Jazz as a metaphor for the culture of innovation

WASHINGTON – For the 10th year, the Smithsonian Institution celebrates Jazz Appreciation Month in April to recognize a distinctively American form of music.
Jazz’ roots are tied to the beginning of the Industrial Age and the spread of railroads across the nation.
Historian Douglas Daniels ties the first jazz performance to a concert in San Francisco in 1869 coinciding with the completion of the transcontinental railroad.
Cakewalk: an historical novel about the unsung creators of jazz music adds additional texture to the relationship between former abolitionists turned entrepreneurs, the quest for additional freedom and the musicianship which formed a new idiom.
JazzManagement: the art of planned improvisation examines how jazz traditions are also visible among African-American technology entrepreneurs of the 20th century.
This month, the Smithsonian recognizes the legacies of women in jazz and will kick off with a special donation ceremony related to the nation’s first, integrated, female big band, the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, founded in 1937 at the Piney Woods School, in Mississippi.
The Piney Woods School, founded in 1909 by Laurence Clifton Jones, began on a log under a cedar tree. Students were former slaves and their descendants. Later, a pre-Civil War cabin, $50 and 40 acres were donated to the school located in Rankin County, Miss., by Ed Taylor, a former slave who served as valet to a Union soldier during the Civil War. Families would donate a pig, 25 cents or a jug of syrup to pay their children’s tuition. Beginning March 29, the museum will display archival material about the Sweethearts and host special online and public programming to highlight the legacy of the Piney Woods School and its female band. Original and pioneering members of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm will participate in onstage programs.
The International Sweethearts of Rhythm band members were students, 14 years and older, who paid for their education by performing as a jazz band to help promote and sustain the financially struggling school. The Sweethearts travelled nationwide in a customized tour bus built by the school, named Big Bertha, performing at churches, state fairs, dance and civic halls and later entertainment venues, such as the Apollo Theater. The band confronted dual biases of gender and race and excelled during a period in history when the majority of African Americans lived in the South under Jim Crow laws.
“Jazz is a truly American style of music that has played an important role in our heritage,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum. “Through the Smithsonian’s 2011 Jazz Appreciation Month activities, we will highlight jazz with a focus on women’s contributions to better understand the American experience.”
The monthlong jazz celebration will also highlight Mary Lou Williams, an innovative jazz pianist, composer and arranger who performed with Duke Ellington, among others. Her work is included in the new Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology that examines the history of jazz in music and narrative. Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology is a 111-track, six CD and companion book set available March 2011 from Smithsonian Folkways. Legendary jazz artist Williams is featured on the 2011 JAM poster, which is distributed to schools, libraries, music and jazz educators, music merchants and manufacturers, radio stations, art presenters and U.S. embassies worldwide. The portrait used for the poster was created by Keith Henry Brown, an African American artist and the former creative art director for jazz at Lincoln Center.
The museum launched JAM in 2001 as an annual event that pays tribute to jazz both as a historic and living American art form. It has since grown to include celebrations in all 50 states and 40 other countries. In celebrating JAM, the museum joins with a diverse group of organizations, institutions, corporations, associations and federal agencies, as well as organizing programs and outreach of their own.