It began with an inspirational talk by pianist Danilo Perez on how jazz can be a unifying force in the world, spawning creativity and collaboration that just might help solve the seemingly intractable problems of poverty, global warming and war. It ended with an inspiring performance by Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra of the antiwar suite "Not in Our Name," possibly the most joy-filled hour of protest music ever conceived in the jazz age.
The 34th annual conference of the International Association of Jazz Education attracted some 8,000 people from forty countries to New York City January 10-13educators, musicians, and music followers ranging from club owners, record manufacturers and promoters to writers, broadcasters and just plain jazz fans.
The opening session, "Envisioning the Future of Jazz," despite the title, didn't yield any crystal ball gazing on how the music will sound 50 or 100 years from now. As Perez said, "Change is the only constant in jazz." The music will evolve in unpredictable ways.
Choosing not to prognosticate and instead looking toward the past, the Panamanian pianist summed up jazz history: a music born in the U.S. that has spread throughout the world and absorbed sounds from everywhere. To survive, though, its practitioners must master technology "without losing touch with our spiritual essence," he said, tapping his heart.
Turning to the present, Perez implored several hundred listeners to push for more jazz in school curriculums, to search out new venues like libraries and museums where aspiring players can perform, and to lobby for more government funding to help develop future leaders in this music.
Other speakers during the afternoon-long opening session amplified these points.
Trumpeter Sean Jones: So many musicians are also by necessity educators, and need to "teach people why it's important to play and listen to jazz." Musicians trying to make names for themselves, he continued, need to "strive for a balance between where the music has been and where it's going" so as not to lose listeners, he said.
Pianist Kenny Werner: Jazz teaches the ability to improvise, "to think on your feet," and also requires "ability to feel. If we could adopt jazz as a philosophy and continue to export it to the world, (it could) help people evolve into more creative, vibrant beings."
IAJE President Chuck Owen got in plugs for the organization's "Campaign for Jazz" and its summer jazz camp in Park City, Utah, as part of the mission to grow the audience. Without listeners, he pointed out, "the music is not going to be around." Jazz, he said, does not want to be "the child America leaves behind."
I visited three more presentations on jazz's future over the ensuing three days.
At one, entitled "Jazz in My Space," hosted by AAJ's Michael Ricci
, seven musicians (listed here
) savvy in the ways of website design, MySpace, YouTube, blogging and Mogging, iPods and iTunes, video and photo gallery posting and other technological wizardry, offered tips on making the best use of the internet to attract listeners and CD buyers.
At a second, Professor Rick Lawn touted the textbook/internet course in jazz studies he spent seven years creating, and showed how music teachers can use it in their classrooms.
At a third, Thelonious Monk Jr., who heads the institute named for his famous father, and colleagues unveiled "Jazz in America," a new introductory course available free on the Internet, also designed for classroom use for kids in grades 5, 8 and 11.
The course's centerpiece is a series of animated videos featuring "tour guide" Herbie Hancock leading viewers on "journeys through jazz," virtual visits to places like New Orleans, Chicago and New York, where musical history was made. The theme song, "Watermelon Man," was an inspired choice, a catchy tune with universal appeal.
Classes dismissed, I went off to enjoy some of the more than 100 performances taking place morning, noon and night. Time was well spent listening to young pianist Taylor Eigsti's trio; to Jerry Dodgion and his Joy of Sax ensemble, featuring Frank Wess playing classic blues on flute; and to chanteuse Mini Agossi and saxophonist Pierrick Pedron, among the more than 200 French guests at IAJE.
The stars who shone on the main ballroom stage for the evening concerts were Joey DeFrancesco, the Tito Puente alums comprising the Latin Giants of Jazz, the Clayton Brothers Quintet, the Slide Hampton's Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Band, French superstars Michel LeGrand, Didier Lockwood and Richard Galliano, and the aforementioned Charlie Haden orchestra. Haden dedicated the grand finale set to two friends who had died within the previous 24 hours, Alice Coltrane and Michael Brecker.