By Miles Jaye
I’ve listened to jazz music all my life. I was raised on the greats—Satchmo, Duke, Count, Bird, Diz, Monk and of course, Miles. I cherish the contributions of these giants to American culture, and the original content we export across the globe. It is truly and uniquely American! When I hear of jazz festivals, I think of great singers like Ella, Eckstein, Sarah, Nat and Natalie Cole, and Nancy Wilson.
As much as I love Gladys, her name doesn’t come to mind…She is this year’s Jacksonville Jazz Festival headliner. I made no bones about Ms. Knight singing the National Anthem earlier this year at the Super Bowl, her prerogative, but to bill her as “Jazz” is just wrong on so many levels. The headliner issue is no more than a point of interest in the grand scheme of things. There are bigger issues at play.
I recently received a copy of a very interesting letter requesting cancellations by artists already booked for the event. Here is an excerpt:
Good afternoon, I am writing today in regard to your upcoming performance at the Jacksonville Jazz Festival. Jacksonville is honored that you have agreed to do a show at this wonderful annual event. Jacksonville has been making great strides to become a hub for the performing arts, and events like this are a joy to see in our beautiful city.
However, Jacksonville is marred with the stains of ages old white supremacist values. The city has two Confederate monuments and countless schools, streets and a park dedicated to celebrating the treacherous and racist acts of the Confederate states. A number of citizens in Jacksonville have banded together for years to endeavor
to rid the city of the monuments and change school names. I am sure you are well aware of the national “Take ‘Em Down” campaign. As a representative of “Take ‘Em Down Jax” I am writing to urge you to use your celebrity status to assist in this effort.
You are scheduled to perform in Hemming Plaza but what you may not be aware of is that towering above the park is a Confederate monument. In addition, Hemming Plaza was the site of a horrific incident known as “Axe Handle Saturday” during the Civil Rights Movement. I am writing to request that you do one of two things. It would make a very big impact in this campaign if you would agree to pull out of the Jazz Festival and inform the organizers that you will not perform in the shadow of white supremacy. If you feel that you are unable to pull out of the show altogether I would like to request that you make mention of the monument and tell Jacksonville that it needs to come down during your performance and post to social media using hashtag #TakeEmDownJax.
Thank you for your time and I await your response.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have my own personal concerns with the so-called Jazz Festival. I mentioned my lifelong love affair with jazz, however, I omitted the fact that I am also a formally-trained jazz musician, with a career of my own spanning 40+ years. I am a well-known, well-respected, national recording artist, residing in the Jacksonville area, and while I have received promises and assurances from City Hall officials—to event organizers that I would be called to perform for my new home town, I have never received such a call.
In fact, I’ve lived in Jacksonville for three years and have never been asked to perform at the Jazz Festival. It’s either paranoia or I’m on list—more commonly known as being “Black Balled.” I do believe the individuals who book these events have every right to secure whatever talent they deem appropriate and sufficiently popular, after all, there is a great deal of subjectivity to any booking scenario. However, it begins to look as though politics has played more than a minor role in the selection process over the years. Having played festivals in various parts of the world, other than a matter of principle and fair play, I have no vested interest in this particular festival. Finally, given the opportunity, I could provide a dozen or more names of world-renowned, authentic jazz players and singers who would be perfectly suitable for the event, and since revenue from tickets sales is not a factor in a free event, subjectivity or the perception of their popularity would not come into question. It would simply be a great event celebrating a wonderful American art form.
Miles Jaye Davis plays over 12 instruments and is an artist, musician, author, painter, writer