The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra to Tour Egypt

February 13, 2008
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History presents “Jazz on the Nile,” with numerous spectacular concerts performed by the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra Feb. 15-18 in Egypt. These concerts, featuring music and songs by jazz greats Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Quincy Jones, will be held at the Great Pyramids of Giza and both the Cairo and Alexandria Opera Houses.

The tour is 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 comes almost exactly 47 years after Louis Armstrong performed in Cairo—also for the U.S. State Department.

“Jazz on the Nile” is intended to bring Egyptian and American citizens together through the appreciation of jazz as a unique American genre. The tour bridges cultures and promotes the shared values of freedom, cultural diversity, innovation, individuality and creative collaboration.

“We are pleased to extend our mission to Egypt,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the National Museum of American History. “We look forward to sharing the compelling sounds of jazz with Egypt’s people and exposing their audiences to this significant piece of American culture. We welcome this opportunity for cultural exchange.”

David N. Baker, distinguished professor of music at Indiana University and an NEA jazz master, conducts the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. For the Egypt tour, singer Delores King Williams and two swing/tap dancers, Chester Whitmore and Shaunte Johnson, will join the 17-member orchestra. The group also will lead a master class and a jam session with members of the Cairo Symphony Orchestra. In addition, museum director Glass will present the lecture “Shedding Light on American History”; and John Hasse, curator of American music, will give his “Louis Armstrong: American Genius” lecture.

The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra was founded in 1990 with an appropriation from the U.S. Congress in recognition of the importance of jazz in American culture and its status as a national treasure. The 17-member big band, led by conductor and artistic director Baker, serves as the orchestra-in-residence at the National Museum of American History. Its concerts include transcribed works, as well as new arrangements, commissioned works and programs that illuminate the contributions of small ensembles and jazz masters who contributed to the development of American jazz and defined the music’s character. More information about the SJMO is available at www.sjmo.org.

The museum is home to the world’s largest museum collection of jazz history—artifacts from Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Tito Puente and many other creative giants. The museum established Jazz Appreciation Month, now celebrated every April throughout the United States and in more than 30 countries, and the renowned Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra.

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. Documenting the American experience from Colonial times to the present, the museum looks at growth and change in the United States. The museum is closed for major renovations and will re-open in fall 2008. For information about the museum, please visit http://americanhistory.si.edu or call Smithsonian Information at (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).