Past Concerts

2017-18 Season


Saturday, June 9 at 7:30 p.m.

Leonard Bernstein’s musical contributions span across the musical landscape. As a conductor for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, he ranks among the world’s most respected. As a composer, his works have crossed the boundaries of choral, symphonic, movie score, Broadway, chamber, and jazz. As an educator, Bernstein’s “young peoples” concerts have reached legendary status, combining musical performance with concert lectures.

To celebrate Leonard Bernstein’s centennial, the SJMO commissioned a series of new arrangements of selected works by the master himself, including his “Chichester Psalms” and “The Great Lover Displays.”

This concert was made possible through generous support from David C. Frederick and Sophia Lynn, and was produced in partnership with DC Jazz Festival’s Jazz in the ‘Hoods® series.

Image credit: Leonard Bernstein seated at piano, making annotations to musical score, 1955. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, Library of Congress.



Saturday, October 7 at 7:30 p.m.

Few musicians have changed the paradigm of jazz as much as trumpeter/composer Dizzy Gillespie and pianist/composer Thelonious Monk. Dizzy and Monk, true innovators of the art form, set a new standard for their respective instruments through the well-established musical traditions of the 20s and 30s. With the inspiration of saxophonist Charlie Parker and several other greats, the duo laid the foundation for Be-Bop, the hot new music of the 1940s.

Left image credit: Thelonious Monk making notes at the piano, undated. Herman Leonard Photoprints, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

Right image credit: Dizzy Gillespie by Herman Leonard, 1948. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.



Friday, December 1 at 7:30 p.m.

Duke Ellington’s sequence of spiritual works were codified into a series of three large-scale pieces known as his sacred concerts. Divinely inspired, they were Ellington’s offering to God. Infused with gospel, jazz, choral, classical, blues, spiritual music, and jazz dance, Ellington cites these concerts as “the most important thing I have ever done.”

In December, the SJMO presented a re-creation of Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington’s second sacred concert to commemorate its 50-year anniversary. The evening featured the SJMO Big Band as well as special guest performers including award-winning soprano Aundi Marie Moore and members of the Morgan State University Choir. There wasalso be a pre-concert lecture with Dr. Jason Bivins, author of Spirits Rejoice! Jazz and American Religion to kick off the evening.

This program is part of the Sounds of Faith music series, a component of the museum’s Religion in America initiative and made possible by generous support from Lilly Endowment Inc. The initiative explores the nation’s unique religious development and myriad traditions as integral components of our shared history.

Image credit: Duke Ellington Sacred Concert, N.Y.C., perhaps, circa 1960-70. Duke Ellington Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.



Saturday, February 10 at 7:30 p.m.

It is commonly accepted that New Orleans was the birthplace of jazz, but many cities and regions around the country played a significant role in the incubation of jazz music and developed unique regional styles that would slowly influence and inform the larger language of jazz. Places like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Kansas City, St. Louis, and others inspired musicians and composers to develop their own personal voice and fostered a recognizable regional sound and style, just like any other language or regional accent. Paired with the continual evolution of technology, changing regional characteristics, migration, education, and cultural shifts, jazz continues to evolve around the country and in new generations.

This February the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Ensemble - a smaller group from our usual big band - took a musical journey across the nation to explore how jazz has evolved based on these regional, social, personal, and generational differences.

Featured musicians in our ensemble include: Scott Silbert on clarinet and tenor saxophone, Tom Williams on trumpet, Jennifer Krupa on trombone, Tony Nalker on piano, James King on bass, our artistic director Charlie Young on alto saxophone, and our executive producer Ken Kimery on drums.

Image credit: 52nd Street, New York, N.Y., circa 1948. William P. Gottlieb collection, Music Division, Library of Congress



Thursday, March 29 at 7:30 p.m.

Norman Granz was the primary source for the recording and dissemination of jazz from the 1940s-1980s. Throughout his unparalleled career, Granz produced recordings across a broad spectrum of artists including Lester Young, Miles Davis, Benny Carter, Billy Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, and Ella Fitzgerald. In 1944, he produced the first in his series of “Jazz at the Philharmonic” concerts in Los Angeles. The Norman Granz legacy is etched in all corners of the world as his unyielding efforts have elevated the status of jazz and put Granz in a class all his own.

Image credit: Ella Fitzgerald and Norman Granz at microphone, circa 1950-60. Ella Fitzgerald Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. 


2016-17 Season

Southern Exposure album cove


Saturday, October 8 • 7:30 p.m.

Wallace H. Coulter Performance Plaza • First Floor

Jazz and blues emerged out of a climate of struggle and oppression. Parallel in many ways to the modern civil rights movement, many American jazz and blues musicians had to find a safe means of voicing opposition to Jim Crow practices and other restrictive racial prejudices. The answer that many found was in their music. Musicians adopted the common practice of lyrical expression through rhythm, song, and sometimes even through coded language. Their compositions, expressions, and views would go on to provide strong support for the creation and passage of the American Civil Rights Act of 1964. On October 8, the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra Big Band presented a concert exploring the power of jazz and blues musicians, music, and language from this important era in American history.


Black and white photo of tenor saxophone player and Duke Ellington


Friday, December 9 • 7:30 p.m.

Wallace H. Coulter Performance Plaza • First Floor

Throughout its existence, jazz has been closely entwined with spirituality, divinity, and religion. The roots of the music itself are planted firmly in the religions of its creators. Join the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and special guest performers on December 9th for an evening highlighting compositions by musicians inspired by spirituality, divinity, or religion, all of whom helped shape the broad landscape of modern jazz history.

The SJMO Big Band led by artistic director, Charlie Young, was joined by Howard University's premier jazz vocal ensemble, Afro Blue and special guest vocalist Harolyn Blackwell



Original Dixieland Jazz Band album cover


Saturday, February 11 • 7:30 p.m.

Hall of Music • Third Floor

The year 2017 marks the centennial of the first ever jazz recording by the “Original Dixieland Jass Band” in early 1917. It is largely thanks to changing technology and pioneering musicians that jazz music has been documented for the majority of its lifetime, providing evidence of the styles, communication, performances, and nuance of early jazz. Unlike classical music, jazz was unique in those early years as it relied heavily on the creativity and improvisation of all its performers as well as their ability to listen to each other. On February 11 in the museum’s newest concert space, the Hall of Music, the SJMO Ensemble will explore these forms of democratic conversation and freedom of expression in music through the Jazz Age.



Triple-exposed photograph of Ella Fitzgerald


Friday, March 31 • 7:30 p.m.

Wallace H. Coulter Performance Plaza • First Floor

April is Jazz Appreciation Month, and as the home of JAM, the SJMO sepnt the month celebrating the women of jazz just in time for Ella Fitzgerald’s centennial. Oftentimes overlooked, women have been making vital contributions to jazz throughout its history. Beyond the traditional female vocalist, there are also many great composers, arrangers, orchestrators, and instrumentalists covering the full spectrum of jazz.

On March 31 we held a special evening that will began with three jazz icons—Ella Fitzgerald, Mary Lou Williams, and Lil Hardin Armstrong—to explore their lasting influence and other women in jazz through modern day. The evening also included a special viewing of the museum’s new display, First Lady of Song: Ella Fitzgerald at 100, to celebrate Ella’s centennial.


Duke Ellington watches Indian musicians play on traditional instruments


Saturday, June 10 • 7:30 p.m.

Wallace H. Coulter Performance Plaza • First Floor

The quintessential great melting pot, American society has always been greatly impacted and influenced by other cultures from around the world. It’s what makes American culture so unique; the complex quilt of diverse backgrounds, countries, and traditions. A perfect embodiment of this relationship, jazz music has and continues to be influenced by the diversity and traditions of international communities. From the big band fox trot to modern jazz’s complex rhythmic and harmonic structures, the SJMO’s June concert and 2016-17 season finale will explore jazz’s compositional forms and stylistic elements and their origins.

The museum’s Constitution Ave doors will open at 6:45 p.m. and the LeRoy Neiman Jazz Café Stand will be open and serving light fare and drink options for purchase from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Food and drink are welcome at seats in the Performance Plaza.

This concert is part of the 2017 DC Jazz Festival.


2015-16 Season

Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra
Afro-Cuban Jazz: Back In Full Swing
Wallace H. Coulter Performance Plaza
National Museum of American History

Friday, October 16, 2015 at 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, October 17, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. feat. special guest Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton

To kick off the new season “in full swing,” the SJMO will spend a special 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. For their Saturday performance, the SJMO will be joined onstage by special guest, the Smithsonian's new Secretary, Dr. David Skorton.


Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra
Sinatra: His Way
Wallace H. Coulter Performance Plaza
National Museum of American History

Friday, December 4, 2015
Doors, food and drink at 6:45 p.m.
Concert at 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” for 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. Equally at home on the concert stage or in front of a movie camera, Sinatra amassed a wealth of creative works. This concert will coincide with the museum’s holiday festival as well as a companion exhibition on Sinatra. 


Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra
A Big Band Love Affair
Wallace H. Coulter Performance Plaza
National Museum of American History

Saturday, February 13, 2016
Doors, food and drink at 6:45 p.m.
Concert at 7:30 p.m.

Grab your sweetheart and swing up your Valentine’s weekend with the SJMO as the big band explores the mysteries of love through song. This evening 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. 


Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra
Benny Carter: The Groundbreaking King of Jazz
Wallace H. Coulter Performance Plaza
National Museum of American History

Saturday, April 2, 2016 
Doors, food and drink at 6:45 p.m.
Concert at 7:30 p.m.

To kick off Jazz Appreciation Month 2016, the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra salutes the masterworks of this year's featured poster artist, the innovative saxophonist, trumpeter, composer, and arranger, Benny Carter. Affectionately known as "King," Benny Carter was a major contributor in the development of jazz. As a musician, he helped shape the alto sax as a solo instrument in jazz; as a composer, he helped create the vocabulary of swing; and as a bandleader and arranger he broke down racial boundaries in jazz and spread the music around the world. As Miles Davis once said, "everyone should listen to Benny Carter, he's a whole music education."

Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra
A New Sound in Jazz: The Incredible Jimmy Smith
Wallace H. Coulter Performance Plaza
National Museum of American History

Saturday, June 11, 2016
Doors, food and drink at 6:45 p.m.
Concert at 7:30 p.m.

The history of jazz is made up of innovators who shook up, redefined and explored the limits of jazz. In a nod to one of the great pioneers of jazz, the SJMO, and 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.