While over two hundred of the President’s invited guests filled the Blue Room, the three "Jazz Masters" along with "Jazz and the New Generation" performed a concert featuring music influenced by the African-American culture, reminding those in attendance of the impact black music has had on the landscape of music in America.
"It’s exciting to be a part of this event," Crystal Torres explained. "The contributions African-Americans have made to the music world are immeasurable. Their influences can be heard in a wide variety of music crossing all cultural boundaries. So to get the opportunity to perform for the President in recognition of these contributions is truly an honor."
President Bush also shared his sentiments regarding the African-American impact on music in our country during his speech preceding the concert. "During this month, we recognize the great contribution that black music has made to the culture of our nation and to the world," President Bush stated. "This music could only have come from the unique experience of African Americans; yet it speaks to every human heart. Black music in America began with spiritual songs that bore witness to the cruelty of bondage and the strength of faith. From those roots, it grew into a variety of styles -- jazz and gospel, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll. All these forms capture a part of the American spirit."
Recognizing the importance of African-American musicians including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, B.B. King, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin, President Bush challenged the audience to imagine American music today without their great contributions.
President Bush also took the time to acknowledge the loss of Elvin Jones and Ray Charles, two great African-American musicians. "Last month, the celebrated jazz drummer Elvin Jones passed away. He was the fiery pulse of John Coltrane’s Quartet," said the President. "And just days ago we said good-bye to another American original, Ray Charles, who’s often called "the father of soul music." But his music embraced every style and transcended every label. It takes a great talent to make a song forever your own, and no one hears "Georgia On My Mind" or "Hit the Road, Jack" without thinking of Ray Charles."
"There are very few of our Jazz legends still living, so when we lose one of them, we lose a piece of living history," Crystal said when asked about the passing the Jones and Charles. "It’s events like this that remind us how important it is for us to cherish them while they are still with us and keep their stories and spirit alive through their music when they are gone."
The concert was opened by the Billy Taylor Trio performing The Man I Love. The group was then joined by Dione Taylor for a rendition of If You Really Are Concerned Then Show It. The members of "Jazz and a New Generation", vocalist Crystal Torres, pianist Eldar Djangirov, bassist Philip Kuehn, Violinist Caley Monahon Ward, and saxophonist Matt Marantz, stole the show with their performance of Dr. Taylor’s original piece Conversion. Chico Hamilton followed up with a passionate drum solo. The concert was then concluded with the Billy Taylor Trio featuring saxophonist James Moody performing Sweet Georgia Brown.
The event was concluded with Laura Bush addressing the audience. In her closing remarks, First Lady Laura Bush urged the audience to celebrate jazz as a uniquely American art form. She also spoke of the importance music plays in one’s life.
Jazz along with Gospel, Hip Hop, Rhythm and Blues, and Rock and Roll are all music genres saturated with the contributions of the African-American culture. Without these contributions, music, but more importantly American culture itself would not be the same. So on this day our nation took a moment to show it’s gratitude to the African-American musicians.
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