As the very first DC JazzFest Artist-In-Residence (AIR), I am thrilled to presenting a new work at the DC JazzFest in June, and to collaborate with other artists. At the festival, I’ll be presenting my brand-new project “I Am A Man,” (inspired by the civil rights mantra that rose from the 1968 Sanitation Workers strike) which addresses the social and cultural complexities of being a young Black man in America. For the past several years, I’ve been thinking about how I want to address the current social climate with a fresh and creative approach; this project does that in a unique way. I am very excited about premiering this in my beloved hometown. I always look forward to playing in DC and I plan to make the most out of this opportunity, as AIR, to bring it all back home.
I am very optimistic about the state of “Jazz.” I use quotations because I believe the term has become too limiting in relation to what the music has become. I believe we are at a very fertile moment in music overall, which I attribute to several things: the opportunities created by the advent of the internet, and the many platforms created as a result (social media, streaming, YouTube, etc.) Artists and fans have a more direct relationship which I believe frees up the creative process and helps to eliminate the demarcation lines of genre (created by the “industry”). This blurring of the lines has been great for the music, especially in this style that thrives on freedom and bravery.
Apart from the “gatekeepers” of the music, this has created a generation of musicians who are writing their own rules. Artists such as Esperanza Spalding, Robert Glasper, Christian Scott (both of whom are playing DCJF ’18), and Jose James have created their own artistic lanes that are rooted in the tradition but point toward the future. Second, I believe the recent social climate has spawned a new generation of jazz artists who are not just creating new sounds and styles but also addressing social issues. This is an important part of the legacy of this music that I’m glad to be a part of. I hope to contribute to this legacy with “I Am A Man,” and will continue to do so as I move forward.
- Ben Wiliams, 2018 DCJF Artist-In-Residence