When Herbie Hancock played at the UNESCO building in Paris, no one expected kids to be banging at their doors to get into a philosophy conference – even the pompiers, the firemen, were summoned. It was Mika Shino, the director of International Jazz Day, that brought the worlds of philosophy and jazz together. As a longtime friend and advisor to Herbie and a songwriter in a past life, she left the stifling music industry of the ‘90s to chase something more. Shino’s connections to the industry became handy, and led her to work with UNESCO on a concert – and eventually an international holiday – that brought the principles of democracy, freedom and jazz together.
On International Jazz Day Shino, Herbie Hancock and the Hancock Institute teamed up with trumpeter James Morrison for a jazz bootcamp and masterclass at the Sydney Opera House. Speaking to Backstage, Shino shared stories about the legendary Miles Davis, Herbie’s legacy in music, and the liberating power of jazz in a time of political intolerance.
Historically, jazz has been the language of resistance. And, for a lot of people of colour, it still is. Have you seen a connection between jazz and politics?
Jazz comes from a place where you’ve had a group of extremely oppressed people, slaves who didn't have any other forms of expression. They got together in Congo Square and they were able to manage their frustrations and their suffering through music. It created this musical language that's now universal. Throughout history, it has given a voice to freedom movements and empowered dissidents – you’ve seen it in civil rights movements in former Soviet Union and in South Africa. It speaks to the oppressed, the people who don't have a voice. And it unites people to the fact that you have this realm that’s safe, where people can express themselves, be heard and respected and listened to.
Herbie often says how jazz is not just about this beautiful music that everybody can tune into as music that people can resonate with; it's also a way for musicians, individuals, to express themselves with absolute freedom – improvisation. It's a way for them to just be themselves. But in order for an artist to be themselves and to be heard, they need to be willing to listen and to into respect what's being expressed. And then in turn doing it to the other musicians, giving them that respective of being heard.