You’ve probably heard this before: Jazz is American music. Or, as the mission statement of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival puts it, “an indigenous American art form.” No, not “American” as in pine nut flour or Thanksgiving, but in the sense of an art that could only arise in the unique interaction of European and African cultures in the fertile ground of a New World.
But over the course of the past century, jazz has evolved and migrated outside any nation’s borders, and now transcends the globe. The music is played on nearly every continent (we’re not too sure about Antarctica, though they do have a rock band) and heard in a lexicon of languages, from Portuguese to Pidgin, Albanian to Zulu.
The migration of jazz began when it moved north from New Orleans toward Chicago, New York and other major cities. But it exploded beyond our borders with World War II, when jazz musicians were drafted or joined the armed forces and sent overseas. By 1945, the influence of jazz was especially strong in Europe, though the Django Reinhart-Stéphane Grappelli group Le Quintette du Hot Club de France had started over a decade earlier. In fact during the war jazz was regarded as a symbol of the resistance, “not because it was American but because it was a music created by blacks, and that was important when you were fighting against racist government [of Nazi Germany],” according to film director Bertrand Travernier.
Europe’s receptivity to jazz made it a natural haven for black American musicians who felt under-appreciated in their home country. Bud Powell, Lester Young, Don Cherry, Art Farmer and Dexter Gordon among others kept their careers alive in Europe, as did Stan Getz, Chet Baker, and Phil Woods. This became especially important in the 1950s and 1960s, when the onset of television and the growth of an American “pop culture” had little room for the improvisational creativity of jazz music.
Jazz is still alive and kickin’ it in Europe. Check out this video sent to us from a fan in Macedonia, featuring the Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and his Quartet from 2004.
Japan and the Far East has also become receptive territory for jazz – again, perhaps as a result of U.S. occupation following the War. Pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi was picked up by Hampton Hawes in Yokohama in 1948, and she later became a widely recorded bop pianist and band leader. Guitarist Koichi Yabori’s jazz fusion trio Fragile was active in the 1990s, and club DJs in Tokyo feature what they call “nu-jazz”
But what of Africa, the so-called birthplace of jazz? Randy Weston (who played at the 2009 Healdsburg Jazz Festival) has incorporated directly African elements since the 1960s, and he lived in Morocco for many years. He and other musicians have called upon Gwana musicians in their compositions and recordings. Especially in South Africa, jazz has been part of the musical landscape in both pre- and post-apartheid eras, of which probably the best known group was the Jazz Epistles headed by trumpeter Hugh Masekela.
Here in Healdsburg, the loudest international voice is Latin American – witness the popularity of bossa nova, samba and other Latin jazz at many of our local venues, as well as the Rec Park open-air concerts in recent Healdsburg Jazz Festivals. Leny Andrade, Oscar Castro-Neves, Toninho Horta, Romero Lubambo and Airto are among the Brazilian musicians who have found a receptive audience in Healdsburg.
In truth, jazz knows no borders. Like the English language, it is an absorptive medium, growing by embracing. Who can deny that Zakir Hussein’s collaboration with Charles Lloyd is jazz? If there’s one thing jazz is, it’s international.
— Christian Kallen