Friday, April 1, 2016

Jazz Appreciation Month is here

April is Jazz Appreciation Month, by proclamation of the Smithsonian, and that's no joke.

For the next 30 days, a lot of things will be happening across the US and around the world to celebrate this great art form that continues to thrive and grow - despite the sometimes overpowering hype and celebrity spotlight enjoyed by other forms of music appealing to mass audiences.

The Smithsonian's effort, started in 2002, has become a larger umbrella than it anticipated. Other key things taking place in April include the NEA Jazz Masters awards and International Jazz Day. The latter takes place on April 30 under the sponsorship of UNESCO and the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.

The 2016 NEA Jazz Masters will be honored on Monday, April 4 at the Kennedy Center in Washington. This year's list includes vibes player, bandleader author and educator Gary Burton, tenor saxophonists Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shep, and jazz activist Wendy Oxenhorn. Since the program began in 1982, the National Endowment for the Arts has honored 140 jazz greats.

New York-based Oxenhorn is receiving the 2016 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy, which is bestowed upon an individual who has contributed significantly to the appreciation, knowledge, and advancement of the art form of jazz. She is executive director and vice chairman of the Jazz Foundation of America, which provides jazz and blues musicians with financial, medical, housing and legal assistance through its Jazz Musicians Emergency Fund.
Since joining JFA 15 years ago, she has raised more than $30 million and led efforts to provide emergency assistance to more than 5,000 cases annually, up from about three dozen a year when she started. The tireless Oxenhorn is a jazz angel. She and the JMEF step in when they hear about a musician, or retired musician who can’t make a rent or mortgage payment, is threatened with eviction, needs medical help or had an instrument stolen - his or her livelihood - and has no funds to replace it. The work they do is nothing short of amazing.

April will end with the fifth annual International Jazz Day's wide range of concerts, festivities and seminars around the globe. Most attention will focus on this year's Global Host City - Washington. The program's International Jazz Day All-Star Global Concert is scheduled the prior evening at the White House hosted by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. 

The concert will be broadcast as a one-hour prime time ABC television special, "Jazz at the White House," on Saturday evening, April 30. The fact that the concert is being held on the 29th in the US is not a disconnect, since April 30th will already be underway, or winding down, in Asia and Europe.

Scheduled White House performers include Joey Alexander, Terence Blanchard, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Chick Corea, Jamie Cullum, Kurt Elling, Aretha Franklin, Robert Glasper, Buddy Guy, Herbie Hancock, Zakir Hussain, Lionel Loueke, Hugh Masekela, Christian McBride, John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, James Morrison, Danilo Pérez, the Rebirth Brass Band, Dianne Reeves, Wayne Shorter, Esperanza Spalding, Sting, Trombone Shorty and Chucho Valdés, and others.

As part of this year's International Jazz Day celebration, the Monk Institute will launch Math, Science & Music. This education platform offers free curricula, games, apps and other online elements that use music as an engaging tool to help teach math and science to K-12 and college students.  

The International Jazz Day events are designed to celebrate jazz's significant role in cultural diplomacy - as a global force for freedom and creativity. Long may that role continue.

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