Jazz and Community

If the tree falls in the forest but nobody hears it, did it make a sound? If a jazz musician played the most innovative solo of her life but nobody hears it, does it mean anything?

The discussion of Art and Community is quite prominent these days. Audiences participate in the arts mainly for social and learning experiences as has been documented in recent surveys by the NEA and the New York Times. The artists needs to curate their art in a way that provides such experiences for their target audiences. On the other hands, communities and audiences need to provide the economic structure that allows artists to create and share. A prominent example for the power of community support is the story of Indiana Avenue during the first half of the 20th Century. The area around the Madam Walker Theatre – the legacy of the first African-American millionaire – had been a center of African-American business activity and community since the turn of the century often referred to as “The Black Man’s Downtown” or “The Street of Dreams”. When the region’s KKK leader D.C. Stephenson banned black children from the Indianapolis School system, Crispus Attucks High School just north of Indiana Avenue became their nurturing community. Legendary music teachers such as Russell Brown, Laverne Newsome, and Norman Merrifield encouraged excellence and nurtured greatness. With more than 40 clubs up and down the Avenue and all major touring groups coming through Indiana, the Crossroads of America, the opportunity at that time was jazz – the doors to classical music were still tightly shut. As a result of this powerful community support and opportunity we now have the legacy of Wes, Buddy, and Monk Montgomery, J.J. Johnson, Carl Perkins, Freddie Hubbard, Larry Ridley, Slide Hampton, James Spalding, Leroy Vinegar, David Baker, and the list goes on – who grew up on Indiana Avenue and changed the direction of jazz. The stories that were shared with me during my research for “David Baker – A Legacy in Music” on IU Press are revealing and fascinating!

Every city has similar stories – just imagine what is possible if communities come together to create the needed support structure and opportunities for their jazz musicians and audiences. Creativity, innovation, new musical directions, thriving economies, networks, sustainable careers, , the sky is the limit. The Smithsonian Institute’s Ken Kimery, also the driving force behind Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), and Jazz Connect’s co-leader Peter Gordon and their teams have launched an initiative entitled Jazz Hubs. The goal is to identify some of the obstacles and needs of local communities and opportunities to support towards sustaining local jazz scenes and developing this uniquely American art form into the future. In order to identify the current status and possible barriers, they are currently collecting survey info from jazz professionals and activists in order to learn about strengths and weaknesses in individual markets and find strategies to make jazz more robust.
Please click on the following link and take the survey and encourage your network to do the same. The larger the participation and the more detailed the information, the better the options for finding sustainable solutions. Here is the link, thank you for your contributions – and please spread the word!