Free Jazz Music: Click here to listen and/or download a very beautiful Jazz track by the author of this article, Iye Echa, a great Jazz musician. It is Iye’s and Afreecan Read’s International Jazz Day gift to our readers and visitors.
Pick Up: Jazz Appreciation Day
In November 2011, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) officially designated April 30 as an International Jazz Day in order to highlight jazz and its diplomatic role of uniting people in all corners of the globe. Therefore, 30 April is ‘officially’ jazz appreciation day, as if ‘those in the know’ neglect jazz. However, what about those who know nothing about the art form? I think this day has the mandate of reaching out to this group. This day has a specific purpose: International Jazz Day brings together communities, schools, artists, historians, academics, and jazz enthusiasts all over the world to celebrate and learn about jazz and its roots, future and impact; raise awareness of the need for intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding; and reinforce international cooperation and communication. Therefore, jazz day is all about creating awareness of the art form.
A Scratch, not a Groove
Jazz or African American Classical music or improvised or instrumental music or any name you like to call the art form is more than a century old. In this short piece, I will reflect on what the art form has meant to the world. This reflection only scratches the surface of this rich musical genre (I encourage the reader to further explore some of the subject matter highlighted in this piece).
Riff: America’s Greatest Invention
Some call jazz ‘America’s greatest invention’. There are several reasons presumably why this music is so called. First, ‘jazz’ is a conflation of many cultures and musical elements. The art form could have started in faraway Africa; specifically its syncopated rhythm. The slaves carried their rhythms with them during their voyage to the Americas. In the United States of America, the slaves experimented with different harmonic and textural forms from varying sources (blues from Africa and folk music from elsewhere and European harmony). Second, the art form has spread to every nook and cranny of the globe. In every continent of the world, there is a ‘jazz’ musician. The music’s spread I credit to the ingenuity of musicians like King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and many other musicians who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of excellence in the art through music. Jazz will forever be indebted to these great people. Third, it is a democratic art form. What do I mean by this? Picture the very simplistic definition of democracy as government of the people, by the people and for the people. Now, if I replace the government with ‘jazz’ I could also claim that the art form is of the people. It is made by the people and for the people because the art form allows for the appropriation of folk elements from any culture that embraces it. It is no wonder that some people call the art form the most democratic institution to ever exist.
Interlude: Music in Transit
Jazz is music in transit. What I mean by this is that jazz has never stayed the same since it came on-board. From ragtime, blues, swing, bebop, cool, hard bop, free and the very many mutations and variations of jazz, the music has constantly evolved and never stagnant. Because jazz is ever changing and evolving, some people get confused nowadays about so many kinds of music that people brand as jazz. Some people use the word loosely to refer to any musical form with a saxophone (the quintessential jazz instrument) or that allows for improvisation.
A musician who plays ‘jazz music’ draws not only from the ‘jazz ‘tradition’ but also from folk elements in their regions or cultures. In Africa, there are many forms of jazz, usually grouped as Afro jazz. Many African folk elements have been fused with jazz elements (Ethiopian jazz, marabi, South African jazz, Highlife jazz and many more). For instance, as a musician who plays improvised music, I draw inspiration from rural Africa when I write music. The song titled Deceit is a reflection of how elements of jazz music can be fused with local elements. For example, the 4/4 jazz rhythm has been replaced with the 6/8 syncopated rhythm from the Southern part of Nigeria where I grew up in. The beauty of improvised music is that it allows for this kind of alteration and this in my view is the reason why jazz has endeared itself to many cultures and people all over the world.
Outro: A transition of thousand notes begins with Miles
In closing, “International Jazz Day is the culmination of Jazz Appreciation Month, which draws public attention to jazz and its extraordinary heritage throughout April.” Therefore, it might be appropriate to recommend a few recordings to those who, after reading this piece would like to go on the jazz adventure. I will like to recommend an ‘entry level’ jazz album by Miles Davis called Kind of Blue. After listening to this record, you can investigate who the musicians were that assisted Miles Davis create this masterpiece of an album. Search up the name of the drummer, the pianist, and the saxophonists (two of them) and of course read something about Miles Davis. Once you complete your investigation of this record, you would have started on the right path to discovering more jazz music and musicians.
I wish every jazz lover a happy jazz day.
Iye Echa MA, is a doctoral candidate (University of Amsterdam), a cultural analyst, musicologist & musician. Iye made a beautiful jazz piece for Afreecan Read called Decieit. To listen or download it, click here. it’s