Celebrating International Jazz Day!

International Jazz Day

Today, April 30th, is International Jazz Day! Designated a holiday in 2011 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and championed by the legendary Herbie Hancock, International Jazz Day exists “in order to highlight jazz and its diplomatic role of uniting people in all corners of the globe.”

Today, Center Stage Music Center is highlighting both the history of jazz in the United States, and its many adaptations across the globe. Jazz, having elemental roots in African musical styles, is commonly recognized as having begun in New Orleans, Louisiana. Specifically, jazz was born in Congo Square (then called Place Publique) - an open space in the Tremé neighborhood, where enslaved Africans were permitted to congregate on Sunday afternoons in 1817. Here, dancing, singing, and markets became commonplace until city authorities shut down the area in 1851.

However, it was in Congo Square that the Afro-Cuban rhythm called the habanera spread. (Fun fact: New Orleans has been called the northernmost city in the Caribbean!) In 1923, Joe “King” Oliver and his Creole Jazz Band released records with trumpets and cornets, cementing the iconic jazz style that we know today. Here is a broad overview of how jazz has laid the foundation for many popular genres today - including R&B, Hip-Hop, Rock N’ Roll, and much more.

Internationally, jazz has taken many shapes and forms over the decades since its creation, influenced by local styles, politics, and traditions. These adaptations are often umbrellaed as “ethno-jazz.”

Students may be familiar with the popular 1950s/1960s Bossa Nova genre from Brazil. Characterized as a soft samba, based on “traditional Brazilian music and rhythms, American jazz, and a new style of Portuguese lyrics,” Bossa Nova was immensely popular during its height. In 1964, the American-recorded version of “The Girl from Ipanema” spent 96 weeks on the US Charts, becoming the second most played song in the world (after the Beatles’ “Yesterday”).

NTS Radio presents a great guide to South African jazz here; jazz became a symbol of African identity during South African apartheid. Additionally, here’s a spotlight on some great Ethio-jazz records (Ethiopian jazz); Ethio-jazz blends both traditional Ethiopian music with jazz, especially in its use of melodies with Amharic scales. Prof. E. Taylor Atkins tells NPR that jazz first found a home in Japan through orchestra performers on luxury liners and in hotel lobbies in the 1910s; Japanese jazz can be found here. Armenian jazz is notable for its positioning in Soviet culture and use of folk tradition.

In Egypt, Salah Ragab formed the Cairo Jazz Band and “from the late ‘60s to the early ‘70s, they mastered an original, bombastic style of Middle Eastern swing.” Notable collaborations include Sun Ra and his intergalactic Sun Ra Arkestra. Collected here are select songs from the compilation Egyptian Jazz, recorded in Cairo between 1968 and 1973. Here, Ragab’s style of “blending Black American jazz with Egyptian folklore and Islamic tradition” shines. Many artists today continue this tradition. 

2024’s International Jazz Day’s performances will take place in Tangier, Morocco. Tangier is home to a rich jazz culture - Josephine Baker, Ornette Coleman, Herbie Mann, and Archie Shepp have either spent time in or performed in Tangier. Jazz artists, such as Randy Weston, have also explored the connections between jazz music and Gnawa music (Moroccan religious songs and rhythms).

This International Jazz Day, Center Stage Music Center encourages you to explore jazz music from around the world! Happy listening!

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