Why We Play Jazz by Eli Yamin

Dear Contestants of Kamerton’s We are Playing Jazz Festival,

I am so happy to hear that you are playing jazz together!
And this is the most important thing, together. Because as much as jazz is about individual achievement and expression on your instrument through improvisation, it is really about playing together with other people. Learning to groove in synchronization with a band. This is different than playing by yourself. It requires active listening, adjusting, making room for others, supporting and celebrating each other.
It makes me think of a film of Duke Ellington Live at the Tivoli Gardens in 1971. The band is performing Ellington’s composition “Chinoiserie” and a young tenor saxophone player named Harold Ashby is being featured. Ellington stands next to him during his solo calling out encouragement, “Go man. Alright now. Yes!”  And Ashby soars, playing more and more great music in each chorus. This is how jazz is to be played, in community with encouragement flying out in real time from the leaders, band members, and audience members.
Jazz comes from African American culture, a culture of incredibly strong and resilient people, who created a music that succeeded by the strength of people helping each other wherever possible to overcome tremendous obstacles. So ask yourself, can you help somebody today? Can you give someone encouragement who needs it most? Can you celebrate someone else’s success and feel it like your own? This is the true magic of jazz and if you get it right, your life will be a bright light to everyone around you.
Keep playing and keep listening and I hope we meet again one day so I can see you shining!
Eli Yamin


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