Japan has long had a love affair with jazz. From the first jazz bands arriving on ocean liners in the port cities of Kobe and Yokohama in the 1920s to the current 100-plus nightly live jazz venues in the Tokyo area, Japan arguably has embraced jazz more fervently than any other country outside its birthplace, America.
So, it is no surprise that this year’s International Jazz Day will be held in Osaka for the first time ever in Japan.
Japan should be proud to host this year’s jazz day. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government would do better to promote Japan’s cultural affinities, such as jazz, rather than play up the nation’s military might. Jazz Day just might be a good opportunity to take that first step.
The day is part of the work of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). With Jazz Day, UNESCO, along with co-sponsor The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, seeks to highlight the role of jazz in uniting people around the world.
With roots in many musical traditions, jazz has always been a great cultural form of exchange, and has become perhaps the most truly international of musical forms.
The impact of jazz on all music — Latin music in South America, hi-life and Afrobeat in Africa, and contemporary classical music in Europe — has been powerful and sustained. Developing the complex expressions in melody, rhythm and harmony is one of the highest achievements of black culture in America, where jazz originated. Jazz is now a deep part of the culture, nightlife and economy of many urban hubs around the world. From UNESCO’s point of view, jazz is an art form that promotes cultural dialogue and freedom of expression.
Many commentators have noted that jazz is one of the most democratic forms of music. It supports gender equality, youthful participation, democratic sensibilities and a respect for accomplished musical ability.
Mostly, though, jazz is about freedom. The unique way of improvising freely in the moment is at the heart of jazz.
The equal position of each member of a jazz group is essential. The ability to create spontaneously in the moment is one of the most important examples of social — and individual — freedom among all cultural forms around the world.
Those ideas will be taken up on April 30 in the many lectures, master classes, workshops and performances scheduled around Osaka.
The day will culminate in an all-star concert at Osaka Castle. For those who cannot make it to Osaka, the concert will be streamed live online, as will many other of the activities, on the Jazz Day website.
Other jazz fans will be content pulling out their favorite recordings or going to their local club to celebrate.