“In essence, jazz is a music of peace, and this has never been so important, to fight against new forms of hatred, racism and discrimination and to strengthen humanity as a single community, sharing a past and a destiny,” said Irina Bokova, in her message for this year’s International Jazz Day — April 30. The Global Host City for the 2015 celebration was Paris.
Ms. Bokova, whose United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, of which she is the director-general, co-sponsors this worldwide cultural event, also said, “Jazz means understanding others, letting them speak, listening with respect. Jazz means courage – it means standing up for freedom, in the spirit of solidarity . . . In times of change and uncertainty, we need the spirit of jazz more than ever before, to bring people together, to nurture freedom and dialogue, and to create new bridges of respect and understanding for greater tolerance and cooperation.”
Ms. Bokova and ICAP co-president Herbie Hancock, who serves as a UNESCO Ambassador for Intercultural Dialogue and Chairman of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, are the driving forces behind International Jazz Day, and the Monk Institute is the lead nonprofit organization charged with planning, promoting and producing this annual celebration recognizing jazz as a vehicle for freedom of expression and dialogue between cultures.
The city of Paris hosted a daylong series of 55 jazz education and community outreach programs followed by 30 evening concerts. Additionally, thousands of events were held on all seven continents — more than 190 countries around the world — from Antarctica, Cote d’lvoire and Romania to Afganistan, Columbia and New Zealand. The day was celebrated in clubs, cultural institutions, schools, embassies, community centers, schools, private homes, retirement homes, soup kitchens, restaurants, hospitals, libraries, performing arts venues, as well as on street corners and in other locations.
International Jazz Day 2015 culminated with an All-Star Global Concert at UNESCO Headquarters that featured stellar performances by Annie Lennox, Herbie Hancock, Marcus Miller, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Wayne Shorter, Dianne Reeves, Al Jarreau, Femi Kuti, Hugh Masekela, Gregoire Maret, Claudio Roditi, Terri Lyne Carrington, Lee Ritenour, Ben Williams, John Beasley (Musical Director), and many others.
After expressing his appreciation to Ms. Bokova, Mr. Hancock and all the artists, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that this concert was a mini-United Nations with musicians from around the world, because they spoke the same language, language of jazz. The Secretary-General continued: “What a great spirit. It really inspires me. Sometimes, when I hit a very tough wall, I listen to jazz. When you hear jazz, you learn the secret to solving any problem: you just have to improvise. Jazz is spontaneous — but it also takes cooperation. I agree with Herbie Hancock when he said jazz is about working together and respecting each other.”
At the conclusion of the concert, Mr. Hancock said: “As Jazz Day comes to a close, my heart is full of joy, and my mind is overflowing with possibilities. Today, under the banner of jazz, for the fourth consecutive year, countless millions of people from every single part of our precious planet united in the belief that empathy for our fellow man is paramount. Proving that jazz effectively promotes and restores human dignity, champions freedom and inspires intercultural dialogue. The brilliant astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson encourages us to adopt a cosmic perspective and believes if we took more time to stop and look at the vastness of the universe, armies would cease to wage war.”
He also said: “Let’s take this moment to remember that each and every one of us is equal. We’re citizens of the world living together on this earth, and we have nowhere else to go. All of us inhabit this place we call home. We’re floating and hurtling through space and time at 67,000 miles per hour, and when seen from miles above, our amazing planet is actually just a sphere with no politics, a world with no wars, and a colossal heavenly body that has no borders . . . We must pledge to solidify our efforts, we must move mountains to uncover solutions to our incredibly difficult challenges, and, at the same time, we must sustain and develop our ideal world.”
As the main event was wrapping up, Mr. Hancock and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom, shared the exciting news that next April 30, for the 5th International Jazz Day, U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama would be hosting the All-Star Global Concert from the White House.
At the opening ceremony for International Jazz Day, held at Paris City Hall, Herbie Hancock received the city’s highest honor of distinction awarded to an individual — the Grand Vermeil Medal — from Mayor Anne Hidalgo. During her remarks at the ceremony, the Paris mayor paid tribute not only Mr. Hancock’s great musical talent but also to his commitment to harnessing jazz as a uniting force.
According to Mayor Hidalgo: “I know that for you, education and transmission are essential. As an Ambassador of Goodwill for UNESCO, you work with art and music schools. Paris fully shares this generous vision of art and values and jazz music: a dialogue of different cultures, the freedom of expression, the respect of human life. This is also a way, dear Herbie Hancock, to give back to you what you’ve been giving to Paris for a long time, playing and performing jazz music in our dear City of Paris. You are a generous and a gigantic artist, a pioneer in your art, who wants to offer always more music and love to your public.”