The Berklee Global Jazz Institute is an honors performance program run by Danilo Perez. Isaac Haselkorn, a graduating drummer for the group writes about his experience at International Jazz Day in Paris.

When rumors first came out that our ensemble would be going to Paris to play at International Jazz Day, we couldn’t believe it. We had just finished a series of concerts and a clinic in Monterey California as Berklee’s representatives to the Next Generation Jazz Festival.

We arrived in Paris at 8 AM on Wednesday morning, dead tired.  Determined to seize the day, we resolved to do all the appropriately touristy things, given that we wouldn’t have another long block of time to do so. 

Early Friday morning we hailed a cab from the Rennaissance Hotel to UNESCO headquarters. It took a few seconds for us to get our bearings amid the bustle and commotion of the occasion.  UNESCO itself is enormous.  From what I could tell, there were two performance halls, an auditorium, a clinic room and a conference room that were sectioned off for use in the day’s activities.  Receiving our artist badges we made our way into a curtained-off room where we could stash our instruments until our performance at 3 PM.

The opening of International Jazz Day was celebrated in the main auditorium with a speech and  interview from Herbie Hancock.  When he walked on stage, the whole room, enervated perhaps from sitting in plush chairs in a dark auditorium, lit up in unanimous support.  His performance was masterful.  I was particularly struck by his assertion that “Jazz traveled all around the world and was accepted, but not as a foreigner”.

Dee Dee Bridgewater was welcomed to the stage after Herbie had finished.  She began the interview speaking wonderfully fluent French, much to the delight of the general crowd. There is no doubt that listening to Dee Dee speak French is a lovely thing, but we dreaded the prospect of spending the next hour pretending to understand the language.  We left to search for other activities.

The next couple hours were an excitement propelled blur of concerts, clinics, and faces.  Among them was a concert from bassist Ricardo del Fra who we had first met over a year ago in Boston, and again in Siena.  He would help to translate our interactive Skype master class with Danilo Perez and Wayne Shorter later that day.   We saw a lecture with Hugh Masekela, a South African trumpet player inspired by Bix Biederbecke and Louis Armstrong.  His life coincided with the implementation of apartheid by the Afrikaner’s, and his music represented a subsequent struggle and resistance against this evil.  Art is inevitably a response to or a chronicle of political and social climate, and must never be considered in a vacuum.  This is the message of International Jazz Day; to honor jazz as not only a timeless music, but also as a living and breathing international movement of global connection and goodwill.

Our performance and clinic were scheduled in a row following the lunch that marked a break in the day’s ceremonies. We spent lunch together, eating and listening to a band that was playing some music derived from the folklore of the Americas.  Since our ensemble was created, we have had chances to explore and grow and take risks together. We are a group of differing personalities brought together by a shared vision, and a loyalty solidified by shared experiences and enduring friendship.  We left for our show at Miro Halls an hour later striding confidently, and delivered the best performance of our ensemble’s life.

It was a coming of age for all of us who took part.  We made our way together to join the global community of artists, and were welcomed with the charge of responsibility to contribute, and join the conversation.