It’s April and time once again to celebrate one of America’s greatest treasures, jazz with the 10th anniversary of Jazz Appreciation Month.
Jazz took a giant step forward when pianist Mary Lou Williams performed in Duke Ellington’s Washingtonians when she was 15 years old. She had a prolific career as a composer, arranger and nimble player of blues, boogie-woogie, swing and be-bop. Williams is featured on this year’s poster for Jazz Appreciation Month, and her legacy, along with the legacies of women jazz musicians everywhere, are being recognized around the world.
Williams paved the way for the great ladies of modern jazz, including pianist Geri Allen.
“I remember the first live jazz performance that I heard," she said. "My mom took me because I was too young to go to a jazz club, and the experience of hearing live jazz and the great musicians that were playing that evening completely turned me around and made me dive into the world of jazz.”
There’s no substitute for live jazz, and according to trumpeter Chris Botti, it’s just a matter of getting hooked after seeing that first concert.
“Jazz is probably the first and only true American art form, and it’s comprised primarily of mainly instrumentalists and it’s something that I’ve been very passionate about, getting young people to pick up [lessons on] a trumpet, a cello or a piano," he said. "One thing that can really aid them in that quest to find out about music is to see music live.”
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History launched Jazz Appreciation Month to promote jazz as a historic and living American art form. There are celebrations throughout the U.S. and in more than 40 countries worldwide.
Among the many events is a special tribute to the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, the nation’s first integrated female big band. Six original members recently donated a collection of vintage photographs and memorabilia now on display at the Smithsonian.
Also Read VOA's "Jazz Beat" blog