Happy International Jazz Day!

Established by the United Nations in 2011 at the initiative of UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Herbie Hancock, International Jazz Day brings together communities around the world every April 30th.

This year’s theme for International Jazz Day is “A Call for Global Peace and Unity.” The day is recognized in over 180 countries and all 50 U.S. states.

On Saturday, a live concert hosted by Herbie Hancock is streaming worldwide from the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. The concert, beginning at 5PM, will feature Marcus Miller, Gregory Porter, David Sanborn, Ravi Coltrane, José James, Terri Lyne Carrington, Linda Oh, Shemekia Copeland, Lizz Wright and many others.

Click on this link to watch the concert: https://youtu.be/VF9pu7H3CMo

Of course, Newport, RI has a special place in the jazz world. Today, we’re sharing a few highlights from recent interviews we conducted at the Newport Jazz Festival.

From a 2021 interview, Jazz Festival Artistic Director Christian McBride had some thoughts on the future of jazz.

“I know it’s been a broader conversion in jazz circles for quite some time … we want to make this music more appealing to a younger audience,” said McBride. “One of the tried-and-true ways of doing that is to book a band that’s going to hook them, somebody like Khruangbin or Cory Wong. They’ll come here and say we got a three-day pass, we’ll see Trombone Shortly and Andra Day. And then check out Immanuel Wilkins and Kenny Garrett. That’s the way we bring in younger audiences and school them about the legends that are here.”

“Make it fun,” he added. “There’s a certain human spiritual fun aspect about this music, every other so-called genre of music kind of focuses on it. We get way too deep in the weeds of intellectualizing, analyzing. There’s this subliminal message that you’re smarter than the rest of them if you like this music. We gotta cut that out.”

In our 2020 interview, Sax player Grace Kelly made similar remarks.

Grace Kelly at the 2018 Newport Jazz Festival (Photo: Ken Abrams)

“There’s a whole new wave coming in right now that is pushing jazz forward, and I’m very excited to be part of that. In my mind, if we can get one more person who wasn’t hip to jazz to now have an interest in it, that will help the music grow to an even larger audience, which I think is really, really important. In my mind, the world of this is jazz, this is pop, this is hip-hop, is very blurred in the way people listen to music. We’re in a playlist world, we’re in a video world, where people discover stuff on YouTube.”

Jose James, who presented a Bill Withers tribute at the 2018 Jazz Festival had some interesting ideas as well.

“The most consistent question I’ve heard in the last ten years is ‘Why did you do jazz? How did you get into jazz in the age of hip hop?’ It’s funny because jazz and hip hop have this very close connection. Most hip hop artists and producers hire jazz musicians when they play live. I just opened up for Common a couple of weeks ago. You start to realize jazz is the thread through American music. For me, once you sort of understand that constellation, you see jazz the way Quincy Jones does, like a special sauce just makes everything a little bit more sophisticated and a little bit more interesting.”

Jose James (Photo: Ken Abrams)

How can you support jazz music? Go see live shows, buy CD’s and vinyl, and share jazz with your friends who may not be familiar. There’s something for everyone!

Click here for more information on International Jazz Day.

Ken Abrams

Lifestyle Editor Ken Abrams writes about music and more for What'sUpNewp, Providence Monthly, SO RI, and The Bay. He DJ's "The Kingston Coffeehouse" Tuesday nights, 6-9 PM on WRIU 90.3 FM.