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Vivian Norris Headshot

Buddy Guy, the Montreux Jazz Festival & Protecting Our Musical Heritage

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I just came back from a few days hiking in the Alps and on our way back home we stopped to attend the Montreux Jazz Festival where I heard one of the best concerts I have attended in a long time. The amazing Buddy Guy played to a packed crowd of blues and guitar fanatics both young and old, followed by a strong performance by guitarist/singer Joe Bonamassa. As he played, Buddy Guy spoke of his past, of growing up poor, African American in rural Louisiana. He spoke of his parents and the lessons they taught him. One well-known, extremely beautiful song from his new album, the title track, "Skin Deep", tells the story of how we are all the same, every human being regardless of race. Hearing Buddy Guy sing his song struck home for this Southern gal, moreso than hearing Clapton's version...because Guy has lived these truths being from the South:

I've been around a while
I know wrong from right
Learned a long time ago
Things ain't always black and white
Just like you can't judge a book by the cover
We all gotta be careful
How we treat one another

Skin Deep
Skin Deep
Underneath we're all the same
Skin Deep
Skin Deep
Underneath we're all the same
We're all of the same

A man in Louisiana
He never called me by my name
He said "boy do this and boy do that"
But I never once complained
I knew he had a good heart
But he just didn't understand
That I needed to be treated
Just like any other man

Skin Deep
Skin Deep
Underneath we're all the same
Skin Deep
Skin Deep
Underneath we're all the same
We're all of the same

I sat my little child down
when he was old enough to know
I said I fell in this big wide world
You're gonna be all kinda froze
I said son it all comes down to just one simple rule
That you treat everybody just the way
You want them to treat you
Yeah

Skin Deep
Skin Deep
Underneath we're all the same
Skin Deep
Skin Deep
Underneath we're all the same
We're all of the same
Skin Deep
Underneath we're all the same
Skin Deep
Skin Deep
Underneath we're all the same
We're all of the same

As he played, I thought about how this musician has lived through so many decades, saw changes come to the South, both good and bad. I thought of how Montreux, inviting these artists every year, and the summer jazz and blues concerts throughout Europe, which invite these American legends to play, help support them, as Buddy Guy said, "Nobody buys blues albums anymore". And I realized that foreign fans helping to support the culture of where I come from is so very important. That music from the South, especially that of an artists from Louisiana, hard hot by both Katrina and the BP oil spill, as well as buy years of poverty and racism, defines a culture which is not only appreciated internationally, but sadly not supported enough back home.

I recall after Katrina a number of people and organizations trying to help impoverished jazz and blues musicians get access to instruments which had disappeared in the storm, to invite them to play around the country while New Orleans rebuilt. But the fact remains that many many of these musicians live in dire circumstances, especially those who make it to a ripe old age and wrote songs decades ago which people are still playing and for which they receive no royalties. Add to this the overall decline in people buying Jazz and Blues and it becomes clear that Buddy Guy's comment about no one buying blues music anymore is sadly true.

Blues from the South has influenced so many successful musicians from Eric Clapton to the Rolling Stones, yet its authenticity somehow loses out to packaged superficial one hit wonders.

And this leads me to how important it is to pass on what is great about American music to our children. Turn off the tv and put on some great music in your home. Encourage your children to study music and listen to the masters of jazz and blues. Take your children to these kinds of concerts as there is nothing like live music. My daughter was fascinated in Amsterdam when I took her to Sunday afternoon jazz concerts and asked to return there the next time we were in town. She watched and listened to how the musicians interacted. We talked about music, how her favorite Beatles and Stones' sings are influenced by blues and classical music. I took her to a rural church in Louisiana where she heard the people singing, introduced her to friends who are composers and musicians. There is always a piano wherever we live for any length of time, and now a guitar. Allow your child to become "bored" a bit, and without the distraction of a tv or internet, they will naturally wander over to the piano, or other instrument.

We have such a rich musical heritage in the US, yet many children do not know where this strong musical history comes from, nor how the South plays such a strong role in keeping this music alive. I encourage everyone to visit the South and include a jazz or blues concert or festival while they travel. Explain the cultural context, the history, even the politics of what this music means and why it exists. And then sit back, and enjoy the music!