Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra Announces 25th Season

Showcasing Jazz Innovations in Museum’s New Performance Space
September 9, 2015

The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra (SJMO), the big band-in-residence of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a season of “Jazz Innovations” October 2015–July 2016 in the museum’s new performance space in the just-opened Innovation Wing. Led by conductor and artistic director, Charlie Young, the SJMO brings together the museum’s extensive jazz collections, rich and current research and original instruments to make America’s jazz legacy come alive in concert.

The 2015–2016 season will present a series of five concerts that will use the musical compositions, instruments and archives housed in the museum to explore a theme of “Jazz Innovations,” or how American jazz icons explored and experimented with new ideas in composition, sound and instrumentation.

All concerts for the 2015–2016 season will be held in the Wallace H. Coulter Performance Plaza against the backdrop of the museum’s dramatic new Innovation Wing. New this year, the SJMO will host concerts in a unique and intimate cabaret-style setting featuring prime table seating, encircled by four rows of standard seating, allowing audiences to have an up-close and engaged experience. All table seats include a complimentary glass of wine; additional food and drink will be available for purchase.

A five-concert season pass for standard and table seating will be available at a special discounted rate until Oct. 17. October tickets and season passes are on sale now at the Smithsonian Jazz website: A list of the 2015–2016 season follows:


Afro-Cuban Jazz: Back in Full Swing
Friday and Saturday, Oct. 16 and 17; 7:30 p.m.

To kick off the new season “in full swing,” the SJMO big band will spend two evenings celebrating the unique sound and development of Afro-Cuban jazz. An innovative sound that shook up jazz 70 years ago, Cuban and jazz music have maintained a healthy marriage through the political challenges of the past 50 years. The concert will feature music of pioneering musicians in Latin jazz, including Chano Pozo (1915–48), Mario Bauza (1911–93), Machito (1908–84) and many other influential composers and performers of this powerful blend of American and Cuban music.


Sinatra: His Way
Friday, Dec. 4; 7:30 p.m.

Just in time for the holidays, the SJMO will feature the songbook of the legendary icon, Frank Sinatra (1915–98), with “nothing but the best” to commemorate his centennial. Often referred to as “Ol’ Blue Eyes,” Sinatra possessed an undeniably rich voice and stylistic approach that easily reached the heart, soul and conscience of the world. This concert complements the “Frank Sinatra: The Centennial of an American Icon” display at the museum and coincides with the museum’s holiday festival Dec. 4–6, which will feature a screening of Sinatra’s famous film appearance in Guys and Dolls.


A Big Band Love Affair
Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016; 7:30 p.m.

Visitors can grab their sweethearts and swing up to Valentine’s weekend with the SJMO big band as they explore the mysteries of love through song. This special romantic evening program will feature big-band arrangements of great love themes that have and continue to provide the soundtrack for many lovers and expand our ability to communicate through music.


The Incredible Jimmy Smith: The Birth of the Jazz Organ
Saturday, April 2, 2016; 7:30 p.m.

April is Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), and at the home of JAM, the SJMO will spend the month celebrating the innovators who shook up, redefined and explored the limits of jazz. To kick off the celebrations, the SJMO, with special guest Charles Covington, will present the music of the great Jimmy Smith (1925–2005). An NEA Jazz Master, Smith’s chosen instrument, a Hammond B3 organ, was rarely if ever used in early jazz, but through his unparalleled work and talent, he single-handedly popularized the instrument and its unique sound. 


Charlie Christian: The Rise of the Electric Guitar
Saturday, June 11, 2016; 7:30 p.m.

It is a little-known fact that the electric guitar truly became popular in American music through the work of jazz musicians. Charlie Christian (1916–42) was one of the pivotal musicians who rocketed the electric guitar into popular music through his major innovations in swing jazz. Firmly establishing himself as the supreme solo voice of the electric guitar with the Benny Goodman Sextet, Christian was named “the best improvisational talent of the swing era.” The SJMO will present a performance that parallels the life and musical legacy of this incredibly inventive guitarist.


“By exploring jazz as an art form and means of entertainment, the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra promotes a greater appreciation for jazz as an American treasure,” said Young.

The SJMO 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. At its largest, a 17-member big band, or in smaller iterations, including a quintet and small group, concerts feature transcribed works, new arrangements, commissioned works and programs that illuminate the work of jazz masters who contributed to the development of American jazz and defined the music’s character.

“Through world-class collections, scholarship, concerts, exhibitions and programs, the SJMO explores the American experience through the transformative power of jazz,” said Ken Kimery, the orchestra’s executive director. “Smithsonian Jazz stewards this music as an important bridge between our national identity, our shared history and our communities.”

The orchestra has performed for audiences at the Smithsonian, Kennedy Center, the White House, U.S. Capitol, Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater, the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, prestigious music festivals, including Ravinia and the Monterey Jazz Festival, and in Canada, Europe, the Middle East, Egypt, Russia, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Young has performed with the National Symphony Orchestra, the U.S. Navy Band and the Count Basie Orchestra. He has shared the concert stage with many icons, including Clark Terry, Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones and also is the coordinator of instrumental jazz studies at Howard University and professor of saxophone. Kimery serves as the lead drummer for the SJMO and also leads the museum’s Jazz Masterworks Editions and Jazz Oral History program.

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. It established Jazz Appreciation Month, which is celebrated every April throughout the United States and in more than 30 countries.

The National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. It helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. For more information, visit The museum is located on Constitution Avenue, between 12th and 14th streets N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.