Venice’s John Beasley joins Quincy Jones for an inter-national celebration in Cuba

By Christina Campodonico

John Beasley is music director for UNESCO’s International Jazz Day
Photo by Eric Wolfinger

Sunday is International Jazz Day, and musicians from all over the world will be celebrating in Havana, Cuba.

Fortunately, you don’t need a passport to see it. The event is being livestreamed at

Leading the musical operation will be Grammy-nominated Venice pianist, composer and arranger John Beasley, who serves as music director for the UNESCO-sponsored world event co-chaired by jazz legend Herbie Hancock.

Beasley got the Grammy nod for his band’s homage to Thelonious Monk on Vol. 1 of their self-titled album “MONK’estra” and he’s played with Hancock, Miles Davis, Chaka Khan and even for the Obamas at the White House (for which he earned an Emmy nomination). In Cuba, he’ll direct more than 50 musicians from around the globe, among them Quincy Jones and Miles Davis band alum Marcus Miller.

Being held at Havana’s historic Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso (home to the National Ballet of Cuba), the event pays tribute to Dizzy Gillespie with a centennial celebration of the jazz great’s birth and a fusion of international music styles honoring Cuba’s Afro-Cuban contributions to jazz.

“The idea, always with these Jazz Days, is to pair different musicians together from all over the world, so we can demonstrate diversity and communication through music,” says Beasley, who has music-directed the event since its 2012 inception at UNESCO’s world head-quarters in Paris. “The Cuban musicians will be demonstrating what they are known for, but we’re also mixing in Americans and Europeans.”

That means a Korean singer could be singing in Spanish, while a Lebanese pianist backs her and a Cuban rhythm section pulls off a sick beat, cites Beasley as one example.

Beasley also emphasizes the diplomatic power of the event as a way to break down barriers between cultures and countries.

“It’s a way to show the world that we celebrate our differences as well as embrace them,” he says. “I find that there’s so much fear particularly the last year — the campaign. Everybody seems to be threatened by all this beautiful humanity. … And this is a way to show that you should not be threatened by it. This is all good stuff. People are people are people are people, just like a groove is a groove is a groove and a song is a song is a song.”

International Jazz Day streams live at starting at 6 p.m. Sunday, April 30.