"The beautiful part about jazz is it's like the gumbo," says saxophonist and keyboardist Doc Jones, who's played with the likes of Aretha Franklin and The Temptations for more than 30 years. "There's all styles of jazz, from Boston over to smooth jazz to acid jazz, and on and on, you put that name to it so it allows the creative artist to play whatever they feel. That's what I think that real jazz is: It's simply improvisational music created most times on the spot, and it brings musicians together to have a musical conversation who don't know each other. Some of these countries, we don't even speak the same language, but we can play music together."
That's his philosophy in organizing Arizona's celebration of International Jazz Day every year. This Saturday, April 30, 196 different events across the world will be part of the UNESCO-created holiday, and Doc Jones will host the only officially recognized one in Arizona.
"Jazz in this country has declined over the past 30 or 40 years, but the rest of the world relishes this music that we have," says Jones. "China, Japan, Russia — you can go all over the world, and those kids gravitate to this style of music that was created right here in America. I decided that I have the duty to do my part in keeping this music alive, so I started spending more time in Arizona, and in 2013 I said, 'Let's do an International Jazz Day here.'"
The festival will feature performers from Colombia, Trinidad, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Greece, the Philippines, and more, with everyone contributing their own special flavor of jazz to the mix. The headliner, though, lives right here in Arizona: Jesse McGuire, a jazz trumpeter who's performed for three U.S. presidents, as well as at many major sporting events, including the World Series game that earned the Arizona Diamondbacks their championship in 2001.
This festival sports "Afro-Cuban jazz" as this year's unique theme. Early in his life, McGuire performed with Dizzy Gillespie, the legendary trumpeter who helped popularize Afro-Cuban music in America, and McGuire will lead an all-star band to re-create the music he performed with Dizzy. Other performers will include saxophonist Dan Pinson, drummer Dowell Davis, and pianist Ioannis Goudelis, as well as Doc Jones and his daughter Nayo.
Additionally, the Phoenix Sister Cities organization has helped promote the festival this year, which Jones says "brought a true international flavor to what we're doing." He hopes that performers from those 10 cities, including Calgary, Prague, Chengdu, and Taipei, can appear at the festival in future years.
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Jones uses the festival to draw attention to his work with outreach programs, such as the Academy of Excellence, where Jones teaches children how to play jazz and incorporate it into their lives. "We have very few instruments," he says. "We're playing recorders. We've got drum sticks with no drums, we're using chairs. This year will be the first year that we have the opportunity to raise money, thanks to the Arizona Community Foundation. They've blessed us with the opportunity to buy some instruments with a small grant. So that's a start for us."
What makes Arizona's celebration extra special this year is that Arizona politicians from both parties have recognized the celebration in proclamation form. UNESCO congratulated Jones and the International Jazz Day AZ Foundation for this accomplishment.
The festival takes place this Saturday, April 30, at CityScape from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets are $20 at the gate, or $100 for VIP seating. You can also purchase tickets in advance by calling 602-268-0600 or visiting www.ticketlobster.com.