Jazz & Peace

by Katherine ‘KOOL KAT’ Farnham 

I had my first experience as a jazz vocal soloist at the age of five. At that time of course I did not understand what jazz was but I knew I loved the melodic structure and rhythms. Even after attending undergraduate school I still heard many musicians asking “What is jazz?” I found this to be extremely odd! How would I ever grow within a genre that no one could even define? It felt ridiculous. However, as time passed and I matured as a musician I began to think that one’s direct experience with the genre may be the best explanation over any mere words. It is also been the similarity of the genre’s values with my own spiritual philosophy that has only deepened my interest over time. 

I enjoy exploring the essence of jazz and pushing the boundaries. I have found that my current understanding of jazz is a mindset that more and more I relate to and find useful in living a complex global community. The philosophy of ‘having a plan yet also being willing to improvise’ can be a useful life tool. No only that, at times the ability to make sound decisions in the moment has been absolutely critical. Because jazz is an American art form and I feel closely attuned to my country’s adolescent shifts and growing pains if you will, I feel even more interested in exploring where jazz has come from – and most importantly what it might become. 

Boundaries are ever a concern in a global community and isn’t that an issue that many of us deal with often? Far beyond being an issue only for musicians, I have come to see that it is closely connected to issues of freedom, reducing violence and ultimately maintaining peace. We must know how far to push, and also what is too much. We must learn to listen and have our voice, but also give others an opportunity for self-expression. We must accept leadership and do our best to work within that framework and use our voices to improve it. We must work hard to train and nurture the leaders of tomorrow. 

Diversity is one of my main values and I love how jazz allows players and educators to have dynamic experiences with people from all over the world. These experiences have expanded my understanding and compassion. It’s also taught me when pressure and discomfort can be utilized positively for growth, and when it is simply creating painful dissonance. Again, I believe this kind of understanding is not only useful to the jazz musician, but may in fact be imperative if we are to sustain our beautiful culture, continue to break down barriers of ignorance and prejudice and forge new trails of peace and social justice in the future. 

Music for Peace strives to support human and animal rights and to encourage understanding and tolerance utilizing arts and educational initiatives. MFPI has worked to support ethnic unity as well as the homeless, veterans both male and female, inner-city and at-risk youth, and others in need. Most importantly, MFPI strives to improve the quality of life for others in communities both small and large. 

Perhaps it seems audacious or even foolish to talk about peace in today’s world. It is important to clarify that the use of the word peace is not intended to be a prophecy. It is difficult to impossible to know what the future holds. However, I have always believed that most of us can learn techniques for conflict management and resolution and help improve the quality of life right in our own communities. We can do the best we can with each day. We can work to keep our spirits peaceful, even if events around us are challenging. 

Peace is not an unknowable ideal floating somewhere in the sky. It is similar to the principle of harmony found within music. There are techniques that can be taught to help us create it. Similarly to music, the more you practice the techniques, the better you get. We can and should do what we can every single day. Rather than focusing on the ideal, perhaps our first and primary goal should be to reduce and manage conflict and increase understanding – wherever we are. From there, a foundation can be built and values can be discussed and shared. 

Peace is no longer a dream that most of us want but only a few of us work towards. Each of us has individual dreams and goals perhaps, but then humanity may have a collective goal, a shared vision as well. We must choose a great conductor, practice and listen well and begin to try and orchestrate our collective vision today – in our towns, in our states and countries, in our world. 

What is the alternative? Whatever the outcome, the effort and teamwork put forth will never be in vain. 

(c) 2016-2018 Katherine Farnham

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