More than 100 years ago, a new form of music emerged. It was based on African American spiritual music, the sound and rhythm of funeral marching bands, touches of American and Acadian French folk strains, and a special blend of joy and sadness that was and remains hard to describe. The new music that came into being combined blues and syncopations with instrumental improvisations and flourishes based on melodic lines. It spread rapidly and combined with emerging popular and dance music. Its various dialects eventually became collectively known as "jazz.
The place where it all started was New Orleans, Louisiana. As I write this, that city and a wide swatch of geography beyond it is tremulously pulling out from under the most massive natural disaster in American history. Great numbers of people have evacuated the city, taken up residence in shelters, and/or are hospitalized. The dead '" no one yet knows how many '" are found on streets and in homes. Troops have moved in to control the looting, shootings, and rape. The region has been compared to a "Third World Nation, because heretofore such large scale disruption and the flood of refugees has been known to most Americans only from news stories about genocide and refugees in Africa, the sunami in South Asia, and earthquakes in India. We have been learning, first from 911, and now from the massive destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina, not only that "There but for the grace of God go I, but more profoundly, "There go I. As advanced technologically and economically as we may be, we are in some ways part of the Third World. Humanity is One both in its joys and in its suffering.
Coincidentally, the French Quarter, the site of Preservation Hall, the corner of the world where jazz was first heard, is flooded. It will take months or years to restore this mecca of entertainment, dining, history, and culture to where it can once again flourish.
Modern man has forgotten the lessons of tribesmen the world over: that we must give back to our ancestors and our roots. We must renew and preserve the source, or we risk losing the battles and virtues of the present.
Thus, jazz musicans and fans have a duty and obligation based on love of the music and love of the people. New Orleans- and especially the African American and Carribean people of that Crescent City- gave us the music that we cherish, that sustains us, that brings us into the darkness and takes us out of it again, that has given countless hours of joy and depth to people around the world. For our own spirit, as well as theirs, we need now to return the favor.
It is easy, in the hours of desperation, to lose hope, to believe "nothing can be done, to run away, to become absorbed in our own troubles. We should remember that cities have suffered catastrophes as massive as or worse than Hurricane Katrina, and not only been rebuilt, but preserved many aspects of their heritage and become flourishing centers of industry and culture once again. Berlin and St. Petersburg (Russia) were nearly destroyed in World War II. Today they thrive, and the world longs to visit them. London survived the Blitz. New York City came out from under the rubble of the World Trade Center, and '" despite the mourning and the loss and the horror '" it is as exciting and vibrant a place as ever.
The jazz community must play its part in the restoration of humanity, love, hope, dignity, culture, and music in New Orleans and its surrounding area. As a member of that community, only you can say how you are going to contribute to that effort. Perhaps you can start out by making a monetary donation, however large or small, to the disaster relief efforts. Maybe, too, you will find ways to donate your time and services to helping the people there recover their hope and their lives. Every time you listen to a jazz recording or attend a performance, ask yourself how you can give something back to the roots, to the ancestors, the source. Do something small or large to help. Full recovery will take not months but years. The neglected and abandoned won't go away. When the story becomes "old news and the media take it off "prime time, never forget, always remember. And be there in some way that fits with your heart, your conscience, and resources.
Specifically, I would like to suggest that the musicians and promoters/producers who visit our website consider doing one or more of these three things:
- Donate a percentage of your gross from recordings and concerts to the relief efforts (I realize that many musicians struggle to earn a living, so just do what you can; but if you have a large cash flow, especially at the corporate level, be generous.)
- Organize benefit concerts and make a CD specifically for the relief efforts.
- When possible, as the city becomes livable again, visit New Orleans, perform there, hold conferences and master classes there, etc. Affirm the Crescent City's jazz heritage, reawaken the jazz vibes there. Make a rebirth of jazz in that place.