“Jazz can improve your life. The arts can improve your life. The arts exist to give a deeper understanding of what it means to be you in your time.” – Wynton Marsalis
Wednesday, June 1, jazz great Wynton Marsalis was interviewed on the PBS Newshour. His passion is jazz and the preservation of this uniquely American musical tradition. He sees music as a metaphor comparing the relationship of American music to American identity. He states, “Nowadays, the average black person has no idea, no understanding of the rich legacy of the Afro-American arts and doesn’t know that there is even something to know. Take the Afro-American out of it. The Afro-American is a culture inside of a culture — so a lack of interest — in our culture, period, in our nation. We would be so much better if we knew our own culture. It’s here for us. It’s been left by — you can take your pick. Start with Walt Whitman. We are not better because we don’t know who he — what he had to tell us. We are not better for not knowing Duke Ellington’s music.”
Marsalis was connecting music/art to the central core of our country regardless of race. He is an ambassador promoting music through excellence in education and performance and also upholds the mission to bring “elevation or uplift” to our collective souls. It was not lost to me that what he was saying about jazz was equally true for the art of tap dance. Besides the mostly urban choir of tappers, who understands that tap’s roots are a part of our cultural heritage and that it is indigenous to America? Do you know that tap dance is a melting pot of rhythms and moves, with influences from African (juba) dance and drumming rhythms, as well as European (jig) step dances, which were transferred to North America during the colonial era? Or that tap dance grew out of the variety of social dances of our early nation – some in the ballroom, others on plantations? Or as dance historian Sally Sommer states, that it would become the “the single most important form of American theatrical entertainment from 1840 to 1890”?
If you didn’t know then most likely you are not alone. And, I would venture to say that the average person has no idea of our rich cultural legacy of the American homegrown arts and “doesn’t know that there is even something to know.”