Rick DellaRatta has always been inspired by music. Over the course of his career he has come to be considered one of the finest jazz pianists and vocalists in the world. Yet his outstanding talent is not the most unique thing about Rick. It's what he's done with his talent that truly sets him apart.
While touring the world and playing jazz, Rick noticed the effect music had on his listeners of all nationalities, religions and races: "Music was a way of breaking down boundaries that society put on us," he says. "That kept us back from creating a thread of common ground."
Eventually Rick realized that people were actually listening and responding positively to the passionate, impromptu speeches he'd give at dinner parties. When more people started contacting him about these ideas, Rick realized that the time had come to do something that harnessed the power of music to bring people together. That's when he founded Jazz for Peace.
The focus of the organization is its Empowerment Tree Grants, which provide funding, resources and planning for concerts to benefit organizations all over the world. The applicant identifies the need and the community, and Jazz for Peace does the rest. Some concerts have raised as much as $250,000 in one night.
Jazz for Peace has now given more than 500 concerts, which have done much more than just raise money for these causes. The events also help organizations revitalize their existing donor bases and dramatically grow awareness among new populations of supporters.
How do Rick and Jazz for Peace identify and choose recipients of these special grants? This is where the volunteers come in. It's easy to be a volunteer for Jazz for Peace – all you have to do is spread the word about the Empowerment Tree Grants and help bring in applicants. The commitment could take only a few hours or even minutes per week.
Rick understands the value his volunteers contribute to the organization. Without his "Heroes of Tomorrow," as he calls them, Jazz for Peace could not have accomplished nearly what it has. He recognizes their hard work in an open letter on the Jazz for Peace website.
"Each volunteer has something truly unique to offer," he says. "It has been a wonderful experience for me to be a recipient of each volunteer's unique gift while at the same time offering them what we hope will be an enjoyable, memorable philanthropic experience."
While the main focus of the organization is the Empowerment Tree Grants and benefit concerts, Rick has started an education series to bring jazz back into schools, as well as an instrument donation program that has given hundreds of instruments to children who would never have access otherwise.
"That's what our theme is," says Rick about Jazz for Peace. "Identify someone who is trying to help others and help them."
The impact of Rick's work and the Jazz for Peace philosophy is spreading throughout the world like ripples in a musical pond. For example, Jazz for Peace supports an organization in rural China that provides tuition for women to go to school for the first time.
In April 2012 when a wave of Taliban attacks were taking place in Kabul, Afghanistan, Jazz for Peace held the very first concert ever uniting Afghans and Americans, featuring Rick and Afghanistan musical artist Najim Nawabi.
Rick and Jazz for Peace have been recognized by numerous world leaders and celebrities for their positive impact. Even President Obama has commented: "I want to congratulate Rick and Jazz for Peace on everything they have accomplished to this point, and all the good they are sure to bring about as they continue this concert series…"
December 2012 marked the expansion of the Jazz for Peace benefit concerts to include performances for causes in Ghana and Kenya, as well as Tamilnadu, India. With such a dedicated and passionate international vision, it's no wonder one newspaper dubbed him the "Bono of Jazz."
But Rick is still not satisfied. He is constantly looking to expand the organization's reach to even more countries, and to continue helping outstanding causes here in North America, as well.
"I for one believe that what we need in the world is a thousand Jazz for Peace's" he says.