Jazz: What a Wonderful World

Louis Armstrong 2

Today is International Jazz Day.

Jazz is all about the human soul, music born in the freedom-crushing cradle of plantation slavery, a defiant child of relentless injustice, proclaiming emancipation of the human spirit well before the chains were cast aside.

No one agrees where the word “jazz” comes from.  Every source has a different story.  But it’s the perfect word for this music.  Jazz just sounds so jazzy. The name alerts you to music that has no boundaries; makes you sit down and expect music that’s allowed to defy limits.

Duke Ellington2Duke Ellington said it well:  “Jazz is a good barometer of freedom… In its beginnings, the United States of America spawned certain ideals of freedom and independence through which, eventually, jazz was evolved, and the music is so free that many people say it is the only unhampered, unhindered expression of complete freedom yet produced in this country.”

There are so many different kinds of jazz, it’s easy to find jazz lovers who like completely different music.  I have a friend who only likes New Orleans Dixieland, nothing else.  I have another who only listens to Charlie Parker.

Alisa-Clancy1Me, there’s a bunch of jazz I like.  I wake up every morning to Alisa Clancy’s Morning Cup of Jazz on KCSM, our Bay Area’s Jazz Station. Alisa starts at 6 am west coast time.  You can hear her at www.KCSM.org.  Best radio DJ I’ve heard in my life.  I always wake up grinning, and often laughing.

Jazz is extraordinary in that it’s the only music where each musician gets to play anything they want during their solo, they get to make it up, create from scratch, pure improvisation in the moment, while the other musicians listen respectfully, let them take the lead, follow and contribute to their sound.  Jazz is the ultimate in playing as a team … each person creating the unexpected, totally in the moment improvising, building off each other .

Wynton Marsalis in ChileAs Wynton Marsalis said:  “Jazz means working things out musically with other people. You have to listen to other musicians and play with them even if you don’t agree with what they’re playing. It teaches you the very opposite of racism and anti-Semitism. It teaches you that the world is big enough to accommodate us all.”

Being a jazz musician is one of the bravest careers there is.  Tell me another career that takes such courage!  My hat is off in gratitude to all of them, to the entire pantheon of greats from days gone by to those playing and singing today.   They fill my soul with every emotion, and ultimately optimism and triumph.  Today we celebrate the victory of the human spirit they bring to life in their music.

Here are some songs I love in case you’re in the mood for celebrating today with some jazz:

Wishing you a jazzy week ahead!



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