It is the first day of 2017, and I think any individual dwelling in America can agree that this upcoming year will be an experimental and interesting one for sure. It is apparent that the citizens of our nation are in disagreement as to what it really means to be “American” or what “America” really stands for. Many are traditionalists, who may believe that the best representation of America is grounded in the nuclear family unit, traditional gender roles and sexual orientations, isolationism from other nations, and protected borders. Others believe the best representation of America is one that embraces the “melting pot” that it is, welcomes different cultures and races, and celebrates new and dynamic ideas and ways of life. I personally believe there is no wrong or right answer; there is just a different perspective. There simply can’t be a right or wrong way of looking at it, because if you truly believe you are right with all of your heart… I guarantee someone else will disagree with you. So who IS right then?
Therefore, we cannot continue in our daily lives with frustrated cynicism of the differing opinion.
The presidential selection for these next four years is a difficult pill to swallow for many of us right now; whether you were jumping for joy that night in November or your heart was filled with dread, it is undeniable that we have leaped back in history a couple of decades. The ideas embraced by our new presidential elect reflect the mindset and power structure of the 1950’s, of which a majority of our nation seems to prefer.
So this begs me to ask… what is the true America that we know and love? Is it the America that elects an African American president and legalizes gay marriage? Or is it the America that prefers traditional ideals and the beliefs of Donald Trump, only eight years later?
In my opinion, the true America that we know and love is one that is most definitely a blend of both of the mindsets represented above; but one that is able to salute that fact, coexist with one another, and accept the differences of opinions with peace and respect. We ARE a melting pot; and how beautiful is that? The America I know is one that flourishes in all of its melty-ness… And the greatest example of this that I can think of is depicted through jazz music.
Jazz is one of the only truly American art forms. Classical music derived from Europe, almost all of our architecture is based off of original Roman structures, and visual art was also heavily influenced by classical European painters and sculptors. But jazz… beautiful, dynamic, and culturally vibrant jazz, sprung up from the heart of New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century. While America was instilling Jim Crow laws and hanging African Americans in the streets, black and white folk alike were gathered in smoky rooms, swingin’ to a common beat. Big bands and combos were composed of black and white individuals, all playing music together, despite the racial tensions brewing outside of the club. This resilient art form not only transcended racial segregation, but it rose above the confines of tragic historical events as well. During the Great Depression, American citizens would dance away their sorrows at swing clubs on the weekends; during World War II, the musical spirits of the American people urged them to find a way to play underground. Jazz stuck its middle finger to the accepted cultural opinions that pervaded the mindsets of a portion of the nation and said “You know what? We got music to make here; there is entertainment to provide, there are sounds to be created, laughs to be heard, and memories to be made, and we don’t give a hoot about the difference in skin color of the people who make it happen.”
Not to mention the fact that the structure of jazz also reflects the way in which we should consider handling modern political disputes. It is an art form based off of improvisation, where the objective of the music is to engage in a conversation with another musician, which then results in the creation of a song. Every musical idea played from your instrument should be a response to what you heard the moment before, and whether you liked what that trumpet player had to say or not, you play back a musical phrase that is either wildly different or similar in nature. But somehow, this musical exchange results in something that someone taps their toe to, something that makes someone smile; no one is ever killed on the bandstand from this conversation… Even though we don’t always agree with the particular musical ideas of our fellow musicians, we still engage in conversation in a respectful and (incredibly fun) manner. What if we kept this tradition in mind as we encounter opposing views in our daily lives?
All in all, jazz has always been a way to escape the negativity toward the minute discrepancies of our fellow humans, and a way to respond by creating something beautiful in return. The pure resilience of this music is what I believe is the best illustration of what America is; the ability to come together, regardless of the color of our skin, regardless of the God that we worship or the daily news that is ripping apart our country that day….and create. something. beautiful.
As we embark full fledge into this new year, with new leaders and contradicting beliefs, let us all remember the America that is beautifully contained within the world of jazz; the America that celebrates not the lack of differences, but the cohesion of those differences for the composition of something extraordinary. And that extraordinary composition… is indeed our nation.
Thank you for reading, as always.
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