This is my favorite time of year. Sunny afternoons, cool nights, the smell of burning leaves, new wine vintages, hearty fall meals, and before long, the holidays.
This year, the fall harvest season has additional meaning for me. St. Louis is reaping the rewards of our investments in jazz music that have been planted over many years, by many generations of people from all walks of life. While St. Louis has always held an important place in jazz history, now we are one of the great jazz cities in the world.
On October 2, the Harold and Dorothy Steward Center for Jazz in Grand Center opened to sold-out crowds. The center brings together a world-class performance venue, complete with livestreaming capabilities allowing students and fans around the world to see performances for free, along with a stunning jazz lounge with a large screen to watch live and recorded jazz performances, an education center with practice rooms for the region’s top jazz students to study, play and rehearse, and the offices of the highly respected not-for-proft Jazz St. Louis. Few cities have anything like this, and I am confdent that it’s just a matter of time before St. Louis is known as ground zero of modern jazz, the place to hear jazz, to learn jazz, to perform jazz and to record jazz.
What makes this opening so special is to see how it brings the best of St. Louis together. The diversity of the patronage is superseded only by the diversity of the season-ticket holders and well-wishers. At a jazz performance, there aren’t different races, just jazz fans. And to watch the families whose names adorn the buildings thank each other for their generosity and leadership was incredibly moving. It was like watching the adoration and respect baseball players and fans showed Derek Jeter at the end of his career. Jazz legend Wynton Marsalis said it best when he talked about jazz being the one truly American art form that, from its roots, has brought people together.
You would have to lack humanity not to be moved to tears of joy watching Dave Steward dedicate perhaps the best jazz performance and education facilities in the world to his parents, to humbly thank them for raising him and his siblings with two simple ingredients – faith and hard work – and to watch his awe of Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, giving every musician a standing ovation. I only wish every St. Louisan could have experienced Steward’s grace, because he has so much to teach.
Jazz St. Louis brought the community together in a way I was starting to doubt was possible. But it is possible, and jazz is perhaps one of our greatest assets, bringing our country together since the days of Scott Joplin.
During an interactive educational program at Normandy High School with the Normandy Jazz Band and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Wynton played side by side with the kids, challenging them to express themselves, to speak up and out through the music, and showed them ways to live lives of consequence. He reminded them that musicians have to listen to each other, to work together and practice together. Only through this cooperation and respect does great jazz happen. His message was simple and clear, and it made me want to drop everything to work with kids who need role models like Wynton. So much can be learned about life through the history of jazz, and so much of our future hinges on the audacious vision of the Stewards, the Ferrings, the Kranzbergs, the Neidorffs, and so many others to make St. Louis the epicenter of jazz.
In a few days, the buzz of Wynton Marsalis will wear off, and we’ll all be back to our daily routines. But I challenge each of us to make jazz the metaphor for how we move forward this year, to listen and to work together, to harmonize and to solo, and to find the unique talents in each of us. We are defined by what brings us together, not by what divides us. Jazz history is St. Louis history, uniquely ours and something we should wear on our sleeves and on our backs, as we do the Cardinals.
The future of jazz – and humanity – starts here.
Craig M. Kaminer
Sophisticated Living Magazine