On Sunday, February 3rd, we went to the Westshore Unitarian Universalist Church to attend a service about the history of jazz with an emphasis on how it was a significant cultural bridge. After the concert with the Cleveland Chinese Music Ensemble, it was a wonderfully musical day. Appropriately, at the top of the Order of Service, was a quotation from Ms. Mary Lou Williams, jazz pianist, which read, “anything that you are shows up in your music- jazz is whatever you are, playing yourself, being yourself, letting your thoughts come through.”
In the course of the service, Reverend Chris Long, a longtime lover of jazz, shared a memory of how, as a college student at Illinois State University in 1992, he was persuaded by a good friend of his, a young student from France, to drive three hours to the Chicago Jazz Fest in an old car with holes in it. Nevertheless, they consumed a great deal of wine, bread, and cheese on the way so it was indeed a pleasant trip. Once they had arrived, Reverend Long was enraptured by the multiple forms of jazz that he heard as well as the international flavor of the festival as well. Needless to say, he became a lifelong fan.
Reverend Long also talked about how U.S. jazz had some of its roots in the African-American slave experience; for example, while slaves were working in the fields they practiced a “call and response” form of singing where they sang back and forth to each other about family and freedom. It could be said that gospel music evolved from such practices, which could be considered a forerunner of jazz.
Moreover, we cannot forget the “Congo Square” experience in New Orleans in the early 19th century where enslaved Africans were allowed to gather in one location at the corner of Rampart and St. Peter Streets on Sundays, which was their common day off at the time. Since they came from multiple countries and cultures, all sorts of musical forms dynamically converged and the results attracted people of all social statuses.
Ms. Maura Garin also recalled that when she was in college she was quite popular due to her collection of records featuring such renowned artists as Nat King Cole and John Coltrane. Moreover, it was her observation that jazz could be a terrific equalizer since everyone loved it regardless of their race and ethnicity. Ms. Garin went on to offer a little-known but interesting historical fact concerning jazz in the Jim Crow era of 1955. It concerned Ms. Ella Fitzgerald, a African-American jazz artist who definitely had a following but hadn’t realized her potential due to the limited number of establishments which dared to book her including the famed Macambo nightclub on Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood, CA.
Fortunately, Ms. Fitzgerald had an actress friend, quite “hot” at that time, who made an offer to the Macambo management that they could not refuse: if they booked Ella, then she would attend every performance and sit at a front table so attendees could gaze at her while they listened to Ella. So, needless to say, Ella was booked and the engagement significantly enhanced and broadened her popularity. The “hot” actress was none other than Ms. Marilyn Monroe, which is nice to know since, by most accounts, Ms. Monroe’s life was a sad one; but she still was able to help people along the way.