Jazz is an important part of our national story, and how it’s often been music that has brought people together, in spite of their differences in race, gender, national origin and more. In essence, diversity is what the Healdsburg Jazz Festival stands for: promoting the “awareness and appreciation of jazz by facilitating cross-cultural interaction, providing performance opportunities, and educating young people and adults about the important role of jazz as an indigenous American art form.”

goodman-quartetIt’s a given that jazz arose out of the African-American experience, a merging of African rhythms and communal musical styles (call-and-response, group improvisation) into the European musical tradition of the 12-note scale. The Blues is this process simplified: a basic 12-bar, 3-chord structure, infused with syncopation and dissonance  in alternating vocal and instrumental passages.

Jazz, even more than the blues, has had a stronger impact on society’s integration than any other social force.  For instance, if the first superstar of jazz was Louis Armstrong, the second may have been Bix Beiderbecke, the white cornetist from Davenport, Iowa. Jazz is not just open-minded – it’s color-blind, in the best possible sense.

Jazz was an integration of equals decades before the movies, professional baseball, politics or Wall Street. Black musicians played with whites in Dixieland, hot jazz and on the bandstand; Benny Goodman’s historic 1938 Carnegie Hall concert featured many black musicians – Count Basie, Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton – sharing the spotlight with Goodman, Harry James and Gene Krupa.

Esperanza Spalding by George WellsThe same holds true for the sexes. Women have long had a role in jazz as vocalists. Now they are taking up instruments, composition, and showing off their chops: Here in Healdsburg we’ve presented a number of these talented women, from Geri Allen (piano) to Esperanza Spalding (bass), Madeline Duran (saxophone) to Angela Wellman (trombone).

Even diverse sexual orientation has been tacitly accepted in jazz as in few other fields. Duke Ellington’s collaborator Billy Strayhorn made no secret of his preferences; today Gary Burton and Fred Hersch acknowledge their sexuality, but it doesn’t seem to affect their popularity.

Why is jazz so hospitable to diversity? Perhaps it’s because we all have music in our souls, and jazz is an expressive musical form that allows the individual to play with a group on a creative plane beyond social constraints. Stan Kenton expressed it well:

“Jazz is a distinct music that depends and thrives on individuality, and yet the individual is not oblivious to others, nor is he immune to their feelings… A session in jazz is comparable to an open forum where theories and opinions are discussed openly and freely.”

That’s what we hope the Healdsburg Jazz Festival provides, year round: an open forum for talent, for music, for jazz. It’s worth your support. Please donate now.

— Christian Kallen

Think you know what jazz is? Leave a comment on our page, “What Is Jazz?”