Acclaimed chef John Besh grew up in southern Louisiana, learning at an early age the essentials of Louisiana’s rich culinary traditions. Besh has set the benchmark for fine dining in New Orleans– with four successful restaurants – Restaurant August, Besh Steak, Lüke and La Provence. His talent and drive have earned Besh continuous kudos from the outset of his career: from Food & Wine’s “Top 10 Best New Chefs in America” to Gourmet’s “Guide to America’s Best Restaurants,” and “America’s Top 50 Restaurants”. He won the James Beard Award for Best Chef of the Southeast in 2006.
Besh’s passion to secure and preserve New Orleans’ culinary culture have led him to make a number of commitments to his community including concentration on local ingredients produced by local farmers, support of the Louisiana Seafood Council and involvement in organizations like Rebuild New Orleans (instrumental in the rebuilding of Willie Mae’s Scotch House, a local institution).
The chef has also represented the city and state he loves through several national television appearances
The father of four sons –Besh takes breaks from his popular New Orleans restaurants to engage in a longstanding family tradition: fishing. The chef says he wants his sons to understand the origin of local foods and the knowledge of food at its source.
In the early 1990s, he was a non-commissioned officer (NCO) in Operation Desert Storm in the Mideast, serving on active duty with the Marine Corps Reserves for 10 months, and led a squad in the company that liberated Kuwait International Airport..”
FESTIVAL PRODUCTIONS, INC.-NEW ORLEANS
Quint Davis is CEO of Festival Productions Inc.–New Orleans and the producer and director of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, one of the world’s great festivals. His efforts have been instrumental in the growth of the Jazz & Heritage Festival, bringing to international prominence an event showcasing Louisiana music, food and crafts. The annual economic impact of Jazz Fest is approximately $300 million to the city of New Orleans.
PRODUCER ON A NATIONAL SCALE
Davis served as producer/director of America’s Reunion on the Mall, a two-day multi-stage festival as part of the 1993 United States Presidential Inaugural Celebration. One million people attended the event on the National Mall between Capitol Hill and the Washington Monument. In January of 1997, Festival Productions, Inc.-New Orleans once again produced a festival for the 53rd Presidential Inauguration. An American Journey, with four stages, two food tents and a technology pavilion, entertained approximately a half a million people over two days on the National Mall.
Since 1970, Davis has been associated with George Wein, the impresario who has produced thousands of events since 1954, including the seminal Newport Jazz Festival and the Newport Folk Festival.
Davis designed and produced, in conjunction with Essence Magazine, the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans from its inception in 1995, when the event celebrated the magazine’s 25th anniversary through 2007. Under his stewardship the event became widely regarded as the biggest and best annual celebration of African-American music and culture.
THE WORLD IS A FESTIVAL
By the time he had reached his early twenties, Davis was already road managing tours, including the first visits of both B.B. King and Muddy Waters to Africa, as well as overseas tours with Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, John Mayall and many others. He also conducted European tours featuring artists such as Duke Ellington, McCoy Tyner and B.B. King.
Davis’ work with Festival Productions as a production coordinator put him on the front line at most of the company’s festivals, including the Benson & Hedges Blues festivals in Dallas and Atlanta, the Black Heritage Festival in Toyahasi, Japan, and the Newport Jazz and Folk festivals in Newport, Rhode Island. Davis produced two festivals on the Philadelphia waterfront, Jambalaya Jam and RiverBlues, from 1986-1995. In the summer of 1992, The Great Gospel Picnic Weekend in Philadelphia was yet another festival produced by Davis. Also that summer, Davis traveled to Bangkok with the Tuxedo Brass Band to celebrate the birthday of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit of Thailand.
Quint Davis has also produced the Ben & Jerry’s “One World, One Heart” festivals in Chicago and Vermont, two free events directed to support social causes. He produced the Lifetime Tribute to John Lee Hooker in Madison Square Garden, the Grand Opening of the Rouse Riverwalk Development in New Orleans and from 1985 to 1998, he organized the New Orleans Artists Against Hunger and Homelessness concert to benefit the area’s hungry and homeless people. In June of 1994, Davis produced a Fats Domino concert for the National Conference of State Legislatures. In May of 1995, at the St. Regis Hotel in New York, Davis produced the Gala Performance of Jazz Compositions of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, another event for Her Majesty Queen Sirikit. In July of 1997, Davis produced the third annual Rockport Rhythm & Blues Festival at Newport, a benefit for the Rhythm & Blues Foundation and the first new festival to bear the Newport name in 40 years.
On Memorial Day weekend of 1998, Davis returned to Washington, DC to produce the first-ever Kennedy Center American Music Festival (AMJAM) for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The three-day festival celebrated the origins and legacies of America’s music and culture with six performance stages, as well as food booths and crafts exhibits.
The year 2000 brought two new exciting events for Davis and Festival Productions, Inc.-New Orleans. In its inaugural year, the Acura Music Festival traveled to nine cities throughout the country presenting the music of John Fogerty, and Louisiana artists such as Dr. John, Aaron Neville and Irma Thomas, serving authentic Louisiana food and showcasing original arts and crafts. In 2001, the touring festival featured Paul Simon, and in 2002, featured Santana.
For the New Orleans Saints 2000 season, Davis and his team created a New Orleans Party in the Louisiana Superdome for the over 60,000 fans in attendance. Each game featured local musicians and children’s entertainment in the Club level lounges and a parade throughout the arena by the Saints Go Marching In Brass Band & Social Aid & Pleasure Club. Several games included on field performances by artists such as Priestess Ava Kay Jones & Voodoo Macumba, Aaron Neville, Doug Kershaw, Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint and Dr. John. Quint continues to produce special music programming for the Saints, including appearances by The Steve Miller Band and Jimmy Buffett for 2006-2007 season.
Other festivals Davis has produced include Popeyes 30th Anniversary Festival (2002), the Memphis Music Festival, the KOOL Pacific Music Festival in Hawaii, the Ohio Bell Blossom Music Center Jazz Festival in Cleveland and Akron, the Knebworth Rock Festival (the London equivalent of Woodstock), the Capital Radio Jazz Festival, also in London, and the Maccabee Beer Israel Jazz Festival in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
HONORS & AWARDS
Davis has received many awards for his professional work and his contributions to the New Orleans community. Most recently, he was honored with the title of Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture. He received a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album of the year in 1989 for Professor Longhair’s “Houseparty New Orleans Style,” The Gambit Big Easy Entertainment Award for Album of the Year (“Houseparty New Orleans Style”), Best Single Event of the Year – Second Sunday of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, The Role Models for 1988 from the Young Leadership Council of New Orleans Tourism Award, a Hunger Awareness Award from Bread of the World of New Orleans (1988), The New Orleans Arts Award from the Arts Council of New Orleans (1989), a BeauxArt by the Board of Directors and the SweetArts Ball Committee of the Contemporary Arts Center (1990), the Shamrock Award for Distinguished Leadership from the National Kidney Foundation of Louisiana (1991), distinctive celebrity as a “Mover and Shaker” by the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Garden Study Club of New Orleans (1991), special recognition and dedication awards for the outstanding presentation of La Noche Latina which has helped to promote Hispanic music and culture in New Orleans (1991, 1993) and the Gospel Outreach Committee Award of Louisiana recognizing his major contribution to and support of Gospel music. In 1998, Davis traveled to Los Angeles on behalf of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival to accept an award for “Music Festival of the Year” from Pollstar Magazine. The Festival received this award again in 1999 and 2001.
Davis was honored in 2000 by the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau with The Lester E. Kabacoff Hospitality Award, the organization’s highest award for his contributions to the New Orleans community and its musical legacy. In 2001, Davis received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Louisiana Blues Hall of Fame for his continued support of the culture and heritage of Louisiana. The Hall of Fame not only presented the award to him, but also renamed the award “The Quint Davis Lifetime Achievement Award.”
POST-HURRICANE KATRINA PRODUCTIONS
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (August 29, 2005)—the greatest natural disaster in the history of the United States—Davis’ production acumen and creative drive would prove invaluable to relief efforts and the revival of New Orleans. In September 20, 2005, less than one month after the storm struck New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, Davis and his staff co-produced the benefit concert From the Big Apple to the Big Easy at Madison Square Garden in New York City, featuring Elton John, Simon & Garfunkel, Jimmy Buffett, Dave Matthews, Lenny Kravitz, Bette Midler, and many others, including a host of New Orleans artists.
In April of 2006, Davis and his company mounted the highly successful, first post-Katrina New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival less than nine months after more half of the city had flooded and with much of the city still in ruins. Hundreds of thousands of people came to New Orleans to “Bear Witness to the Healing Power of Music,” as the Festival’s advertising campaign had invited them to do, helping spur the resurgence of the city’s all-important tourism industry. Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, The Dave Matthews Band, Herbie Hancock, Paul Simon, Keith Urban, Lionel Richie, and hundreds of other performers helped to celebrate the return of the city that’s been called “The Soul of America.”
The Superdome, the site of some of the most emotional events surrounding the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, reopened on September 25, 2006, Davis and Festival Productions produced the opening musical ceremony featuring U2 and Green Day prior to the New Orleans Saints NFL Football game versus the Atlanta Falcons. ESPN’s broadcast of this Monday Night Football game would be the most-watched show in the network’s history.
21st CENTURY VISION
Davis and Festival Productions continue to produce the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival along with other special events, such as a parade, a major party and the music portions of the halftime show held in conjunction with the 2008 National Basketball Association All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. Davis and his company are committed to fashioning some of the most original, meaningful and unforgettable special events in the entertainment industry.
Follow link below to his bio
George Rodrigue CLASS VIDEO
Graduate: Joseph S Clark
Graduate: College of Santa Fe (Basketball Scholarship)
Completed: Harvard’s Kennedy School program for Senior Executives
Completed: Aspen Institute Program for Future Leaders
Co- Founded: Boys to Men Mentoring Program
Former: Legislator of the Year
Winner of the Jefferson Award for Community Service
Former: Man of the Year
Former City Council President
Currently: Director of Marketing for Abide Home Health
Currently: Actor HBO Series Treme Twelve episodes Season Two and Three
Actor: Angola 3 Stage play by Herb Parnell
Lead Role in the Hit Play by Harold Ellis Clark,” Fishers of Men”
Documentary on Violence with Russ Kemp British Film Maker
Co-producer Writer and Actor the Hit Play Reflections (Bean Theater) Nominated for Best Show of 2011
Currently Writing a One Man Show about Violence, Politics, and Race in New Orleans, and a Book titled Addicted to the Risk, Member of Spoken Word New Orleans (Poet)
Favorite Scripture Matthew 25 verse 35 and 36
Favorite saying: the best you, makes everyone else better
ROBERT W. BROWN
Bob Brown is the Managing Director, Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region. Brown coordinates and manages relationships with elected officials, governmental bodies and civic groups, develops and executes the initiatives of the Executive Committee and the Board of Directors, and compiles and analyzes research aimed at supporting the organization’s goals and priorities. He serves on numerous community and civic boards and is a trustee for Loyola University and the Greater New Orleans YMCA. He was appointed by Governor Jindal to the Louisiana Technical and Community System Board of Supervisors. He has been honored with a Role Model Award from the Young Leadership Council, and was selected as a Community Hero/Olympic Torch Bearer for the 1996 Summer Olympics. In 2007 he was honored with the Times Picayune Loving Cup for community service. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in history (Magna cum Laude) from Park College (Parkville, MO) in 1975 and a Master of Arts degree in Human Resource Management from Pepperdine University (Malibu, CA) in 1979.
The Art of Building Good Ideas II Irvin Mayfield
A Public Lecture University of New Orleans Education Building, Room 103 Thursday, January 24, 2013
First I would like to thank our fearless leader, Peter Fos for joining us. As always, Dean Krantz represents the College of Liberal Arts with distinction. And thank all of you for coming to the fourth installment of a much broader project, which examines the concept of artistic literacy. The development of the lectures and their feedback thus far helped expand my understanding of harmony. Through this exploration and its public display, a simple but powerful motivation drives the project – a society must harmonize truth, beauty and love if we are to reach our moral and intellectual potentials. This notion is not innovative. It’s not new. As Jacques Maritain aptly said, “But let one touch the Good and Love, like the saints, the True, like an Aristotle, the Beautiful, like a Dante or a Bach or a Giotto, then contact is made, souls communicate.
However, we need develop a language and structure for the harmony we seek. Beethoven said, “Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.” I certainly believe music provides an entry to higher order knowledge and behavior, but I also believe the public can have a greater understanding than we currently have.
Therefore, I am attempting to harmonize truth, beauty and love through art. I am also seeking to publish those compositions. Like the jazz that I play, my method for these lectures is interdisciplinary and international in scope. From this jazzman, you will hear an amalgam of thoughts from educators, architects, philosophers and of course, musicians.
I hope to understand and proliferate the universal language of art for the advancement of civilization writ large, but I admittedly will settle for advancements of art literacy within a few communities in New Orleans. Certainly, New Orleans may be the best possible setting for this discourse. I have argued both implicitly and explicitly that the world should strive to become as art fluent as examples set forth by eloquent New Orleanians such as Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Leah Chase, John Scott, Ellis Marsalis, and Tom Dent. However, New Orleans provides a sad example of illiteracy in its many forms.
We have concrete data of prevalence of quantitative and qualitative illiteracy in New Orleans. The Greater New Orleans Community Data Center recently released the report, Strengthening Our Workforce from Within: Adult Education’s Role in Furthering Economic Growth in Greater New Orleans. It found that approximately a quarter of the population struggles to read and compute at basic level. Sadly in an artful city, we don’t have the metrics or deeper understanding of how to talk about aesthetics or how well a child can read a musical composition. We don’t know their importance on our quality of life. However, we have developed measurements as to how much we spend on art and its importance in the New Orleans economy.
I’m very aligned with American Composer John Cage. Cage once said, “It is better to make a piece of music than to perform one, better to perform one than to listen to one, better to listen to one than to misuse it as a means of distraction, entertainment, or acquisition of “culture.” Like Cage, I’m very interested in art literacy as a basic building block of awareness, understanding and intelligence. We are limited in our understanding as to the physiological, emotional and social benefits of art literacy. I hope our discussion will move towards a framework that will help everyday people compose and consume art in the order that Cage described.
Today, I will build upon the last lecture at Tulane University, which talked about building good ideas. In that lecture I discussed how public artistic literacy is a good idea in need of an architect. In addition, I will explain why if institutions are to consider themselves educational, they must explicitly develop art literacy. In the last lecture I talked briefly about the significance of higher education in advancing art literacy. I will continue this conversation. The second point I want to make in this lecture is that artistic literacy and awareness can and should be developed among all of us. I will talk about enhancing individuals’ capacities for art literacy so they can find the artist within. Before I address the establishment of physical and personal homes of art literacy, I will review various aspects of past lectures to provide background into today’s topics.
The first lecture provided a basis for why we should develop artistic literacy. I identified truth, beauty and love as ultimate ends of art. By truth, I take on multiple definitions simultaneously. As moral and intellectual aims, we should have the skills to compare our expressions to the actual state of affairs. The ability to measure and interpret expressions, statements or claims to their referents is a requisite for basic awareness. Statisticians call this external validity. Aquinas said, “a judgment is said to be true when it conforms to the external reality.” To find universal measures that describe the world is a higher order behavior or skill. Be it through, mathematics, semantics or logic, truth is finding frameworks that pass tests of universality.
In addition, truth is also about understanding the limitations of what we deem as universal, particularly when it comes to socially constructed phenomena like race, class and gender. We also need lenses into emotional and spiritual realms. Pablo Picasso said, “Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.” Truth seeking involves the pursuit of knowledge in the midst of what we presume to be facts. Art provides a legitimate tool to find knowledge that empirical data can confuse.
Artistic literacy also has much to do with understanding and pursuing beauty. In this regard art literacy is synonymous with aesthetics or systems for interpreting art, form and culture. There is nothing more frustrating than hearing baseless or uncritical arguments as to who is the better singer Beyonce or Jennifer Hudson? Similarly, do hip-hop songs qualify as music? These arguments fall into the philosophical bucket of aesthetics, which if properly pursued would elevate low-level banter towards much more critical analyses.
Artistic literacy is also about learning how to love. You’ll often hear people describe people’s generation by the songs that were popular at the time. You’ll hear a phrase like, “He’s a Marvin Gaye baby.” The funny thing is that some of you may be Marvin Gaye babies in that courtship and copulation are initiated through music.
But artistic literacy seeks to understand love in a broader sense. Martin Luther King Jr. offered a definition that highlights its importance within our concept of artistic literacy. MLK said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Hate prevents us from seeing the beauty within each other. Hate also prevents us from seeing our true selves. Jim Morrison said, “The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.”
MLK and Jim Morrison believed that societal love begins with love of self. Self-hate is the impetus for social injustice. Artistic literacy is about learning how to love ourselves so we can love others.
We just witnessed the need for higher artistic literacy at President Obama’s second inauguration. As many of you heard, Grammy Award winning artist, Beyonce Knowles-Carter lip-synced her rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. The U.S. Marine Band confirmed rising suspicions through a statement which read, “there was no opportunity for Ms. Knowles-Carter to rehearse with the Marine Band before the Inauguration so it was determined that a live performance by the band was ill-advised for such a high-profile event.”
Critics quickly labeled her a fraud – a step ahead of Milli Vanilli. This position is intellectually shallow. During an age when programmed beats and synthesized vocals are at their height, are we really be offended by Beyonce? During a time when a song can comprise of dozens of samples, should we be shocked? We know that many artists have chosen to lip-sync pre-recorded music in large venues, cold-environments or performances that include vigorous dance routines. One may consider a Presidential inauguration performance too austere an event to lip-sync, but it’s usage should not be surprising.
What I find controversial is the wanting discourse about our use of imagery in increasingly superficial world. Governments and corporations constantly use sanitized art and exaggerated imagery for branding purposes. We have an image problem in America that Beyonce didn’t create.
The standards of beauty that Beyonce represents are of greater concern. Like it or not, Beyonce is America. Popular women of color literally wear societal expectations in their hair, skin and physiques. Others manipulate these images often at the expense of the people who wear them. Some are offended that she lip-synced, but Beyonce performed to the current or apparent American standard. The same people who criticized Beyonce don’t patronize in mass those who are deemed “authentic.”
Beyonce is part and parcel our American art consciousness. We should not worry if she lip-synced. We should be concerned with our collective tastes that made her a candidate for selection. Beyonce is art. And so are you. The question is, what do you represent?
In the third lecture, Art of Building Good Ideas, I posited a notion that we all have the capacity to build artful ideas. However, just like any construction you must understand the elements of a good idea. The last lecture explained how the art of building a good idea involves imagination, creativity, commitment and representation. I believe our institutions of learning have lessened their appreciation for the artistic genius within each of you. Our schools and universities will never invest in artistic development if students don’t’ see themselves as artists.
There is a tendency to view being an artist as an either/or proposition. Either you have artistic talent or you do not. We’ve normalized the belief that most of us can read, write and compute with varying degrees. Shouldn’t we also internalize that people carry artistic abilities with the same range of aptitude. In the last lecture, I essentially broke the either/or proposition. I stated, “there’s a Love Supreme waiting to be unleashed.” That ambitious statement could easily be seen as incredible. The act of comparing everyone to John Coltrane can shock people into missing my point and maybe even the point of Coltrane.
By the way, John William Coltrane is America’s most celebrated jazz saxophonist and composer. His work in the bebop and hard bop eras made way to his expansion into free jazz. “Trane” performed and recorded with other legends like trumpeter Miles Davis and pianist Thelonious Monk.
We can find truth by tapping into our artistic selves. Tapping into our artistic selves requires us to see ourselves as artists. Cicero stated, “It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment.” Cicero is speaking to today’s topic. There is an art to building good ideas. And everyone can use the tools that Cicero spoke of. Coltrane is not a freak of nature. Coltrane displayed the courage to interpret with sounds the often-ineffable world in which words and numbers simply are inadequate.
I believe art to be the manifestations of our imaginations. Art reflects someone’s creative efforts to bring their imagination to life. We all have imaginations, but most of us don’t possess explicit evidence of our art.
Creativity is the freedom and tools to realize our imaginations. Creativity allows us to reach the goals of our imaginations. Our creative genius can be enhanced, refined and trained. Learning how to manipulate and interpret sounds is as humanly accessible as learning how to read and write. It’s the privileging of words and numbers that limits our genius. We can only reach our highest human potentials by maximizing all the tools of our creativity.
In the last lecture, I quoted Ambedkar who stated, “Humans are mortal. So are ideas. An idea needs propagation as much as a plant needs watering. Otherwise both will wither and die.” I also stated that I think we’re becoming less creative because we’re becoming less committed. I’ve revised that claim to say we that we have genuflected to the intellectual deities of math and science.
Over the last few decades, we have made stupefying advancements in math and science, both of which have helped all our lives. In spite of the fact that we have more communication devices that man has ever known, we are using new technology to recycle old practices that lead to inequity. Truth, beauty and love can close that gap. We can also enhance our quality of life through the study of music, sculpting and other forms of art if we made comparable investments. It’s the privileging of academic disciplines that prevents us from the next Love Supreme.
Innovation is not simply about science. There are essential elements of good ideas that include space, materials, durability and purpose. Albert Einstein said, “Space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind union of the two will preserve an independent reality.” When we talk of space we must talk of time. Organizing sound around space and time is music composition. Still, when we talk about space and time, we should speak about specific sociopolitical contexts. There are few things as important as understanding how people should live together.
However, when we consider creativity and its relation to people within their sociopolitical contexts, we’re really talking about the distance between our art and the people it will effect. To create ideas without people in mind is to privilege the scientific idea of experimental design. It inflates the already inflated notion of the unbiased researcher. Good ideas and particularly good art assumes relationships between art, the artist and the people it influences.
Let me be clear. Art is an individualistic expression. Certainly, art helps its creators discover themselves. However, these discoveries are always in relation to other people. Humans don’t appear void of history, context and culture. Institutions, traditions and behaviors shape us. Self-discovery is really a process of seeing yourself in relations to others.
I believe that good ideas – and by extension good art – nurture lasting relationships. Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Therefore, I’m talking about how art literacy promotes justice, courage, selflessness, self-reliance and temperance. These qualities make art “good.” There are many artisans that are extremely skilled, but they don’t necessarily create what I believe to be good art. Building good art should take on universal morals that are non-discriminatory, inclusive and loving. Good ideas are democratic.
Again, I believe in personal nature of art making. I also believe in self- expression. Aristotle wrote, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” In other words, what is the purpose of art.
Helen Keller wrote, “Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” When we are in those caverns of creativity, we must train ourselves to honestly ask, “What is the purpose of this idea?” In other words, why am I creating this piece of art? When we ask ourselves these questions, we must rise above utilitarian or selfish notions of purpose. The song is not just about you. You should be able to see the larger purpose.
I wanted to give you the bassline for this speech. Building a good idea requires imagination, creativity and commitment. They are democratic in nature. Finally, the purpose of the idea should be democratic and loving.
For this lecture, I want to address where should people learn the artistic skills that bring our imaginations to life. Despite emerging criticisms of higher education, colleges and universities are still some of the few safe spaces in which great ideas are born, dismantled and advanced.
From innovations in irrigation, to helping map the human genome, to the expansion of the World Wide Web, colleges and universities’ returns on investment are immeasurably positive. Colleges heighten conversations on ethics. We preserve and advance art and culture. We partner with industry to meet the economic demands of the country. Universities are some of the few places that are intellectually comprehensive. Nevertheless, after centuries in which art partnered with the sciences, administrators are continuously slashing budgets within the arts and humanities. This has heighted the significance of freedom in colleges and universities.
Freedom is commonly expressed in terms of the various levels of autonomy. In the university world, autonomy describes the freedom to determine who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study. Chief among the freedoms expressed in colleges and universities is the concept of academic freedom. Altbach and Berdahl define academic freedom as the freedom of the individual scholar to pursue truth wherever it leads, without fear of punishment or of termination of employment for having offended some political methodological, religious, or social orthodoxy. However, students are also afforded a healthy degree of freedom, which is limited by course and program requirements.
Artists need the institutional space to create. In his brilliant essay titled, Freedom and Art, Charles Rosen describes the natural barriers of free expression among artists. He states, “Of all the constraints imposed on us that restrict our freedom—constraints of morality and decorum, constraints of class and finance—one of the earliest that is forced upon us is the constraint of a language that we are forced to learn so that others can talk to us and tell us things we do not wish to know.” Artists will always struggle through these natural barriers and in some cases make brilliant pieces of art because of those circumstances. Additionally, there is no utopia for artistic freedom. However, colleges and universities are optimal spaces to make art.
In Louisiana that freedom has been eroded by budget cuts to higher education partially because our productivity is devalued by a phenomenon known as “the cost disease.” William G. Bowen thoroughly describes this phenomenon in the article, The ‘Cost Disease’ in Higher Education: Is Technology the Answer? He quotes Robert Frank as providing the most succinct explanation of the cost disease. Frank states, “While productivity gains have made it possible to assemble cars with only a tiny fraction of the labor that was once required, it still takes four musicians nine minutes to perform Beethoven’s String Quartet in C minor, just as it did in the 19th century.”
Higher education won’t realize the same productivity gains in say car or computer manufacturing. We are different industries. Compounding the dilemma, the gains colleges and universities do make are unable to make up for the rising personnel costs. As a result, states, including Louisiana, see higher education as non-productive, cost prohibitive endeavors. The string quartet example is relevant here because even in New Orleans, art is devalued because it is viewed as an expensive luxury item or cheap entertainment.
Just as the University of New Orleans trains engineers, chemists and computer scientists, we also train musicians and other fine artists that make New Orleans one of the nation’s leading destination points. What is New Orleans without trained musicians? You simply cannot think about New Orleans without hearing music. Musicians in particular are central to a growing economy despite frameworks that value cheap computers over live performers. Herein lies the battle. Most people will agree to do everything to maintain a business program. However, many of those same people will see little value in a masters degree in composition or music education. Particularly in New Orleans, weakening art will weaken the economy.
State legislators, federal agencies, non-profit and for-profit companies as well as numerous other industries are influencing the pillars of what college is and what universities are supposed to do. Conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, the Republican Governors Association as well as state boards have always challenged what should be taught. Colleges and universities do not operate in isolation. We will always be held accountable to the larger public and that larger public does not necessarily share our values.
Nevertheless, slowly but surely postsecondary institutions have co-signed a system that assumes college to be an arm of an industry that treats art as superficial. If this continues, postsecondary institutions will wither, for there has to be a cheaper way to become an accountant. I recently read an article, which asked, “Could apprenticeships replace college degrees?” They probably should if we can’t articulate why music, literature and sculpture are as important as accountants.
Nevertheless, while politicians and industry may influence how many hours a faculty member spends in her office or how to purchase paper, they should not dictate the substance of who we are. We must halt the involuntary plastic surgery performed on postsecondary institutions by uncertified doctors. If members of the higher education community do not define ourselves, someone else will – making it that more difficult to see our purpose and mission.
If you don’t already have Christopher Newfield’s book, Unmaking the Public University, you must get it. Newfield identifies how university values like human development have been usurped by neo-liberal market substitutes and conservative campaigns. Newfield quotes the United Nation’s broad notion of human development that colleges and universities are supposed to facilitate:
“Human development is about much more than the rise of fall of national incomes. It is about creating an environment in which people can develop their full potential and lead productive, creative lives in accord with their needs and interests. People are the real wealth of nations. Development is thus about expanding the choices people have to lead lives that they value. And it is thus about much more than economic growth, which is only a means – if a very important one – of enlarging people’s choices” (United Nations).
Higher education must be transformative. Which means we must matriculate people who need it most: the poor, undereducated and dare I say illiterate. Colleges must change people and their communities. The aftermath of Katrina proved that higher education is doing little to change people’s social status. Colleges are essentially becoming finishing schools for the respective social groups. They are becoming expensive dormitories that house the 13th grade. In New Orleans, the poor shall be assigned to Southern University New Orleans, the working class will go to the University of New Orleans, the rich will go to Tulane. This is the system that led to the greatest man-made disaster in the United States. And many will not have a place to receive higher education.
In Louisiana like other states, we’re creating a tiered public system that assumes that preparation predicts outcomes – this is our response to abysmally low six-year graduation rates. GPA and SAT or ACT only predict for 50% of the variance of whether or not students move on to their second year. In other words, non-cognitive, individual variables as well as campus climate account for a significant portion of why students stay or leave.
Yet the Louisiana Grad Act limits students’ options for enrollment in public colleges based mightily on test scores, which simply do not capture the range of variables that accurately predict for college success. Campus climate and in particular campus racial climate impact the success of first- generation and underrepresented populations. The “tiering” practice leaves little room for challenging universities to transform the communities that need it most.
The irony of the Louisiana Grad Act is that luminaries like Louis Armstrong wouldn’t be admitted into places like UNO. Armstrong took the initiative to make harmony from in the inharmonious Deep South. Students may think UNO doesn’t have the accommodations befitting of a major public university. However, Armstrong did not disengage himself from the changes that needed to occur. He took his boys’ home education and became a legend because he played the cards he was dealt.
It wasn’t until after police arrested an eleven year-old Louis for shooting a firearm, did he engage with organized music. Authorities placed Armstrong in the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys, now known as the Milne Boys Home. Immediately upon arrival, Master Armstrong wanted desperately to join the Waif’s Home Brass Band. After weeks of fiddling with instruments left straggled by members, officials allowed Armstrong to join the band. My former fellow NEA board member Terry Teachout describes in his book, POPS, how a young Armstrong started on the “tambourine, then drums, then alto horn. Eventually he became the band’s first-chair cornetist” (p. 36).
We have thousands of Louis Armstrongs needing to be introduced to jazz. Last year, the Greater New Orleans Data Center reported that the New Orleans metro has approximately 14,000 youth between the ages of 16 to 24 who are neither in school nor working. Armstrong’s legacy illustrates the absence of and need for jazz in our communities. The city must take bolder steps towards realizing a jazz society. Universities must be a part of introducing the disconnected to opportunities.
They’re reasons why we have not tried to replicate the Armstrong story. We take for granted the stabilizing force behind New Orleans’ culture, entertainment and industry. Jazz is as ubiquitous as gravity. New Orleans’ improvisational and multicultural style is directly linked to the way we interact, cook, worship, celebrate and morn. Jazz provides the City’s character.
Armstrong exemplified and set the standard as to how art, culture and community improvise to make harmony. Aside from being an ambassador, Armstrong provided the soundtrack for urban renewal. The industrial age and urban expansion paralleled Armstrong’s creative works. He gave birth to innovative harmonies and rhythms within a traditional structure. Armstrong’s contributions eventually stretched the tradition. Consequently, Americans re-imagined cities as Armstrong and others re-imagined music.
We should not view this as coincidence. New Orleans art literally set a tone for a new urban world. Jazz and urban renewal are synonymous. Architects, musicians, educators, developers and philanthropists must be in concert.
Even worse than a contemporary Armstrong not being admitted to most public universities, is that he may not be considered smart by today’s standards. Armstrong mastered the language of New Orleans. He mastered the language of art.
Hochay Maday. Indiyan. You won’t find these words in the dictionary. They don’t translate into English. They exist in New Orleans music. I don’t know if a correct spelling exists, but I know what they mean because of my art and my relationship to the teachers of these words or should we say sounds. I also know what these sounds mean to us in New Orleans. You probably shouldn’t give Big Chief any resistance to his words. The line states you are free and clear to go Jocimo Fina Hey any time you want. However, it doesn’t seem like you would enjoy it very much.
Other song lyrics don’t say much about what the Hochay Maday is, but I know it is either on Mardi Gras day or St. Joseph’s Day, but always when the Mari Gras Indians come out. When you hear these teachers, you will learn the history of New Orleans. You will feel the history of New Orleans. You will feel the rich history of our Congo Square ancestors who came from many different areas on the globe. If you hear the chants enough, you will understand the language. You will become New Orleanian.
The Armstrong case proves that colleges and universities shouldn’t be the only place with the academic freedom to develop artistically. If there is a city in which real instruments should be placed in the hands of every child to be taught by real music instructors, it should be New Orleans. I’m not talking about giving kids a triangle for the kindergarten music unit. The primary grade curriculum should have extensive exposure to the arts. We should hold students, teachers and leaders accountable for artistic literacy.
This was the motivation behind the New Orleans Jazz Institute spearheading the Saturday Music School in 2009. Saturday Music School’s mission is to support and redefine music education in New Orleans by offering a comprehensive and diverse music education experience to our city’s youth. Saturday Music School is designed for music students, ages 8 to 17, currently enrolled in 17 schools in the Greater New Orleans area. Each semester, the program offers ensemble and small group instruction in Jazz band, strings, piano, and voice. Each ensemble’s curriculum is developed to encompass history, theory and performance techniques in Jazz, Classical and World Music. Throughout the year, student ensembles are featured in recitals and local festivals and events.
The larger goal of the Saturday Music School is to build a system wide curriculum that advances art literacy and for students to realize their musical aptitudes. Students of all hues will take their skills to commerce, schools, museums and to the Mardi Gras Indians for approval.
I would like to return briefly to the supposed Beyonce controversy. Beyonce is an ideal that is frighteningly distant from you or me, yet so many aspire to be perfect like Beyonce. I hate to burst your bubble. There is no perfection. Therefore, we don’t need you to lip sync. You are Louis Armstrong. We need you to be literate enough to improvise. We need your preparation to be so profound that you can go into any hostile situation and find harmony.
To highlight this point, indulge me as I paint a picture of these comparable artists and their patriotic deeds. In 1957 during the height of the cold war, the United States and Armstrong agreed to perform in the Soviet Union to counter criticisms of American racism, discrimination and structural inequality. The State Department sponsored tours of some of the country’s most notable jazz performers to put America’s way of life on display. Remember, the height of the cold war paralleled a peaking civil rights movement.
Inequity was apparent even in America’s propaganda efforts. The New York Times described the confusion caused by the contrast between the mission supporting the tours and the touring acts’ accommodations. The Times wrote, “What many thoughtful Europeans cannot understand is why the United States Government, with all the money it spends for so-called propaganda to promote democracy, does not use more of it to subsidize the continental travels of jazz bands.” The Times goes on to say, “With a small Government subsidy, [Armstrong] might play the smaller intermediate towns and his tour [be] stretched to six months by train instead of six weeks by bus.”
Therefore, two years prior to agreeing to perform in the Soviet Union, Armstrong traveled across Europe as an Ambassador to the United States in accommodations less than one would expect the top performer in the United States or arguably the world to have. Nevertheless, the New York Times said of Armstrong that “America’s secret weapon [in the Cold War] is a blue note in a minor key.”
Back home, his contemporaries vilified Armstrong as being an Uncle Tom and a buffoon. Gillespie referred to Armstrong as a “plantation character.” Billy Holiday said, “God bless Louis Armstrong! He Toms from the heart.” James Baldwin and other made Armstrong the foil for their new Negro archetype. That was mild compared to how many whites treated Armstrong. Traveling in the South was particularly hostile for African American entertainers. Teachout cited Armstrong’s road manager as saying “here’s Louis with five or ten grand in his pocket, his wife with a twenty thousand dollar mink coat, and they both had to sleep in a gymnasium in North Carolina because they couldn’t find accommodations” (Teachout, 2009, p. 327).
Yet before he returned to Europe to perform in the Soviet Union, a mob of white civilians and the Arkansas National Guard prevented nine African American students from integrating Central High School in Little Rock. So distraught by these actions, Armstrong canceled his State Department sponsored trip to the Soviet Union. The Associate Press wrote, “Trumpet player Louis Armstrong said last night he had given up plans for a Government-sponsored trip to the Soviet Union.” The AP went on to say, “Mr. Armstrong said President Eisenhower had ‘no guts’ and described Gov. Orval E. Faubus of Arkansas as an ‘uneducated plow boy.’”
Compare this to Beyonce’s patriotic moment. She had months to prepare for the inauguration, which was approved by the White House weeks prior. She was asked to sing the one song that most American’s should know. Her schedule may have prevented lots of practice time but she’s an artist; the Marine Corp band is professional. I’m sure there is Internet on her private jet. Exchange sheet music, pre-recordings; do what you can to sing the song that everybody knows.
Yes it’s cold, but it’s not the cold war. This is one of the highest honors one can bestow upon a singer. The Star-Spangled Banner is performed after the benediction at inaugurations. Beyonce was born to perform on the biggest stages. She has been singing all her life. Her hair, purchased or not, was flawless. Clothes impeccable. The world watched with pride. Millions of fans know every word to all her songs. She’s married to a rap mogul for God’s sake. Her inauguration moment was the public rendering of the Little Drummer Boy. This is her time to give her greatest gift. Beyonce gets on stage and faces one of the biggest moments of her life, and what does she do? She lip-syncs.
Armstrong wouldn’t have lip-syned.
However, I don’t fault Beyonce. We fail to reach for more authentic artists. I am hopeful about today’s artists. I recently worked with Frank Ocean who is up for numerous Grammy Awards. His artistry reflects his personal courage. He is one of the many sons of Armstrong.
However, we collectively need to continue to find Armstrong’s rhythm. His music is so influential, so ubiquitous that we move unconsciously to his harmonies. But, we can’t take his gravity for granted. Armstrong really understood humanity through song. He wasn’t an entertainer as much as he was an artist, philosopher, politician and leader. Armstong became so because he could hear how the world worked and responded to it.
Many of you today should be able to hear, taste and draw yourself closer to the communities that are distant. Let’s understand what Armstrong saw when sang A Wonderful World. Close you eyes for a minute. Listen to Armstrong. What do you see?
I see trees of green…….. red roses too
I see em bloom….. for me and for you
And I think to myself…. what a wonderful world.
I see skies of blue….. clouds of white
Bright blessed days….dark sacred nights
And I think to myself …..what a wonderful world.
The colors of a rainbow…..so pretty ..in the sky
Are also on the faces…..of people ..going by
I see friends shaking hands…..sayin.. how do you do They’re really sayin……i love you.
I hear babies cry…… I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more…..than I’ll never know And I think to myself …..what a wonderful world
Dr. Corey Hebert is one of the most renowned physicians practicing medicine in the United States today. His travels across the country and around the globe have connected him to thousands of people as both a healer and a motivator, all the while practicing both Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine. Dr. Hebert is one of the most sought after speakers in his field. He is a highly regarded medical broadcast journalist, working as on-air medical editor for the NBC television affiliate in New Orleans, Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, as well as a frequent contributor to the “Dr. Oz Show”. He is also a current contributor to the Discovery Channel’s “How Stuff Works” television show and the National Geographic channel. Dr. Hebert is the host of an extremely popular weekly radio talk show on the Cumulus Broadcasting Network, called “Doctor For The People” in which he answers health questions live on the air from people throughout the New Orleans metro area and across the country for those who hear his show simulcast on the internet. Dr. Hebert has a very unique charm which allows him to talk to urban youth and chairmen of boards with the same level of acceptance and respect. This is an extremely difficult balancing act, which is what separates him from so many others in his fields of pursuit. Dr. Hebert has recently accepted the position of Chief Executive Officer of Black Health Television, Inc.