There Was a Large Protest Against Jazz Music in Boston

While many people were confused by the protest, it was actually part of a music video for the lead singer of a popular rock group.

Boston is quite familiar with frequent protests taking over the city’s streets from Occupy Boston to recent outrage over MBTA finances. But the latest protest, which featured participants holding signs like “God Hates Jazz” and “Sax is Sin” as they marched through the Common, left a lot of bystanders confused about what all the ruckus was about.

After posting footage on July 25 from the day of the march, director Jon Del Sesto explained that the anti-jazz protest was a marketing strategy and music video concept for a side project headed by Serj Tankian, the lead singer of the Grammy-nominated metal group System of A Down. Tankian, a political activist and music composer, recently released an album that mixes traditional jazz, electronic music, and other non-traditional jazz elements together.

The album, called “Jazz-Iz-Christ” and the accompanying video, are a jab at the signs and protests held by members of the Westboro Baptist Church. We talked with Del Sesto, who explained that the protest was a way to get the word out to fans about the new project and get people in Boston curious about what was going on.

How did you get hooked up and connected with a big name like Serj Tankian?

I was a System of a Down super fan since I was a kid. When I was leaving high school, his record label got a new website with forums. I asked an admin on his forum if the label had a street team. They didn’t, so I decided to start one. That was the start of my relationship with his cousin, which led to me visiting L.A. a few times in college to intern for Serj. When I graduated college that eventually became my full-time gig. I worked for Serj for a little over two years, eventually decided I hated L.A., and moved back home to Rhode Island. We still keep in touch as friends, and I do a lot of work for him from home. I’m actually flying back out in August to work for him again for a few months.

So you worked with Serj before, but the protesters in the video probably never had. Were they freaking out that the guy from System of a Down called on fans to be in a video?

I had worked for Serj for over two years—filming him, [System of a Down], album art, music videos, advertising, walking the dogs. I posted an ad on Craigslist for the shoot on [two weeks ago] around 12 p.m., and by 5 p.m. I had over 100 emails and 200-plus people wanting to attend. The following Thursday, I moved the shoot from Saturday to Sunday due to possible thunderstorms, so we ended up only getting around 50 people at the actual shoot. It was more than enough though, everyone had a blast and the fans were super awesome to work with. We marched for over an hour, and people would have kept marching if I didn’t end the shoot.

Is the “God Hates Jazz” a play on the signs that members of the Westboro Baptist Church always hold? Why that approach?

Totally. We actually had some people in Boston think we were from the Westboro Baptist Church. The album is called “Jazz-Iz-Christ,” and Serj named it that to “piss off jazz purists and right-wing Christians.” I wanted a really unique approach to advertising this album because it feels so personal to me. I got to jam on a few of the tracks, I did the album artwork, and I was hired to advertise it as well. This project feels like my baby, and I wanted to go all out when it came to advertising it. Also, any excuse to lampoon the WBC is OK by me. Serj and his manager, George, were totally down with the idea. Although when I originally told them the idea I said it was going to be around five to 10 people, and we were going to shoot for 10 minutes. It grew much bigger than that, which caused a bit of panic, but it ended up being a lot of fun and nobody got in trouble.

How’d you guys come to pick Boston as a place to do this video?

There were supposed to be two protests, one in Boston and one in New York. The New York one fell through when the Boston one grew bigger. I chose Boston because it was the closest big city to my house.

What was the general reaction of the crowd as a random protest against Jazz took place in the city?

Many people appreciated the humor and immediately recognized the protest as satire. That being said, there were equally as many people who were confused and angry. The sax player in the video—who was in on the joke, and took it upon himself to start playing—made $70 in 10 minutes from people who thought we were just harassing a random street performer. The first lady to give him money shoved a few of us with signs out of the way and stared us down in disgust as she walked away. She was furious, and it was incredible.