The appalling events witnessed in Nice came not only on Bastille Day, but in the immediate lead up to the annual Nice Jazz Festival which has now been officially cancelled for security reasons. This used to be situated part way up a hill in a former Roman arena, but chillingly was to have taken place in direct proximity to the Promenade des Anglais, and indeed festival promotion was clearly visible in early reporting.
Music has the capacity to unite and bring together seemingly disparate individuals who may on the surface have little in common and with jazz being a predominately, though by no means exclusively instrumental music form, it can and does cut across languages, nationalities religions and ethnicities. All the more pity, then, that the festival should be cancelled before it even began, but security is understandably uppermost in the authorities minds. Nonetheless, jazz has always had a revolutionary ethos, historically countering totalitarianism of all types, and to continue to listen to music is in itself an act of resistance to those dark forces who seek to impose their distorted vision of a religion upon us. Jazz has regularly combined with the music and peoples of other cultures to create something new in the process and long may it continue.
An illustration that music can and should continue to function, while still respecting the tragic loss of life and injury, was provided on Friday night (15 July) at La Rochelle on the coast in west France, organised by the French equivalent (in similar hallowed status, if not in identical musical activity) of John Peel, namely Jean-Louis Foulquier. This is the annual location of ‘Les francofolies’, a music festival not dissimilar to Glastonbury in outlook, but with a distinctive French and French-speaking world perspective. In front of 17,000 spectators and live on French national radio, Franco-Lebanese jazz trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf performed with his band and towards the end of the concert special guest, bassist Marcus Miller, took the stage, incorporating the bass line of Chic’s ‘Good Times’ at one point and engaging in a roots reggae breakdown elsewhere. Thus the umbilical cord between one of the giants of jazz in the twentieth century, Miles Davis for whom Miller was an integral band member, and one of the young hopefuls of the twenty-first century, Maalouf, was inextricably intertwined. Indeed Maaalouf was especially eloquent in paying tribute to those who lost their lives in Nice when opining thus, ‘There is a delicate context tonight and faced with uncertainty, our music speaks of that’. He then proceeded to perform the piece, ‘Improbable’, from the 2015 album, ‘Red and Black Light’, as a direct homage, weaving in the intro to Miles’ ‘In a silent way’. What was noticeable about the concert was how an essentially instrumental music form was able to galvanise the public and Maalouf cannily invited French singer Nolwen Leroy at one point as guest vocalist on ‘La confession’. Later in the evening another French musician who has constantly fused world beats (Brazilian, Cape Verdean, rai, reggae and salsa to name but a few), into his own sound, Barnard Lavilliers, dedicated an acoustic solo guitar and vocal version of ‘On the road’, to the victims, and further afield at the Royal Albert Hall in London at the beginning of the Proms, the BBC Symphony Orchestra performed the Marseillaise as the prelude to the opening concert. Musicians of all genres and hues can participate and demonstrate their solidarity and it is important to recognise that musicians do not see themselves as being pigeon-holed into one or more category. Herbie Hancock, for one, has spent his entire career breaking down musical boundaries. A younger generation of music listeners are far more open to musical genres being dissected and cross-fertilised with sampling techniques becoming the norm, and this more flexible attitude extends to a greater openness to other cultures and peoples in general and we (both in the collective sense and an older generation) would be well served learning from this looser approach in our own daily lives. Arguably, this is humanity’s greatest asset and the most effective long-term weapon to those sinister forces that seek to divide the human race.
Vive la musique!
Liberté, fraternité, égalité.