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Ruffins said it was fitting that the United States launched its celebration of jazz in Congo Square.

“It’s almost like we’re standing in the heart, the birthplace of jazz, where the slaves used to come and celebrate on Sundays and create this beautiful culture that we have in the city today,” he said.

Today, Congo Square is part of Armstrong Park, a public green space with fountains, statues of musicians and lush tropical gardens. The park is named for Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, one of the city’s founding fathers of jazz.

Hancock performed his funky standard “Watermelon Man” with high school students from around the world via an Internet link. Then he flew to New York for the sunset concert. Among the highlights of that concert was South African trumpeter High Masekela joining wonder on Masekela’s “Grazing in the Grass,” while Kidjo danced in the aisles of the General Assembly as she led the audience in the song “Afrika.”

For Hancock, the two concerts symbolize the jazz globalization he has observed since he launched his career a half century ago.

As Monk Institute chairman, Hancock has seen more foreign musicians selected as finalists in its yearly competitions as well as fellows for its two-year jazz performance college program at UCLA. The fellows include guitarist Lionel Loueke from Benin, who’s now a member of Hancock’s quartet.

Hancock’s 2010 CD, the double Grammy-winning “The Imagine Project,” features pop and world music stars from 10 countries. He and Ruffins are also scheduled to perform this weekend at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which runs Thursday through Sunday.


AP Music Writer Nekesa Mumbi Moody contributed to this report from New York.



International Jazz Day: