The Dominican Republic Sports & Education Academy is developing a jazz heritage project as part of its educational mission.
Both sports and music provide universal languages of communication, uniting people and cultures with common bonds. Jazz is its own form of artistic expression; Dominicans have taken baseball to a new art form through improvisation and unique style – they are the jazz artists of the baseball diamond.
The Dominican Jazz Initiative (DJI) is a collaboration between Jazz en Dominicana and the Dominican Republic Sports & Education Academy to promote the advancement, creativity, and appreciation of jazz through education and performance activities that harness the talents of jazz musicians to educate and inspire the next generation of performers and listeners.
The DJI recognizes the educational values inherent in jazz; by understanding this unique art form, the next generation comes to understand not only the music’s legacy, but also understand the values it represents.
Jazz en Dominicana, created in 2006, is the brainchild of Fernando Rodriguez, a Dominican who was raised in Long Island, NY, and educated at the University of Houston before returning to his native country after 22 years.
He blames the Milt Jackson Quintet’s rendition of “Sunflower” for giving rise to his passion for jazz. “This production was the ‘culprit’ that sent me into the depths of the genre that I love and am so passionate about,” Rodriguez said. “The first time I heard it, its impact was so great that I repeated it 17 consecutive times and to this day not a week goes by without listening to it – I never tire of diving into the music of this quintet: Milt Jackson, Freddie Hubbard, Billy Cobham, Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter.”
Rodriguez calls jazz “a unique musical style that originated in the United States, but has its roots in Africa and merges both African and European music traditions. Years before the integration of social structures such as the work place, education systems, and professional sports teams, the jazz bandstand was an example of tolerance, cooperation, improvisation, and mutual understanding. In addition, jazz provided one of the first forums for freedom of expression and gender empowerment, and is an example of the transformable power of this fundamental human right.
“Today jazz is a universal language spreading over the continents, influencing and being influenced by other kinds of music, evolving as a merging cultural element for supporters all around the world, with no distinction of race, religion, or national origin.”
My own love affair with jazz started with the gift of two albums on my 13th birthday; one by Oscar Peterson and the other by Ramsey Lewis. I wore the grooves off the albums as they expanded my horizons, pressing me to listen to Coltrane, Miles, Dizzy, Billy Holiday, Count Basie, the Duke, and other pioneers of the genre.
I love the innovation of jazz, how it stirs my soul; it is music you feel as much as you hear, and can’t wait to share with others who understand its profound rapture. It is in that spirit that the Dominican Jazz Initiative is being developed.
The idea for the DJI actually came from the New York Jazz Initiative, which was formed in 2008 to advance the performance, education and creative spirit of jazz. Part of its mission is to develop outreach programs that bring jazz and jazz masters into all levels of music education, as well as to develop cross-curriculum and interdisciplinary programs incorporating jazz technique and history into subjects other than music, including history. It also fosters the application of jazz performance techniques and history to all levels of public and private education.
I have been pleasantly surprised by the existence and sophistication of the jazz community in the Dominican Republic; I was introduced to it by Fernando, who “hosts” jam sessions at various locations in Santo Domingo, including La Cantina del Agave, a local restaurant. The musicians he presents are talented in breadth and scope, with many of them educated at top music schools in the United States, yet they fuse their music with a Latin flair that makes it somehow uniquely Dominican.
Jazz has yet to reach the masses in the Dominican Republic who tend to be caught up in salsa, merengue and bachata. I ask friends if they like jazz and far too often the answer is no. But more baffling is that they admit they never listen to it. “How do you know you don’t like it if you have never listened to it,” I ask?
Through the DJI, I see jazz as an instrument to bring its history, innovation and, of course, its Latin roots to promote the educational values of music, if nothing else the skill of learning to listen, and the critical thinking skills inherent in the creative process.
We are hoping to launch the DJI in early 2013, and are currently recruiting musicians, jazz historians and aficionados of the genre to the cause. If you are interested in supporting the program, please go to our website, www.drsea.org, to find out how you can make a donation today. The art form of baseball is well developed in the Dominican Republic; the art form of jazz deserves a little attention as well.