Meet Our Community
Norman Barth Marshall Islands
Norman Barth is a former career diplomat who served for 20 years as a Foreign Service Officer with the United States Department of State. When he participated in this interview, in 2015, he was Deputy Chief of Mission for the U.S. Embassy in the Marshall Islands, an independent island country in the Pacific Ocean.
“International Jazz Day is another opportunity for all of us to come together to celebrate something that is part of our human fabric, in a world so full of news about what separates us.”
Why do you celebrate International Jazz Day?
Music is part of the common ground shared by all cultures, no matter where you live. International Jazz Day is another opportunity for all of us to come together to celebrate something that is part of our human fabric, in a world so full of news about what separates us.
What does jazz mean to you personally? To your community and the country of the Marshall Islands?
Jazz has allowed me to develop musically to a level I could never have attained if I had insisted on staying within the classical music paradigm. In some sense, jazz is more forgiving, more humane, although of course a look at a transcription of a solo by a jazz great shows you that it can be just as challenging as anything in classical music. Jazz has a focus on collaboration: getting along, taking turns, being polite, being supportive–and yet celebrating the differences and the different interpretations that each musician brings to the performance. In short, jazz is a mirror of life, and full of important messages for families, school kids, communities, neighborhoods, even for the international community itself.
The Marshall Islands is a remote collection of atoll islands in the equatorial Pacific. It is a peaceful place; an accepting, friendly place. People here have heard of jazz, but often they have not heard jazz itself. Traditional “island music” is often a capella, or with guitar and ukulele. Jazz is a whole new ball game; people are curious about it. Bebop’s energy level is rare here, while jazz ballads are closer to home. And jazz chords and progressions are unusual enough here make people’s ears–and hearts–perk up.
How can jazz contribute to peace-building and dialogue in the Marshall Islands?
The Marshall Islands–like the rest of the Pacific islands region–is a country already at peace. In today’s world, perhaps this is hard to believe, but it means this place and this region is a model to which the world can aspire. That said, here too, music brings together people from across the communities. And when people are together in an informal setting it is always an opportunity for dialogue.
At a global level, because the Marshall Islands is near the International Dateline where the day begins, it has some of the world’s first events on International Jazz Day. So on April 30th each year, there is a chance some of the world will take notice of this peaceful place–and in that sense jazz and the Marshall Islands contribute to peace-building and dialogue around the globe.