By Dara Smith and Dyondra Wilson
Jazz vocalist Cilla Owens sings and swings to the blues as melodies from Billie Holiday’s “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” beam out to the audience. The crowd swayed as her ensemble played jazz tunes in the dimly lit Performance Arts Center at Adelphi University on April 7.
Some 40 people took the red colored seats, listening to Cilla sing an arrangement of songs and ballads from the Great American Songbook. Cilla began teaching Jazz at Adelphi University this year, as the director of the university’s jazz ensemble.
Jazz began as a cultural movement around 1895 by African Americans in New Orleans communities. The genre influenced fashion, dance, language and other forms of expression, as well as helped shape current genres of music still popular today.
Despite its influence, jazz music was only 1 percent of total audio consumption in 2016, a Nielsen year-end report shows. The highest was rock with 29 percent.
“Hopefully we try to do something to make jazz alive again because sooner or later, younger generations will totally forget about it.” Julianna Pittl, a twenty-year-old audience member and music performance major at Adelphi University, said.
Other audience members like Bob Schwartz, a 71-year-old pre-med advisor at Adelphi University believes more people should hear jazz. “I think if people get exposed to it, they’ll just enjoy sitting and listening to it,” Schwartz said. “There’s something about the spirit of their play and their interaction, you can hear it in the music. The playing off each other, following some tune and creating differences with each performer, yet working together.”
The United States recognizes April as jazz appreciation month. Jazz restaurants and clubs on Long Island such as Treme Islip celebrate by playing live jazz music every night they’re open during the month.
“Jazz is distinctively American,” Josh Thompson, owner of Treme Islip said. Treme Islip is a well-known jazz club and restaurant dedicated to showcasing live music by blues and jazz artists from Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut. “If we lose that, then we’re losing a part of our heritage. Our arts define our culture. Jazz plays an important part of that”
Long Island has its own way of celebrating jazz culture. The Jazz Loft, which opened in May 2016, is a museum in Stony Brook dedicated to the preservation, education, and performance of jazz. The founder and owner, Thomas Manuel believes there is a need for jazz awareness in the United States. “It’s an embarrassment that more people aren’t aware of this music, its history [and] its origins. We need to be presenting it to more people. More people need to be exposed to it”
Richard Smith, contemporary music professor and jazz guitarist at the University of Southern California believes that new music streaming technologies are helping jazz music. “Now they have so much available for them, from iphones to streaming,” Smith said. “Barriers are coming down the more ubiquitous music becomes. There’s never been a better time to be a jazz musician if you’re a free thinker.”
Long Island has many events featuring jazz music with performances at restaurants, venues and even vineyards, such Jazz on the Vine held in Riverhead.
“Historically, Long Island has always had a special place in jazz,” Manuel said. “If you compare to other places, there’s a lot more jazz on Long Island than there [are] other places that used to have jazz that now has nothing. We don’t have what we used to have, but there’s still a lot going on here.”
On a global level, April 30 has been designated International Jazz Day by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The organization plans events to highlight jazz and its role in bringing people together in different parts of the world. This year’s International Jazz Day celebration will be in Havana Cuba.