The legendary Mariinsky Theatre, home of the Kirov Ballet, and the site where Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and other towering figures in the history of music premiered their masterworks on stage, played host to a global all-star concert in commemoration of International Jazz Day 2018 on April 30. Leading up to this signature event, all across the historic former capital of Russia there had been several days of educational outreach programs, concerts, keynote speeches, workshops and lively dialogues among musicians. Jazz emerged in this ancient metropolis in 1927, known then as Leningrad, with the founding of the Saint Petersburg State Capella Choir, followed in 1929 by the city’s first actual jazz band.
Over the past six years, consistent with its name, International Jazz Day—April 30 has been marked with performances and programs in 190 countries, located on all seven continents. International Jazz Day is the brainchild of world-renowned jazz keyboardist and composer Herbie Hancock, set in motion shortly upon his appointment as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador in 2011. The following year, UNESCO, in coordination with the Thelonious Monk Institute, established and proclaimed International Jazz Day, which is now celebrated annually on April 30 in order to raise global awareness of the virtues of jazz as an educational tool and as a force for advancing intercultural dialogue and understanding around the world.
In his remarks at the concert, Mr. Hancock expressed his appreciation to the host city, Saint Petersburg, a centuries-old bastion of arts, culture and magnificent architecture, then said: “April 30 has become known as the day that people of all ages, genders and ethnicity come together to prove that our similarities are stronger than our differences . . . Jazz is a musical art form that epitomizes tolerance, respect and peaceful coexistence by breaking down barriers, stimulating intercultural dialogues and encouraging new forms of expression. Music is a powerful force for positive social transformation . . . From its birth, jazz symbolized the struggle for humanity, for human dignity, civil rights and human rights, and International Jazz Day continues to express and communicate this vital message of freedom to all world citizens.”
Mr. Hancock concluded by affirming: “Now more than ever before, the world needs International Jazz Day. With its vision for the future of humanity, International Jazz Day champions the connectedness of all people . . . This evening’s all-star cast of culturally diverse musicians from around the globe have assembled here in Saint Petersburg and will demonstrate that jazz has the power to unite all world citizens as one race — the human race.”
UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay said that the message for freedom “is rooted at the very core” of jazz music, which is defined by improvisation. “The ability for musicians to come together and listen, play and exchange artistry through this free-flowing expression reflects the spirit of freedom movements across the world,” she added.
The day’s celebration included performances by an formidable roster of artists including Oleg Akkuratov (Russia), Till Brönner (Germany), Oleg Butman (Russia), Terri Lyne Carrington (USA), Joey DeFrancesco(USA), Fatoumata Diawara (Mali), Vadim Eilenkrig (Russia), Kurt Elling (USA), Antonio Faraò (Italy), James Genus (USA), Robert Glasper (USA), David Goloschekin (Russia), Hassan Hakmoun (Morocco), Gilad Hekselman (Israel), Horacio Hernandez (Cuba), Taku Hirano (Japan), Anatoly Kroll (Russia), Gaoyang Li (China), Rudresh Mahanthappa (USA), The Manhattan Transfer (USA), Branford Marsalis (USA), James Morrison (Australia), Moscow Jazz Orchestra (Russia), Makoto Ozone (Japan), Danilo Pérez (Panama), Dianne Reeves (USA), Lee Ritenour (USA), Luciana Souza (Brazil) and Ben Williams (USA).
John Beasley (USA) served as musical director.
The concert, co-directed by Mr. Hancock and the virtuoso Russian saxophonist Igor Butman, the concert was live-streamed by the United Nations and UNESCO and on the event website www.jazzday.com.
The concert drew to a stunning conclusion when the entire lineup came together in a moving rendition of John Lennon’s beloved peace anthem, “Imagine.”