Books about Anguilla


Thursday, 18 November 2010

“And All That Jazz!!”

Let me take this opportunity to congratulate the Honorable Leroy Rogers for his appointment as Second Nominated Member in the Anguilla House of Assembly. I am sure that you will agree with me that he stands out among the excellent choices that could have been made by the Governor through the consultative process. His eleven years as Speaker of the House of Assembly should serve him well in a role that traditionally includes being appointed as Deputy Speaker. And his reputation for standing unswervingly on principle should afford him the neutrality that becomes that position.

I must also congratulate the Chief Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for reaching consensus on a very short list of choices and thereby enabling the Governor to arrive at a decision devoid of controversy. And I must also give the Governor credit for not using his power of appointment hastily as well as for his readiness to go beyond the strict constitutional interpretation of “consultation” to arrive at a true consensus of both Leaders of the House. All in all an excellent example of democracy, good governance and compromise at work.

Since I am in a congratulatory mode let me go on to commend Ujamaa Productions Ltd. for ensuring that the Tranquility Jazz Festival 2010 was a roaring success. Ujamaa Productions is an Anguillian company among its principals are Mr. John Benjamin; Mr. Fitzroy “Briggie” Tomlinson, and; Mr. James Connor. This is the eighth year for the Festival and it has become a very important part of Anguilla’s tourism product. It originated as an idea to create a Jazz Festival event that matches Anguilla’s unique clientele but also has appeal for pure Jazz aficionados. It is another thematic event on the calendar that targets a particular market but also acts as a shoulder for the start of the tourist season in November. Increasingly a number of visitors have been planning their vacations around this festival and the word has been spreading.

The slogan “straight up no chaser” indicates that unlike other jazz festivals in the region the Tranquility Jazz Festival Stage will not be shared by other “non-Jazz” artistes. However, all kinds of the Jazz art form are encouraged providing an opportunity for audiences with differing tastes to appreciate the fusion of jazz with their favourite choices in music. Jazz fuses readily with Reggae; Calypso; Soca; Gospel; Rock ‘n Roll; Latin Music; African Music; Classical; Rhythm and Blues; Country; the list goes on. In this context, I have heard many persons ask: Why do we need a Jazz festival? It is not our culture! Even if that statement was totally accurate --- neither is pizza our culture, yet we do enjoy it!

There are many theories about the origins of “jazz” as a music art form, which though different, have one common thread that is that it evolved from African American communities in the Southern United States from a blending of African and European music traditions. It represents the efforts of mainly black musicians in sparse environments in states like Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri, Tennessee and Louisiana particularly the city of New Orleans to incorporate African tribal drum styles, gospel, blues, and work chants into their interpretation of the music of the period. Mr. Merwyn Cooke in his book: “Jazz” gives an description of this evolution: “In the early 19th century an increasing number of black musicians learned to play European instruments, particularly the violin, which they used to parody European dance music in their own cakewalk dances. In turn, European-American minstrel show performers in blackface popularized such music internationally, combining syncopation with European harmonic accompaniment. Louis Moreau Gottschalk adapted African-American cakewalk music, Southern American and other slave melodies as piano salon music. Another influence came from black slaves who had learned the harmonic style of hymns and incorporated it into their own music as spirituals.”

I am sure that you have noted the similarities of the origins of “jazz” with the music within our tradition. In fact, many of the “homemade” instruments used in string bands around Anguilla and the Caribbean are similar to those used in the very early evolution of jazz and blues. And the focus on interpretation, improvisation and spontaneous adaptation of songs and melodies rather than strictly playing to the written composition is the distinguishing characteristic of this art form which gives rise to the many distinctive styles of jazz and jazz artistes the world over. In fact, many of the early jazz musicians did not read music but “played by air” as we say in Anguilla. As a consequence, even now in more formal settings the skilled performer does not play the same composition exactly the same way twice. Typically, this is reminiscent of the kind of “jam sessions” which are so familiar and are applauded in our Caribbean and Anguillian culture.

If you are still confused as to what jazz is Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong the great musician whose name is synonymous with the art form gives a profound response to the question of a proper definition when he says: “If you gotta ask, you’ll never know!” In making that statement he perhaps captured the essence of jazz as having to do with the entire experience and expression of life that is at the very heart of the music. And in 1987, the US House of Representatives and Senate passed a bill proposed by Democratic Representative John Conyers Jr., to define jazz as a unique form of American music stating among other things, “…that jazz is hereby designated as a rare and valuable national treasure to which we should devote our attention, support and resources to make certain it is preserved, understood and promulgated.” The point I am making is that even though “jazz” defies definition --- it is real and is an important music genre which is not only enjoyed internationally but is institutionalized within schools, universities and the entertainment industry. In the tourism industry in particular it is the preferred music for piano bars and lounges in every major resort all over the world.

Eight years of growing the Anguilla Tranquility Jazz Festival has not been only about entertainment and product development --- it has also about education, exposure and job and business opportunities. From the very outset it was a program rather than a project. Here are some of those aspects of the Festival as follows:

• There was the Summer Jazz Camp Program where up to eighty school age students per year had the opportunity to study and learn the art form in a leisurely environment from teachers and students from established University programs in the United States.

• Students in the music programs were given free passes to attend the concerts to be exposed to various international jazz artistes as well as in a social setting to speak with them about their careers.

• Students were given the opportunity to show case their talents on stage either individually or as a part of small groups as opening acts for the main groups and artistes.

• “Jazz on the Parkway” afforded the opportunity for a larger selection of young Anguillian musicians to showcase their talents in community settings free to the public. This not only provided exposure for the young musicians but also an experience for persons not inclined to attend the evening concerts.

• Local musicians had the opportunity to present themselves at concerts along with the regional and international artistes.

These efforts had positive results for Anguillian talent. One of the early vocalists, Jaine Rogers gained valuable exposure that provided her with an opportunity to perform at a top concert in the United States and through Anguilla Music Production & Publishing (AMPP) another outgrowth of the Jazz program released her own professional recording (CD); the music program in the Albena Lake-Hodge Comprehensive School was the beneficiary of a Grand Piano as a result of initiatives by the Festival; a number of young people developed a keen interest in jazz and formed musical groups; Anguillian musicians adapted to provide jazz entertainment for the hotel and restaurant sector, and; a number of young entrepreneurs pursued business opportunities as a result of the development of the jazz experience.

I praise Ujamaa Productions for their courage and creativity. They held firm to the original vision even though the present Government decided that they would abandon seven years of effort ostensibly because as the Parliamentary Secretary spins it “The government took the decision that it would be best for a private institution to move forward with the jazz as opposed to the Government”. I also hold the Government fast to the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary that “He thought that the Jazz Festival was very important to tourism and hoped that the Government would be in a very position next year to provide financial assistance towards its sponsorship”.

Ujamaa Productions did more than just stage a Jazz Festival they also included a Golf Tournament and Wine Tasting as additional features to the event that extended the appeal to more visitors and more business activity. But the fact that the Government did not contribute forced them to be more innovative and determined to make it work. Without the benefit of the facts I am certain that despite their efforts to be “lean and mean” with their costs they must still have some financing challenges --- and perhaps the quality of the events which they managed to pull off would encourage new and more sponsors (including Government) next year. And I must share their appreciation to those sponsors this year, which had confidence in the Festival and Ujamaa Productions. The attendance was reasonably good despite the lack of a promotion budget, obviously because of the excellent network that has been built up over the years.

It was a pleasure to hear the young musicians associated with the Albena Lake Hodge Comprehensive School music program, Pure Gentlemen, who performed creditably both on the main stage and on the side stage during the breaks and social mixes. They did us all proud! Also on the Caribbean Night Concert on Friday, the local group British Dependency that has been making its mark at a number of local venues and already have a great record album/CD, “brought the house down”. I believe that all of this augurs well for expanding the musical interests and choices of our young people. The nature of jazz as an art form lends itself to positive behaviour and requires a great deal of discipline. This was most obvious in the performances of the International and Caribbean artistes, Carla Cook, the Ronald Tulles Quartet, the Fred York Quintet and the Alex Bugnon Quintet that were all both professional and exceptional.

But having said all of that I must return to the subject of Government support for this important event on our Tourism calendar. It was disappointing that one did not notice any of the Government political directorate at any of these events. This belies the statements made by the Parliamentary Secretary about Government support. I believe that the fact that the Festival is in private sector hands by default can be a blessing in disguise. But I do not accept that it was a part of a deliberate Government strategy to do so --- because they never provided any incentive or “weaning” support to Ujamaa Productions. If Ujamaa Productions did not take the initiative on its own --- there would not have been a Tranquility Jazz Festival and it would not have mattered to Government. I believe that it was a deliberate attempt to destroy the Festival for the usual political reasons. This is unfortunate!

In the circumstances, while I understand there is some value in Government’s support for the “The Bachelor” TV program --- I do not accept that it necessarily had to be to the exclusion of some symbolic support for the Jazz Festival. There has been an incredible absence of transparency as to what transpired with those arrangements. And while I accept that there may be some proprietary issues that require cautious approaches --- it would have been sensible to give an appearance of appreciation for the efforts of the Ujamaa Productions with even a “widow’s mite”. It was really disingenuous of the Parliamentary Secretary, who is responsible for Tourism, to talk about wishing Mr. John Benjamin and the Ujamaa Productions team every success and all that jazz!

Victor F. Banks
Sachasses Estate
November 16, 2010

No comments:

Post a Comment

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity” – MLK.