Herbie Hancock Kicks Off International Jazz Day in Congo Square

“I believe this is a musical first,” Herbie Hancock declared from a stage in Congo Square. The jazz pianist was there to celebrate International Jazz Day—by itself a first—with a sunrise concert, but he was referring to his performance of “Watermelon Man,” accompanied in New Orleans by a band of music students including New Orleans’ Glen Hall III of the Baby Boyz Brass Band. That was novel enough, but a video screen in Congo Square also showed musicians around the world playing the song with Hancock. Horn players in Paris and Rio de Janeiro soloed when Hall soloed, and a drummer in Capetown took his solo when the drummer in New Orleans took his.

“Thank you so much for giving us jazz,” UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said from the stage, acknowledging New Orleans and Congo Square’s importance to the development of jazz. She explained that more than 1,000 musicians in 190 countries will take part in International Jazz Day events around the world, concluding with a sunset concert at the United Nations with Hancock, Terence Blanchard, Wynton Marsalis, Tony Bennett, Richard Bona, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Candido, Robert Cray, Eli Degibri, Jack DeJohnette, Sheila E., Jimmy Heath, Zakir Hussain, Chaka Khan, Angelique Kidjo, Lang Lang, Romero Lubambo, Shankar Mahadevan, Hugh Masekela, Christian McBride, Danilo Pérez, Bobby Sanabria, Wayne Shorter, Esperanza Spalding, Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, Hiromi, George Duke and more.

Terence Blanchard was also a part of this morning’s show, playing Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia” with Hancock, Dr. Michael White, Roland Guerin, Jeff “Tain” Watts and Bill Summers. The show also included “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” as performed by Stephanie Jordan and Ellis Marsalis with Guerin, Watts and Summers; “Sunny Side of the Street” by Kermit Ruffins with Dr. Michael White, also with Guerin, Watts and Summers. The Treme Brass Band concluded the show with a combination of “The Treme Song” and “Do Whatcha Wanna.”

Thousands made it out for the 7 a.m. show hosted by Harry Shearer, and it was a mix of jazz lovers from the Treme neighborhood, professionals on their way to work, tourists in town for Jazz Fest, and music lovers who had yet to go to bed from the night before. One person nearby was feeding people maple longjohns from Blue Dot Donuts, while another with a Heineken tall-boy yelled, “Herbie Hancock, muthafucka!” at the end of a solo.

“Do me a personal favor,” Hancock said as he finished his performance. “Spend an hour or two celebrating International Jazz Day.”