movement was at its peak. And that created a conflict for many of musicians.

“You had people being hosed down with fire hoses and dogs sicced on them, and you had these reports going out across the world,” said [Willard] Jenkins. “So it did create a real issue for many of the African American musicians who were selected to make those tours.”

Then Jenkins read from instructions given to musicians by the State Department: “‘Remember who you are and what you represent. Always be a credit to your government.’”

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Jazz Early Warning Signs

Jazz Appreciation Month 2015 is now in the archives. From Philadelphia to Paris, fans turned out to celebrate America’s classical art form.

But there are early warning signs that all is not well. According to Nielsen‘s 2014 Year End Report, jazz is tied with classical music as the “least consumed” music in the U.S. Jazz represented just 0.3% of all music streamed in 2014, a reflection of its aging audience.

To expand the audience for jazz, it’s not enough to simply showcase young artists. In an interview with JUMP magazine, Philadelphia Jazz Project Director Homer Jackson observed:

The point about young people that is really critical, is that if we have so many young artists working in jazz, why aren’t they able to engage young people themselves? Most young artists I know do not have a huge youth audience themselves. That’s really critical because at some point the elders are gonna be gone and so who is going to be in the audience? So, I challenge young artists to come up with some strategies and I challenge the curators to come with strategies to help young artists to be able to present their stuff.

One of the strategies must be to make jazz fun for the audience. Thelonious Sphere Monk III (T.S. Monk) recently wrote:

If we just add some ingredients from the rest of the entertainment world, people will view jazz as fun once again, and they will come back. If millions didn’t love the music today, there wouldn’t be what we call a catalog, and my father, Thelonious Sphere Monk, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane, Buddy Rich and so many more, would have disappeared. We wouldn’t have had an International Jazz Day concert streamed to 1.2 billion people in 2013, and 2.5 billion people in 2014. None of that would be possible if there wasn’t an inherent love of this music, ironically by Americans. We often love ourselves, and don’t know it.

So I say to all my friends in jazz — musicians, promoters, club owners, listeners, and everybody — let’s bring back the fun. Let’s go big. That will bring the attention, and the money will follow.

To borrow a phrase, your audience just wanna have fun.

International Jazz Day 2015

In November 2011, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) officially designated April 30 as International Jazz Day in order to highlight jazz and its diplomatic role of uniting people in all corners of the globe. International Jazz Day is chaired and led by Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General, and legendary jazz pianist and composer Herbie Hancock, who serves as a UNESCO Ambassador for Intercultural Dialogue and Chairman of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.

The Institute is the lead nonprofit organization charged with planning, promoting and producing this annual celebration.

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