My family and I were fortunate to attend the 60th Newport Jazz Festival at the beginning of August. We went to hear Dee Dee Bridgewater perform the songs made classic by Billie Holiday in honor of Ms. Holiday’s inaugural performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1954. In addition, we went to hear the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, who performed legendary pieces played at the festival over the course of the last sixty years. I am not sure what I was expecting, but what I heard was profoundly moving and enlightening.
Ms. Bridgewater first addressed the crowd in character as Billie Holiday. (Dee Dee Bridgewater played Billie Holiday Off-Broadway in Lady Day.) This brought tremendous applause. As it died down, she was very quick to say, that while she could sing the tunes as Billie did, it would not be a fitting tribute. She would sing in her own style and with her own interpretation. By doing this, she was honoring Ms. Holiday and the jazz community, for the success of the art rests not in imitation but in that most difficult thing: to make original what was so well done before. Ms. Bridgewater did just that.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis came on next. The theme for the evening was to play pieces that legendary artists had made famous at the festival over the last sixty years. The orchestra was outstanding. In particular, the pianist, Dan Nimmer, was stunning on Horace Silver’s Senor Blues. A Brubeck piece was equally astounding. Everything they played was very, very good, and, as it was with Ms. Bridgewater, it was not imitation; it was original and fresh.
The entire evening was built on a foundation established sixty years ago by artists and visionaries who saw each festival as another opportunity to grow, promote, and honor the art of jazz. It became clear to me that the festival has been such a success because it has had a strong foundation upon which to build and against which to measure progress.
On the walk back to the hotel, I could not get out of my mind the crispness of the music and the energy of both young and old at the concert. This was truly a multi-generational event; entire families were in attendance, not unlike a school community event. It takes a special experience to bring several generations together.
For the young, I believe, it was the newness of the experience. Did they know who Horace Silver or David Brubeck was? The music may have been decades old, but the performance afforded them a new experience. For older generations, it was the invigorating reinterpretation that proved that what is old can be new again.
The quality of the music underscores that we do not have to be content with the status quo; time will hold our place forever if we allow it, but it is in human nature to make progress, to ask unending questions, and to challenge ourselves anew at all times. In doing so, we need not record over the past with revolutionary fervor, but perhaps, add to it with evolutionary zeal.
The key to growth and progress done correctly rests in the subtlety of progressive change, based on a thoughtful plan. We need to set the bar high. A focus on our goals, a call to action, considered decisions on which steps to pursue, all lead to making meaningful and valuable progress. And, to measure progress a solid base, must first exist.
A strong foundation is something we have in abundance at Mooreland Hill School. Now in our 85th year, Mooreland is established, but the key to our progress remains in our interpretation of what makes us a successful school for young students. While the 2014 version of the school may not be the same as the 1930 one, it is fresh and vital and, yes, new. We cannot rest on our previous laurels because we owe it to our students to help them appreciate that their world is ever new and evolving. It is a vibrant world with endless possibilities and opportunities available to them.