All That Jazz

30 Apr 2019

April 30th is International Jazz Day!

The U.S. National Museum–called The Smithsonian–calls jazz both a historic and living American art form. It may have been born in the U.S., but it’s enjoyed throughout the world. I remember hearing it in a remote West African airport, someone’s home in Mongolia, and on a very non-English speaking airline (maybe Latin America?).

Jazz is the freest and flexible of all musical genres and a great lense on which to contemplate life.

Acclaimed trumpet musician, Herbie Hancock said, “The spirit of jazz is the spirit of openness.”

I think that’s what many people find so fascinating about the musical form: its openness. It’s open to ideas, changes, improvisation, collaboration, and creativity. It’s also open to influences from other genres, cultures, and expressions.

I find it interesting that in playing jazz, a musician is both part of something collective, yet a unique individual at the same time. They are free.

However, some people don’t like freethinking, creative expression, or new ideas. No wonder jazz was outlawed in various times and places like Nazi Germany. The Soviets didn’t outlaw it, but they openly criticized it. Even in the U.S., at least 60 communities banned jazz from being played in public dance halls in the 1920s.

One has to ask what people were afraid of! Which begs the question, what are YOU afraid of?

Like much great art, jazz came out of tremendous suffering. It emerged the product of slavery, oppression, and struggle. Sounds like the great themes of life, doesn’t it?

Sometimes we are tempted to let the hard knocks of life close us down and make us hard (or keep us playing the same rifts we learned as kids). But if we let tough times change us, we can actually become more open, honest and trusting, and graduate to a new level of personal maturity. 

Great jazz players, like all fine musicians, have to endure hours of practice, practice, practice. This requires discipline, intense study, and a love of the craft. Yet they can rebel.

If musicians had been satisfied to maintain the status quo, we would never have experienced jazz. Rather, many transformed their pain and struggle into life, beauty, and openness; they continue to give the world jazz.

What are you doing with your pain and struggles?

One of my favorite quotes is by Princeton professor and author of Living and Loving Outloud, Cornel West: “We have to be jazz musicians of the mind, able to improvise, think new thoughts, capture the rhythm and find our voices.”

Sounds like a perfectly suitable philosophy for getting control of your life!

As you continue to traverse the great journey of life, may you have renewed inspiration and energy to improvise, think new thoughts, capture the rhythm, and find your voice!

You might also check out podcast: 055 Control, Letting Go, and Jazz

Sources consulted:

A History of Jazz:

Brief History of Jazz in Russia:


Music and Dance:

Music and the Holocaust:

Smithsonian Jazz. The National Museum of American History:


Image by German artist, Alfred Gockel. The painting (which hangs in my living room) is titled, “Stroking the Keys” and is available from,×8&gclid=CPji4P-D98QCFQEGaQodD18Alg and other art reproduction retailers.



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