Institute Concludes Educational & Cultural Tour of Jordan

The Institute completed its first international tour since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with jazz legend and Institute Chairman Herbie Hancock joining acclaimed saxophonist Don Braden and the seven students of the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz Performance at UCLA for a week of teaching, learning and cultural exchange in the Kingdom of Jordan. Sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the May program continued the Institute’s commitment to using jazz to advance diplomacy, dialogue between cultures and mutual understanding.

Over the course of five days, the Institute delegation visited prominent educational, performing arts and community service organizations in and around the Jordanian capital, Amman, offering free concerts and master classes for local students and jazz lovers. Complementing the extensive outreach programs were visits to the vaunted 5th-century BC city of Petra, as well as outdoor concerts at the ancient ruins of Gadara in Umm Qais and the Odeon, a Roman amphitheater situated in the heart of downtown Amman.

A Focus on Education

As part of the tour’s educational offerings, young Jordanians aspiring to careers in music gathered at the King Hussein Foundation’s National Centre for Culture and Arts (NCCA) for an informance, concert and jam session with the Institute band. Led by Braden, the Institute of Jazz Performance students gave musical demonstrations of every major stylistic touchpoint in jazz, from ragtime to present day. To represent the fusion era, the group invited Hancock up for a performance of his landmark composition “Actual Proof.” Later, Institute of Jazz Performance clarinetist Matthew Stubbs led a demonstration of the connections between Western classical music and jazz.

Class of 2023 vocalist Darynn Dean performs alongside teaching artist Don Braden during the Institute’s master class at Jordan’s National Centre for Culture and Arts. (Photo by Steve Mundinger / Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz)

The intensive session gave the assembled Jordanian musicians an invaluable opportunity to listen to and learn from world-class jazz artists in an intimate setting, and to share their own talents and musical perspectives. To close the educational program, more than a dozen music students and faculty from the NCCA and Jordan’s National Music Conservatory gave a special performance fusing traditional Jordanian music with contemporary improvisational forms. The entire group then convened for a spirited jam session, demonstrating that when it comes to jazz music, no translation is required.

Musical Relief

Perhaps the most moving moment of the trip came in the northern city of Jerash, where the Institute delegation gathered to perform for a group of Syrian refugee girls at the Princess Taghrid Institute for Development and Training. Established by Jordan’s King Abdullah and led by Princess Taghrid Mohammad, the Princess Taghrid Institute provides lodging, education and psychological support to orphaned and abandoned girls, including those displaced by the ongoing war in Syria, which has led to an influx of more than 1 million refugees over the border into Jordan. The musicians’ interactive presentation included the performance of jazz standards and original compositions, a basic introduction to the history and significance of jazz music, and an instrument “petting zoo” for the youngsters, many of whom had never had opportunities to hold musical instruments in their hands.

The Institute of Jazz Performance students lead a musical presentation for Syrian refugees at the Princess Taghrid Institute for Development and Training in Jerash. (Photo by Steve Mundinger / Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz)
A young student at the Princess Taghrid Institute for Development and Training tries her hand at the drums as part of the Institute delegation’s visit. (Photo by Steve Mundinger / Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz)

Memorable Performances

With the blessing of Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, Hancock, Braden and the Institute students also brought the contemporary sounds of jazz into some of the Kingdom’s storied archaeological sites. At Umm Qais, against the iconic backdrop of the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights, the group gave an hourlong concert for Jordanian officials and guests, showcasing a range of original compositions and inventive takes on some of Hancock’s classic tunes. At the final concert at the Odeon, the multigenerational band illuminated the millennia-old amphitheater with songs blurring the lines between jazz, blues and local traditional music, including an Arabic maqam-inflected performance of “Autumn Leaves” featuring renowned Jordanian vocalist Macadi Nahhas.

The Jordan tour proved an apt addition to the long tradition of U.S. State Department-led cultural diplomacy abroad, following in the footsteps of the famed Jazz Ambassadors program from the 1950s. As one American diplomat remarked of the Institute’s visit, “It’s remarkable and wonderful that here we are, almost 70 years after [the Jazz Ambassadors] program began, still connecting with each other through the beauty and inclusiveness of jazz music. That is the power of this art form.”

Special thanks to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the U.S. Embassy in Jordan for sponsoring this program.

Air transportation for the May 2022 Jordan tour was provided by United Airlines, the official airline of the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz.