International Jazz Day transforms the White House into a jazz club

Washington DC, 30 April – When is the White House not the White House? When UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and jazz legend Herbie Hancock says so, and he said so last night as the International Jazz Day All-Star Global Concert was held in the national capital of the United States, transforming the official residence of the First Family into a House of Jazz.

U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted the event at the White House. The President welcomed the nearly 500 guests to the South Lawn, recalling not only Jazz’s roots in slavery, but how by its very nature, it symbolizes freedom. “It was the late Duke Ellington who said jazz is a good barometer of freedom.”

Hosted by actor Morgan Freeman, the concert featured a succession of performances by some of the legends of the genre, including Al Jarreau, Aretha Franklin and Dee Dee Bridgewater. Jarreau’s scat rendition of Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, nearly brought the house down and Franklin’s rendition of Purple Rain, a tribute to Prince, who passed away last week, had the audience singing along. South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela performed “Mandela,” which brought the crowd to its feet.

Director General Irina Bokova, a featured speaker at the event, welcomed jazz home to its country of origin, but also drew attention to its relevance today, as the world faces increasing attacks on cultural heritage. “Culture and human rights go hand in hand, and those who seek to fragment humanity always target culture -- in response, we must sing and listen and share even more culture, knowledge and ideas,” she said.

With more than 2 billion people in over 150 countries participating in International Jazz Day over this weekend, Herbie Hancock said this was more than a celebration, it was a global movement. “Truly,” said Hancock, “jazz has no boundaries.” UNESCO created International Jazz Day at Hancock’s urging in 2011.

In his closing comments President Obama likely spoke for everyone in attendance. “I’m feeling the spirit of jazz,” he said, “imagining a better world thanks to all these artists.”

A one-hour webcast of the concert, “Jazz at the White House,” will be shown on the United Nations, UNESCO, U.S. State Department and White House websites tonight at 9pm GMT -4.