On April 30, the United Nations observed International Jazz Day. Hundreds of concerts and events were organized by artists, communities and schools across the world. Many performers took part in the All-Star Global Concert, a live-stream event held in 13 cities on 5 continents. International Jazz Day is meant to do more than celebrate a certain kind of music. According to its organizers, it’s also a call to promote diversity, human rights, intercultural dialogue and peace. It should come as no surprise that jazz is associated with these values if we look at its history.
Jazz emerged in the early 20th century in New Orleans, in the United States. The city’s population was very diverse: there were people of African, English, French, Italian, German, Mexican, Caribbean and American Indian descent. African-American musical traditions mixed with those of other ethnic groups, and jazz was born. Jazz became proof that different cultures can interact peacefully and creatively to produce something new and harmonious.
Its connection to human rights can be seen in its role in fighting racism. For a long time, most jazz musicians were black, and their music gave them a voice at a time of racial segregation. It also supported the American Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King stated: “much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from [Jazz]. 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.”
The way jazz is performed is also relevant. Jazz is an exercise in freedom and individuality: it encourages musicians to improvise and to find their own style rather than follow tradition. A jazz piece can sound completely transformed when it is played by different musicians.
In the US, Jazz Day is particularly important because it comes at the end of Jazz Appreciation Month, promoted by the National Museum of American History. Its aim is to “encourage people to take jazz more seriously as a vital part of America’s cultural patrimony and as a great gift to the world.”
1) What is your favourite music genre? Describe why you like it and who your favourite artists are.
2) What’s your relationship with music? Does music play an important role in your life? Describe and explain.
(Image: Wikimedia Commons)