Jazz April and Intergenerational Cultural Continuity

Have you heard the phrase “cultural continuity”? It refers to the passing on and ensuring the continuation of a culture – all that is held important by the people and makes the people unique. In previous generations, this used to happen informally or organically. But now, we must create opportunities, for elders in particular, to share cultural knowledge, traditions, values and more, empowering younger generations to keep the culture alive.

Strong intergenerational (IG) programs offer many benefits for all participants, volunteers and staff. Perhaps one of the most important outcomes is that IG programs can help to ensure cultural continuity.

IMG_2182Recently, I had the opportunity to co-host The Colors Of Jazz radio show on WICN with Bonnie Johnson. Part of our discussion revolved around cultural continuity of jazz. Below are some of the aspects of culture and how they are embodied in jazz:

  • Value – this [jazz] is important, something to be held dearly, sometimes embodying even a spiritual realm.
  • Knowledge – there is inside knowledge about the subject that is shared.
  • Language – often there are often unique words or phrases or sounds, like in “scat.”
  • Techniques – a certain way to perform an act, like how to “scat.” While books or even YouTube videos can allude to this, there is something to be said for live feedback and coaching.
  • IMG_2181Traditions – certain behaviors or practices that are done at the same time, in the same way on a regular basis (daily, weekly, monthly, yearly). For example, jazz relies so much on improvisation where each member can shine in a unique way but also contribute to the synergy of the group. (For those who have been through Bridges Together trainings: Think “flexible structure.”) Jazz musicians also enjoy “jam sessions” in which people get together to play and improvise without any set agenda.
  • Tools or instruments – The culture might include certain tools or instruments that are unique which can also become heirlooms, passed down from one generation to the next. The sitar is an instrument used by the great jazz player Ravi Shakar.
  • Music – with jazz, that connection is quite clear!
  • Food is often a part of culture – although I’m not sure it plays a role with jazz!
  • Connection to a greater community – Often there are informal and formal leaders in the cultural community, people who enjoy sharing this piece of culture, people who have mastered different parts of the culture who are often eager to share their knowledge and experience. Bonnie shared how Ray Charles helped to raise up Stevie Wonder and Norah Jones and how Quincy Jones helped to bring forward Emily Bear and Justin Kauflin.

It has been said that “elders are the keepers of the culture.” Many are eager to pass on their values and expertise, to ensure the cultural continuity of that which they hold dear. Elder cultural keepers also have their life experience to recognize the spark of interest and/or the raw talent of the youth in their midst. They also often have the time to devote to helping these young, budding experts succeed.

We talk about adults as mentoring younger people, sharing wisdom and experience. But, a slightly different concept is that of “sponsoring” which implies not just mentoring but also removing roadblocks and creating channels for success. Bonnie and I talked about how some of these great jazz musicians have offered to have a young artist join them on stage or in a studio, building up the younger musician’s resume and increasing their visibility. Sponsors make connections to other leaders in the community, offering to “use my name,” or making personal introductions.

One of the theories that we use at Bridges Together is Erik Erikson’s socio-emotional development theory. Working to ensure cultural continuity, mentoring and sponsoring are all aspects of Erikson’s umbrella term of “generativity,” an important development task in adulthood.

Listen to this podcast that includes some great jazz that highlights the spirit of intergenerational efforts to ensure cultural continuity.

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