April is Jazz Appreciation Month throughout the world, and the big celebration day is International Jazz Day. Held April 30 and implemented by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 2011, it highlights jazz and the diplomatic role it has played culturally throughout the world.
The now annual event was the brainchild of jazz pianist, composer and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Herbie Hancock, who chairs Jazz Day along with the sitting UNESCO director-general. The celebration is recognized on the calendars of both UNESCO and the United Nations.
There are a lot of people who are unaware that this celebration takes place on an annual basis.
It would be easier for me to let Jazz speak for herself while I take a backseat. So here is Jazz, the person of the hour:
“First I would like to say I am honored and appreciative that the United Nations saw fit to give me my own special month that culminates April 30 with a big bash. And a special shoutout to Herbie for making it happen; he has always represented me well.
During this special month, I have mixed feelings as I ponder such special times as Black History Month, Hispanic Month and Women’s History Month. Gosh, it’s great that we have these special months, but it’s as if somebody screwed up and felt badly that we weren’t getting the respect or equality we deserve, so they gave us a mere month to try to make up for it.
Thirty or 31 days out of 365. There is so much history, so many details and so little time. I should be on the calendar 365 days per year. People should listen to me every day, sing songs by Ray Charles, Lou Rawls, Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald or Carmen McRae, or dance to Count Basie or Duke Ellington, to Craig Harris, Robert Glasper or Jason Moran’s swinging funked-up tunes.
You see, I am misunderstood. I am the most misunderstood genre under the musical rainbow. People say I’m too complicated, or I’m uppity—You know, bourgeois.
I guess you never heard Ray Charles sing ‘Busted’ or ‘Hit the Road Jack’ or Oscar Brown Jr. sing ‘But I Was Cool’ or ‘Signifyin’ Monkey’ (You know about playing the dozens, right?). These songs are swinging R&B tunes, but the fact is gospel, spiritual hymns, blues, rock & roll, R&B, bebop, doo wop, hip-hop, jazz fusion, Latin jazz and Cuban jazz are all relatives of mine.
Come on—a cappella singing was derived from doo wop. Young brothers singing in project stairwells to get that echo for the high notes and deep bass. Rhyming is the basis for hip-hop—that is a cappella set to rhymes. So don’t act like you don’t know we all street. Dig?
My little brother hip-hop is always saying to me, ‘Yo Jazz, you got to get that paper. Your peeps out there making maybe one or two CDs a year and may not sell over 50,000. Damn, kid, Common or Snoop sell more than that in their sleep.’
The market seems to be twisted, but everyone says ‘Jazz is America’s original art form.’ If that is true, then why am I treated like a stepchild? I never receive my Grammy during primetime television, so I’m never invited. No, the camera has never scanned me in the audience with any one of my many representatives, from Herbie Hancock to Nicholas Payton, Craig Harris, Dianne Reeves and Charenee Wade.
I wouldn’t mind being on a late-night talk show. My musicians have some very interesting stories and loads of jokes to share! Sure, why not the ‘The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon’ or ‘The Late Show with Steven Colbert’ or ‘The Daily Show’ with Trevor Noah? Let them sit on the couch instead of just being a guest musician in the band. What about the morning shows such as ‘Kathie Lee and Hoda,’ and afternoon shows such as ‘Ellen?’ We are missing out on so much publicity. We have a wonderful story to share aside from music.
All those news and radio shows. You know there are very few jazz radio shows. Come on, call me. We will have loads of fun and great music. Maybe, on April 30, every radio station should play a few jazz tunes or interview a jazz musician.
It is clear I need more exposure. The problem is that I was there from the beginning. I was there on the slave ships coming to America, witnessing the brutality and horrendous murders. That terrible experience was the beginning of the blues, which made its way to the cotton fields where the rhymes of call and response hollered out in pain.
The ring house where worship took place manifested praise shouts and frenzy dancing, as the blues stood by with his cousin spiritual hymns, which became a part of the Baptist Church.
The preacher with a white handkerchief in one hand and a clenched fist, hollering to the heavens in a syncopated rhythmic voice that flowed like a tenor saxophone. His deacons followed with a call and response that mimicked the same syncopation. They came back with such responses as ‘Take your time,’ or ‘I’m with you,’ and the simple word ‘Well.’ My cousin gospel came along singing praise.
My little brother hip-hop told me, ‘You got to go in hard if you want to get noticed.’ Cool, we did during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. We were strong. The drummer Max Roach came out with ‘We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite,’ featuring Coleman Hawkins and Olatunji (Candid, 1960), Herbie Hancock recorded ‘The Prisoner’ (Blue Note, 1969), the Last Poets threw out some serious revolutionary rhythms (and that was years before hip-hop was even born) and John Coltrane recorded ‘Alabama’ (Prestige, 1963). Miles Davis came out with the hard-hittin’ ‘A Tribute to Jack Johnson’ (Columbia, 1970). The music was a part of the revolution called jazz fusion, those funky guitar riffs, the yelling cymbals, steady jabbing drumbeat and Miles steps up playing a brash trumpet solo all up in your face with fast flying riffs that knock your shoes off like a hypnotic Jack Johnson right hand to the head. You see it coming but man, the groove is so strong you can’t move. Bam!
You know the Black Panthers and Stokely Carmichael were playing some Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders.
Everybody loves James Brown, ‘the Godfather of soul.’ Brown was an avid Charlie Parker fan. Which seems obvious when you realize his reed section included the noted saxophonists Maceo Parker, Alfred ‘Pee Wee’ Ellis and St. Claire Pickney. They were playing hardcore R&B swinging funk. Hey, R&B is my cousin, ‘Say It Loud.’
It’s true I doesn’t get the mega bucks and have little notoriety, even though I can be heard on songs by Issac Hayes, on Motown and The Sound of Philadelphia, from the O’Jays to Teddy Pendergrass. Come on, all those musicians played jazz, R&B or whatever. They are playing Black music, my family.
Just listen to that music and hear that groove. There’s nothing to understand. Just clap your hands. Can you dig it? I ain’t no complicated thing. I’m just music. I’m all those talented musicians who love of their music.
When Dizzy Gillespie was faced with his college concert tour being canceled in the 1940s because of his playing bebop, he couldn’t understand it. ‘They said they couldn’t dance to bebop,’ Gillespie commented. ‘That’s crazy. I can dance my ass off to it.’
The answer is easy: Forget the categories and labels, and, as Michael says, ‘Put that 9 to 5 on the shelf and just enjoy yourself/living crazy is the only way.’
Listen to Donald Byrd’s ‘A New Perspective,’ the song ‘Cristo Redentor,’ Oscar Brown Jr.’s ‘Brown Baby’ or ‘Maggie,’ Randy Weston’s ‘Little Niles’ or Ella Fitzgerald on ‘Lullabies of Birdland,’ ‘Ella Hums the Blues.’ These songs are standards that will be here after the sun has flown off with the stars.
For this Jazz Appreciation Month and International Jazz Day, everyone promises to take their friends or family to a live jazz show. Or introduce them to a jazz recording. OK if they are into Kenny G, then you have to start off with someone hip, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Stanley Turrentine, Lou Donaldson’s ‘Alligator Bogaloo’ or Houston Person.
If they are children, invest in a children’s jazz book: ‘Love to Langston Hughes’ by Tony Medina and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (Lee & Low Books); ‘Little Melba and Her Big Trombone’ by Katheryn Russell-Brown with illustrations by Frank Morrison (Lee & Low Books); and ‘I Live in Music,’ poems by Ntozake Shange and illustrations by Romare Bearden (Welcome Books).”
This month is the month to celebrate jazz musicians both present and past, a time to be grateful that such musicians walk the Earth and bless the planet with their magical music.”