Take Five with NJF

In a Sentimental Mood…

Almost 12 months ago the 2020 inaugural National Jazz Festival took place in Philadelphia and I am in a sentimental mood. Little did we know that a month later, borders would be closed, schools would shift to remote learning, and the world would barricade indoors for fear of COVID-19. I am not sentimental about that. Honestly, I’m still struggling to settle into this strange new world. Instead, I’m holding onto my blurry memories of February 15, 2020, of the frantic planning that climaxed in that day, and of the excited teens walking the long (really long halls!) of the Philadelphia Convention Center with their instruments and gear. Competition always adds a palpable nervous energy to an atmosphere, and the kids were definitely nervous. But, oh man, so were we. Months of scrambling, raising money, working out logistics with unions and the venue, contacting schools, universities, the music industry, and exhibitors, arranging the rooms, scheduling the day, printing shirts and signs…oh man, it was a LOT. A whole lot, but more so, it was FUN.

The legendary bandleader and composer Duke Ellington produced more than one thousand lasting works. Keystone/Getty Images

Duke Ellington: The Composer, Pt. 1 : NPR

Duke Ellington, the composer of the jazz standard that titles this post, stated, “A problem is a chance for you to do your best.” Are we ever having more fun than when we are trying our best? Take us, the small team of organizers. We had little background in planning an event of this scale. I, for one, had never hosted an event larger than a casual baby shower with 70 attendees. We had valuable and workable skills though, and the ability to learn quickly and think on our feet. We gave it our best, and the resulting festival justified our efforts. Think about our young musicians. They tackle strange chord progressions and rhythm changes, spending hours in frustration trying to nail a composition. They improvise and rework solos on their instruments to express individuality with the aim of offering their best performance. And when they do? Aha! This is the thrill we all crave. And don’t forget our hardworking band directors, especially in this difficult time. Switching from hybrid to remote learning on a dime and teaching music on Zoom is less than ideal. Just like jazz musicians, these teachers improvise. They take the problem and do their best for their students.

There are 2 rules in life:

Number 1- Never quit.

Number 2- Never forget rule number 1.

-Duke Ellington

The 2020 National Jazz Festival is complete and we are so grateful to all participants and proud of ourselves (!) and all the volunteers who helped. Everyone gave it their best. So, 2021? Duke Ellington inspires us again to never quit. We are taking the problem of our current situation creating a virtual 2021 festival. This festival is worth our efforts. Let’s keep giving these young musicians and all the NJF family an opportunity to do our best.