Since yesterday lot’s of people are talking about the “INTERNATIONAL JAZZ DAY”…They are saying that jazz is an international language, Jazz is for everyone, music has no boarders, music knows no race, music has no gender and….
Let’s be honest with ourselves. As a damn hard working freelance jazz musician active in the European jazz scene since 10 years, I saw no equality in this industry. For me Jazz in Europe is not for everyone. It is for AMERICANS / WHITE (MOSTLY MALE) EUROPEANS.
Of course there are just a few Musicians, big bands, clubs, festivals and labels who are aware of this situation and they are trying hard to have a diverse community.
Let’s see the music scene in Austria for example. How much diversity do you see here? There are so many great jazz musicians from all around the world living in Austria. Do they really have the same chance as a white male Austrian? You might think there are not many Jazz musicians with different cultural background out there. Even if we agree on that, which I think it is not true, why don’t you embrace the music of those few who are working as jazz musicians? Or maybe you are not interested to get to know them at all because they seem different? Whatever the reason is, the effect of it is painful.
Here in Austria I worked with so many great musicians who welcomed me and we shared our music together. But I also experienced racism and discriminations, specially in the jazz community.
Do you know how many times people asked me: “Oh I could never imagine that an Iranian can play jazz like this.” Maybe for them it is a compliment but for me it’s a sad confirmation on how widespread the ignorance towards other cultures is in our music community!
One incident which happened to me was when a drummer stopped playing during a jamsession and shouted at me for playing microtonal scales on a modal improvisation! He said you are not allowed to play those stuff here!!! Amazing musicians such as Coltrane were inspired and influences by music from middle and far east Asia in their modal solos. Was he also playing wrong?
In the session me and a Chinese piano player wanted to join the band but everyone left us alone on the stage and we had to play in duo!
What do you really call this?
The other issue is that the so called foreigners in Europe should have a super power and kill themselves and be over qualified to get the exposure here. Look at the festivals in Europe! How many festivals do you see that invite jazz musicians from far east Asia, Africa or Middle East unless they play something extraordinary which the white Europeans cannot do (For example Tigran Hamasyan, Nguyen Le, Richard Bona etc.) And this is if you are lucky enough not to fall into the world music category, which is an absolute insult to the diversity and sophistication existing in those cultures that fall into it. I fall very often into that category even if I play my contemporary jazz shit!
For those of my colleagues who are still unaware of such inequalities in the music scene, particularly in jazz, I would like to make a quick note that it is easy to say we are all supports of freedom and liberty for all. To do the actual work, we need to expand our understanding of a system that is built to exclude many in favour of a few. We need to challenge that system with constructive but firm criticism and action. We need to have enthusiasm about others and willingness to invest time and energy to get to know territories out of our comfort zone. We need to start from our own community. Otherwise, you are kidding yourself with empty slogans.
So, let's work TOGETHER!
© Georg Cizek-Graf
Mahan Mirarab is an Iranian guitarist/composer based in Vienna, Austria. He has spent years learning about Persian music and the indigenous sound and cultures of the country such as Arabic, African, Turkish and Kurdish music, while refining his skills in Jazz music. Notabely using fretless guitar, he specializes in blending the oriental microtonal system with jazz. After moving to Europe in 2009, he has become an acclaimed musician in european music scene. He has participated in various projects in world and jazz music as a performer, as well as a composer/arranger for multiple film theater, and music bands. He has since produced four albums; Persian Side of Jazz, Choub, Sehrang, and the most recent one Derakht, from his trio Golnar & Mahan.