Jazz Is Alive and Will Never Die

Mayor Michael Nutter’s remarks at the Jazz Connect Conference at APAP|NYC on Thursday, January 11, 2013

Mario Garcia Durham (President and CEO of APAP), Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, and Thirsty Ear Recordings' Peter Gordon talk music at the Jazz Connect Conference at the Hilton New York, Jan. 2013
Mayor Michael A. Nutter of Philadelphia gave the keynote speech at the Jazz Connect Conference, Jan. 2013, NYC

1 of 2   Next

Jazz is alive, and will never die.

Jazz is a unique American art form that affirms the noblest aspirations of our nation – individualism, discipline, perseverance, innovation…

As jazz saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker said, “Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.”

Jazz has produced some of America’s leading artists and ranks as one of our greatest exports to the world.

With its’ international popularity, jazz music has become a universal language that brings people of all races, ages and backgrounds together.

I am one of those people.

As President of the US Conference of Mayors, and Mayor of my hometown, I am in a position to promote and expand the reach of jazz music in our cities, schools and neighborhoods.


The first Jazz Appreciation Month celebration in the United States was held in April 2001, and organized by the curator of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.

Schools, organizations and governments big & small celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month with events ranging from free concerts to educational programs.

In 2008, my first year as Mayor of Philadelphia, the US Conference of Mayors adopted its first resolution calling for Mayors across the country to celebrate Jazz Appreciation Day.

USCM has continued to play an important role promoting the cultural sector as an economic driver for our national economy.

For those that aren’t familiar: the US Conference of Mayors is the official non-partisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more.

Almost 1,300 American cities are represented in the Conference, and I have been proud to serve as the Conference’s President since June 2012.

Cities and their metro areas represent more than 90% of the national GDP – and the creative sector is a large chunk of those cities’ economies.

In Philadelphia, we released a report in 2012 showing that more than 6% of our local economy is directly or indirectly linked with Arts & Culture, making it the 4th largest employment sector behind education, health care and retail.

That’s roughly 1 in every 15 jobs supporting the Creative Economy in Philadelphia – nearly 50,000.

Last spring – May 2012 – the US Conference of Mayors hosted the first city-focused World Cultural Economic Forum in New Orleans.

Mayors and cultural officials from more than 50 cities or countries from around the world attended to exchange ideas, build partnerships and shape the discussion on culture as an effective tool to spur innovation and economic growth.

Culture is about the heart and soul of a city, but the creative sector is about more than that. It’s about real, tangible jobs and increased quality of life for residents – people want to live in places that have thriving creative & performing arts to enjoy.

I’d like to recognize Mayor Landrieu of New Orleans, Chair of the USCM Committee on Tourism, Arts, Parks, Entertainment and Sports for his leadership on this issue.

The city of New Orleans plays an important role in our Nation’s cultural offerings – probably most notably through its central role in the history of jazz.

And while New Orleans is one of the most famous ‘jazz cities’, there are certainly many others.

Almost every major city in the America and around the world has some type of jazz festival, and there are hundreds of smaller towns that host events as well, some that you might not expect like:

– Birmingham, Alabama

– Davenport, Iowa

– Burlington, Vermont

– Reading, Pennsylvania

… along with all the ones we all know like Chicago, Detroit, New York, Los Angeles & Monterey, California, Montreal, and Newport, Rhode Island.

In addition to adding to the cultural life of the city, these festivals are huge economic growth generators adding millions of dollars to local economies through hotel rooms, meals, night-life and transportation providers.

Jazz is celebrated in every state in the nation and in almost every nation around the world.

I’m proud that Philadelphia has its own rich jazz tradition. Let me tell you a little bit about it…


For the first time in 2011, I designated April as Jazz Appreciation Month and signed a proclamation declaring April 11, 2011 “Jazz Day” in the City of Philadelphia.

The history of music in Philly runs the gamut – from South Philadelphia jazz legends Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang, to Gamble & Huff’s Philly International Records and the ‘Sound of Philadelphia’, to names known around the world as jazz pioneers and today’s working musicians:

Ethel Waters, the Heath Brothers, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Rice, Stan Getz, Grover Washington Jr., Shirley Scott, Kevin Eubanks, Orrin Evans and of course, John Coltrane.

Last year, I had the honor of standing in front of John Coltrane’s house in the Strawberry Mansion section of the city to declare April ‘Jazz Appreciation Month’ in Philadelphia for the second time as Mayor.

I look forward to doing it this year, and every year that I am Mayor – not just because I love jazz, but because I know how important it is to our city and to our collective identity as Americans.

Philadelphia’s jazz scene at the beginning of the 20th century developed like almost every other city’s scene – in the predominately African-American neighborhoods and clubs.

In Philly, that meant places along Columbia Avenue in North Philadelphia [re-named for civil rights activist Cecil B. Moore] and clubs like the Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts and Pep’s in South Philadelphia.

In 1970, Philadelphia become the home of Sun Ra’s band, which then helped lay the groundwork for the 80’s and 90’s and into the new millennium.

Today, Philadelphia still has places where you can hear great like Chris’ Jazz Café in Center City – which features nightly shows – and Relish in West Oak Lane, but we have far fewer than we used to.

We need to work to rebuild appreciation of jazz and promote innovate presentations of jazz music to build the audiences that clubs need to survive.

We also have a thriving jazz radio station – WRTI – sponsored by Temple University. It’s hosts have included notables such as Bob Perkins [BP with the GM on RTI!] and late, great Harrison Ridley Jr.

Bringing the jazz community together

Philadelphia has taken steps in the last few years to promote our heritage and preserve the art-form for future generations.

In 2010, the Philadelphia Jazz Coalition was formed to help promote Philadelphia’s celebration of Jazz Month in 2011.

The Coalition came together as an organization dedicated to the future of jazz in our city.

The members of the Coalition are caring, dedicated professionals hoping to address issues faced by jazz artists and producers across the board.

Issues like too few employment opportunities, low compensation for the opportunities that are available, lack of unity and cooperation among club owners and the musical community, and dwindling funding for music education programs.

And like the jazz community at large, the Coalition can come together to address these issues for the benefit of the future of jazz.

Just like in the early days of the genre, jazz has the ability to bring us together and cause controversy at the same time.

In the 1920’s, jazz drew patrons – black and white – to illegal speakeasies and the clubs in urban areas. At one time, jazz represented a threat to the moral order of America, according to some commentators.

Today, it is revered as the uniquely American art-form and appreciated the world over. It is studied in universities and heard in concert halls once reserved for European classics.

Let us reflect upon that remarkable transformation to guide us in dealing with the challenges we face in preserving jazz music in the modern world.

Always evolving, jazz continues to transform itself as new musicians experiment with the sounds to express themselves and tell their unique stories – from stride and swing, to be-bop and cool jazz, the music has evolved.

In the new millennium, jazz musicians have more options and more influences than ever before. They are compelled to wrestle with new questions about musical crossover and integration.

But just as it always has, jazz will continue to reflect the moods and diversity of our nation – a melting pot genre for a melting pot society.

It has stood the test of time because it has been open and accessible to everyone.

And regardless of where we fall on the spectrum, we all agree that the biggest challenge jazz music faces is remaining relevant.

In an economy where music programs are cut in schools and the popular music on the radio changes almost every day, jazz education is worth investing in.

Music and art must become standard parts of the school curriculum, like math, English & science, in every school in America.

Jazz music won’t endure unless young people pick up the torch. It is our responsibility to teach them to love it.

Looking forward – jazz education & promotion

In Philadelphia, many institutions offer jazz programs to talented students:

– The Kimmel Center Youth Jazz Ensemble

– Temple University Boyer School of Music’s Jazz Studies Program

– Settlement Music School offers jazz classes

– University of the Arts School of Music

– Maplewood Music Studio in Germantown

– The Clef Club’s jazz education program… and many more

In addition to these private institutions, the School District of Philadelphia is working hard to give every student a quality education that includes music instruction and appreciation in this difficult economy.

2013 marks the 15th year for the School District’s annual Jazz Fest. Students in our high schools prepare for several months in advance of the festival.

The School District has recently expanded instrumental music programs in more high schools hoping to encourage even more students to participate.

Students play the music of Sonny Rollins, James Peterik, Dizzy Gillespie, Chant Ray Bryant, Victor Lopez, Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, and Shawn Carter among others.

In 2012, the District hosted a week of concerts for students, performed by students visiting from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.

I know that one of my fellow presenters – Tom Carter – is with the Monk Institute.

Philadelphia students in five schools received master classes from Monk Institute members during their visit to Philadelphia.

One of those Institute members – Philadelphia’s own Christian McBride – was given a great surprise when he reunited with one of his childhood instrumental music teachers who was listening in the audience.

This teacher, Margie Keefe, is still teaching and mentoring students in our city after more than 35 years of service.

It is teachers like Margie that helped make Philadelphia’s jazz scene great.

Almost all of the musicians I mentioned earlier who claim Philadelphia as their hometown studied music in our schools.

Working with the School District and our Superintendent Dr. Bill Hite, I will do all that I can to protect these vital programs.


In closing, I’d like to share an excerpt of a poem: “Trumpet Player: 52nd Street” by Langston Hughes, a graduate of Lincoln University in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

The Negro

With the trumpet at his lips

Has dark moons of weariness

Beneath his eyes

Where the smoldering memory

Of slave ships

Blazed to the crack of whips

About his thighs…

The music

From the trumpet at his lips

Is honey

Mixed with fire.

The rhythm

From the trumpet at his lips

Is ecstasy

Distilled from old desire…

Although I think this poem speaks for itself, it reminds me of the reason we all love jazz and what has brought us together today.

Jazz is fire-y, spontaneous, riveting music that speaks to our souls.

We must do all that we can to sustain, nourish, preserve and promote the unique history and tradition of jazz in America.

Let me say it again, “Jazz is alive and will never die” – because we won’t let it!