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International Jazz Day finds itself at a crossroads: Tangier, Morocco

Richard Bona and Joe Lovano perform on the first International Jazz Day concert at the United Nations in New York, April 30, 2012.
Thos Robinson
Richard Bona and Joe Lovano perform on the first International Jazz Day concert at the United Nations in New York, April 30, 2012.

For the first time in five years, International Jazz Day will focus its lavish attention on a global host city. That city is Tangier, Morocco, where dozens of notable musicians will converge for a four-day celebration at the end of next month, culminating in an All-Star Global Concert that will be streamed on YouTube, Facebook, and the United Nations and UNESCO websites.

The concert — at the gleaming new Palace of Arts and Culture of Tangier on April 30 — will be led as usual by pianist Herbie Hancock, a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and chairman of the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz, with pianist and musical director John Beasley.

The Palace of Arts and Culture of Tangier, pictured in 2023.
Aafa Achraf
The Palace of Arts and Culture of Tangier, pictured in 2023.

Other featured artists, hailing from roughly a dozen countries, will include Cameroonian bassist and vocalist Richard Bona, Chilean singer Claudia Acuña, Italian pianist Antonio Faraò, and Swedish multireedist Magnus Lindgren. Among the Americans taking part are alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin; vocalists Dee Dee Bridgewater, Kurt Elling, Melody Gardot and Jazzmeia Horn; electric bassist Marcus Miller; and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, artistic director of the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz Performance.

Tangier has a history of cultural exchange with jazz musicians like the late pianist Randy Weston, whose former collaborator there, the master Gnawa musician Abdellah El Gourd, will also play a prominent role in the festivities. “The city of Tangier is the northern gateway to Africa, where people from all over the continent — and from all over the world – mingle,” Weston wrote in African Rhythms: The Autobiography of Randy Weston (coauthored by Willard Jenkins). “A trip to Tangier is the easiest way I know to make a standard European vacation something truly special, because even though there are European influences, you know you’re in a different culture when you’re in Tangier.”

International Jazz Day festivities, including a series of educational programs, will highlight the cultural and artistic ties between Morocco and its neighbors in Europe and Africa. “The designation of Tangier marks the first time a city on the African continent will host International Jazz Day, the world’s largest and most significant celebration of jazz,” Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, says in a press statement. International Jazz Day will be presented by UNESCO and the Hancock Institute in partnership with the City of Tangier and the Ministry of Culture of Morocco.

It will be the first in-person Jazz Day All-Star Global Concert since the pre-pandemic edition of 2019, when festivities took place in Melbourne, Australia. Last year’s concert took place without an audience at the United Nations headquarters in New York — the same setting for the inaugural International Jazz Day concert, in 2012.

Beyond the flagship festivities, International Jazz Day involves registered activities all over the world; last year, in 195 countries. Anyone interested in registering an event can do so here. WRTI will share further details about International Jazz Day closer to April 30; for more information, visit jazzday.com.

Nate Chinen has been writing about music for more than 25 years. He spent a dozen of them working as a critic for The New York Times, and helmed a long-running column for JazzTimes. As Editorial Director at WRTI, he oversees a range of classical and jazz coverage, and contributes regularly to NPR.