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action/example :: interview :: Jazz for Peace, Profile of Rick DellaRatta

by Suneeta Kaimal

At age 8 in Schenectady, New York, Rick DellaRatta began playing the piano in secret. DellaRatta remembers, “I felt I was on a creative journey – but then was caught and brought in to take lessons.” Years later he stumbled upon jazz records, stacked in a library. Shocked by the number of records amassed in this unknown collection, he began to listen to them.

“I felt an affinity to my original journey began while playing piano, but also felt a creative link and a relation between the art form [jazz] and my own. My improvisational style was similar to jazz. There was no option – it was a natural affinity.”

On October 4, 2001, the first concert Jazz for Peace concert was held in upstate New York at the Troy Savings Bank Musical Hall in Troy, New York. Puerto Rican Eddie Gomez on bass, Cuban sax player Paquito D'Rivera and American drummer Lenny White joined keyboardist DellaRatta. DellaRatta recalls, “After the first concert, the tremendous response from the public and in the press propelled the project forward.” Jazz for Peace was born.

On September 25, 2002, DellaRatta was invited to lead a band of Israeli, Middle Eastern, European, Asian and American jazz musicians in a concert at the UN. Despite poor promotion by the UN, the performance reverberated around the world.
DellaRatta solidified his interest in jazz with a Bachelor’s degree in Piano Performance and a Master’s in Jazz Composition from the New England Conservatory.

“In college, I saw a link between the classical, contemporary and jazz styles. I felt a responsibility to the art form of jazz – America’s greatest art form that Americans do not even know about. If I wasn’t going to step up – who was? I began taking advantage of opportunities to play jazz at the expense of more commercial shows, often canceling profits and always sacrificing income. But I felt it was my lot in life. Jazz artists must be patrons of the arts; we are expected to support the art form because the public is stuck in a cross between ignorance and helplessness.”

In 1994, Rick recorded his first album, Take it or Leave It with Dave Lieberman on saxophone and Lenny White on drums. The release of this CD led to performance opportunities in Japan, Brazil and in New York at the Blue Note, Birdland and the Five Spot. He released a second CD, Thought Provoking, in June 1997 on Stella Records, featuring Eddie Gomez on bass, with Lieberman and White.

DellaRatta continued to travel world to play music – Japan, Hong Kong, Bulgaria, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland and Germany, but very rarely in the United States. Struck by this disparity he mused, “How strange that jazz artists greatest performances are not in their own country. On my tour of the world, I discovered that jazz was embraced, respected, and studied. I thought it was odd I had been to Japan six times, but never played in Arkansas.”

In 2000, DellaRatta’s world tours took on political aspirations as he began to increasingly notice conflicts around the world. The constant media barrage on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the seeming the futility of the situation had a great impact.

I thought how easily we could bring people together through jazz. George Bush couldn’t do it, Ariel Sharon couldn’t do it, Yasser Arafat couldn’t do it, but jazz could. What began as an off-hand comment to a colleague became a revelation that we could bring together, tour the Middle East and places of conflict and demonstrate that we can get along in a positive way and build relationships.”

The events of September 11 both fueled and augmented this vision. DellaRatta explains, “After 9-11 Americans realized that problems in the world could affect them.”

Inspired to act and affect change, DellaRatta composed and read a poem entitled “Jazz for Peace,” on Sept 26, 2001 at the Savannah Jazz Festival. The crowd of over 5,000 responded warmly to his words, encouraging DellaRatta to spread his message and instigating the Jazz for Peace movement.

Jazz for Peace began performing weekly benefits concerts in Duke Ellington’s old haunt, Jazz on the Park, in New York City. Volunteers select organizations which they feel reflect the same values Jazz for Peace promotes. The concerts are performed at no cost to the organizations, who receive the proceeds and related donations. To date, Jazz for Peace has sponsored over 50 organizations.

DellaRatta describes his music as containing Brazilian rhythms. He performs in both English and Portuguese, a talent gleaned from his time spent working with Brazilian musicians. He plays with a variety of musicians, both from his travels abroad and those who contact him to be involved in the project.

The show play lists are determined by a combination of pieces that relate to a particular audience or which highlight certain members of the band, but always deferring to the spontaneous inspiration of performance. DellaRatta composes his own music as well as playing jazz standards, many of which were adapted from Broadway compositions.

When composing, DellaRatta allows himself to be influenced by anything in his surroundings and by every stylistic period “allowing any influence to reveal itself through the music.”

From the initial impetus to affect positive change, DellaRatta developed specific missions for Jazz for Peace: to continue the benefit concerts; to expand the concerts to other cities, states and countries; to bring jazz into schools and promote understanding and to donate musical instruments to underprivileged children.

To know about your country’s greatest art form is not optional. Kids should have exposure, but they’re not choosing, the adults are choosing for them and short-changing them. It is basic common sense: jazz crosses cultural, religious, racial, language and other boundaries that normally hinder working together in a positive manner.”

DellaRatta points to Charles Black, a legal scholar who argued Brown v. The Board of Education before the Supreme Court, as exemplary of the power of jazz to effect people in profoundly positive ways.

In the March/April 2003 edition of Legal Affairs, the article “The Jazz Man,” states, “[Charles] Black credited Armstrong's sorrowful yet irrepressible jazz with compelling him to join the fight for racial equality. Listening to this music in his corner of the South between the world wars, Black said he began to understand segregation as "that most hideous of errors," which he called "the failure to recognize kinship." (Click here for more info)

Pointing to such telling indications of the power of jazz, DellaRatta laments the lack of acknowledgement jazz receives in the United States. He argues that throughout Europe, there is significantly more funding. With additional funding, he would take Jazz for Peace out to every school and bring understanding and acknowledgement to plant the seed in children and to help further expose the art form.

Unfortunately, he feels that many people who could receive tax-write-offs or could afford to donate money do not. Though often inundated with offers of old musical instruments, it is difficult to raise the money to repair and deliver the instruments.

Despite these difficulties, DellaRatta feels, “every time a person is influenced in a positive way though our mission and music endeavors – that is a marking of success in itself.”

Beyond his personal dedication to jazz, DellaRatta has been honored with awards such as The 2000 MAC Award for Recording of the Year for his double album live CD release titled Live in Brazil & The Blue Note. Rick was also a 1998 and 1999 ASCAP Popular Award Winner, the 1997 Back Stage Bistro Award Winner for outstanding singer/instrumentalist and a Mac award nominee for outstanding jazz artist.

And word is spreading.

Last May while on tour in Europe, DellaRatta played in Croatia. He was listed by name only, unaffiliated with Jazz for Peace, playing to a sold out hall in the country’s largest jazz festival. Immediately after the concert, without any prompting, the media inundated him with questions about Jazz for Peace.

Jazz for Peace is helping to gain acknowledgement and awareness in America for what jazz already is – the greatest art form and our greatest gift to the world. We are bringing together all walks of life in a positive way. We hope to have the effect that Louis Armstrong had on Charles Black. We want to influence people to embrace the creativity, intellectuality, individuality, artistry and humanity in jazz – the type of qualities that help us to reach our potential as human beings in our souls.”

Volunteer opportunities
To volunteer for Jazz for Peace, visit the website for opportunities at, send an email to or call 212-947-1104. Interns and volunteers have the unique opportunity to start with no experience and advance quickly in a rewarding and challenging work environment.

Jazz for Peace Poem
I hear Jazz for Peace.
Coming thru the trees,
and in my heart it fills me like a celebration.
I see the light,
and I want to follow inspired by the past contributions of those who came before,
and laid the groundwork for us to build on.
In this universal language that is a gift for all mankind,
and when we speak it people are inspired by the creativity and artistry that stands for peace,
and love,
and humanity
and intelligence,
that leads to reaching potential that we have in our souls,
so we can raise our total conscience and see that the gift of giving is our greatest privilege.
I hear Jazz for Peace

Rick DellaRatta

2004 1-42 Online