A Detroit Jazz Economy

A gentle breeze brought cool evening air over the Detroit river and into the crowd that had started to gather in front of the amphitheater stage. It was one of those magical Detroit nights, when the ancestral spirits seem to dance in the sky with the clouds in the moonlight.

Detroit Jazz Fest

Allison and I really wanted to see the headline act, pianist Ahmad Jamal, who was scheduled to take the stage at 9:30pm. We arrived just before 6 to get a seat at this, the largest free jazz festival in the world.

It was well worth the effort as we had the pleasure of hearing pianists Geri Allen and Danilo Perez and of witnessing the amazing vocal energy of 84-year-old Detroit-born Sheila Jordan, backed by the Alan Broadbent Trio and a local string section. We then had the thrilling privilege of being blown away by Ahmad Jamal and his incredible band.

Ahmad Jamal

As we sat on the river shore and soaked in the music, I realized that we were being transformed by the experience; from individuals with income levels, job titles, and racial distinctions into communities of human beings with smiles, listening ears, and beating hearts. The music called me to recognize the true nature of those around me and of this place.

There we were, in the heart of the largest municipality in the US ever to declare bankruptcy, surrounded by a deep sense of wealth. This, unfortunately, is not the kind of wealth that is usually recognized by our economy. Instead of giant corporate profits and increasing financial returns, it is the wealth of spirit, of creative energy, and of diverse community. It is a wealth that runs deep in Motown.

At the Detroit Jazz Festival everyone is welcome. People of all races, ages, and economic levels attend and enjoy listening to the music. Individual sponsors, community organizations, and corporations come together to share their resources in support of this musical celebration of humanity.

This is what jazz, and what music in general, continue to teach me; how to improvise and create something beautiful and meaningful with what you have. I wonder if we could apply this musical wisdom to our current local and national economic dilemmas. Can we somehow practice jazzonomics in Detroit, in Michigan, and beyond to better harmonize the economic disparities that plague our communities? Could we use this way of being to better blend together the dissonant voices and create a resounding and healing resonance?

The Detroit Jazz Festival is just one example of this alternate form of wealth that already exists in the Motor City. It reminds me that when we are able to reach beyond the bottom line of profit-making into a realm of supporting the common good through creativity, diversity, and the arts, we can realize that our greatest resources exist in ourselves and in those around us.

And so I continue on this musical path with the inspiration of a Detroit jazz economy and an aspiration to dig deep and share the wealth of spirit and creativity that is the music of our lives. Let us continue on this journey together joyfully.

Yours in the Music,

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