Wynton’s Blog

A day off in Green Bay

A day off in Green Bay and the Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy gave the cats in the band a tour of Lambeau Field. Some of us spend days off relaxing; others work on music and other projects, and still others go out to see things and participate in the life of the community. In the midst of catching up on the emails and written obligations for Jazz at Lincoln Center and Juilliard I had a moment to reflect on the recent happenings in our country.
Last year around this time we were touring and the government was on strike. That strike was the culminating achievement of intense partisan politics. It should have been a wake up call for us, but it wasn’t. Whenever a group of elected people can’t even agree on how they’re going to misappropriate, mistakenly take and misspend a big pot of your money, you know there’s a profound dysfunction.

This year the grand jury cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, after a spate of public abuses of power against black folks, have deepened the feeling of separatism through partisan style tribalism in this country… The presence of our orchestra, without saying a word, is clearly an opposition to that feeling. It’s in the music that we play. Jazz is a cultural counter statement to tribalism and provinciality. It was always an agent for integration, not assimilation, but true integration. The music has always been in the forefront of American diversity in a meaningful and real way, not as a media response to demographics or a response to market demand for the illusion of diversity. Whether it is Louis Armstrong’s profound influence on everyone in the 20’s, Benny Goodman’s pioneering efforts in the 1930’s, Dizzy Gillespie and Cu-bop of the 40’s, Dave Brubeck’s band in the 1950’s, or John Coltrane’s bands and world music of the 1960’s, the music has been on the front lines. It goes on and on… Duke Ellington and all that he embraced from Django Reinhardt to Toshiko Akioshi. It’s not integration if there is no recognition and no acceptance of the ‘other’s’ point of view or achievement. Jazz has always achieved victories without sacrificing quality.

These police cases as well the issues of domestic violence and crimes against women – the revelation that we torture people is added to our knowledge that our financial industries prey on the general public and that our campaign finance model needs to be reformed – are creating a heavy undertone across this country. With the need for sensational news to fill the agenda and wide open social media channels, we are being forced to confront the types of injustice that corrupt our way of life, and we are called to battle with the close mindedness that casts a blind eye on injustice. The obvious traditional and systemic inequality in jobs, education and criminal justice that counter state our national mission has forced us to question who we are and who we want to be. Jazz music itself has a clearly stated take on the American identity, but the nation has yet to become enraged enough with our failure to honestly engage these issues. Truth be told, we are slowly coming to it and will.

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