At a special ceremony today, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History launched the seventh annual celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month with a program hosted at The George Washington University. Jazz artist Ramsey Lewis engaged fellow musician Larry Coryell in a conversation about jazz as America’s national treasure and global export. Lewis also donated artifacts from his career to the museum’s music collections.
Now in its seventh year, JAM is an annual event that pays tribute to jazz both as a historic and living American art form. Throughout the month, the Smithsonian will present numerous events, including performances, talks and family activities in venues across Washington, D.C.
“Jazz is a truly American style of music that has played an important role in our heritage,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the National Museum of American History. “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.”
Lewis’ donation of archival materials documenting his career consists of photographs, publicity materials, news clippings and awards. The awards include his 2007 designation as a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts and his designation as a living “Legendary Landmark of Chicago” in the same year. These items will join the museum’s collection of memorabilia from other jazz musicians, including Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton, Artie Shaw and Duke Ellington.
Composer, pianist and jazz legend Ramsey Lewis immediately captivated fans with his first album, “Ramsey Lewis and the Gentlemen of Swing,” (1956) by the Ramsey Lewis Trio. By 1965, he was one of the nation’s most successful jazz pianists, topping the charts with “The In Crowd,” “Hang On Sloopy” and “Wade In The Water.” Lewis has received three GRAMMY Awards and seven Gold Records. His most recent award was the 2006 Stellar Award for Best Gospel Instrumental Album for “With One Voice.”
In addition to recording albums and performing live, Lewis hosts WNUA-FM Chicago’s weekday morning drive-time radio show, “The Ramsey Lewis Morning Show,” for which he has been awarded the Radio & Records Personality of the Year Award in 1999 and 2000. In January 2007 “The Ramsey Lewis Morning Show” was syndicated nationwide. He also hosts the syndicated “Legends Of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis,” a two-hour radio program, which airs in more than 60 cities throughout the United States.
Larry Coryell was born in 1943 in Galveston, Texas. As a child, he studied and played piano, switching to guitar (acoustic, and then electric) in his teens. After studying journalism at the University of Washington, he moved to New York City in 1965, where he played behind guitarist Gabor Szabo in drummer Chico Hamilton’s jazz quintet. By 1966, he replaced Szabo and later that same year he went on to record his vinyl debut with Hamilton’s band.
Coryell often played alongside the very best jazz had to offer, including Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, David Sanborn, Sonny Rollins, Stephane Grappelli, Chick Corea, Larry Young and Charles Mingus.
Playing almost exclusively acoustic guitar, Coryell continued to break new ground, and with 60 recordings, one might consider him a “guitar legend.” He recently took part in a concert in Spain spotlighting 32 of the world’s finest guitarists, including B.B. King, Keith Richards, Robbie Robertson, Bob Dylan, and Les Paul.
Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra in Egypt
In February, the National Museum of American History presented “Jazz on the Nile,” a special tour of Egypt with numerous spectacular concerts performed by the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra under the direction of NEA Jazz Master David N. Baker. These concerts featured music and songs by jazz greats Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Quincy Jones and were held at the Great Pyramids of Giza and both at the Cairo and Alexandria Opera Houses.
The tour was sponsored by the Ministries of Culture and Tourism of the government of Egypt, the U.S. State Department, the Cairo Opera House, and private U.S. and Egyptian companies. This landmark concert tour was conceived as a result of the collaborative efforts of The George Washington University; Ibrahim Hegazy, a professor of the American University in Cairo; and the National Museum of American History. The tour came almost exactly 47 years after Louis Armstrong performed in Cairo—also for the U.S. State Department.
The National Museum of American History launched JAM in 2001 and it has since grown to include celebrations in all 50 states and 33 other countries. This year the Smithsonian will present a record 34 events, including performances by the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, appearances by NEA Jazz Masters Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubek, David N. Baker and Candido Camero. A complete schedule of JAM events is available at http://smithsonianjazz.org.
The 2008 JAM celebration is underwritten by generous financial support from the Herb Alpert Foundation; BMI; the Ella Fitzgerald Foundation; and NAMM, the International Music Products Association. WAMU Radio, 88.5 FM, is the media partner in the nation’s capital, providing public service announcements.
In commemorating JAM 2008, the museum collaborated with a diverse group of 31 organizations, institutions, associations and federal agencies that have provided financial and in-kind support and organized programs and outreach of their own. This year the museum is welcoming the American Federation of Teachers, The U.S. Conference of Mayors and XM Radio to the group.
Last year, the museum established a JAM Taskforce to develop a strategic and sustainability plan for Jazz Appreciation Month.
The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. The Smithsonian operates the world’s most comprehensive set of jazz programs and the museum is home to jazz collections that include 100,000 pages of Ellington’s unpublished music and such objects as Fitzgerald’s famous red dress, Gillespie’s angled trumpet and Goodman’s clarinet.
The museum is closed for major renovations and will re-open in fallstev 2008. The public may visit the museum’s Web site at http://americanhistory.si.edu or call (202) 633-1000 or (202) 633-5285 (TTY) for general Smithsonian information.