A Pied Piper of Music and Ideas

He Led a One-Man Parade in Rwanda

By Jake Marmer

Published September 16, 2009, issue of September 25, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Even before Jeremy Danneman had a chance to tuck the reed into his saxophone, people began to gather around him. As he strapped on the instrument and began to play, he recounts, a large crowd of shoppers at the marketplace of Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, abandoned their errands and circled around him. In this East Central African country that is still recovering from the brutal civil war of 1990–1994, which claimed lives of nearly one million people, the tradition of street performance has been all but completely abandoned. A Westerner is rare enough to come by in Kigali, not to mention one with a saxophone, playing a wild improvised jazz solo out in the open. The crowd was elated, though completely flabbergasted by the performance. Finally, the few English speakers in the audience stepped up and translated the question on everyone’s lips: What is going on here?

Making Music: Jeremy Danneman rehearsing with the Rwa Makondera Children’s Dance and Drumming group at the Ivuka Art Center in Kigali, Rwanda.
NkuruNziza ChurChill iNNoCeNt
Making Music: Jeremy Danneman rehearsing with the Rwa Makondera Children’s Dance and Drumming group at the Ivuka Art Center in Kigali, Rwanda.

New Yorkers asked themselves the same question about a half-year prior, when they saw Danneman marching across town, through city parks and over bridges while playing his saxophone. Maestro then explained that they were witnessing a parade that he organized “in honor of the fateful morning when I first arrived on planet Earth,” that is, his 29th birthday. Delaware native, and now resident of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, Danneman works at St. Mark’s Bookshop in Manhattan’s East Village and is a versatile musician proficient in jazz, klezmer and reggae, as well as rock; the ecstatic fusion of these genres was what New Yorkers were treated to on his birthday. While friends and strangers joined the march at different points, much of the 10-hour long musical celebration in New York was done solo. It was then that the idea for a new not-for-profit organization, freshly dubbed Parade of One, came into existence, its purpose, according to the mission statement, is to “focus on the unlikely ideas that originate in the back of the creative person’s mind,” and the development of such ideas despite the “lack of feasibility or their absurdity.” As Danneman said, “Such ideas come to one’s head all day long; we just repress them.” Practically speaking, the organization’s most immediate goal became the spreading of music and its positive messages through fresh and unlikely creative ideas, such as solo parades.

In late August, Rwanda became the first international witness of such a parade, organized in commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the genocide there. The mission struck a chord with the musician’s extended network of contacts, which joined in to help him raise enough funds to sponsor the trip. Danneman has previously composed the score for a documentary titled “No Denying: Delawareans Bear Witness to the Holocaust,” which featured his own grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. It is not surprising, then, that while performing at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, a spontaneous set of klezmer — the signature musical legacy of Ashkenazic Jewry — seemed most appropriate. Luckily, Danneman’s klezmer chops are considerable: He has been studying with world-renowned clarinet virtuoso David Krakauer, who is famous for his work with the Klezmatics and Khronos Quartet and has been active on the board of Parade of One, providing support and encouragement to his student.

When the audiences at Kigali’s marketplace understood Danneman’s mission, heads nodded in approval; people were touched. The local Goethe Institute embraced the project and contributed funds for Daddy Ruhorahoza, a Rwandian filmmaker, to follow the musician around, compiling a documentary of the journey. Ruhorahoza was also translating comments from the crowd, which turned out to be most diverse: Some were simply thrilled to witness a free concert; some could not wrap their minds around the concept; one of the listeners commented that he could not believe that “a white guy could lose his mind like that,” referring to Danneman’s eccentric manner of saxophone soloing, influenced by an avant-garde jazz lexicon of late works of John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman and others. Ruhorahoza mentioned that from the outset, he “was curious to see how people would react to this highly Western urban music and how Jeremy would try and adapt himself to the general mood and reaction of the crowds. It seemed to have worked perfectly, and it was a good thing to see.”

While part of Danneman’s original goal was to raise awareness of the Rwandian genocide, documenting his journey in detail on the Parade of One blog (www.paradeofone.org), it also was imperative to simply bring music to the people as he did, not only through street performances, which happened in the country’s three major cities, on buses and in public gatherings, but also in collaboration with Rwandian musicians and establishments. Thus, Goethe Institute hosted a concert where Danneman joined a local quintet playing jazz standards; another night, he sat in with Russian folk-singer Dasha at Café Cactus. Yet the most memorable collaboration was with Rwa Makondera Children’s Dance and Drumming group. Many of the children had never seen or heard a saxophone; as Ruhorahoza said, they “were very curious about the golden instrument, and they were very enthusiastic about playing with Jeremy… I think these children were impressed by how their traditional music blended perfectly with jazz.”

When, in private conversations with a few Rwandian colleagues, Danneman shared the significance of his Jewish roots, his mission made more sense to people. One Rwandian told him that he considers himself a Jew — “that is, a survivor.” To Jeremy, grandson of a Holocaust victim, such a connection seemed touching, if rather tenuous. Like his famous ascendant, traveling Hasidic mystic Rabbi Noam Elimelech of Lizhensk, he sees the notion of tikkun olam, “fixing of the world,” as a concept central to Judaism. “I have always connected it with creation, and creativity — helping complete the world,” Danneman said. With that, music’s crucial function, to him, is that of building a community — bringing together the performer and his listeners, and the listeners themselves, as they join in to the mystery of the listening experience, abandoning their barriers. And if the artistic concept they’re witnessing is way out of the ordinary, all the better: Enthusiasm and freshness of a radically new creation are notoriously contagious.

Parade of One has registered as a not-for-profit and is awaiting 501(c3) status. It’s next project remains top-secret, but there are hints it may have something to do with alternative ways of using musical instruments — such as producing woodwind-generated energy.

Jake Marmer is a doctoral candidate in comparative literature, a writer and a performance poet.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • Sigal Samuel's family amulet isn't just rumored to have magical powers. It's also a symbol of how Jewish and Indian rituals became intertwined over the centuries. http://jd.fo/a3BvD Only three days left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.