How did you come to be involved with the Mattapan Jazz and Unity Festival?
AC: This will be the first time that I’m hosting, and I’m doing it in partnership with Ron Savage, the dean of performance at Berklee College of Music and also one of the founders of the Cambridge Jazz Festival. We have been talking for years because we both live in Mattapan, we’ve gone to jazz festivals in other communities including around the world, he’s played in jazz festivals around the world and across this country, and we’ve said for a long time, Why not Mattapan? Rather than continue to wait, we said, Let’s do it, and so we hope this will be something we continue in future years.
It’s a festival designed to pull in artists from Mattapan or my district, which includes Mattapan and Dorchester, as well as vendors who will sell their local arts and crafts from Mattapan as well as the surrounding communities, to showcase what this neighborhood is truly about.
What does jazz mean to you?
I’m a lover of not only jazz music but blues as well, and what I love about both of those forms of music is the spontaneity, the creativity, the richness of the music and grounding in African and African-American tradition. I think for me it’s a combination of not just the instruments and the technical pieces of the music but also the cultural aspect as well. And I think this festival could be a really incredible opportunity for folks to learn more specifically around the jazz form which I know Dean Savage is an expert in.
What does it mean to combine jazz and unity?
One, we’re excited about the musical form, given the demographics specifically of Mattapan. It tends to be a senior and elder population when you compare Mattapan to other neighborhoods, and it’s a form of music we know that many people in this community like. But we also wanted to be an event that is open to everyone, that is family friendly, that invites the younger generation to also come and participate for them to see that some of the current music we listen to, whether it’s hip-hop or other forms of music, is also informed by jazz and the history of jazz. Some of the beats you hear come from jazz. So the unity concept is to bring in a different audience that you may not traditionally think would listen to jazz, and then to connect the different generations and identities and immigrant cultures in Mattapan all in one space.
How did you come to know this musical community?
Ron Savage is a relative of mine, he is like a father figure to me. So I have actually been to festivals that he has played in, not just in this country but also internationally. I grew up listening to the music with him, watching him play. I consistently see him practice; our families houses are very close to close to each other in Mattapan. So I grew up listening to this music, appreciating it and its values and the fact that it is so connected to African American communities and has still become this global art form. And so I love it because of him, and it’s instilled in me not only by him but other members of my family who appreciate good music.
Tell us about the musicians that are performing.
Bill Pierce I know; I literally grew up listening to him in different settings. And Ron Mahdi I know really well—he’s part of the trio, actually lives in Mattapan, and is a really good family friend. Valerie Stephens, who’s hosting it, is from Roxbury but participated in our Black History Month event at the [Boston City] Council and just blew everyone away. She is a powerhouse and just takes so much pride in being a woman but also a black woman, and does so unapologetically, which was a real inspiration at our Black History Month event for many folks in the room, particularly the younger students who came to participate in the celebration. There were some other artists as well, from Berklee, who I know through attending various performances or them participating in some performances at the Boston City Council. It should be an incredible event—we have incredible artists lined up, which is really exciting to all of us; particularly those of us who know this music well, they’re really excited to see the lineup.
What outcome do you hope this will have on the community in Mattapan?
It’s an opportunity for all the residents of Mattapan to come together to celebrate each other. We have African Americans, Hatian Americans, a Latinx population, even some Cape Verdeans. Many cultures that live in Mattapan or are just outside Mattapan. This is an opportunity for us to come together from different cultural backgrounds, across age and every other demographic you can think of. But more importantly, it’s an opportunity for Mattapan to showcase to other neighborhoods in the Greater Boston area that this community is not just what people tend to see in the media, which is usually a negative concept of Mattapan. It’s not a community that just should be known for incidents of violence. Instead it’s a community with a rich history, home owners, people who are passionate about civic engagement, incredible artists, and musicians who contribute not only to the arts scene in Boston and the economy in Boston but to art around the world. So this is about redefining to the larger community what Mattapan is all about, and I’m really excited about that.
Is there anything else we should know about the festival?
We are also doing an oral history project, and we’re launching this oral history project with a nonprofit called Everyday Boston. We are going to gather oral histories of seniors that live in our district and showcase them at the festival. This will sort of be a slice of residents who live in Mattapan and the story-gatherers are returning citizens, so it’s an opportunity to connect those who are formerly incarcerated and seniors, who can often be lonely, to each other and to hopefully create something more long-term to support one another. So that’s a major piece to the festival we’re excited about.
MATTAPAN JAZZ & UNITY FESTIVAL. SUN 9.22, 1-5PM. MORE INFO AT MATTAPANJAZZFEST.COM.