This past weekend, International Jazz Day celebrated its fifth anniversary with a star-studded gala concert at one of the most exclusive venues in the world: The White House. Hosted by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Jazz at the White House served as a highlight in a weekend full of performances and educational programs that took place in over 190 countries on all seven continents.
A quote from a press release further explains the occasion’s history: “Coordinated each year by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, International Jazz Day highlights the power of jazz as a force for freedom and creativity, promotes intercultural dialogue through respect and understanding, and unites people from all corners of the globe.”
Embracing diversity and embodying a spirit of unity, the annual affair bridges generational and cultural gaps by bringing together talented artists from around the globe. Continuing this tradition, the 2016 fete, emceed by Morgan Freeman, featured a dream lineup of virtuosic musicians — Herbie Hancock (who also serves as UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and Chairman of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz), Robert Glasper, Terence Blanchard, Trombone Shorty, Esperanza Spalding, Terrace Martin, Hugh Masekela, Chucho Valdés, Chick Corea, Terri Lyne Carrington, Buddy Guy, Christian McBride, Lionel Loueke, Wayne Shorter, Pat Metheny, Rebirth Brass Band and Joey Alexander (a 12-year old piano prodigy) to name a few — and incomparable vocalists like Aretha Franklin, Al Jarreau, Sting, Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Jamie Cullum, Kurt Elling and Diana Krall.
In an evening filled with memorable performances and tributes (i.e. Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck), a jazzy ode to Prince was an unexpected treat. Led by Mr. Hancock, the medley (featuring snippets of “1999,” “When Doves Cry,” and “Purple Rain”) came to life with instrumentals by Glasper, Carrington, Martin, Loueke and Ben Williams. A brisk verse from Rapsody and a soulful sing-along led by Queen Aretha capped the disappointingly brief memorial to a man Hancock said, “epitomized the word ‘music’.” But, this was a celebration of jazz after all, so we’ll let it slide.
On International Jazz Day (April 30th), Jazz at the White House aired as a one-hour special on ABC. If you missed the broadcast, don’t worry, just scroll down to witness the keynote event in its entirety. For more info on the annual event and its global outreach, be sure to visit the official website.