On Thursday, June 2nd, Nicole Bond attended our program, A Personal History of Jazz, on the stage of The Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Bond, a graduate of our Odyssey Project program and friend of Illinois Humanities, sent us her thoughts about the event. Thanks, Nicole!
Thursday’s conversation began at the Jay Pritzker pavilion in beautiful Millennium Park. You might expect to be seated outdoors in the modern acoustically sound arena for an event about the history of jazz. But more than anything jazz is about surprise. Surprised we were when escorted off and nestled inside, behind sparkling glass and sturdy steel, atop hardwood floors, seated center stage overlooking the arena. The space morphed into 1 part classroom + 1 part jazz club to = an intimate venue, where entertainment and information proved to be 2 variables holding equal value.
DCASE Commissioner Michelle Boone and Illinois Humanities Executive Director Angel Ysaquirre welcomed us warmly to begin a journey through the history of jazz from three unique perspectives. Renowned theoretical physicist and SAIC president, Dr. Walter Massey, acclaimed composer, clarinetist and saxophonist Victor Goines, and longtime Chicago Tribune journalist Howard Reich shared their personal connections to jazz, guided by jazz curator Kate Dumbleton.
Gerald Powell led Kenwood High School’s Jazz Band in two opening numbers. Paul Baker’s Open and Shut Case captured and kept our attention with a big band swing flavor. And Rick Hirsch’s Mirage, sounded the call, across a hot sandy desert, past a mirage, and finally on to an oasis where the three distinguished gentlemen sat, to give their perfect pitch response.
And respond they did. Dr. Massey who insisted on ditching formalities to be addressed only as, “Walter” started us off in sharing his initial plans to become a jazz musician. He figured his love for jazz along with his expert ability to read music better than most of his contemporaries at the time, were all a jazz musician’s career required. But soon learned, jazz had more to do with following the feeling and mood of the moment than following the technicalities of sheet music. Ultimately he decided physics was easier than jazz. And as they say, the rest is history.
The gentlemen discussed a wide range of historical topics which surprisingly all had jazz as their common denominator, if you did the math correctly. From Morehouse College and the city of Atlanta acquiring the MLK papers for a cool $35 million and thus saving them from auction, to how the Pulitzer Prize for music got its first Black recipients. The historical journey continued with stops along the “Trane” picking up passengers like Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Sun Ra, as it traveled from Chicago’s 63rd and Cottage Grove to its 1970’s Rush Street, then all the way to New Orleans, by way of Mississippi.
We listened. We learned. We remembered things we forgot we knew. We were reminded how essential practice is for accomplishing anything great. We left on a note to have the courage to fail, as success is often born from failure. Physics may never be easier than jazz for most of us but I hope now we all can say jazz is equally as important.