Wynton Marsalis and Igor Butman honored at 21st Annual ARCCF Gala

Bridget Arnwine,
October 9, 2013


Friendship is a privilege. It is it is a mutual consideration, a bond, that exceeds understanding and reason. Friends are the family you choose, the soft place you fall during life’s challenges and the champions of your achievements during your greatest successes. The word friend evokes feelings of trust, vulnerability, and loyalty; feelings that are often shared between people, but can also symbolize the status of a relationship between nations. Conversely, the word war denotes something far more tragic: violent opposition. So managing friendships in times of war is, as a concept, born in the waters of hope and possibilities, but fraught with challenges as a practice. When it does happen, when friendship can endure in spite of war, it is evidence that love is the greatest power of all.


The relationship between the United States and Russia is one that historically has been defined by its challenges, but if there’s one area the two nations have managed to retain their commitment to friendship it is through the arts. Monday night the American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation (ARCCF) held its 21st Annual “Friends in Time of War” gala, which honored the achievements of noted jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and Russia’s own master saxophonist Igor Butman. The two jazz stars, who developed a close friendship over the years, received ARCCF awards for being living, breathing examples of what’s possible when the beauty of friendship via the arts is the foundation for sustained coexistence.


The festivities began with an official welcome from the Ambassador of the Russian Federation, Sergey Kislyak. The Ambassador read a letter from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Secretary of State John Kerry, which echoed the theme of the night’s festivities: the importance of friendship and maintaining good relations. Next, ARCCF Chairman James Symington read a letter from former President Bill Clinton who served as an honorary Chair for the night’s events just before sharing an unexpected vocal offering (with his wife Sylvia accompanying on piano) in tribute to the night’s honorees. The former Ambassador to the Russian Federation, John Beyrle, soon joined Symington on stage for the presentation of awards to Marsalis and Butman. While Butman’s comedic retelling of his earliest encounters with Marsalis delighted the audience, Marsalis accepted his award while keeping his arm around his “brother” Butman’s shoulders bringing the moment back to who and what the crowd was there to celebrate. After the awards presentation Marsalis and Butman entertained the crowd with what they do best, performing a few selections that included “Flight of the Bumblebee,” and an original blues written by Butman.


Jazz wasn’t the only cause for celebration at Monday night’s Gala.


The ARCCF also commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Russian Navy’s goodwill visits to New York and San Francisco during the Civil War. Coincidentally, or not, Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (composer of “Flight of the Bumblebee”) traveled as part of those goodwill visits. Now, 150 years later, Marsalis and Butman used the occasion of their award to acknowledge the significance of Korsakov’s participation in that travel by performing his composition together onstage.


During a time when citizens all around the world are still seeking acceptance and equality, the ARCCF reminds us how much better life can be when art and culture are offered in the spirit of goodwill and friendship.