Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith photo by Daniel Sheehan
New Year’s Revolutions
First off, a gigantic Thank You to all of you, for making this an incredible year. It was an exciting year for the city of Seattle, a banner year for our brilliant jazz and cultural community, a remarkably successful year for the Earshot Jazz organization, and a fulfilling year for me, personally.
This month marks my 25th anniversary as Earshot’s Executive Director. But, even though I’ve been engaged in this work longer than many of the people I work with have been alive, I find myself now focusing more on renewal than retrospective. I’ll gladly join my young colleagues working more clearly on the future, and the unavoidable opportunities in front of us; and I am grateful to bring along a bit of the hard-won perspective that my years have forced upon me.
I’ve never considered myself to be an optimist, but I find myself positively moved by the profound negative reactions to the recent elections, and the suddenly overt, and uncomfortably close, presence of the darker forces at work in the world. And, by darker forces, I’ll just come out and say the words we’ve all seen: hatred, bigotry, racism, sexism, violence, suspicion, arrogance, supremacy, exclusion, aggression, cultural oppression, censorship, xenophobia, homophobia, and on and on. These seem to be the new domain that threatens our national future. I suggest that we consider what the exact opposite of each of those words means to us, individually, and resolve to put them into action every new day.
Someone once said, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” Great opportunities can be cleverly disguised as serious problems. And we do have a problem. We’ve all been fairly comfortable in the calm and theoretically inclusive clouds of our liberal skies, but the storm clouds are growing. We now have, literally, the chance-of-a-lifetime to get crystal clear on our own personal values, to find our voice for action, to feel the connections to our fellow humans, and to put ourselves to work for each other’s good. Get up. Get out. Put your love into action. Do one new positive thing each day. Speak up for someone. Help someone else.
And let’s double up on art and beauty. John Coltrane said, “I just want to be a force for good.” Jimi Hendrix said that peace comes “when the power of love replaces the love of power.” That’s a big one. But we each have some power, and we can decide to use it for good, in our own way, in a new way, every day, starting now.
I first showed up as a volunteer usher for the Earshot Jazz Festival in 1990, at the second of two concerts – ever – by the International Creative Music Orchestra. Out of the creative vision of Earshot founder, Gary Bannister, the ICMO brought artists from “communist” East Germany together with improvisers from New York and the Seattle community, to express common language under the baton of Butch Morris. I thought about that concert last month, at one of our recent festival concerts by Jaimeo Brown’s Transcendence. I thought, “Yeah, this is what Earshot Jazz does best”: the magic that this organization provides is the revolution inside the evolution, and the value of individual expression to improve the good of the greater whole.
Happy Holidays. Happy New Year. We’ll see you out there.
–John Gilbreath, Executive Director