December 19, 2012
Watch Night Service 2012 might make history as well as commemorate it. Guess we’ll have to watch and see.
The roots of Watch Night Service celebrated in many African American communities nationwide are founded in American slave and liberation history. Lore has it that on midnight, December 31, 1862, the New Year was ushered in by slaves watching and praying for news that President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had become law. At the time more than three million African Americans in the U.S. were in bondage, primarily in the south.
The document penned by President Lincoln in 1862 during a critical juncture in the Civil War declared that on Jan. 1 all slaves in confederate states would be legally free and that “such persons of suitable condition will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.”
After the proclamation became law, nearly 200,000 former slaves (joined by 10,000 freedmen) entered the Union Army along with 19,000 who joined the Navy to fight for their freedom.
In the painting above, slaves and an apparent lone white woman congregate on Watch Night to await a dramatic shift in American history as the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in confederate states, is about to take effect. The watch held by the old man in white shirt and red vest is set at five minutes before midnight…or freedom. The 1863 painting by William Tolman Carlton is sometimes known by the abbreviated title, “Waiting for the Hour.”
The 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation is being commemorated at the Smithsonian with the exhibition Changing America, among other events. And serving as preamble is a show at the American Art Museum where a host of works tell the story of how Americans, and particularly American artists, perceived the anxieties of a nation divided and at war. The National Archives will celebrate with Watch Night and New Year’s Day events that include their exhibition of an original copy of the proclamation, music and a dramatic reading of the proclamation by scholar andactivist artist Bernice Reagon.
End of year worries, whether mythical or fiscal has everyone on edge. Should we stay up late on December 20, watching to see if we make it past December 21? That’s the date that the Mayan Calendar allegedly signals the end of the world. (The Smithsonian National Museum of American Indian has created the Mayan calendar project to alleviate your fears.)
Once over the Mayan Calendar hurdle, we have to watch that we don’t “Fall Off the Cliff” as the government scrambles to determine and pass fiscal policies to replace those on a countdown to expire Jan. 1.
Lots of watch nights to watch for.
Joann Stevens is program manager of Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), an initiative to advance appreciation and recognition of jazz as America’s original music, a global cultural treasure. JAM is celebrated in every state in the U.S. and the District of Columbia and some 40 countries every April. Recent posts include Hawai`i’s Troubadour of Aloha and Remembering Dave Brubeck, Goodwill Ambassador
December 10, 2012
Six years ago, Jake Shimabukuro and his music were largely unknown on the American mainland. He was popular in his native Hawai`i and in Japan where he’d spent a decade touring and convincing music industry leaders there to accept a solo performing, ukulele player. His life is secret no more.
Today Shimabukuro’s solo concerts fill symphony halls. Fans range from cutting edge hipsters to high-brow arts patrons. An impromptu solo performance on YouTube of the musician playing a Beatles song sitting atop a rock in New York’s Central Park has received more than 11 million views. Youth from pre-schoolers to grad students are awed by his artistry and eclectic mix of music which includes traditional Hawaiian songs, jazz standards, classical music, pop tunes, and so on. Music critics have compared his originality to that of rock legend Jimi Hendrix and jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, citing Shimabukuro’s explosive energy onstage and his ability to coax unheard of musical sounds and performances from the ukulele.
Yet the most engaging characteristic of Shimabukuro’s propulsion to rock star-like status is perhaps his spirit of Aloha —the expression of Hawaiian principles of life, love and human interaction that guide his world view. Aloha has made him a recognized troubadour of culturally-influenced music that people find healing and inspirational.
“A decade ago I was watching Jake,” Konrad Ng, director of the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Center, told a capacity crowd at a recent event that featured a Shimabukuro performance and the screening of a documentary about the musician by filmmaker Tadashi Nakamura, who postponed graduate school to travel with the artist. “Jake Shimabukuro exemplifies the meaning of Aloha with his humility and grace,” said Ng, who is from Hawaii. “He is our Ambassador of Aloha.”
This night, the mostly young audience was diverse by age, race and cultural background, with a healthy representation of Asian Americans. The auditorium fell dark, a spotlight trained on the lone performer. Occasionally cell phone lights popped up like fire flies, but the intrusions were minor. The focus was intensely tuned to the music and Shimabukuro’s commentary.
Hawaiian music and culture, he told the audience, have shaped his life and guided his values. Ukulele was his comfort when his parents divorced, and during the long hours that his mother worked to provide for him and a younger brother. ”My family is everything to me,” he said, citing his mother as his first music teacher, when he was four. “I always consider myself a traditional Hawaiian musician first. That’s the music I was raised with.”
He played a traditional Hawaiian song, followed by an original composition that he wrote as a tribute to Japanese American soldiers—like Hawaiian Senator Daniel Inouye—who fought for the U.S. during World War II, demonstrating their unswerving allegiance to a nation that doubted their loyalty.
“They made life better for me,” he said of the soldiers. “I named this song Go for Broke.” Respecting and recognizing ancestral pioneers, family members and supporters, is important to him. He said that NEA National Heritage Fellow Eddie Kamae is a role model and source of inspiration. The makers of Kamaka ukuleles believed in his music from his teen years, providing instruments for him long before his global fame. He is passionate about bringing Hawaiian music and culture to new generations. While in Washington, DC, he visited Eastern Senior High School.
On May 10, 2013, the PBS network will air Tadashi Nakamura‘s documentary, Life on Four Strings, a deeply moving, honest portrait of the people, places and events that created and re-shaped Shimabukuro over his 30-plus years. Working with Nakamura on the documentary in tsunami ravaged Sendai, Japan, the hometown of Kasuza Flanagan, the manager who devoted her life to building his career, was the hardest. Shimabukuro says that he was overcome by what he saw and was unable to speak much while there. The film’s images of Shimabukuro with Flanagan in Japan tell the story, showing the despair that surrounded them, but also the hope as he played his ukulele in schools that had been turned into refugee camps and in nursing homes. His music, he says, was his voice, bringing a bit of love and inspiration.
The documentary Life on Four Strings was co-produced by the Center for Asian American Media and Pacific Islanders in Communications. Joann Stevens is program manager of Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), an initiative to advance appreciation and recognition of jazz as America’s original music, a global cultural treasure. JAM is celebrated in every state in the U.S. and the District of Columbia and some 40 countries every April. Recent posts include Remembering Dave Brubeck, Goodwill Ambassador and Playlist: Eight Tracks to Get Your Holiday Groove On.
December 6, 2012
Dave Brubeck, who died Wednesday at age 91, was a quintessential jazz artist of the 20th and 21st centuries. He didn’t just perform music, he embodied it, taking us to outer stratospheres with compositions like Take Five included in “Time Out,” the first jazz album to sell a million copies. Tributes are sure to highlight Brubeck’s tours, music milestones, awards, complex rhythms and honors like making the cover of Time magazine in 1954.
I’ve loved Brubeck’s music since hearing Take Five at age 10. But it was only after joining the Smithsonian’s Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) initiative in 2008 that I met him, saw him perform live and experienced his lifelong commitment to social justice and unity in the U.S. and worldwide. Brubeck said “freedom and inclusion” were core principles of jazz. This was a creed he lived by and the legacy he leaves. The National Museum of American History has supported that legacy in its JAM programming. These are some of the remembrances that I wish to share of our relationship with Dave Brubeck, Goodwill Ambassador of music around the world.
Every year, JAM creates a jazz poster that is distributed, free worldwide with help from the U.S. State Department, the Department of Education and other collaborators. When the then 88-year-old artist LeRoy Neiman learned that Brubeck was to be a 2009 Kennedy Center honoree, he created a playful portrait of a white-haired Brubeck as elder statesmen, in recognition of his lifetime achievements. That lasting image became a grace note to American jazz, and was distributed to every U.S. middle school, to every U.S. embassy, to 70,000 music educators and to some 200,000 people, worldwide, who wrote us and requested copies. A framed copy, autographed by Brubeck, hangs in the museum director’s office. Brubeck’s message reads “Jazz Lives! Keep Playing!”
At a White House reception for the 2009 Kennedy Center honorees, President Barack Obama introduced Brubeck with these words: “You can’t understand America without understanding jazz. And you can’t understand jazz without understanding Dave Brubeck.” The president shared a cherished childhood memory.
The President then recalled the few precious days he’d spent with his absentee father: “One of the things he did was to take me to my first jazz concert.” That was 1971, in Honolulu. “It was a Dave Brubeck concert and I’ve been a jazz fan ever since.”
First concert, a concept that introduces children to jazz, is carried on today by an elite corps of jazz students, selected annually, for the Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet. They have performed regularly at the Smithsonian’s free JAM music programs. But even free can be costly to schools serving low income, immigrant neighborhoods, where travel budgets are small or non-existent. Unable to bear the travel expense, an area elementary school music teacher asked JAM’s help to deliver jazz programming to the classroom instead. The Quintet and Brubeck program leaders responded, first holding chat sessions and then playing two sets for 800 students and invited area teachers. The air was electric with the joy of children, most of them immigrants from Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, hearing Blue Rondo A La Turk and other Brubeck tunes. Later the children created art and poetry about the band and how the music made them feel. The arc of Brubeck’s Jazz legacy was in full swing that day. Teachers marveled at the Quintet’s performance, admitting ”we didn’t think they’d be that good.”
April 2008 marked the 50th anniversary of Dave Brubeck’s State Department Tour as the first U.S. jazz musician to perform behind The Iron Curtain. Meridian International, a JAM collaborator, presented a series of panel discussions and concerts. Jam sessions, a traveling exhibition, featured images of Brubeck, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and other jazz legends from the Archives Center’s jazz collections. John Hasse, curator of American music, joined Brubeck and others on the program.
“Dave Brubeck was a pioneer and brillant master of jazz cultural diplomacy,” Hasse said. “Serving on a program with him was a privilege I shall always cherish.”
Especially poignant during the anniversary was to have Brubeck at the Smithsonian for an onstage oral history. He talked candidly about his life, music and vision for a united humanity. He recalled the days of Jim Crow when tours with an integrated band proved challenging in the U.S. and abroad. Still, Brubeck rarely backed down about having African American bassist Eugene Wright in the band. He faced many challenges with a courageous, wry humor.
In the early 1960s, just before Brubeck was to perform before a crowd of boisterous students in a college gymnasium in the south, the school’s president told the band it couldn’t perform with Wright on the stage. The band packed up to leave. With the crowd cheering impatiently for Brubeck to perform, the administrator and the state governor, who had been called, caved on the condition that Wright take a place in the shadows at the back of the stage. With a firm grace, Brubeck placed a standing mic next to his piano and told his bassist ”Your microphone is broken. Use this one.” With Wright at center stage, the band performed to an exuberant, capacity crowd.
A friendship with jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong produced a collaboration with Brubeck and his wife, Iola, that created the Real Ambassadors, a cutting-edge, jazz musical that faced the nation’s race issues with lyrics like those in the song They Say I Look Like God, that had Armstrong sing: “If both are made in the image of thee, could thou perchance a zebra be?”
A concert in South Africa with Brubeck and his sons was mired by the shadow of death threats that the musicians received, if the integrated band performed.
“What did you do?” the interviewer asked.
Flashing his characteristic toothy grin, Brubeck said he told his sons. ”Spread out on stage. They can’t get us all.”
Joann Stevens is program manager of Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), an initiative to advance appreciation and recognition of jazz as America’s original music, a global cultural treasure. JAM is celebrated in every state in the U.S. and the District of Columbia and some 40 countries every April. Recent posts include Playlist: Eight Tracks to Get Your Holiday Groove On and Danilo Pérez: Creator of Musical Guardians of Peace.
December 4, 2012
It’s that time of year again when the airwaves jingle with a potpourri of holiday music, performances and mashups, featuring songs and artists with jazz, pop culture, film, classical and sacred music roots. Some of the chestnut classics are playing 24/7 on radio stations (for those of you who still listen to radio) across the land.
Speaking of chestnut classics, during his 29-year career, jazz vocalist and pianist Nat King Cole recorded four versions of his chestnuts roasting by open fire “The Christmas Song” before arriving at the 1961 version that became the perennial favorite. Surprisingly, the tune was composed on a hot summer day in 1944 by Mel Tormé and Robert Wells. Whitney Houston released her stellar version in 2003. Two years later, the music licensing organization ASCAP noted that the song was number one among the ten most performed holiday tunes during the first five years of the 21st century. Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, were two and three, respectively.
I always keep my ear out for Eartha Kitt. The original Cat Woman purrs for holiday furs, cars and jewels in Santa Baby, a satirical tune co-written in 1953 by Philip Springer and Joan Javits, niece of U.S. Senator Jacob Javits.
Whether your tastes veer towards the traditional or something a little funkier, here’s an eclectic mix of jazz and other music by seasoned and emerging artists to explore this season, along with some interesting bedtime stories you probably didn’t know. So curl up with your hot cocoa and click through some of my holiday favorites.
Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s Nutcracker Suite. Tchaikovysky swings in the hands of these classically trained jazz masters. In 1960 the duo reinvented the ballet classic, mixing rhythms and musical styles. These two selections bring sass to the Nutcracker Overture and make the Sugar Plum Fairies sound like they’re hung over from too much partying at the Sugar Rum Cherry Dance.
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree. At four foot nine, country music-rock star Brenda Lee was known as Little Miss Dynamite. She was 13 when she recorded this classic in 1958. Her version became a chart buster in 1960 and reigns as the all time favorite, played by radio formats from Top 40 to Country Music to Adult Contemporary and Adult Standards. Nielsen Sound Scan rated digital track sales at 679,000 downloads. Miley Cyrus also had fun with the song .
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Composed by Hugh Martin Jr., who also wrote “The Trolley Song” and “The Boy Next Door” for the film Meet Me in St. Louis, starring Judy Garland. This song from the film might have become the most depressing holiday song ever written. Luckily studio executives and Garland intervened, requesting rewrites to give the public a more hopeful classic. Compare the original lyrics to the holiday friendly versions sung by Frank Sinatra and Luther Vandross.
The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late). What more can I say? Gotta love Alvin and the Chipmunks in this song composed by Rostom Sipan “Ross” Bagdasarian, who had a knack with novelty music. The son of Armenian immigrants, Bagdasarian was a bit stage and film actor whose first musical success, ”Come-on-a-My House,” was a dialect song that became a hit for Rosemary Clooney, the aunt of actor George Clooney. The song was co-written with Bagdasarian’s cousin, the famous writer William Saroyan. Go ahead, do your best impersonation. ALLLLLVIN!
Oh Chanukah. This traditional song commemorating the Jewish Festival of Lights was standard fare in the New York City school programs when music appreciation and performances were used to explore cultural diversity and heritage. Enjoy the traditional song by this young choir and an offering of Klezmer holiday music by a high school sax quartet. Klezmer Jazz a fusion of the rhythms and traditional music of the Ashkenazic Jews of Eastern Europe with American jazz, evolved in the U.S. in the 1880s.
Carol of the Bells. One rarely hears jazz played on the Hawaiian ukelele or such performances compared with Miles Davis, unless you’re Jake Shimabukuro — a largely self-taught virtuoso who was introduced to the instrument by his mother. Listen to his take of the classic Carol of the Bells, a song based on a traditional Ukranian folk chant, followed by a rocking jazz performance .
Yagibushi. Okay it’s not a holiday carol but if music by jazz performer Chichiro Yamanaka, a standout at the 2012 Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival, doesn’t rouse you for the holidays, nothing will.
Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is observed from December 26 to January 1 in Canada and the U.S. to honor African and African American cultural traditions that teach valuable life principles.
And Now for Something Completely Different. Jazz pianist/composer and NEA Jazz Master Randy Weston has made African and world culture the core of his creative process. Blue Moses is a composition influenced by time Weston spent in Morocco learning the traditions and musical culture of the Gnawa people—West Africans taken to North Africa as slaves and soldiers around the 16th century. In an interview with Jo Reed, Weston said that within the Gnawa music ”I heard the blues, I heard Black jazz, I heard the music of the Caribbean, I heard the foundation which proved to me that the rhythms of Africa, they remained alive, but disguised in different forms, whether in Honduras, or Haiti, or Jamaica, or Trinidad, or Brazil, or Mississippi. ”
Happy Musical Holidays!
Joann Stevens is program manager of Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), an initiative to advance appreciation and recognition of jazz as America’s original music, a global cultural treasure. JAM is celebrated in every state in the U.S. and the District of Columbia and some 40 countries every April. Recent posts include Danilo Pérez: Creator of Musical Guardians of Peace and Jason Moran: Making Jazz Personal.
Read more articles about the holidays with our Smithsonian Holiday Guide here
November 28, 2012
Grammy award-winning jazz pianist and composer Danilo Pérez is a global citizen of music, equally inspired by the rhythms of world cultures and ecologies as with the traditional and contemporary sounds of his native Panama. It’s all music to his ears, and Pérez, who is a 2009 recipient of the Smithsonian Latino Center’s Legacy Award, is legendary for creating artistic mashups that connect continents and cultures, as well as history.
Mentored by jazz luminaries such as Dizzy Gillespie and Wayne Shorter, in 1989 Pérez was the youngest member of the Dizzy Gillespie United Nations Orchestra, a portent of things to come. Other recognitions include: Founder of the Panama Jazz Festival and the Danilo Pérez Foundation; Artistic Director of the Mellon Jazz Up Close series at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, and the Berklee Global Jazz Institute; tours or recordings with the Wynton Marsalis Band, Wayne Shorter Quartet, Jack DeJohnette and Tito Puente, among others; featured performer at the this year’s first International Jazz Day concert at the United Nations on April 30; and finally, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and Cultural Ambassador of Panama.
Recently we caught up with Pérez by telephone to discuss his latest recognition as UNESCO Artist of Peace, to promote UNESCO’s message and programs.
Congratulations! How did the Artist of Peace recognition develop?
It was very important for me to accept the invitation to perform at the UN concert for the first International Jazz Day. I made wonderful connections through Herbie Hancock. Mika Shino (Executive Director of UNESCO’s International Jazz Day) is our advisor working with Herbie Hancock, Dee Dee Bridgewarter and myself. She is very practiced in this world (of the UN). They saw me in New York and then looked at all the things I’ve been doing. This honor was even supported by the President of Panama. My relationship with Wayne Shorter also had a lot to do with this. He introduced me to [many] of these people and helped create recognition for my work in Panama. They saw that I was working on a scale of social activism to change peoples’ lives. When I found out the news, I saw this as another leg in the journey of my life. Four years ago I got the Legacy Award at the Smithsonian. That same year I was awarded by Spain. It keeps going, like a journey.
How will you represent UNESCO in this role?
The two big things I will represent is UNESCO as the guardian of education, science, and culture, and as a peace builder. One of the biggest commitments of my life is to education and how it can bridge conflict.
Will your global jazz institute have a role in the work?
I created the Berklee Global Jazz Institute to foster social change through music and interconnected learning. We use different disciplines such as science, mathematics and painting to create a musician who is more complete. We also teach creative music and ecology by taking kids into the jungle to interact with the sounds and force of nature.
We won a grant to take this learning to Africa next year through the U.S. State Department. We’re going to Benin and to Burkina Faso. Possibly a third country. My dream is to create a curriculum that can be expanded, developed in Panama and taken to all of Latin America. Berklee is the center of our learning laboratory. We also have exchanges with other countries. The main goal of the Institute is to create the Guardians of the Creative Process, to develop a new generation of musicians to become future ministers and ambassadors of culture.
What can jazz artists teach the world about peace?
Having a gift means having a responsibility. Social and cultural interchanges can be advanced through music.
How has life prepared you for this leadership role?
Four things in my life prepared me. The first was my father, an educator who taught me interconnected learning, which he practiced on me. In 1967, he wrote a thesis about music as a tool to teach other subjects. As a kid I didn’t like mathematics. Through music I became an electronics major.
The second was my relationship with Dizzy Gillespie. He taught me the value of thinking about music globally—to use music as a tool to bridge differences and bring people together. I played in his United Nations band.
Another part that is very moving for me was the U.S. invasion of Panama on December 20 (1989). I was having my first concert in Panama, since leaving, on December 22. I decided to do the concert anyway. I did the concert while the invasion was going on. I said, ‘if I die, I want to die playing piano.’ But we brought people together from the left and the right wing. Jazz is the best tool of diplomacy.
Lastly, is my relationship with Wayne Shorter. He is a genius who helped me connect my life with music. He told me, ‘play what you wish the world to be like.’ Think of the things music can be for. What is the purpose of music? The humanity?
You have two special concerts on the horizon, one at the Kennedy Center Nov. 30, the other at Carnegie Hall Dec. 8
I’m bringing my trio to the Kennedy Center, Adam Cruz and Ben Street. We’ve been together more than 20 years. We have a strong connection. We’re going to premier some of the new music for the future recording. My music is hopeful and mysterious. Be prepared for something interactive.
December 8 they’re premiering my Octet, a piece I wrote for the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the Pacific Ocean by the Spaniards. Of course the Indians actually helped the Spaniards. The piece is about the Pacific Ocean talking to me in a dream, telling me the story of the ocean as a holder of the secrets of the ages. It’s called Tales of the Sea and experiments with traditional folkloric music, jazz and classical music. I call it a perspective to unite the world.
Joann Stevens is program manager of Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), an initiative to advance appreciation and recognition of jazz as America’s original music, a global cultural treasure. JAM is celebrated in every state in the U.S. and the District of Columbia and some 40 countries every April.