JT Notes June 2014--International Jazz Day: Now What?

Making the lessons count all year long

On April 30, for the past three years, I’ve been fortunate enough to attend the host-city concert of International Jazz Day (see p. 17), first in New York, then Istanbul and now Osaka, Japan. That what began as a hopeful idea from Herbie Hancock, UNESCO and the Thelonious Monk Institute has evolved into a massive success—with events taking place in all of the world’s 196 countries—is undeniable. Astounding, really, considering that jazz today is commercially marginal even in its birthplace, let alone Tonga and Somalia.

As a participant, it’s nearly impossible, if only for that single day, not to get caught up in the pan-cultural spirit. When I spoke with Monk Institute President Tom Carter at this year’s flagship event, he told me, “[IJD is] a global movement. It represents freedom and opportunity for people around the world. It’s gone so far beyond our expectations.”

But when I followed Carter’s heartfelt statement with a question—“Where does IJD go from here? Where will it be in 10 years?”—he confessed, “We have no idea!” Carter’s honesty, while refreshing, brings up a legitimate concern. Now that International Jazz Day has proven it can involve people everywhere, how do we make this message of cooperation last?

At the Osaka airport the morning after the concert, I watched as Herbie Hancock lugged his suitcase over to the check-in counter. A young Japanese airport employee recognized him immediately, smiled and congratulated him on his performance. Would she have noticed him a week ago? Maybe—the Japanese are some of jazz’s most loyal fans—but I like to think I saw IJD at work.

The challenge, from here, for IJD and the rest of us, is to take those lessons espoused each April 30 and figure out how to make them count on the other 364 days of the year.

Originally published in June 2014

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