Smithsonian Celebrates Jazz Appreciation Month

Events Pegged to Birthdays of Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald

Thursday, April 2 marked the official kick-off of “Jazz Appreciation Month” at the National Museum of American History. In an effort to help jazz lovers young and old celebrate the musical pastime the Smithsonian will be launching its 8th annual Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) exhibit.

“Jazz is a truly American style of music that has played an important role in our heritage,” museum director Brent D. Glass said in a press release. “Through the Smithsonian’s Jazz Appreciation Month activities, we will highlight jazz and its history and how the genre has an important function in global diplomacy.”

The National Museum of American History first announced the JAM initiative with the help of Quincy Jones at a press conference in July 2001. The first Jazz Appreciation Month was celebrated in April of the following year. Seven years later, the initiative has now expanded to encompass celebrations in all 50 states as well as 40 countries including Spain, Taiwan, England, Argentina, and Brazil.

“Jazz is recognized around the world as specifically American music and is sometimes even referred to as freedom music,” said Joann Stevens, program manager of JAM at the Smithsonian. “It is seen as a large part of American heritage.”

This is Stevens’ first year as the program’s director; she takes over for founding director John Hassey.

The month of April was chosen for JAM, because of the number of birthdays of prominent jazz artists including “Billie Holiday”, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Johnny Dodds. It is also strategically placed to take advantage of the time of the school year when most school concerts are held.

A caricature of “King of Swing” “Benny Goodman” (born Benjamin David Goodman in May 1909) is featured on this year’s flier for JAM to commemorate his centennial birthday. Referred to as “The Professor,” among many other names, the Chicago native led one of the first racially integrated jazz bands during an era of segregation and continued to play music up until his death in 1986.

Government legislation Public Law 108-72 was passed officiating the month in August 2003 stating that “(1) the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History should be commended for establishing a Jazz Appreciation Month; and (2) musicians, schools, colleges, libraries, concert halls, museums, radio and television stations, and other organizations should develop programs to explore, perpetuate, and honor jazz as a national and world treasure.”

On April 14, the Smithsonian will host a program featuring Bucky Fitzgerald and Joe Wilder, two original members of Goodman’s band. They are two of the first African Americans to integrate big band jazz.

“It is critical that the next generation become involved in Jazz Appreciation Month,” Stevens said of the importance of encouraging youth to take part in the month’s events.

She added, “Through jazz music they will learn American history. Too many schools do not have access to musical materials. And with our programs, they not only have the ability to try different musical instruments, but also the chance to perform for those who have showed interest.”