Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Every Month is Jazz Month; Every Day is Jazz Day

Officially Tho, April is Designated as Jazz Appreciation Month in the USA

I guess it’s good to have a Jazz Appreciation Month designated. Symbolic gestures are generally confusing to me. The point may be one thing, but what actual purpose is ultimately served when all is tallied up eludes me. Too often it’s sound and fury, signifying nothing. I don’t tie a yellow ribbon around a tree, nor hold hands with people in a human chain to fight world hunger. Recently, an organization in my town was shaving people’s heads to raise awareness of childhood cancer. I’m still sporting my ponytail. Losing it would have accomplished what?

That aside, if there is a month where people play more jazz, or try to put jazz in more of a public eye, then I’m OK with it. I have consistently said exposure is jazz music’s biggest problem and I do believe it’s one that could be vastly improved upon and it shouldn’t be that hard. For me, Jazz Day is Every Day. And my lobbying for it doesn’t cease -- As it is for practically every jazz journalist and member of the “jazz community” that I know. A good lot, they are.

The music is in my head every day.

In the interest of Jazz Month, I’m bringing to bear thoughts from musicians who weren’t born here, for whom jazz became so important that it became their way of life. Their happy salvation.

[PHOTO: Christian Scott Band plays JAZZ, baby, at the Lake George Jazz Festival in 2010. © R.J. DeLuke]

There’s been a lot of talk recently, sparked by one excellent trumpet player’s thoughts on the word “jazz,” as to what the music is and isn’t, what the word means or doesn‘t mean. Most people already know in their bones the answer to that, even if it isn’t describable. Wherever the word came from, it has meant this music, this American art form, and NOTHING more, for many, many decades. So please stop whining that it came from bordellos. No one cares. No one remembers. Like many other words in many languages, there is sometimes evolution. Jazz has evolved to one thing. America’s art music. Send me to a jazz festival any day of the week.


Those from outside America don’t seem hung up on the word. Like the majority of jazz musicians here, they embrace it. We all should. Words for any music genre don’t encompass its totality. Words are inadequate for that. But you take what’s there - Jazz - and kind of know what it stands for and appreciate it. Sonny Rollins said recently, “There are so many other battles to fight …I think I would agree if you could wave a magic wand and we could change it into American music, or something like that, overnight with a wand. Yeah. But how could that happen? So I accepted it.”

“When I have to speak about jazz, I can go on forever.”

That’s how trumpeter Enrico Rava of Italy closed a lengthy conversation with me in 2005. Brought into the fold after experiencing Miles Davis play live in 1957 (“He has so much charisma. You would look at him all the time. Even when he wasn’t playing everybody kept looking at Miles. I was fascinated. It’s like the first time I saw a movie with Marlon Brando, ‘On the Waterfront.’ I didn’t look at anybody else on the screen. With Miles it was the same thing.”), Rava jumped into music and never looked back. “Jazz gave me some of the most beautiful moments, as a listener and as a player. Also it gave me a good life. The music kind of saved my life, in a way.,” he said. ”I consider my first job is to be a jazz fan. Then I play. I’m a jazz fan that decided to play.”

“It’s a music of immigrants, because this is a country of immigrants,” said Paquito D’Rivera in 2010. “The contribution of everybody here, and every ability, special to jazz, makes it unique. I love the state of jazz in general. All the styles. I am existing in a very creative environment. There are creative people and very ingenious people around in the jazz community.”

D’Rivera risked his life escaping from Cuba, where playing jazz was a privilege, but had to be hidden from the government by being blended with other forms, and using different names. “Even the name Irakere is an African name used to hide the jazz element in our playing,” he said of the renowned Cuban band that made international waves in the 1970s.

“I am a musician in general. But jazz is my main type. I like all different new scenes around, but jazz, in my mind, is like my black beans and rice,” said the NEA Jazz Master. “Jazz is very special to me. Pretty close to my heart.”

“The feeling of what you do when you can improvise,” is the flame that draws trumpeter Diego Urcola of Argentina to jazz, he told me in 2011. “It’s a feeling you wanted … it’s really hard to leave. When you play other kinds of music, you like it because maybe some great writers or composers. But that thing about improvisation is so, so strong. The interaction with other musicians that are improvising with you at the same time. That’s jazz. That conversation. That interaction. It’s not about swing or Latin or whatever type of rhythm or elements. It’s a concept of improvisation and interaction. Spontaneous interaction. That’s what really attracts me.”

For Siggi Loch, owner of the Germany-based ACT record label, who heard jazz as a child in Europe in the 1940s, the origin of the word had no relevance. It was American music with a special quality that reached beyond pop. Loch went on to be a producer and promoter, eventually starting ACT in 1992, which produces a lot of quality jazz. He’s now in his 70s. “What fascinated me more than anything was this idea of individual freedom in a group of equals. That was a fascinating thought for a young boy like myself after World War II. It was very fascinating from a political aspect, not just from a musical aspect. I guess that was fascinating not just me but a lot of my young people of my generation at the time.

He added, “Some people argue about the artist mixing (jazz) with world music. But jazz was world music by definition when it was founded in New Orleans. It was nothing but the result of the music from a melting pot, music from different parts of the world. The key element was the individual, who expressed himself by the way of improvising. That’s what makes jazz. That’s exactly what is still is today. Some people feel after free jazz there’s no more jazz. I’m not interested in that kind of discussion. It doesn’t matter.”

For saxophonist Will Vinson of the United Kingdom, improvisation and lightning-fast communication is his what fascinated him and caused him to mover to the Big Apple. “In New York the level of musicianship is so high, the level of listening is so high. People listen to each other and they really do, on a good day, create things that haven’t happened before. That’s amazing. That’s really a unique thing to jazz. Not that we’ve created what hasn’t happened before, but that we do so just by getting together and taking out our instruments and playing. I think that’s an amazing quality of jazz. That’s what makes it interesting to go and see it. That’s why it’s interesting to go and see a band you’ve already seen before. It’s not going to be the same, even if they’re playing the same music. That’s why it’s interesting to be on the road and to play the same music every night, but, if you’re in the right company, to have something new and different and amazing happen to it every night.

‘If you’re playing music that isn’t improvised every night, it doesn’t matter how good the music is in the first place, it might change a little bit, but it’s basically going to be the same every night. In jazz you can have wildly different things happen every night on the same music. Which is just endless joy and an endless source of inspiration.”

“I love jazz,” saxophonist Tineke Postma of Holland summed up for me last year. “The improv part of it and of course we live in a time with many challenges and this effects the jazz world as well. Art is very important to keep people inspired, critical and in touch with spiritual and social parts of life. Jazz can make people grow and develop creative thinking, it touches all those aspects. Jazz is life!”


Get some Jazz! It will enrich your life!

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