As made clear in his remarks before the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood the power of jazz to bring about social change.
Sadly, Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 while standing on the balcony of the Hotel Lorraine in Memphis, Tennessee. I want to kick off Jazz Appreciation Month by remembering the Prince of Peace in song.
Jazz Appreciation Month (fondly known as “JAM”) was created right here at the museum in 2001 to recognize and celebrate the extraordinary heritage and history of jazz for the entire month of April.
JAM is intended to stimulate and encourage people of all ages to participate in jazz – to study the music, attend concerts, listen to jazz on radio and recordings, read books about jazz, and more.
This year, JAM celebrates the dynamic impact of the often-overlooked contributions that women have made to jazz, both on and off the stage. As performers and conductors, educators, and producers and directors of jazz festivals, women have made their mark but have continued to struggle for recognition on par with their male counterparts.
In the days of social distancing, gig workers, including women and men in jazz, are struggling. NPR reports:
As panic over the coronavirus sweeps the globe, much of the focus is on the broader economic effects on businesses or venues that have to cancel events. But the coronavirus’ toll on working musicians is immediate and sometimes debilitating.
When people speak of the gig economy, they’re often thinking of Uber drivers or Instacart shoppers. But for freelance musicians, their patchwork of gigs pays the bills. And in the face of shuttered concert halls and a self-quarantining public, that patchwork is falling apart.
On December 8, 1956, the Miles Davis Quintet, featuring Miles Davis (trumpet), John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums) performed at the Blue Note. The set was featured on the Mutual Network live remote radio broadcast, Bandstand, U.S.A.
That same night, the police raided “the town’s swankiest jazz emporium.” The Blue Note was a “black and tan” club, an integrated nightspot where blacks and whites socialized on an equal basis. As such, it was the target of police harassment.
From the beginning, jazz was a tool for social change. Jazz musicians’ unbowed comportment created a cultural identity that was a steppingstone to the Civil Rights Movement. In remarks to the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said jazz is “triumphant music”:
Jazz speaks for life. The Blues tell the story of life’s difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph.
This is triumphant music.
Modern jazz has continued in this tradition, singing the songs of a more complicated urban existence. When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument.
It is no wonder that so much of the search for identity among American Negroes was championed by Jazz musicians. Long before the modern essayists and scholars wrote of racial identity as a problem for a multiracial world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was stirring within their souls.
Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.
On April 21, 2018, All That Philly Jazz and Black Quantum Futurism will present the “Blue Note Salon” which pays homage to jazz musicians’ legacy of resistance. The community discussion will feature creative change makers who work on social justice issues. Their work is at the intersection of art, community engagement and social change.
The event is free and open to the public. To RSVP, go here.
April is Jazz Appreciation Month. There is a lot of appreciation for jazz in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection so Philly is getting the party started early. On March 29, Mayor James Kenney will join the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy to kick off Philly Celebrates Jazz by honoring the 2018 Benny Golson Award recipient, fashion-forward bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma.
Jamaaladeen Tacuma is celebrated internationally for his creatively free and funky approach to the electric bass. His innovative style caught Ornette Coleman’s ear, and he became the first bassist in Coleman’s electric band, Prime Time, touring and recording with the group throughout the 1970’s and 80’s. Viewed as one of the most distinctive bassists of his generation, Tacuma is credited for redefining the potential of the instrument. Tacuma debuted as a bandleader, composer, and arranger in 1983 with the album Showstopper, going on to develop compositions that blend Prime Time’s elaborate harmonies with engaging melodies. His 1988 album Jukebox was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1989; in 2011 his ongoing achievements were recognized by the award of a Pew Fellowship in the Arts; he is the 2017 recipient of Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz Best Bassist Award. Tacuma’s artistic and experimental approach to jazz music has been and continues to be a source of great pride for the Philadelphia jazz scene.
The celebration kicked off with the NEA Jazz Masters Listening Party at NPR, moderated by Jason Moran. The Jazz Masters and Fitz Gitler (representing his father) were joined in conversation by musicians whose lives they have influenced. They generously – and humorously – shared stories about their musical journey.
On April 3, the NEA held a tribute concert in the Jazz Masters’ honor at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
While joy filled the air, there are some discordant notes. If the NEA is defunded, the Class of 2017 may be the last Jazz Masters. The New York Times reported:
President Trump’s budget proposal last month called for eliminating the endowment entirely — the first time any president has proposed such a step. While some members of Congress in his own Republican Party have opposed the move, it is a reminder of the agency’s vulnerability.
Created in 1965, the endowment provides funding to arts organizations, including jazz projects that are supported with dozens of grants each year. It also sends nearly half of its funding budget to regional arts organizations that disperse funds themselves.
The NEA can’t advocate for its own survival. So, as jazz and film critic Gary Giddins noted, it’s “jazz advocacy of the hip, by the hip and for the hip shall not perish from the Earth.”
I am honored to present the first Benny Golson Award to Jon Batiste, who exemplifies what can be accomplished in using your talents in educating our youth in the importance of the arts and culture. As I have said many times, arts education is not a luxury, it is a necessity and one of the most effective ways of helping our children grow and develop into not only more creative, but also open-minded and compassionate people.
The WRTI Jazz Listening Sessions will be hosted by Jeff Duperon. The hour-long conversations will be held before a live audience in the Art Gallery @ City Hall. The listening sessions are free but space is limited. Seating is first come, first serve and you must register.
Over the course of Philadelphia’s jazz heyday, roughly 1940s to 1960s, there were jazz spots from the Aqua Lounge to Zanzibar Blue.
Got jazz talent? Alright then grab your instrument, accompanist, CD, flash drive, MP3 player or dancing shoes and head on up to Harlem on Saturday, April 1. The Apollo will provide 88 key keyboard, drum kit, guitar and bass amps.
For more information on how to audition and eligibility rules, go here.
All good things must come to an end. Jazz Appreciation Month is going out on a high note. On Saturday, April 30, America’s classical music will be celebrated across the globe, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said in a statement:
Jazz was born in the U.S. and traveled the world as a music of tolerance, freedom and human dignity. This is why UNESCO created International Jazz Day and we are extremely pleased that in 2016 Washington, DC has been designated the host city for this global celebration, with a unique All Star Concert at the White House, hosted by the President of the United States Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. This event reminds us Jazz is more than music – it is a universal message of peace with rhythm and meaning.
UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Herbie Hancock added:
We are thrilled that President Obama and Michelle Obama are hosting the International Jazz Day All-Star Global Concert at the White House, and are truly grateful for their commitment to jazz and its role in building bridges and uniting people around the world. Over the past five years, the innovation and creativity of Jazz Day has been a beacon of light to millions of people who find common ground and communicate through the values inherent in jazz. On April 30th, people of all ages in all corners of the globe will participate in International Jazz Day. A wide range of momentous events will take place in thousands of neighborhoods – and the streets will be alive with the sounds of peace and freedom.
The all-star global concert will air on ABC-TV at 8pm ET.