Smithsonian jazz ’09-’10: four shows and JAM

 Cannonball Adderley, Mary Lou Williams and Freddie Hubbard are celebrated in Smithsonian Institution concerts next October, February and April; a December “Swingin’ in the Holidays” performance by the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra completes its year’s jazz offerings. Well, there’s also Jazz Appreciation Month in April (otherwise known for fools and taxes) during which the Smithsonian encourages and promotes jazz activities in the U.S. and abroad. Does this represent enough support of jazz, a Congressionally recognized American treasure, by one of America’s major cultural institutions?

The Smithsonian’s jazz schedule has not previously been announced. The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra’s small group will play material from alto saxophonist Adderley’s solo career and ’57-’59 stint with Miles Davis on Oct. 24, and on April 10 a program titled “Hub-Tones” in honor of trumpeter Hubbard who died last December, will feature music from his days in the ’60s with Blue Note Records and Art Blakey and his ’70s CTI period which produced hits including “Red Clay” and “Straight Life.”

The full 13-piece SMJO, under the baton of its founding director David Baker, performs “Swingin’ in the Holidays” on December 5 with appropriate cheer — last year’s similar concert featured “The Nutcracker” as arranged by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, as well as their version of Grieg’s “Peer Gynt.” The entire orchestra returns on Februrary 20 under the banner “The Lady Who Swings The Band,” a centennial celebration of pianist-composer Mary Lou Williams, spanning her career from Andy Kirk’s Mighty Clouds of Joy through work for Benny Goodman and Dizzy Gillespie and her innovative modernist albums prior to her death in 1981. 
Founded by the National Museum of American History in 1990 with a Congressional appropriation, the SJMO over 20 years has presented works by Ellington, Basie, Monk, Goodman, Quincy Jones, Oliver Nelson, Miles Davis and Gil Evans, Stan Kenton, Fletcher Henderson, Erskine Hawkins and others of the canon. Click here for tickets.
Besides concerts, the Smithsonian maintains a “jazz portal” website with information about relevant exhibits at the American Museum of National History and on tour, oral histories and research collections, some basic jazz “classes,” a “This Day in Jazz History” column, and info on Jazz Appreciation Month, a promotional initiative started in 2001 that energizes “a diverse group of organizations, institutions, corporations, associations and federal agencies that have provided financial and in-kind support, as well as organizing programs and outreach on their own.” Of course the Smithsonian is a genuine treasure chest of jazz, its holdings including the Duke Ellington Archives and “hundreds of thousands of documents, music, manuscripts, photographs, films, recordings and artifacts.” A searchable database contains a few hundred representative samples of what it has, which can be accessed by anyone who shows up to look. 
This is all fine and good, though four performances a year does not allow a jazz orchestra to be all that it might. Well, there’s always the Kennedy Center — and I’ll post about its jazz program on Monday.And, taken with the jazz concerts at the Library of Congress, that will about exhaust the jazz put on with government imprimatur in the Capitol.Is it any wonder jazz is marginalized by society at large when the official cultural establishment pays such relatively slight mind?
This is the second in a three-part series on  major, federally-supported institutions and jazz
Part I Library of Congress
Part II  Smithsonian
Part III Kennedy Center
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  1. Michael J. West says

    No argument here, although good stuff is happening on the District’s local scene. (I try to keep up at City Paper’s music blog, though life has been getting in the way a bit lately.)
    But it does bear mention that although it’s not really a Smithsonian venture, SI does play host once again this year to the Thelonious Monk Competition (bass this time).

  2. John Edward Hasse says

    Hi, Howard:
    Hope you’re having a good summer. Am enjoying your “Urban Improvisation.” Great name!
    Noted your blog today on jazz concerts at the Smithsonian during the upcoming season. A couple of things to add: first, the concerts you list are just those presented by The Smithsonian Associates. The band does other performances here in town and on the road. Here’s the rundown as we have it now [w/o previously mentioned dates]:
    August 25: Blues Alley, D.C. (just added)
    – Johnny Hodges tribute (Small Group)
    September 11: NMAH (National Museum of American History)
    – Benny Goodman tribute (Quartet), Smithsonian Journeys series
    September 18: Lincoln Theatre
    – Duke Ellington “Cotton Club” (Orchestra), part of Lincoln
    Theatre’s “Harlem Renaissance” program
    February 27-28 – SJMO/MCG Orchestra (at Manchester Craftsman’s
    Guild –Pittsburgh. PA), “Ella Tribute”
    Also, in late April, it is expected that the SJMO will be the centerpiece, as it has been in part years, of Washington’s annual BIG BAND JAM.
    During April, there will be jazz programs–to be announced–at a number of Smithsonian museums. Also, around April it is expected that Smithsonian Folkways Recordings will publish “Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology,” the long-awaited successor to “The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz.” Also in April, the National Museum of African American History and Culture will open a new exhibition on the Apollo Theater, and Smithsonian Books will publish a multi-author book in conjunction with the exhibition. The book is titled “Jazz, Jump, and Jive: The Apollo Theater and American Entertainment.” The exhibition, curated by the staff of the NMAAHC, will be on display at the National Museum of American History. (The former museum is in the planning stages, and scheduled to open in 2015.)
    Appreciate your mentioning Jazz Appreciation Month, but we consider it far more than a “promotional” activity: through our 30 institutional partners–everyone from the US Department of Education to the American Library Association–tens of thousands of events take place in schools, colleges, libraries, museums, performing arts centers, and US embassies.
    Keep swingin’!

  3. Howard Mandel says

    HM: Re John Edward Hasse’s comment, I asked whether it was true that JAM doesn’t actually fund the activities, so much as encourage them to happen during April and publicize them together, sometimes providing exhibition materials but seldom financial support
    His reply:
    Correct — We don’t fund those events, any more than the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (which founded Black History Month) funds BHM events around the US. What we do is provide leadership, guidance, coordination among the 30 partner organizations, a quarter million posters each other, publicity, and, we hope, inspiration. And lend the imprimatur of the Smithsonian to this campaign.

  4. Josh Stoltzfus says

    While I agree in principal that the government should do more to support the arts, I think the marginalization of jazz is largely of its own making. The 1980s institutionalization of jazz, going so far as to brand it “America’s Classical music” all but ensured that jazz would in fact reach the same status of classical music, i.e. marginalized and culturally irrelevant. Almost all of the programs you mentioned above are repertory programs of long dead jazz musicians. It is this kind of programming, constantly looking back, that has all but driven a stake into the heart of jazz. This Faustian bargain has finally come home to roost. Change now or is over forever, if in fact it isn’t already.
    HM: Government can’t save jazz — nor should that be its responsibility. I only bring up the gov’t financed and high profile capital cultural organizations because they offer a platform (which they’ve decided to construct themselves) to introduce American culture to those who seek it in Washington, DC. Dafnis Prieto and Uri Caine at the Library of Congress are NOT presenting repertory of dead jazz musicians. And look what the Kennedy Center is doing (in my report to be posted later today). Jazz is developing in the private sectory; jazz is being looked upon as a historical event by the public establishment. This is not surprising and I don’t even think it’s regrettable, because it IS of value to have groups playing Ellington, Monk, Mingus, Jelly Roll, Basie, etc. It’s just not good if that’s all that’s happening. Jazz festivals and other presenters, commissioners of new works, those who would help jazz venues (like Ann Arbor’s Firefly Club being closed by the state of Michigan for back taxes) have their marching orders — to make jazz real and relevant now. They all wonder how best to do that. Any ideas?