“Jazz democracy dialogues / Improvisation through arts and education:
How we can approach arts, humanities, education with creative interaction through the Jazz Democracy concept”

Dimitrios Vassilakis
Concept Analysis:

The aim is to showcase how jazz as a universal language can teach us the way to develop dialogue in equal terms and communicate in a more humane, democratic and creative way. The focus will be laid on concept elements in a jazz performance that can be utilized and embraced when we approach work environment, social, cultural or political issues.

Under Jazz Democracy (JD) dialogues, we explore how this great American art form has become global and has embraced the broad democratic values which were first established in ancient Greece. We will also demonstrate how jazz has been always integrating minority groups, an issue especially relevant to the present day and age of global economic and refugee crisis. On the other end, we will also comment on the connection with dance, visual arts plus new technologies in art and society and the ongoing dialogue with artificial intelligence.

Through open and round table discussions, special focus shall be dedicated on the fundamental role of education, how is been taught and how we can find ways to make it more creative under the above JD concepts.

The way we see arts humanities and knowledge as we go into 2022 needs to be reevaluated and to find creative ways of communication, interaction and production in the arts and humanities.

In jazz improvisation, the only thing that matters is how you play in the moment within the given context. Everything else (background, color, titles, etc.) is irrelevant. It is the actions in context, alone, through which one can claim his/her place and value in a group, time, environment. This is the ideal of Democracy in Jazz, reminiscent of Aristotle’s definition of “Areti” as something that is continuously negotiated and must (and can) be earned through action.

If we can see life through this prism exemplified in jazz performance, handling even complex issues become more transparent.

By approaching a jazz artist when improvising, introduces the creative artist, thinker and scholar to new important perspectives.

Concept Elements:

Dimitrios Vassilakis presents the concept introducing the key elements of Jazz Democracy. He refers to jazz as language and storytelling and comments on the interaction with literature, poetry and prose. He will also comment on how jazz has embraced different ethnic musics, referring to the concept elements below:

No discrimination or boundaries

In a jazz setting either a live performance or jam session, there is no discrimination whatsoever; artists are allowed to play purely because of their merit. Here, there is space for more discussion regarding education, heritage, experience.

Structured improvisation and creativity

Although for most listeners it seems free play, there is strong and sometimes complex structure in jazz. A jazz player wishes to express himself in a creative way and tell a story in a given framework, while collaborates with other players under certain terms, mutual respect and appreciation.

Truth, risk, arrow of time and value

There is no way to fake during a jazz performance. Jazz players improvise in real time, so great players know how to turn mistakes or uninspired passages to their advantage and create something new getting back into the right frame. There is, thus, a considerable amount of risk that a jazz player has to take in order to make something of significance and artistic value

Environment and response

Jazz is not performed in a void; audience and fellow player interaction is extremely important.

Hierarchy and opinion

Although one comes to listen to a band by a certain leading figure, all the other players – members of the ensemble, in turn, through their improvised solos, will be asked to comment on the tune, the mood, the language, the story, the style.

Freedom of expression

This might seem almost self-evident for jazz, still it happens under certain rules in form / style.

Feedback and evaluation

Jazz musicians talk and evaluate what is happening in their art as it happens. There are many eras and styles in jazz, some of the musicians do feel strong about certain periods and means of expression, this is an ongoing discussion that enriches the jazz language.

Dealing with differences in style and opinion

In the jazz world there are differences and dislikes as in all art forms. However, players have to perform together even if they don’t agree on style / way the language is used. In case of a difficult setting, and in order to be able to play something creative, every player needs to sound good, to adjust and also make everybody else in the ensemble sound good.

Jam session as an open forum

For the jazz player, who is able to come on stage and express his/her opinion on a given theme, this is sort of a small parliament, and reveals the great strength and uniqueness of the jazz world.

Reflections on social issues, the role of jazz embracing different ethnicities and minorities

Social issues discussion in jazz started in the 60’s with “Freedom Now Suite We Insist!”, an album for the Historic Candid label that I am proud to be a recording artist and it is as relevant today with Black Lives Matter.

African roots

The main groove of jazz is what we call “swing” and has its roots in Africa and the dualism between the 2 subdivisions of rhythm in 2 and in 3. “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing” as said by the great Duke Ellington. Relevant discussions on religion, political oppression and apartheid will take place drawing from the experience that D. Vassilakis had when he visited S. Africa and collaborated with legendary pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim.

Belonging, collaboration and responsibility in human interaction, jazz performance as a democratic model of being and action in a global society

Discussions on how Jazz Democracy fosters collective preparedness and the sense of belonging to develop a shared vision through culture, gender equality and shared values. During the COVID-19 pandemic, values such as equity, solidarity and collaboration have been recognized as central to resilience and essential to respond to future crises and difficult situations. The EU trio of presidencies (France, Czech Republic, Sweden) during the next 18 months will strive to find common solutions to challenges ahead by promoting European values on the global stage.