A day after Donald Trump was sworn in as 45th president of the United States, millions of people gathered in cities around the globe, to march in protest against a man who now holds the most powerful office in the world. Or does he? Some would say Pope Francis is most powerful, representing an estimated 1.27 billion Catholics; others might argue it is Katy Perry, with 95.4 million followers on Twitter. Or perhaps each of us is most powerful, in a shared desire for love and shelter and peace.
In any case, what exactly is the nature of power if so many people are compelled to resist it? For there was a great irony in a president saying he was returning power to the people, only for the people to march on the very next day as if to say ‘Well, thanks, but this is all the power we need’. Protest is futile? No. Humanity is an unstoppable force for good.
The actions of 21 January 2017 brought to mind another occasion 31 years ago when, on 13 July 1985, Richard Skinner announced at Wembley: ‘It’s 12 noon in London, 7am in Philadelphia, and around the world it’s time for Live Aid.’ And later, while we all enjoyed the astonishing musical fare gracing our television screens, Bob Geldof reminded us that this was not just some musical jamboree but an attempt to raise funds for famine relief. He slapped the studio table and said: ‘There are people dying now, so give us the money.’ He was imploring people to recognise the power they had to change things, to save lives.
Ten years after Live Aid, a Scottish-born jazz trumpeter released a song that serves as a profound reminder of what is possible in all of us. That the song should have been written was no surprise, for it was the crowning statement of all for which the artist stands.
I have followed his work since 1982, when he opened the door to a lifelong love of jazz. The artist became a prophet who proclaimed the jazz gospel, paving the road to the messiah, Bix Beiderbecke, and the saints and sinners who followed in the 20th century.
Vince Jones was born in 1954 in Paisley, Scotland. In 1964 he moved with his parents and three siblings to Australia and they lived in Wollongong, New South Wales. He was inspired as a teenager by the Miles Davis album Sketches Of Spain, after finding it in his father’s jazz collection, and set about teaching himself to play the trumpet. Then, in 1974 he gained his first work playing bebop on the Melbourne club circuit.
His debut album, Watch What Happens, is where we met, musically speaking, in 1982. His interpretations of jazz standards opened up a world of music which, in the wake of punk and New Romanticism, beckoned with the clarity of an aria. Through more than a dozen more albums, and performances witnessed at The Basement nightclub in Sydney, Jones introduced this eager Sydney colt to legends such as Chet Baker, Mose Allison, Frank Sinatra, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Duke Ellington, Johnny Ace, Hoagy Carmichael, Joe Williams and Count Basie – to name just a few.
The Jones vocal style – distinctive, precise, assured, and blessed with a breezy sophistication – is drawn from the trumpet he deftly plays, much as a young Sinatra cultivated his style in the 1940s by emulating the legato notes of Tommy Dorsey’s trombone. Jones forged his early reputation as an interpreter of song, from the blues through the Great American Songbook and on to more contemporary work by artists such as Van Morrison and Elvis Costello. ‘I like the music of another era,’ he told The Sydney Morning Herald last year. ‘The music of the 1960s and 1970s had soul. My theory is that corporate rock took over the industry. The bean-counters took over.’
His reputation grew overseas, first in Europe where he toured with his band in the 1990s and then in the United States. He estimates he has played more than 5,000 shows.
As each album was released to acclaim through the 1980s and 1990s his talent for composition became clear, each song being a personal statement whether speaking out for love, peace and conservation, or fervently against inequality, injustice and corporate greed – they are songs from the gut as much as the heart, songs with a soul.
Nature of Power, from the 1995 album Future Girl, begins with a whisper of just voice and guitar, celebrating the joy of creation.
Play, play and sing,
Write and create with love.
This is not mortal food,
This is food of the gods.
Slowly, though, what begins as a gentle ballad develops a gospel swing and anthemic volume, as the song becomes a rolling hymn dedicated to creation, entwining art and nature as the power of humanity, rejecting the power of control.
It’s the power of love,
Not the love of the power.
It’s the power of nature,
Not the nature of power.
The message is always timely but particularly now, when the world is in flux and people’s values are tested. When nations and leaders forget or dismiss the bloody lessons of the 20th century, when borders replace bonds and peaceful union is threatened by economic zealotry, the world’s artists restore us and remind us what we stand to lose should we allow governments to pursue rhetorical excess. When we are faced with such a threat, Jones wants to remind us of what art can do – and it is not merely to entertain.
‘I always saw entertaining as distracting people from their daily drudgery but the artist tries to make art. If you are driven by the dollar it’s not honest,’ he told the Herald. ‘Music has lost a lot of its power. [It is] time to rekindle the soul of music. Play music that speaks to people’s souls. Turn the switch back on.’ Amen.