Jazz Legends!

Jazz Legends!

by guest contributor Joe David
Photo credit: Joe David

“Art, and especially music itself, has no borders, and our mission as musicians is to build new humanitarian bridges between nations and countries.”
– Saxophonist Igor Butman

Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov, Wynton Marsalis, Susan Carmel, Ambassador John Beyrle, Igor Butman, and Rev Mark Farr (Schmulik Almany Photo)

The recent black tie dinner to honor Jazz legends Wynton Marsalis and Igor Butman began sedately as most Washington black tie gala dinners do – until the music began. At that exact moment, when the musicians hit the first note, the grand hall at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) with its two-story window overlooking the Potomac River came suddenly alive. The guests sprung to their feet and began to swing their hips to the scorching sounds of red-hot jazz.

Igor Butman

Once again Sustained Dialogue Institute (SDI) demonstrated that dialogue – whether it is through music, diplomacy, or food – can unite people as one. In this case, the uniting force was the music of two award-winning legendary musicians, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and saxophonist Igor Butman.

“Tonight we are celebrating a special kind of outreach that happens magically through music,” SDI President The Reverend Mark J. R. Farr said. “All around us, voices of polarization tell us that, if that idea, this political party, or that human being was lowered, we would be raised. Tonight we are countering that idea with a dialogue that doesn’t require words to achieve an impact. Cultural diplomacy through music is a kind of reconciliation that happens magically through seductive musical sounds.”

The gala chair and the person responsible for assembling this spectacular moment of dialogue through music was Susan E. Carmel, founder and advisory committee chair of the Carmel Institute of Russian Cultures and History at American University in Washington, DC. In her position with the Carmel Institute, her life has been dedicated to building lasting connections between Russian and American youth through a myriad of activities from symposiums to cultural exchange programs. Over the years, she has prepared herself for this distinctive position by serving on numerous boards and receiving her share of awards for her efforts at improving cultural relations between nations.

Susan Carmel (Schmulik Almany Photo)

“I have learned from experience that we face many challenges today in international relations,” Ms. Carmel said, “but each time people of different backgrounds meet in an authentic way – and they note our commonality and differences – a positive ripple occurs in our collective perception of each other, which brings us a little closer to cooperation and mutual respect.”

Ms. Carmel validated this point by bringing together two long-time friends, Marsalis and Butman, for a spectacular evening of dialogue through music. Although their artistry is recognized worldwide, few realize that they are not simply outstanding musicians, but they are also outstanding humanitarians. Both men have dedicated themselves to using jazz for the diplomatic purpose of establishing dialogue with other cultures.

Jan Du Plain, Annie Totah, and Dianne Kay

For their contributions to the principles and values of true dialogue, reconciliation and peace they were both awarded the Fifth Annual National Dialogue Awards. Marsalis, who serves as an A.D. White Professor at Cornell University where he has the mandate to enliven the intellectual and cultural lives of university students, said in honor of the moment: “As long as there is democracy, there will be people wanting to play jazz because nothing else so perfectly captures the democratic process in sound. Jazz means working things out musically with other people. You have to listen to other musicians and play with them, even if you disagree with what they’re playing. Jazz teaches the very opposite of racism and anti-Semitism. It teaches that the world is big enough to accommodate us all.”

Gail West and Allyson McKithen

Butman, who has used his music to break through borders to end divides, launched in 2017 Jazz across Borders. This musical achievement had a successful opening in Russia at the Saint Petersburg International Cultural Forum. “My country is rich with talented jazz musicians,” he said, “and thanks to Jazz across Borders, they have had a chance to make themselves known internationally. Even though the political dialogue is strained in this world, jazz helps nations ease the strain through cultural dialogue.”

Other prominent people lending support to the musical evening were Ambassador John R. Beyrle, former U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation and Bulgaria, and H.E. Anatoly I. Antonov, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the United States.

James and Sylvia Symington

These annual awards dinners have come about as an outgrowth of Dr. Harold “Hal” Saunders’ work.  As SDI Founder, he was a key participant in the international peace processes. His most noteworthy achievements were – the Camp David Accords between Israel-Egypt in 1978 and the negotiation of the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1981. Both resulted with him developing a five-stage peace process which he refined over the years. During his lifetime, he served under six presidents including Richard M. Nixon.

Aykham Hajizeda, Azerbaijan Embassy; Priyanthi’s daughter; Priyanthi Kanakaratna, Bangladesh Embassy; Asmar Yusifzada, Azerbaijan Embassy

Among those also present for the evening gala dinner were:  John Beyrle, former Ambassador of the US to Russia; Philanthropist Annie Totah; UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Esther Coopersmith; Carol Saunders, widow of SDI Founder Hal Saunders; Dr. Gloria Herndon; Jordanna Enrich, Director of the Fulbright Scholar Program, Institute of International Education (IIE); James Billington, US Librarian of Congress Emeritus; Daniela Kramer, Fulbright Fellowship Director, IIE; Anton Fedyashin, Director, Carmel, Institute of Russian Culture & History; James Symington, former Congressman; Steven Fox, Music Director, Cathedral Choral Society; Christine Stonbely, President, Board, Clarion Music Society; Gail West (Mrs Togo D West, Jr.), former Secretary of Veteran Affairs; Selwa Roosevelt, Chief of Protocol of the US (1982-88); Harry Schnipper, owner and Executive Director Blues Alley; Davey Yarborough, Director Jazz Studies, Duke Ellington School of the Arts; and numerous diplomats from over 20 countries, including Ambassadors representing Finland, Uzbekistan, Bolivia, Bulgaria, to name a few.