Jazz beyond Borders
I remember a particular line in Billy Strayhorn’s composition ‘Lushlife’, found in the first eight bars of the verse. It goes like this, ‘I used to visit all the very gay places, those come what may places, where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life, to get the feel of life, from jazz and cocktails’. Many people stereotype jazz as the genre of the elite. People who were born with a silver spoon. Who are the elitists? According to my sources, Elite, is a small group of powerful people in political and sociological theory, such as an oligarchy, that controls a disproportionate amount of wealth or political power in society. This group is given more privileges than ordinary people in a society. They can be big time politicians, big earners in fields of business, law and medical professions to cite examples. They are the people who have the currency to pay for anything they want. Branded clothings, limousine services, fine dining, private jets, go to an opera, a Broadway show, and once in a while, a jazz gig.
In a jazz venue, be it in the US where jazz found its grassroots or other countries that have a wide audience in jazz like Japan, Canada, or the Philippines, is it fair that only a person belonging to an elite class can have the opportunity to appreciate jazz? Herbie Hancock, a renowned jazz pianist is one among others who spearheaded ‘International Jazz Day’. This special celebration was conceived in order to highlight jazz and its diplomatic role of uniting people in all corners of the globe. International Jazz Day brings together communities, schools, artists, historians, academics, and jazz enthusiasts all over the world to celebrate and learn about jazz and its roots, future and impact. To raise awareness of the need for intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding, to reinforce international cooperation and communication. Every year on April 30, this international art form is recognized for promoting peace, dialogue among cultures, diversity, and respect for human rights and human dignity, eradicating racism, promoting freedom of expression, fostering gender equality, and reinforcing the role of youth in enacting social change.
The Philippines in one way or another joins this special event each year on the 30th of April. Small, cozy jazz venues hold their own events as a way of recognizing this art form and help find the country’s own niche in the field of International Jazz. The question is, is it well funded? IJD organizers hands over a special plaque of appreciation to anybody who wants to join this event. By using social media like Livestream, Ustream, Facebook Live , et al, jazz musicians of diverse culture and race can play, be heard and seen over the world.
I am a jazz artist based all over. Jazz musicians are like gypsies who never stop moving, and improving. The creativity process never stops in a particular gig or recorded performances. Who are the jazz artists? Moreover, what is Jazz music? Jazz spans a period of over a hundred years, encompassing a very wide range of music, making it difficult to define. Jazz makes heavy use of improvisation, polyrhythms, syncopation and the swing note. Although the foundation of jazz is deeply rooted within the black experience of the United States, different cultures have contributed their own experience and styles to the art form as well. Intellectuals around the world have hailed jazz as “one of America’s original art forms.
I recall my mother saying that Filipinos are eternally singing. Music runs in our DNAs for many special reasons. The Philippines was already in the groove way back before World War 1st. My grandfather for one was a member of a big band in Los Angeles while picking oranges in the morning. Is this what you call elite? This country is gifted with very talented musicians but not given enough avenues and chances to learn music. Taking up Music courses in college is a fortune to begin with. There are foundations who give scholarships to talented and deserving students, unfortunately, these organizations are a handful. We have no access to buy better instruments unless we go to the US or online shopping like Amazon. Music students in the Philippines are not motivated enough to create more as parents would time and again remind their children that there is no money in music. That is not true. I will agree to the fact that the glory days where our leaders would concentrate on the art and the artists as well, has gone to oblivion. Whatever happened to our love for music, for jazz, for freedom of expression?
The prestigious Kobe Jazz Vocal Queen held in Japan annually, had just concluded and I was fortunate enough to be one of the judges. I take pride to be chosen as part of the jury during the competition. This competition stems from the Seattle-Kobe Sister City Association (SKSCA), a volunteer-based non-profit association that helps promote and facilitate friendly relations between Seattle as sister city of Kobe, Japan. Founded in 1957, the Seattle-Kobe relationship was the first such partnership for both cities. The exchanges between these two cities are varied, ranging from cultural, educational, business and governmental. In addition to the official sister city relationship, there is also an official port relationship, as well as strong economic ties between many companies of these two regions. This is where the Kobe Jazz Vocal Queen comes in. I was there sitting as one of the judges and I said to myself, our country can do this. Our nation has an overload of talented vocalists who can focus on this genre given the right education, knowledge, skill, and right mentoring.
I have a dream that soon, the greatness of our country will again be known through Jazz music. As Susan Rice (U.S. National Security Advisor) would say , and I quote “Like democracy itself, jazz has structure, but within it you can say almost anything.” Join me in realizing this endeavor.