“This place is yours now,” began Bill Cosby, MC of the SFJazz Center’s long-awaited grand opening. I couldn’t agree more Bill as I looked around the 700-seat auditorium to see everyone from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to your everyday jazz lover cheer.
The one thing I cherish about San Francisco is its diversity. According to the 2010 United States Census, the ethnic makeup and population consists of: 48.5% Whites, 33.3% Asians, 15.1% Hispanics, 6.1% African Americans, 0.5% Native Americans, 0.4% Pacific Islanders, 6.6% from other races, and 4.7% from two or more races. Only New York City and Honolulu can rival such a mix.
With diversity comes acceptance of various cultures. With diversity comes tolerance of religion and sexuality. With diversity comes the strong fight for equality every single day. I wouldn’t have it any other way. In another 118 years, I’m sure all of America will look like San Francisco. If I’m wrong, you’ll just have to let me know.
The SFJazz Center in Hayes Valley is a product of a $64 million fund raising effort led by my friend Robert Mailer Anderson. Without Robert’s leadership and the collective will and generosity from donors, America’s first stand-alone jazz center would not exist today. The 35,000-foot space took over two years to build and is equipped with a digital lab and education center along with its 700 person capacity. There is truly no bad seat in the house.
THE IMPORTANCE OF JAZZ AND DIVERSITY
Jazz was born in America in the late 1800’s. Historians specifically point to New Orleans, Louisiana where the foundation of Jazz in the form of Blues first began in the Black community. What’s notable about jazz is the expression of freedom through improvisation. It’s as if musicians and listeners found Jazz as a way to escape oppression.
It’s very interesting to observe the continued existence of discrimination through the prohibition of gay marriage in most parts of America. Just as we now think it’s unthinkable to have racial segregation in schools, one day we too shall all find it atrocious we once allowed government to determine who we can and cannot marry.
It’s fine to have our own beliefs. However, as soon as we impose our will on others we are violating someone else’s freedom. Who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do? Who is the government to tell me what I can and cannot say? Why do we impose different standards for one group and not another? This is America for goodness sake.
Tolerance comes from putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. We may find understanding through living abroad or mastering a second language. Or perhaps we can simply learn to be more understanding by mingling with people unlike ourselves. Jazz has always been a part of San Francisco’s culture. Now we have a center dedicated to bringing some of the world’s best jazz musicians to see us. It’s time to attend.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF EXPERIENCING MANY DIFFERENT THINGS
My first real exposure to jazz occurred in college when I heard Wynton Marsalis play the trumpet live. Through the experience, I was able to meet a plethora of people whom I normally wouldn’t get a chance to know. And through such encounters, I have a better understanding of the South, where I went to school.
Those who are able to experience many different things are those who can best get along with everyone. The ability to draw from various experiencing when building relationships and collaborating on projects cannot be underestimated. Imagine the wars which could be averted if each side spent time studying abroad in their enemy’s country as students. I encourage everyone to keep an open mind about alternative points of view. It’s the best way we can progress.
There’s been a tremendous backlash against the wealthy since the downturn. It’s disappointing quite frankly. If it wasn’t for those who’ve donated millions of dollars to build the SFJAZZ Center, many everyday citizens would never get a chance to see legends such as Bobby Hutcherson, Chick Corea, or Pete Escovedo perform simply because they might never come to San Francisco.
Rich or poor does not matter because we’re all in this together. The next time you come out to San Francisco, come visit the SFJazz Center at the corner of Fell and Franklin. You might just start tapping your feet again.
Readers, what are your thoughts on tolerance and acceptance in America or your country? Are we heading in the right direction? Will every part of America become as diverse as San Francisco a hundred years from now?