International Jazz Day

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UNESCO surprised the world in 2011 by designating April 30th as International Jazz Day. Though generally considered a universal language, music has a variation of accents and intonations. The different genres of music have caused debates among its enthusiasts. The lovers of melody on one side facing their opponents seated on the percussion wagon. Lest we forget, the fast talkers with rhymes up their sleeves are the judges. Hence the question, what stood out about Jazz that gave it an international podium to play a diplomatic role?

History of Jazz Music

Jazz music has its roots in the musical traditions of Africa fused with those of Europe. Its African inspiration was the rhythm, feel and the playing of instruments in an expressive way. Europe’s classical music had a heavy hand in influencing the harmony. Additionally, the instruments used such as saxophone, originated from Europe.

The birthplace was in New Orleans, a vibrant port city – like Mombasa, Malindi or Lamu – with a lively nightlife. In this town in the early 20th Century, musicians from different ethnic backgrounds would inspire each other and play together to an appreciative crowd. Primarily innovated by African-Americans, Jazz music evolved with their experiences – slave, spiritual and march songs.

The Present State of Jazz Music

Jazz music is currently relished globally in the various cultures and ethnicities. Generally, everyone in the band knows the notes, melodies, bass lines, and chords but not the intended destination. The openness on what is to be played and when is the hallmark of Jazz, unlike classical music. Then there’s another variation where each person spontaneously works their way through it. To sum up Jazz music, Herbie Hancock said: “It’s not exclusive; it’s inclusive, which is the spirit of jazz.” The Global Host City for 2017 will be in Havana, Cuba.

Events in Kenya:

jazz music


Art of Jazz will have a live concert by four bands on April 30th in Karen, Nairobi. Afrojazz will be mainly featured among other jazz sounds.

shamsi music performing Laka Waithaka and Immanuel Mohol

Shamsi music performing Laka Waithaka and Immanuel Mohol

Safaricom International Jazz Festival will take a different form by having an all Kenyan Jazz music artists. These include Shamsi Music and Nairobi Horns Project that we highlighted in our post, Safaricom International Jazz Festival. The concert will be in Langata, Nairobi.

Future of Jazz Music

Jazz music is dependent on improvisation as it was once labelled as “rebel music”. Hence live performances are key to understanding this genre. Watching members of a band on stage performing individually yet collectively may seem like a kitchen orchestra. However, Jazz music is the only narrative that has travelled across time and space to mean something different for each people. It is no wonder that  Jazz music was given the role of uniting people in all corners of the globe. International Jazz Day is celebrated worldwide in diverse forms far removed from its African-American origins.


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