Healing Power of Jazz: Lebanon Celebrates UNESCO’s International Jazz Day

Nelida Nassar  04.26.2018

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Lebanon’s Ministries of Culture and Tourism will take part, as they do in UNESCO’s International Jazz Day, a three-day celebration on April 27, 28 and 30, the 6th in a series of seven. The goal of International Jazz Day, which enjoys participation in 190 countries, is to acknowledge jazz’s propensity to heal and unite the people of the world and remind them of the humanity we all share.

Lebanon will mark the celebration by exceptional concerts each night and for the first time at Nejmeh Square in Beirut. Leading Lebanese musicians, both from around the world and locally-based, will pay tribute to this international music. The celebrated Toufic Farroukh Sextet will come from Paris, and the Zela Margossian Quintet from Australia. Local artists include the Pilot Trio Feat Marilyn, the Raed El Khazen Trio, Arthur Satian Feat Rima Abou Aoun, Iyad Sfeir & The Music Society, the Sweet Ride Blues Band, Quad 5, the Real Deal Blues Band, the Anna Mattar Jazz Quartet, Band Audi, the Monday Blues Band, and Rum’N’ Salty. Saxophones, trombones, trumpets, guitars, upright bass, clarinet, drum sets will all be at the rendez-vous.

The festival, under the guidance of Randa Armanazi, president of the Lebanese Cultural Festivals Association and the organizer of the Beirut International Jazz  Day sets an example of how Lebanon can move forward as a society. We don’t want to just jump up and start improvising. We want to improvise with a plan saying that this is what we’re trying to do, this is where we’re trying to go. We need to be more inclusive and the best part of the festival’s inclusiveness is that all the celebrations are free – no wonder that it attracts so many jazz enthusiasts!

The music starts at six-thirty and finishes at midnight, so be sure to cram in some sightseeing before the saxophones and scat singing. Check out the historical churches and mosques. These include the Maronite Cathedral of St. Georges – a Catholic church with stunning stained glass windows and it’s towering campanile; Saint George’s Orthodox Cathedral with its splendid iconostasis and other treasures; and the 19th century Greek-Catholic Cathedral of Saint Elias – its vaulted interior was once decorated with a marble iconostasis. Also to be seen are: Al Omari Mosque originally the Crusader Cathedral of St. John (1113 -1150 A.D.), which was transformed into the city’s Grand Mosque by the Mamelouks in 1291; Amir Assaf Mosque or Bab-Es-Saray Mosque built by Emir Mansour ‘Assaf (1572-1580) on the site of the Byzantine Church of the Holy Savior; The Amir Munzer Mosque, also called Nafoura (fountain) Mosque, built in 1620 on an earlier structure with eight Roman columns in its courtyard. There are also secular Roman, Byzantine, Crusader, Mamelouk and Ottoman structures that are worth a visit.

Jazz could not be more suited to Lebanon as an expression of creativity and diversity; it breaks down barriers and creates opportunities for mutual understanding and tolerance while being a vector of freedom of expression. It is also a symbol of unity and peace, reducing tensions between individuals, groups, and communities. It promotes gender equality, reinforces the role young people play in sparking social change, and encourages artistic innovation, improvisation, new forms of expression. Jazz stimulates intercultural dialogue and values young people from marginalized societies. It also helps to integrate culture into sustainable development frameworks, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and thus protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions.

Jazz grew out of the African-American experience, but its importance is not so much the fact that it has certain elements relative to that experience. More importantly, it demonstrates human beings’ ability to take the worst of circumstances – slavery, intolerance and discrimination – and, rather than turn that into conflict and violence, make them into something that is creative and uplifting. The human spirit has the capacity to do that. The reason why people throughout the world respond to jazz. The freedom of the human experience transcends race. It comes from the human spirit that we all have. Jazz is African-Americans’ gift to the world.

Every jazz musician is indebted to the giants whom he or she learned from and/or played with – such as Cole Porter, Louis Armstrong, Count Bassie, Art Blakey, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Stanley Turrentine, and Lee Morgan. If you think of jazz as a tree, the younger Lebanese jazz musicians are among the rings around the trunk of the tree. They are throwbacks – and I mean that in the best possible way – to an earlier time, when music was about what you felt. In every generation, there are unsung heroes, people who get up in the morning wanting to leave the world a better place than they found it. Everyone that has been touched by jazz has felt this. It changed their lives and Lebanon and Lebanese are among them.