adapted from le Bananier bleu with additional reporting by the WEC
What a great lesson in courage, optimism and tenacity!
The festival, the 5th edition, was held nightly from February 19-26, 2011 at several locations in the city of Port-au-Prince, namely Karibe Hotel, L’Institut Français d’Haïti, L’Institute Haitiano Américain et le Parc Historique de la Canne à Sucre. The days were filled with training workshops targeting young Haitian Jazz musicians.
Fifty young musicians participated in a workshop called “The Roots of Jazz: introduction to Blues, Negro Spirituals” given by the stunning Haitian-American vocalist, January 25. Jean sought to answer the question, “What is Jazz” and put this musical trend within in a historical context for the students.
According to her, ”Jazz is a musical language that has its roots in African-American communities in the South-eastern United States in the early 20th century. The style combines the musical traditions of West Africa and Europe. Jazz as any musical style draws on three basic concepts: rhythm, melody and harmony.”
The Berklee College of Music graduate evoked the history of New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz. ”New Orleans is a landmark in the history of Jazz,” she said. “But it is partly due to the contribution of Haitian migrants who doubled the French population of Louisiana after the 1804 Haitian revolution that Jazz was established in the United States. ”
The singer reviewed the various styles that enrich the annals of Jazz before dwelling on the Blues which she defined as a state of mind that suggests sadness, struggle and suffering.
The subject of improvisation fuelled the debate in the auditorium of the L’institut Haitiano-américain. Jean explained that improvisation plays a big role in Jazz music. ”It’s like a conversation. The Jazzman listens to his accomplices, talks to them. In the tradition of Jazz, musicians are free to express their feeling, which is not always possible in other styles. Mushy Widmaier was closely following the debate and interjected that “this freedom is not synonymous with anarchy, as some conceive.”
Percussionist Marcus Schwartz, whose work has been highly appreciated for the emphasis he places on the language of the drums, added that the drum plays a crucial role in Jazz and is the mainstay of music in general. He continued, Haiti has a rich rhythm like no other. Each “Lakou,” each region, has its specificity. This is one of the few African countries where the tradition in its entirety or almost, is perennial. He cited the variety of drums – Ibo, Nago and Dahomey – not found easily elsewhere. Schwartz believes it is important for Haiti to hold on to its roots, the traditions it has to offer to the world.
Assisting Jean in demonstrating the role of the different instrument in the language of Jazz were Mimi Jones (bass), Willerm Delisfort (piano), Shirazette Tinnin (drums). [Translated and paraphrased from "Pauline Jean creuse les racines du jazz" by Nélio Joseph]
Of course, Haitian artists, among them singer Pauline Jean and pianist Mushy Widmaier, were featured prominently. But there was a strong foreign presence from Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Canada and the United States with saxophonist and flautist Jane Bunnett and pianist Aaron Goldberg leading the line-up.
The French Antilles and France was also well-represented by percussionist Mino Cinelu from Martinique.
The theme for Festival International de Jazz de Port-au-Prince 2011 was Ayiti pi djamn ak Jazz meaning “Haiti, Stronger with the Jazz.”