JAZZ FOR PEACE
By James O. Burch
The idea came to Rick DellaRatta, a jazz pianist from Schenectady, New York, around the turn of the millennium. "There was a constant escalation of the Israeli/Palestinian situation as well as other random acts of violence, discrimination and defamation. I was talking to another musician, and we wondered how we might bring people together--who seemed not to be talking, who seemed to hate each other. After all, we could get Israeli and Palestinians and Americans together with a couple of phone calls to just come over to my apartment and play music just for the love of it." Jazz for Peace was formed. The group now tours all over the world, to enthusiastic crowds. I met recently with DellaRatta at his New York apartment, where he took the time to play for me on his grand piano--a piece he wrote with Eddie Gomez, about the late jazz great Dizzy Gillespie.
BN: Tell me more about how you got started.
I spoke with my manager. We started thinking this would be wonderful. This is interesting the way that jazz can bring people together in such a positive way, and the way that jazz is so welcomed by the rest of the world and spoken, in almost every country by people who have embraced the art form. The way it unifies people, it crosses area of culture, religion, creed, etc., and you know, that maybe it would be a great example if I was to unite Israelis, Palestinians and Americans in jazz concerts, possibly performing in the Middle East, here in America and in other places.
BN: So, where was your first performance under this new name?
I had a concert lined up under my own name with a lot of prestigious musicians, and the promoters agreed we could play it under the Jazz for Peace name. It was a success, got good reviews, good press coverage. After that, I talked my manager into taking the press reports, along with my resume, to the United Nations. We didn't know how much red tape was involved. We decided to take our chances. Finally, a division of the UN agreed to sponsor a concert along with another organization, the Joshua Foundation, and we were able to get the permits and the other things that needed to be done to have this monumental concert at the United Nations.
BN: I've noticed after, reading your profile that you've practically been all over the world. Where were some of your favorite places that you've performed?
People always ask me, where is your favorite place? Well, actually, any place where I am able to bring my message to people and am able to have an opportunity to perform is probably is a good place for me. In all honesty, I'd rather be in a Third World country and reaching people with my music, than in a five-star hotel. I recently had a concert in Croatia, and that really stood out, because I didn't know what to expect. I did not know much about Croatia except what I'd heard on the news. I was excited that people were very warm and interested in music, interested in my message, and interested in what I was doing. It was also very beautiful, at least where I was, a city called Rijeka. That same tour I also went to Italy, which is a wonderful country I'd love to revisit. I was also in Luxembourg performing, and I was really shocked at how green it was, like there were more cows than people. I was also in Paris, France, which, you know, is a very majestic city. They all have their little things that make me feel grateful that I was there.
BN: After speaking with you for a while, you seem to be a very spiritual person. Could you tell me a little about your background?
I was raised Catholic, and I sensed from that upbringing that spirituality is the one thing that comes from within; it's a very personal thing. Organized religion does not guarantee you spiritual fulfillment. You really have to pursue it on your own. You have to pursue spirituality by embracing things that help you reach your potential as a spirit and as a human being. I've also found that by embracing things such as creativity, intellectuality, artistry, a lot of things that jazz has within its art form.
BN: But you started playing classical music. When did the jazz come into your life? And, were you refrained from playing any particular type of music growing up? You know, being Catholic?
I wouldn't say that I was refrained as much as I was not exposed much to jazz. My parents were both musicians. Neither of them played jazz. Actually, I was exposed to jazz by accident. I was at a library and came across many records, and became curious. It seemed I'd uncovered a treasure chest. All of a sudden it was like Wow, what is this? It never seemed to end! There were so many artists, so many records, and none of them were really or had been accessible to me before or had been promoted to me before. So, I started to.....I followed my intuition, that's where the endless search began, because I don't think I'll ever get to the bottom of it. It's just this vast ocean of contribution that one just keeps learning more and more about.
BN: Where do you see "Jazz For Peace" going?
Well, I think that it has great worldwide potential. I feel like it is that natural process that was kind of given to me by all these greats before, because I felt like they help to build. Their efforts helped to build this platform of which jazz, and I had a responsibility to carry it forward, to carry this torch forward. I think the most work is needed here in our own country. Jazz for Peace is most challenging here, because Americans, for reasons that are not quite understandable, have not acknowledged and embraced this art form to their potential. Jazz crosses cultural barriers, religious barriers, race, creed and language--it enables people to find a sense of unity and can influence people in positive ways.
BN: So, what message do you think you are leaving behind?
I would like to be known for what I stand for, and I think, the platform of Jazz For Peace pretty much defines my stance that, we as a species, have the ability to raise our social conscience and to elevate ourselves spiritually, intellectually, creatively, artistically, and can transcend our current problems, and face some potential bigger problems in the future.
Pianist: Rick Della Ratta Rick was born and raised in Schenectady, New York. He's been playing the piano since he was 8 years old. He started out playing in a high school band founded by a high school teacher's two sons. Rick also plays the drums but his masteries are definitely the piano and his voice. Rick sings in both English and Portuguese and the founder of "Jazz For Peace."
Saxophonist--Stacy Dillard - Stacy is a 26 year old man from Dayton, Ohio. He has been playing the saxophone for over ten years, and playing professionally for over three years. His first professional performance was in Dayton, Ohio at the Jazz Central.
Drummer--Curtis Watts - Curtis is a 36 year old. He has been playing for over 25 years. When he first took up music he played the vibraphone. He got his first gig at the age of 16, and has been playing professionally for over twenty years.
Bass--Peter Matthews--Peter is a 56 year old man how has been playing professionally since 1973. He attended the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1973 has played with a rock band in England and toured with renowned artist such as Stomu Yamashita