Apr 302018

Today is International Jazz Day, proclaimed in 2011 “to highlight jazz and its diplomatic role of uniting people in all corners of the globe.” Upon his designation as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Intercultural Dialogue on July 22, 2011, Herbie Hancock announced his intention to create an International Day celebrating the diplomatic role of jazz music. In November 2011, following a favorable recommendation by the 187th Executive Board, UNESCO’s General Conference officially proclaimed April 30th as International Jazz Day, recognizing jazz as “a means to develop and increase intercultural exchanges and understanding between cultures for the purpose of mutual comprehension and tolerance.” The date of April 30th was initially proposed to position International Jazz Day as the culmination of the Smithsonian Institution’s April Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), though no formal connection exists between JAM and International Jazz Day.

The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, a United States NGO also chaired by Hancock, is the lead organizational partner for Jazz Day. The Institute coordinates activities in the UNESCO member states as well as the Global Host Celebration. Events in the Host City culminate in an All-Star Global Concert, which typically involves a number of high-profile jazz musicians from around the world performing in or around an historical landmark.

The 2017 Jazz Day was hosted by Havana. The Host Celebration included a weeklong series of education and community outreach programs featuring jazz artists Esperanza Spalding, Richard Bona, Melissa Aldana, Tarek Yamani, Antonio Hart, and Regina Carter, among others. The culminating All-Star Global Concert took place at the Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso and included 55 musicians from Brazil, Cameroon, Chile, China, Cuba, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, Russia, South Korea, Tunisia, and the United States. This year’s host is St Petersburg in Russia, with an allied celebration in New Orleans to mark the 300th anniversary of the founding of the city.

Jazz is certainly a worthy medium for world diplomacy, and I’d like to expand on that vision, even as exemplified by Hancock and the like. Jazz from its founding was an exercise in cultural fusion. Its main roots lie in the African-American communities of New Orleans, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, developing from blues and ragtime, among other genres. My major caveat here is my constant awareness that performance traditions, that become crystallized at some point, do not have a single or simple point of origin (unless you consider the Big Bang).

If you want to try to define it, which is probably a mistake, jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms, and improvisation. Although jazz is deeply rooted within the African-American experience of the United States, different cultures have contributed their own styles to the art over the years. As jazz spread around the world, it drew on different national, regional, and local musical cultures, which gave rise to many distinctive styles. In the 1930s, heavily arranged dance-oriented swing big bands, Kansas City jazz, and gypsy jazz prominent styles. Bebop emerged in the 1940s, shifting jazz from danceable popular music toward a more “musician’s music” which was played at faster tempos and used more chord-based improvisation. Cool jazz developed near the end of the 1940s, introducing smoother sounds and long, linear melodic lines. The 1950s saw the emergence of free jazz, which explored playing without regular meter, beat and formal structures, and in the mid-1950s, hard bop emerged, which introduced influences from rhythm and blues, gospel, and blues, especially in the saxophone and piano playing. Modal jazz developed in the late 1950s using modal scales as the basis of musical structure and improvisation. Jazz-rock fusion appeared in the late 1960s and early 1970s, combining jazz improvisation with rock music’s rhythms, electric instruments, and highly amplified stage sound. In the early 1980s, a commercial form of jazz fusion called smooth jazz became successful. Other styles and genres abound in the 2000s, such as Latin and Afro-Cuban jazz.

Given this potted, and over-simplified, history, it’s easy to see why Hancock would promote jazz as a world music style suitable for a kind of global ambassador role. I want to go a step further and look a little deeper into the definition of jazz by blurring some old and well-established terms. I once had a long, impassioned, and (as always), stupid and pointless discussion with a colleague who heard some modern Chicago jazz I was playing – the Art Ensemble – and declared matter-of-factly, “that’s not jazz.” Apparently, he thought that certain rhythms and the blue note were critically diagnostic, and the piece I was playing lacked them. Ergo, it was not jazz. Stupid. Here’s where definitions break down, as any good philosopher will tell you. In fact, I would like to argue that there is no clear-cut line between jazz and classical music. Throughout much of the 20th century, musicians, musicologists, and composers liked to think that such a line existed, but a few thought otherwise. My colleague in the 1980s, Bob Levin (a professor in the Music Conservatory at my university), used to give lectures to my students on Mozart’s methods of composing. This link will lead you to one such lecture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkFdAigjmLA   Levin focuses on Mozart, but his point can be generalized from the days of Bach to Beethoven and beyond. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, down to today, most classically trained musicians were severely discouraged from playing music without following a score – absolutely strictly. Many classically trained musicians, some very skilled indeed, cannot play any piece without the music in front of them. In Mozart’s day this state of affairs was unheard of. In many pieces, particularly concertos, there are marks in the score for the musician to improvise. In a concerto, for example, the cadenza, which occurs near the end of the first movement is marked by the composer who essentially says, “take it away . . .”

The cadenza was at one time the soloist’s opportunity to improvise on the themes in the first movement while the orchestra was silent. Because 19th century, and later, musicians were taught never to improvise, cadenzas had to be written for them, and this practice still continues. But musicologists and conductors, such as Levin, have been trying to train contemporary musicians to improvise as they did in Bach’s and Mozart’s time. To do this they insist that they break their habit of being chained to the score, and instead listen to – you guessed it – jazz. Jazz is all about improvising. Once the main melody is established, the soloists break off into improvisations of their own devising. How and when they improvise depends greatly on the style of jazz. The big bands of Duke Ellington and the like, for example, had very limited opportunity for extended improvising because they were playing often for dances. New Orleans trad jazz musicians improvise within one set of ideas, Chicago modern jazz musicians according to another, Afro-Cuban using another, and so forth. Starting in the 1950s and 1960s, a few rebellious classically trained musicians started taking classics and improvising in jazz style. Jacques Loussier’s Air on a G string by Bach is now legendary:

A few – a very few – famous soloists cross over between the classical repertoire and jazz. Wynton Marsalis is one of the best known.

For Jazz Day I suggest you indulge in some jazz cooking. This concept will be at the heart of my new Chameleon Cooking tab here when I get around to it. Jazz cooking, or chameleon cooking as I call it, involves taking a basic recipe and improvising with it. I’ll just start you off here, and you can return to the tab over the next few months for more ideas. I’ll begin with shepherd’s pie or cottage pie. This is an extremely traditional English dish of ground meat and vegetables placed in casserole, topped with a layer of mashed potato, and baked. The difference between shepherd’s pie and cottage pie is that shepherd’s pie uses ground lamb and cottage pie uses ground beef, although modern cooks often mix the names up. The fact that you can use beef or lamb is the opening note in my improvisation.

I don’t use a recipe for cottage pie, and I make it all the time. I brown off some ground beef and onions in a skillet, add stock to cover, add in some vegetables (typically peas and carrots, but I also like mushrooms), simmer until the meat is cooked and the vegetables are tender, then thicken the stock with some flour. Meanwhile, I peel and dice some potatoes, boil them until they are very tender, then mash them with some cream and butter. Final step is to assemble the pie by placing the meat mixture in a casserole, and then spreading the mashed potato on top. Usually I draw lines with a fork in the potatoes, and dot the top with some butter. I put the pie in a hot oven for about 30 minutes, or until the potato topping is golden and a little crisp. Done it a thousand times.

Without too much difficulty you can see where improvisation can come in. The other day I made what I called (mentally) “swineherd’s pie” using ground pork and pork kidneys for the meat. That ought to tell you that you can use ground steak and kidney too and make a version of steak and kidney pie (omitting the peas and carrots). You can make a chicken pie, or a turkey pie, or even a fish pie. You should change the gravy in accordance, of course, but have at it.

We can get a lot funkier than swapping out the meat, though. Changing the vegetables to suit your tastes is obvious. I often use leeks in place of, or in addition to, onions, and use whatever mushrooms I can get my hands on. In Asia that gives me plenty of scope. I like spinach in a cottage pie also. You can use celery, parsnip, turnip . . . whatever you want.

We are still just getting started. The topping does not have to be simple mashed potato. I often add in minced leeks (because I am a leek nut). You can also add in grated cheese. There is no end to the possibilities using just mashed potatoes as the base. But why stop there? Make a mix of mashed potato and turnip or carrot or swede. Or forget the potato entirely and just use mashed turnip (or what you will) as the topping.

Chameleon cooking involves figuring out the components of a dish and then improvising on them. Cottage pie is made of two basic components, a topping and a filling. The topping is a mashed vegetable and the filling is meat and something. The pie is finished by baking. With that structure in mind, improvise away. You need to be adventurous, but not completely crazy in case you wind up with a combination that is unappetizing. That’s where the artistry comes in.

Apr 152016


On this date in 1935 a number of nations signed The Treaty on the Protection of Artistic and Scientific Institutions and Historic Monuments, commonly called the Roerich Pact. The most important component of the Roerich Pact is the legal recognition that the defense of cultural objects is more important than the use or destruction of that culture for military purposes, and the protection of culture always has precedence over any military necessity. The pact was the brainchild of Russian painter and philosopher Nicholas Roerich. This date is also now celebrated in various nations as the Universal Day of Culture, the World League of Culture, and the World Day of Culture.  The aims of the celebration are all the same, namely, to emphasize the value of diverse cultures, and to protect them against the ravages of war.


Nicholas Roerich was born on October 9, 1874, in St. Petersburg. His parents encouraged him to study law, but seeing their son’s interest in painting, they allowed him to study both. In 1900, Roerich went to Paris to take lessons from Fernand Cormon, teacher of Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec. Upon his return to St. Petersburg, he married Helena Shaposhnikova, who later developed the Agni Yoga philosophy.  Ultimately Roerich became a successful painter; one of his paintings was purchased by Russian Tsar Nicolas II. Roerich also worked as stage and costume designer for several operas and ballets by Maurice Maeterlinck and Igor Stravinsky, premiered in St. Petersburg.

Roerich formulated the idea of protecting cultural objects from the devastation caused by war and other modernist forces in 1899. During his excavations at Saint-Petersburg province, he began to point to necessity of preserving ancient artifacts, because they help preserve long dead worldviews.

In 1903, Roerich together with his wife, toured 40 ancient Russian cities, including Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Vladimir, Suzdal, Yuriev-Polsky, Smolensk, Vilna (Lithuanian city, briefly part of Russian Empire), Izborsk, Pskov. In 1904 he visited Uglich, Kalyazin, Kashin, Tver. During this travel Roerich created a series of architectural studies – around 90 paintings of the sites he visited. Later many Russian churches were destroyed by revolutionary forces and these paintings remain the only record of them.


After his travels Roerich gave a report to the Emperor’s Russian Archeologist Society about the sad state of historical monuments and the need to take prompt action to protect them. During the Russo-Japanese war (1904–1905) Roerich again emphasized the need for a special to protect institutions and cultural monuments from war.

In 1914, Roerich appealed to the high command of the Russian army, as well as the governments of the USA and France, with the idea of formulating an international agreement aimed at the protection of cultural values during armed conflicts. He created a poster “Enemy of Mankind” denouncing the barbaric destruction of cultural monuments, and the image “Glow” as a protest against World War I.

In 1929, Roerich, in cooperation with G.G. Shklyaver, a doctor of international law and political sciences from Paris University prepared a draft resolution of an international pact for the protection of cultures. The scheme was to be a cultural analog of the Red Cross’s medical neutrality. Simultaneously Roerich proposed a distinctive sign to identify the objects that are in need of protection, which is now called the Banner of Peace. It consists of a white background with a red circle and three red circles inscribed in it. This banner has been displayed in prominent places – including the North and South Poles, and the Mir space station.

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In 1930 the text of a draft agreement accompanied with Roerich’s appeal to governments and peoples of all countries was published in newspapers and distributed to governmental, scientific, artistic and educational institutions around the world. As a result, committees supporting the Pact were established in many countries. The draft pact was approved by Committee for Museum affairs at League of Nations and also by the Committee of the Pan-American Union. Ultimately, the Pact was signed by 21 states in the Americas and was ratified by 10 of them.


A few years after the Second World War, the Roerich Pact played an important role in forming international law standards and public activity in the field of protection of cultural heritage. In 1949, at the 4th session of general UNESCO conference, a decision was accepted to begin the work of international law regulation in the field of cultural heritage protection in case of armed conflict.

Needless to say, the ideals far outstrip the reality. The Pact was in effect when Allied and Axis powers bombed countless historic sites around the world. Money and power have a way of trumping cultural interests. One of the tenets of the Pact is that nations should strive to spend more on cultural institutions – art, music, theater etc – than on weaponry. Rotsa ruck with that !!

In October 2003, The Roerich pact was extended to include the protection of non-material cultural heritage, which was accepted by the 32nd session of the General U.N. Conference on Education, Science and Culture.  The UNESCO World Heritage List is well known to most, but there is also another list, the Intangible Cultural Heritage list intended to safeguard non-tangible items such as music and dance. In this list there is a growing number of entries related to food and food culture. On the list are French and Mexican cuisine and the Mediterranean diet. These are rather too general, I would say, to qualify as my recipe of the day, but you can make coq au vin, tacos, or pasta primavera if you wish.  However, licitars (Croatian gingerbread hearts) are also on the list. I recommend going to Zagreb if you want to try them, but you can make a simulacrum if you want to. You’ll find a serviceable recipe here:


However, you won’t produce anything like the real thing. Licitars are colorfully decorated biscuits made of sweet honey dough that are part of Croatia’s cultural heritage and a traditional symbol of Zagreb. They are used as an ornamental gift, often given at celebrations of love such as weddings and St. Valentine’s Day. At Christmas time, the city of Zagreb and the Christmas tree in the main square in particular are festooned with thousands of licitar hearts.


The tradition of making and giving Licitars goes back to the 16th century. Licitar makers, known as Medičari, were highly regarded in society, and their Licitars very much sought after – much more sentimental than giving a bouquet of roses, for example. Even today the tradition is kept alive by a select few who shroud the art in family secrecy, and claim their methods of production have scarcely changed. One licitar still takes over a month to make.

Licitars became famous due to their being sold at the Marian shrine of Marija Bistrica (in Zagorje near Zagreb) where pilgrims journeyed for the Assumption or St Margaret’s Day. Although not a religious symbol, licitars were often bought by pilgrims to take home as a reminder of their long and sometimes arduous journey to Zagorje. Licitars’ simple shape and attractive color and decorations were a common souvenir to show family and friends when they returned.

Licitars are also known in neighboring Slovenia. The oldest licitar workshops can be found in Slovenj Gradec (established in 1757) and in Radovljica (established in 1766). Both workshops are still producing licitar today and the one in Radovljica is open to tourists.

Licitars are made using traditional ingredients and methods. Their ingredients are simple (honey, flour, eggs, water and natural colors) but their preparation is long. The dough matures for a few days, then is shaped and baked and left for two weeks to dry. Coloring is the next step after which they are left to dry again for two weeks. Once dry, the licitars are finally decorated and again left to dry for a week.

Traditionally Licitars are 100% handmade, decorated with a swirling outline, small flowers and a small mirror. Being made of honey dough and natural products licitars are edible, but few people actually eat them. Licitars are often referred to as “gingerbread,” though they do not actually contain ginger.


Nov 162013


The International Day for Tolerance is an annual observance declared by UNESCO in 1995 to generate public awareness of the dangers of intolerance. It is observed on 16 November. Here are excerpts from UNESCO’s Declaration of Principles on Tolerance including the complete text of article 1.

Article 1 – The Meaning of Tolerance

1.1 Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. It is fostered by knowledge, openness, communication, and freedom of thought, conscience and belief. Tolerance is harmony in difference. It is not only a moral duty, it is also a political and legal requirement. Tolerance, the virtue that makes peace possible, contributes to the replacement of the culture of war by a culture of peace.

1.2 Tolerance is not concession, condescension or indulgence. Tolerance is, above all, an active attitude prompted by recognition of the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of others. In no circumstance can it be used to justify infringements of these fundamental values. Tolerance is to be exercised by individuals, groups and States.

1.3 Tolerance is the responsibility that upholds human rights, pluralism (including cultural pluralism), democracy and the rule of law. It involves the rejection of dogmatism and absolutism and affirms the standards set out in international human rights instruments.

1.4 Consistent with respect for human rights, the practice of tolerance does not mean toleration of social injustice or the abandonment or weakening of one’s convictions. It means that one is free to adhere to one’s own convictions and accepts that others adhere to theirs. It means accepting the fact that human beings, naturally diverse in their appearance, situation, speech, behaviour and values, have the right to live in peace and to be as they are. It also means that one’s views are not to be imposed on others.

Article 5 – Commitment to action

We commit ourselves to promoting tolerance and non-violence through programmes and institutions in the fields of education, science, culture and communication.

Article 6 – International Day for Tolerance

In order to generate public awareness, emphasize the dangers of intolerance and react with renewed commitment and action in support of tolerance promotion and education. We solemnly proclaim 16 November the annual International Day for Tolerance.

As an anthropologist I have made a lifelong commitment to teaching and practicing the principles of tolerance.  Food is no exception.  My basic rule of thumb is that if someone else enjoys it, I have to try it once.  I have discovered so many wonderful foods that way. I raised my son the same way – cardinal rule: “You must try everything once. If you do not like it – fine. But you MUST try it.” As a result he’ll take grilled pig’s stomach over Burger King.  I will admit that I have one small limitation – many foods that are soft and slimy cause me problems.  Depends on taste though – I adore raw oysters.  I struggled with silky tofu as a youth, but conquered it in the end.  Sea cucumber (a.k.a. bêche-de-mer), a soft, slippery marine creature, still bothers me. I can manage a small portion heavily doused in a spicy sauce.

It surprises me how many people are intolerant of foods outside their comfort zone.  As I have mentioned several times in this blog, I am a tripe aficionado.  I’ve made a few converts – but not many.  No matter.  Chacun à son gout, de gustibus non est disputandum, etc.  But there are two key principles I evangelize:

  1. At least TRY something before you turn your nose up at it.
  2. Don’t judge people negatively because they like foods that you don’t.

The latter comes about because foods are often used in derisive comments about other cultures.  How many times have you heard jokes about cats and Chinese restaurants?  Foods so often symbolize prejudice and ethnocentrism.

To narrow things down I thought I would focus on foods that have technically rotted, but are, nonetheless delectable to some and not others.  All cultures eat some rotten foods.  On the great blog Chowhound I found this: “I remember being at a pot luck dinner, where one of the Chinese guests reacted violently to the macaroni and cheese. ‘Why would anyone want to ruin a good dish of noodles with salty, rotten milk?’ “And that was just regular old cheese – what about Stilton or Limburger?  Conversely, classic Asian fish sauces and fish pastes are rotted fish which some Westerners have a hard time with.  Icelanders wolf down kæstur hákarl, or rotten shark, and Norwegians love lutefisk, aged lye soaked fish which outsiders liken to a weapon of mass destruction.

For a recipe I am going to focus on SE Asian shrimp paste which goes by various names – belacan, geragau, rebon . . . I call it blachang which is Javanese, because I do a lot of Javanese recipes.  The “shrimp” are actually krill. They are steamed first and after that are mashed into a paste and stored for several months. The fermented shrimp are then prepared, fried and hard-pressed into cakes. Blachang has a very strong rotten fishy smell. You can find it in good Asian markets or online.  It is an essential ingredient in many dishes including my favorite soup, soto ayam.


Soto Ayam

Soto ayam just means “chicken soup.” It is found in various forms throughout SE Asia. In Java it has a chicken broth base flavored with turmeric, ginger, garlic, and blachang.  The blachang is critical.  Here’s the recipe from my head.

Place a whole chicken in a large soup pot with a diced onion. Cover with water and simmer for an hour or more, until the meat is falling from the bones.  Remove the chicken, let it cool a little, and strip the meat from the bones.

Heat some butter in a skillet and gently sauté 1 tablespoon of turmeric, 2 cloves of garlic finely diced, ½ tablespoon of finely diced fresh ginger, and a knob of blachang (about ½ tablespoon).  I don’t actually ever measure anything – these are approximations.  After about 10 minutes add a ladleful of stock and simmer so all the spices are dissolved.  Add this mixture to the chicken stock and simmer 20 minutes. Meanwhile cook a large packet of rice noodles, drain, and reserve. Return the chicken to the soup and let it heat through.

Serve each guest a deep bowl of soup with chicken and noodles in it about ½ full. Provide the following for them to add as they please:

Sliced boiled eggs

Crispy fried onions  (made by deep frying onion strips until dark and crisp)

Chopped green onions

Sambal oelek (fiery hot pepper and tomato paste)

I often made soto ayam as a party meal for a dozen or more.  Guests came to the kitchen, got their soup, and then selected additions from big bowls on the kitchen table, before going to the dining table to eat. It was a great way to bring people together. Perfect for International Day for Tolerance. Eating together  brings people together.