Growing up in the Southside of Chicago and Bremerton, Washington during the Great Depression, I was fortunate enough to have been mentored by some of the greatest jazz cats of all time. I’m talking about Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Bird, Lionel Hampton, Benny Carter, you name it. The absolute best of the best. Their music and history was incredibly rich, and man, I got sucked in from day one. Fortunately, for me, I had a direct connection with these landmark figures, and now after having been on this planet for close to nine decades, I’ve personally experienced the highs and lows that this world has to offer.
Much to our collective disservice, the United States is the only country without a Minister of Culture, and this communal inattentiveness to our roots has been detrimental to our individual and collective understanding of identity. Oftentimes, people don’t know who they are because they have no frame of reference. Well, everything is based upon what has happened before us, and if you know where you come from, it’s easier to get where you want to go! Kids (and adults alike) need to know where they come from. Plain and simple. Big bands, Bebop, Doo-wop, Hip-Hop, Laptop, that’s all sociological. The bebop to hip-hop connection is about being aware: more specifically, being aware that all of our music springs from the same African roots, and they inform much of what we call mainstream music today.
When I lived in Paris during the late 50's, I learned a great deal about life, because having come from America in the midst of segregation, Paris taught me about acceptance, regardless of color or culture. They loved jazz, and more importantly, they took people who looked like me in as their own. Man, we wouldn’t have jazz if it weren’t for the French and Congo Square during slavery. Jazz conditioned me to be an open thinker, and taught me how to improvise in nearly every area of my life. It has always been focused on freedom and pure imagination, through an absolutely beautiful and nonrigid, democratic perspective on music and the world.
In the same way, there is something absolutely beautiful about the fact that music has the unique ability to connect people from all walks of life. I'm talking about individuals of different races, beliefs, socio-economic statuses, you name it. And man, the history of our music is incredibly deep; the fact of the matter is, people don't know enough about it and the influence that it has had on our modern day music and life.
In the last year we’ve seen racial tensions heating up and, take it from someone who has been on this planet since before electricity, this is nothing new! ((:0)) It’s difficult to know what to say at times, because I’ve been dealing with racism my entire life. That said, it’s been rearing its ugly head and by God, it’s time to deal with it once and for all.
Before the late, great Duke Ellington passed, we did the Duke Ellington...We Love You Madly TV Special (my first television credit as a producer) and my blessed brother, Duke, gave me a photo of him, signed, “To Q, who will be the one to de-categorize American music,” and that's exactly what I've tried to do all of my life. Whether it was through the creation of my 1989 album, Back on the Block, a simmering musical stew of everything from jazz to world to hip-hop to swing music; to working with every genre under the sun; to the South Central to South Africa trip with Nelson Mandela, it has been a part of the very fabric of my calling to help break down the barriers for any willing ear.
Our “Qwest TV Educational Platform” is dedicated to elementary-high schools, music schools, colleges, universities and libraries from all over the world, with over 1,300 programs of music. Documentaries, archives, and concerts from around the world highlight the beauty of our humanity and what makes our differences a strength to share. We want each kid and student to be able to explore their musical history by rediscovering their roots, both through jazz and music from all genres and nations. We are making classical music accessible, engaging with the subtlety and intricacy of electronic music, exposing the links between Africa, jazz and the blues and promoting artists from the four corners of the Earth.
We’ve got to believe that we are multicultural miracles, and we at Qwest TV want all of you to embrace and celebrate that. The future is a bright, beautiful mix of colors, and we hope that many will join us by taking action in all fields of society, to lay the groundwork for a positive future for the kids of tomorrow.