With congratulations to fellow awardees in New York City. Chicago, Washington D.C. and Monterey -- and a special salute to Arnie Lawrence, Co-Founder of God Bless the Child and recipient of an individual Discretionary Award for Services To and Beyond Jazz.
God Bless the Child's Jerusalem Jazz Journalist Association 2003 Awards celebrations began on the morning of June 25 in the Pediatric Oncology Ward of the Mother & Child Center of Hadassah Hospital, Ein Karem, with private concerts inside the rooms of children too sick to leave their beds.
We got one frail child to sit up, make requests, and sing in a voice that grew from barely audible to clear and melodic. He lay in the arms of his father and his mother sat beside the hospital cot. They smiled and sang along. The child in the next bed, immobile, was played a favorite song at her mother's request, and her older brother sang the words. It was the hardest gig ever for Gil Assayas, electric keyboard; Ilan Bar Levi, guitar; Lev Loftus, drumset; and Balal Ershed, oud. We played the standards "God Bless The Child," "Over The Rainbow ," and "Summertime."
Two hours later, in the garden of the Jerusalem Cinematheque, the band was joined by master oudist Mohammed Abassi, who sang an original composition, "Song of Peace," in Arabic. He was preceded by two fledgling musicians from Paediatric Oncology: Guy on electric keyboard, and Ahmad, vocals, who was accompanied by his mother on darbouka. Guy was just back from ten days in Disneyworld with his family, a gift from "Dreams Come True," a charitable organization working with "Hayim," a member of the 45-nation-strong International Child Cancer Parents Organization, now including the new East Jerusalem branch "Zeina", keeping happiness -- and hope -- alive in children with cancer. He played improvisations on "Heart and Soul", "Stand By Me", and "God Bless The Child." With the stageside style of a young Sinatra, Ahmad, singing Arabic takasim, was a natural.
I was asked to find a high-profile personality to present the JJA Award, and I invited Guy and Ahmad to do the honors.
We were in the valley between West Jerusalem and The Old City Walls known as Gai Ben Hinnum, or Gehennum, Hebrew for Hell, the site, in Biblical times, of child sacrifice.
"It makes more sense to save children than sacrifice them," I said in my acceptance speech. "When Arnie [Lawrence] first created his Int'l Center for Creative Music in Jerusalam, with the blessings of then- Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin, he was offered a site in this valley." (A music center in Hell?) "Four years later he opened his Jazz/nes Cafe ('nes' is Hebrew for 'miracle') just yards from there --" (A jazz club in Hell?) " -- with an all night prayer vigil in the jazz tradition. It was September 11, 2001, and the birth of God Bless The Child.
"Arnie often spoke of the late Rabbi Haim Stern, who told him, 'It isn't what a place was -- it's what you make of it.' And he repeats the words of Mary Lou Williams, who said 'The roots of the tree of jazz is suffering, and the roots are the blues.' And of Jackie Byard who told a seminar at the New School of Jazz & Contemporary Music, 'The blues were inspired by "Silent Night."'
"And we consecrated the wadi as a 'Valley of Hope.'
"Time after time, we consecrated the wadi: in October 2001, when jazz musicians and authors including Mike Zwerin, Salman Natour, David Grossman, Aharon Appelfeld, Clive Sinclair, and Leslie Horvitz, gathered for the 1st God Bless the Child Conclave, and in January 2002 when a contingent of Heroes of the NYPD and the Pentagon joined us on the terrace over Hell, and in February, when Evelyn Blakey, along with manager A. Lord Allah, tap artist Butterfly, His Majesty George V Johnson Jr and vocalist Jane Blackstone, brought an unforgettable jazz message to the Valley, to the children of all faiths at Schneider Children's Hospital, and to the Galilean mountain peak of Hemdat Yamim. And, at the Vatican Center Tantur, on the borderline between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, our 'Silent Night' rang out above the rat-tat-tat of cross-fire overhead. It was 'Silent Night' again on the Steps of the Visitation in Ein Karem, and 'You'll Never Walk Alone.'
"It is therefore a great honor to accept the Jazz Journalists Assoc Discretionary Award in this renewed Valley of Hope, where today children are singing and making music and 'A Song of Peace' rises.
"This past autumn we saw a rainbow over this valley. Today, hearing the messsage of the children and the band, in Hebrew, English, Arabic, Amharic, Spanish, French and Russian -- 'Life is precious' -- the rainbow is overhead."
Later that night I passed around a bottle of champagne at a jam-packed Barood, Jerusalem's authentic jazz bar & journalists' haunt. The musicians -- two ouds, a darbouka, guitar, drumset, and vocalist -- wove Arabic Takasim, the Song of Songs, Spanish rhythms through the nearly four hours of jazz standards and blues.
"Evil Gal Blues" was dedicated to Lionel Hampton, a founding member of the GBTC Consultancy Council; "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" to Satchmo, whose framed beaming chops on the Barood wall always list to the left, no matter how many times I straighten the picture; and to Clark Terry and Arnie -- and with special appreciation to journalists Ken Franckling, Mike Zwerin, Michael Bourne, Stanley Crouch and Howard Mandel -- we played "God Bless The Child" -- dedicated to Great Lady Day.
Patrons danced to the band till the wee small hours, when a neighbor acted on the classic "Call the Police."
The ongoing Great Lady Day(s) Tribute Concert Series of God Bless The Child, focussing attention on children in real and immediate danger -- whether cancer or other critical illness; whether abuse, incest, neglect, prejudice or poverty, compounded in conflict regions by devastating injury, murder and traumatization; and where, to paraphrase Salman Natour, it is forgotten that the life and joy of each child is precious -- could have been enabled by no art form other than jazz and the freedom of spirit with which it improvises.
On Tuesday, July 1, GBTC brought its Great Lady Day Series to the Cave inside the historic Jerusalem Khan Theatre Complex. Additional dates: Friday, July 18; Thursday, July 24.
Special thanks to Director Lia Van Leer & Assistant Aviva Meron of the Jerusalem Cinematheque, Directors & Staff of "Hayim" and the Mother & Child Center of Hadassah Hospital, Pnina Raphael and Miriam Hayim, musicians Mohammed Abassi (oud & vocals), Bilal Ershed (oud), Gil Assayas ( keyboard ), Ilan Bar Levi (guitar), Lev Loftus (drumset), & Nino's band (oud, darbouka, vocals ); to Daniella of Barood, Avi Hayim, Sound, & Shahar Yerushalmi, Film artist, and in New York, Mitch of Small's & Pastor Dale Lind.