“Jazz [isn’t] a historical artifact. [It’s] a living breathing approach to music.”
With International Jazz Day coming up, WGBH and JazzBoston are getting ready to celebrate. On Friday, April 30 at 8 pm, the radio station and music nonprofit will collaborate to present a live virtual concert in honor of the occasion titled, “JazzNOW: No Borders.
In 2011, UNESCO declared April 30 International Jazz Day, an initiative spearheaded by jazz legend Herbie Hancock, with the mission of “highlight[ing] jazz and its diplomatic role of uniting people in all corners of the globe.” Friday’s concert aims to showcase the breadth and complexity of jazz across the globe while continuing to highlight the genre’s uniquely American origins.
The performance will feature the Jazz World Trio, a local group comprised of three Boston-based musicians with international roots led by Argentine percussionist Guillermo Nojechowicz, a music educator at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, alongside Swedish bassist Bruno Råberg and South African pianist Witness Matlou.
The event will be moderated by GBH’s Eric Jackson, the “Dean of Boston Jazz Radio” and host of “Eric in the Evening.” Following the performance, Jackson will present a conversation and q&a session with the featured musicians. Because of the pandemic, the studio will also set up lighting in advance and control video cameras robotically in order to minimize potential exposure.
The concert is designed to appeal to jazz aficionados and new listeners alike. According to Field, those who are less familiar with jazz will gain “an understanding not only of what jazz is, but also how it’s spread over the world. For people who are familiar with jazz, it’s a great opportunity to hear some great music from some great musicians from all over the world, who are all based in Boston.”
This effort to promote jazz in media is a central part of JazzBoston’s mission. The organization was founded in 2005 by Bob Young with a focus on promoting and supporting jazz musicians, audiences, and venues in the greater Boston area—according to their mission statement, they work to “spread the music and the message of jazz and celebrate Boston as one of the world’s great jazz cities.” They will co-host the event with Boston’s GBH radio, a member station of NPR. In 2012, GBH chose to reduce their jazz programming, cutting back to nine hours a week, a move met with significant backlash from the jazz community. Ken Field is hopeful that the JazzNOW series can act as the first step in re-broadening GBH’s jazz offerings.
JazzBoston also aims to push for more opportunities for live jazz moving forward: when Field envisions the ideal Boston scene five years from now, he sees “a lot more venues, a lot more opportunities to play… that would be based on the art and appreciating what people are doing musically.” He emphasizes the need for both non-commercial and commercially viable spaces that can support musicians. Much of this need, he says, is related to Boston’s real estate scene—to Field, while the musicians and “excitement about jazz” do exist in Boston, there are significantly fewer venues to support them.
The Boston scene, Field argues, is particularly special, in part because of Boston’s large student population. In addition to student musicians and performances coming out of schools like Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory, student populations offer a robust audience for live music.
“The schools are just generating so many great musicians year after year,” Field says, “and all the students are going out and performing and interacting with other musicians.”
The presence of so many educational institutions in the Boston area also means a confluence of different cultures and styles: says Field, “in Boston, you have a mix of talented, creative individuals from other cultures bringing other really interesting musical ideas to the table.” He emphasizes the importance of jazz’s international presence—International Jazz Day celebrates jazz as a genre that arises from the Black American tradition and has spread across the globe, incorporating new musical techniques and ideas from a variety of cultural backgrounds.
In addition to its international influence, Field highlights the contemporaneity of jazz as a genre. “Jazz musicians by nature respond to the moment,” he says. “That’s what they do when they play—they respond to what’s going on culturally in their part of the world. You can have jazz that’s not locked into the past while recognizing and honoring the past.”
Part of this response is rooted in the form of jazz itself: “Jazz is kind of unique in that it’s an improvisionational artform. It relies on individual creativity and spontaneity, on collaborative creativity, and spontaneity. It’s an important way to think about the world because our lives are spontaneous and creative and improvisational.”
“Jazz [isn’t] a historical artifact,” Field adds. “[It’s] a living breathing approach to music.”
Friday’s show will be the first in an ongoing series called “JazzNOW,” which will focus on the contemporary jazz scene with a particular eye to Boston artists. The next concert will feature both American and international vocalists and is scheduled for late June. Ken Field, the President of JazzBoston’s Board of Directors, says of the series, “We’re hoping to continue to help GBH move in a direction of bringing jazz back to their airwaves.”
Free tickets for Friday’s 8pm show can be obtained at wgbh.org/events/jazznow-no-borders-virtual and should be acquired in advance of the concert.
Shira Laucharoen is a reporter based in Boston. She currently serves as the assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. In the past she has written for Sampan newspaper, The Somerville Times, Scout Magazine, Boston Magazine, and WBUR.