International Musician feature article for August, 2005 Issue

Changing the World through Jazz

The soothing sounds of jazz are on their way to helping bring peace to the world, according to Rick DellaRatta of Locals 802 (New York City) and 85-133 (Schenectady/Amsterdam, NY), who found a way to turn his passion for music into a vehicle for both change and peace. The jazz composer, pianist, and vocalist is at the forefront of Jazz For Peace, an organization that performs to raise money for charities, instrument donations to schools, and music awareness. DellaRatta has spearheaded the project since he founded it in 2001.

“Jazz is a universal language that cuts through boundaries of language, race, creed, gender, and religion,” DellaRatta says. “Jazz for Peace seemed like an appropriate vehicle to bring people together through jazz music.” 

DellaRatta led the band’s first successful Jazz for Peace concert inside the United Nations headquarters in New York City, where the band played in front of an international audience comprising Israeli, Middle Eastern, European, Asian, and American jazz aficionados and spectators. The UN performance was made more significant, DellaRatta says, due to its timing right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York. He says the band played with the following mission, which eventually became the slogan of the organization: “When we fill our souls up with creativity, artistry, and intelligence, we have a better chance at avoiding the behavior that leads to destruction.”

The first performance sparked more than 150 future benefit performances which began every Saturday in New York’s Upper West Side at “Jazz on the Park” and other venues in the city. Jazz for Peace soon grew to include concerts in other cities like Boston, Philadelphia, Houston, Chicago, and Dallas, and subsequently launched an international expansion series incorporating cities like Mexico City and Cancun, Mexico. When on the road, DellaRatta features local artists with the Jazz for Peace band, augmenting the group with local flavor. “Jazz has a history of having a positive effect on people,” he says. “Musicians may think this is obvious, but they don’t often realize how profound it may be to the rest of the world.”

In April 2004, DellaRatta released his sixth album, called Jazz for Peace. Dedicated to the organization, it features a compilation of the group’s performances. DellaRatta intends to donate half of the proceeds to the purchase of instruments for underprivileged children. Incorporating music in children’s lives is another of his goals, and he is currently working on a project with Local 802 to gather donations of unused instruments, repair them, and then transport the instruments to disadvantaged children through their schools. “Music is a proven stimulator of intellect, and we want kids to reach their full potential,” he comments. “They need to be supported through programs like these.”

His most recent donation request had two particularly unusual aspects: an accordion, which needed to be shipped to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. DellaRatta was on the subway speaking about his accordion search troubles to a friend, when a man from The Songbook Project (a nonprofit organization that supports arts for children through theater and musical performances) overheard his conversation and offered a well-used accordion to Jazz for Peace. Though the accordion is in need of repairs, he was thrilled, and immediately informed the school in Rio that the instrument would be on its way.

DellaRatta was recently honored in the book Jazz Singers by author Scott Yanow as one of the 500 greatest jazz vocalists of all time. Deemed a leader in the jazz world as both innovator and visionary by many in the industry, DellaRatta continues to perform concerts with Jazz for Peace. His shows include performances for worldwide organizations like School Supplies for Afghanistan, and he has been recognized by notables including Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and political writer Noam Chomsky for his contributions to the jazz world.

The continuation of Jazz for Peace is vital to DellaRatta, whose goals for the program include expanding the concert series—and the understanding of the significance of jazz—while working toward a world full of music, life, and peace. “We want to continue to broaden the audience for this art form, while at the same time supporting the wonderful causes that keep us going,” he explains. “Jazz for Peace hopes to spread the message that embracing humanity is not such a bad idea for change.”

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