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The 2017 International Jazz Day Global Concert

Art, people before politics at this all-star show in Havana, Cuba

Kurt Elling and Melissa Aldana (photo by Steve Mundinger)
Kurt Elling and Melissa Aldana (photo by Steve Mundinger)
From left: Richard Bona, Esperanza Spalding, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Chucho Valdés, Barbarito Torres, Pancho Amat, Marc Antoine
From left: Marcus Miller, Richard Bona, Esperanza Spalding, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Chucho Valdés, Barbarito Torres, Dhafer Youssef and Marc Antoine (photo by Steve Mundinger)
Youn Sun Na
Youn Sun Nah (photo by Steve Mundinger)
From left: Herbie Hancock, Oscar Valdés, Cassandra Wilson (photo by Steve Mundinger)
From left: Herbie Hancock, Oscar Valdés and Cassandra Wilson (photo by Steve Mundinger)
Oscar Valdés (photo by Steve Mundinger)
Oscar Valdés (photo by Steve Mundinger)

Despite taking place in Havana, Cuba, one of the most inspiring but politically complex nations on the planet, this year’s International Jazz Day Global Concert, which streamed live from the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso on Sunday, didn’t dig into specifics regarding any of the world’s governments or regimes. The two-and-a-half-hour all-star concert, presented in English and Spanish and hosted by Will Smith, with show-stealing assistance from bassist-vocalist Esperanza Spalding, stayed on message, again and again: International Jazz Day promotes the music as a language, a facilitator for meaningful, joyful democratic interaction between disparate peoples.

Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, which organizes the event alongside the Thelonious Monk Institute, spoke briefly and broadly but with spiritual pertinence. She reminded the house that jazz has been “the soundtrack for struggles all over the world,” and praised the 2017 host nation as “a country that understands the importance of music, with a society that grasps so intimately the power of culture to change lives.”

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Despite taking place in Havana, Cuba, one of the most inspiring but politically complex nations on the planet, this year’s International Jazz Day Global Concert, which streamed live from the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso on Sunday, didn’t dig into specifics regarding any of the world’s governments or regimes. The two-and-a-half-hour all-star concert, presented in English and Spanish and hosted by Will Smith, with show-stealing assistance from bassist-vocalist Esperanza Spalding, stayed on message, again and again: International Jazz Day promotes the music as a language, a facilitator for meaningful, joyful democratic interaction between disparate peoples.

Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, which organizes the event alongside the Thelonious Monk Institute, spoke briefly and broadly but with spiritual pertinence. She reminded the house that jazz has been “the soundtrack for struggles all over the world,” and praised the 2017 host nation as “a country that understands the importance of music, with a society that grasps so intimately the power of culture to change lives.”

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published