I had the pleasure of hearing Zakir Hussain’s Crosscurrents band recently at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater – an amazing facility, like a Vienna State Opera house built for jazz. Tabla virtuoso Hussain’s band, featuring a core of India-originated musicians as well as American guest stars Dave Holland and Chris Potter, played a great and uninterrupted 2+ hours of music. Yet one of the most memorable moments for me was Hussain’s spoken introduction. Summarizing a lifetime of cross-cultural learning and the music that would be played onstage that night by his diverse supergroup, Hussain said, “We are one.”
The audience cheered loudly, knowing that Hussain was saying that not only was this group “one” musically – that their musical talent would allow them to play together despite growing up in other cultures – but that the musicians, audience and all people share the same humanity, and are part of an interconnected, interdependent whole.
Music Can Bring Us Closer Together
My own experiences with life, travel and making music have also shown me that “we are one” – that people everywhere are more similar than different. I’ve also learned that music has a special power to bridge the gaps between people. I recall touring in the Soviet Union with a University of Minnesota group just before the end of the Cold War. Despite being warned that Russian people would be ideologically rigid and suspicious to speak with Americans, we actually made friends with people daily. One Russian, a jazz piano player I had given some cassette tape recordings to, traveled 45 minutes to give me a vinyl copy of Mussorgsky’s Boris Gudunov at my next performance.
I recall many years later on my birthday in 2016, sitting in with Cuban percussionist Juan Carlos (“Peje”) Rojas Castro’s band in Havana. I had wanted for many years to visit Cuba in part because of its rich music culture, and the US had made it easier to travel to Cuba after many years of political embargo. I warmly felt that Peje and these talented and friendly Cubans were as happy to play with an American that night as I was to perform with them. People are people, despite politics that get between them.
And finally, I think of my rewarding experience the last couple of years as tenor/soprano saxophonist in Memo Acevedo’s Manhattan Bridges Orchestra. During our two years’ residency at New York’s Zinc Bar, I’ve gotten to make music with a virtual United Nations of musicians from across the US, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East, piloted by an inspiring Colombian-born bandleader who terms our music “global jazz” and calls us brothers and sisters.
Drawing from my experiences with Manhattan Bridges Orchestra, from connections made to Indian music via people from the Brooklyn Raga Massive, and from people I’ve met along the way, I’m now completing an album that celebrates direct musical influences from other parts of the world, specifically Cuba, Brazil and India. More on this soon.
I’ll be blogging more in the weeks ahead.
Acknowledgements: Special thanks to Jake Cohen from Jazz at Lincoln Center, Gary Morgan, Ilana Judah and James Noyes