Excited to share that my Fulbright Senior Specialist status has been renewed and that I will be teaching at the Tbilisi State Conservatoire (Wikipedia site) located in Tbilisi, Georgia (that’s the Republic of Georgia, bordering on Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and southern Russia). I will also be performing at the Kavkaz Jazz Festival in Tbilisi. Joining me will be guitarist Craig Wagner and journalist Marty Rosen.
A major feature of my work will be to act in the role of coordinator/mediator, bringing together musicians from Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and others from throughout the region thru playing jazz. Master classes and joint ensembles will be offered. It is an exciting time and Marty will help document the endeavor with print articles, video, photos and social media.
Thanks to the Fulbright Senior Specialist program; Reso Kiknadze, Rector, Tbilisi State Conservatoire; Dean Christopher Doane, UofL School of Music; Bruce Kemelgore, UofL School of Business; ArtsLink; and Helen Mechitova, Kavkaz Festival coordinator, whose vision made this all possible.
Look for articles, video/photos and other related materials soon. Also visit Tracy in Tbilisi on Facebook and my own personal Facebook page.
Appearance on WHAS 11’s Great Day Live (5/25/16)
Reflections: Republic of Georgia and China – Mike Tracy (June 19, 2016)
We have all experienced the power of music. How it can calm or arouse, bring joy or sadness, inspire, encourage and more. We all also know that jazz and improvised music has a very unique place in music’s many forms and styles. I have been very fortunate to visit so many places in the world, playing with people from all cultures, making friends, teaching young and old in languages I do not speak nor understand; yet communicating through the music we call jazz. What I repeatedly hear, no matter where I go, to whom I speak, is that jazz represents freedom – freedom to be creative as a musician, to interact with others in a respectful manner and, most importantly, personal freedom, someone valued for their thoughts and feelings. These are opportunities that far too many people in world lack, even in our country. We all have witnessed changes in the world – some extraordinarily positive alongside many that are devastatingly destructive and hurtful to all who believe in the love of life and family, whatever that means to an individual. My recent experiences in the Republic of Georgia and China made these connections and the value of jazz music strikingly clear.
For the past seven years, one young lady, Helen Machitova, has had a dream of bringing together counties from the Caucasus region. Many of which historically don’t like each other, even warring just weeks prior. This dream is called the Kavkaz Jazz Festival. In June I was fortunate to witness this dream firsthand and was once again amazed at the power of jazz and the strong will of one person. Guitarist Craig Wagner and journalist Marty Rosen joined me in this experience. Musicians and groups came from Armenia (two ensembles), Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey and Georgia (three ensembles). Craig and I were there to perform as a duo and with musicians from the other groups. In addition, we presented master classes, ensemble rehearsals and private lessons for fifteen days primarily for Georgian students but other festival performers joined in. It was not unusual to see Iranians sitting next to Armenian musicians who in turn were next to Azeris – all joining in our sessions. It was clear that we were able to reach each though the music and I know I was touched by their engagement, sincerity, questions and overall enthusiasm.
The three nights of festival music, two in Tbilisi and one at the Rabati Castle in Akhaltsikhe, were as diverse and exciting as I have ever experienced. They were a fantastic testament of how others have joined/merged jazz and its concepts into their native music, new compositions and traditional selections. Combinations I had never heard or thought possible. While those performances were certainly valued, the most amazing experience were the jam sessions following these concerts, where all of the musicians joined in and just played together. There were no boundaries, no attitudes, nothing but the joy of making music together. Musicians from Armenia and Azerbaijan shared the same keyboard. Drummers from Iran, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan shared the set and traded eights with everyone else. Where in the world, at least on those nights, would one find guitarists alongside others playing the Azeri tar and Georgian fanduri; drummers trading with another on the Iranian tombak; where duduk, pku, zuma and shvi players would be harmonizing with saxophonists and flutists? Oh yes, there were keyboards and bassists too. Helen’s dream came true for all to see but what the audiences did not see were the receptions that followed, where everyone shook hands, hugged, laughed, exchanged addresses and CDs all the while sharing food, drink and stories of life and music. It was a touching experience. Many in our world, especially politicians, could learn a lot from those few days.
By the way, Marty Rosen joined Craig and I to document the experience. He will be writing articles and he video recorded master classes, lessons, concerts and even our journeys through the sites of Tbilisi and other Georgian locations all on Facebook live. Folks were able to interact with us in real time, truly amazing considering where we were often at a very remote location. You should not only check out our videos but also learn how to post yours because they reach out to the world immediately for all to see. It is a great way to help share our music.
If that wasn’t enough, just a month prior to my Georgian experience, I had the pleasure of visiting six different cities in China – Chengdu, Guangzhou, Dujiangyan, Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Shanghai – another exciting but quite different opportunity. This was my second visit with my first in 1993. Wow, I was not ready for the vast changes.
Pianist Winton Reynolds and I presented or performed twenty-five plus times in less than thirteen days. The audiences were keenly interested in jazz and jazz education because there are far too few opportunities for such an experience, even with cities having populations far exceeding ten million each. That said there are young programs in Shenzhen and Zhuhai and a more established one at the Shanghai Conservatoire. While most were just beginning their jazz journey we heard some very accomplished musicians, young and old. There are a few clubs that host visiting musicians and locals; however, I found that there is great opportunity for jazz and jazz education in China. There are so many interested in the music and willing to spend time, energy and funds to learn but watch out because they learn quickly. There is a great need and a wonderful opportunity for someone with vision, talent, skill, energy, patience and a little of luck, and who is also willing to live in what looks like a similar yet very different culture. Oh yes, the pandas, especially in the wild, are really that cute.
It has been a fantastic few months and it’s not over yet. The Aebersold Jazz Workshops are weeks away and then I am off in August to Calí and Bogota Colombia with Craig Wagner and Chris Fitzgerald. Hopefully a trip to Cuba in the fall. I am very fortunate to be here to experience what jazz can bring all of us.