WASHINGTON — Herbie Hancock’s fingers danced over the keys like they were on fire, tickling the fancies of those in Dupont Circle who braved the chilly weather to celebrate the opening ceremony of the fifth International Jazz Day. For the first time, D.C. served as the Global Host City of an event meant to bring people all over the world together.
“Jazz will prove its value as a diplomatic tool,” Hancock told the crowd, reminding them that it started small, but thanks to the support of billions, “it has become a powerful global movement so enormous that it blankets our entire planet.”
Hancock sat in with students from the jazz band of Duke Ellington School of the Arts, taking the time to school the keyboard player on some tricks he’s learned in his legendary career while she grinned at his side. But Hancock wants people to remember there is more to jazz than the joyous sounds of what was once a unique American art form that now belongs to the world.
“Our fellow citizens face hardships every single day and night,” Hancock said.
He urged performers to join forces, play louder and sing out to send a message of peace and harmony around the world with more urgency than ever before. The jazzman also asked the crowd to adopt the ethics of jazz “by taking a few minutes to think about others, and have the courage to reach out with a helping hand.”
Director-General Irina Bokova of UNESCO, pointing to the thousands of events planned in 195 countries, quoted the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by telling the audience, “jazz is life.”
“Jazz is the music of courage, the music of human rights, of human dignity,” Bokova said, adding, “it’s more than ever needed to connect people, to pass the message of diversity, of mutual respect, of tolerance … of rights, and — at the end of the day — of peace.”
Jeremiah Gorman, 15, came out to support a friend, but learned something important instead. “It really opened my eyes to jazz,” Gorman said.
Organizers hope the music inspires the world to cooperate in a spirit of peace.