Jazz music has historic roots in Washington, D.C., the native city of Duke Ellington, pianist Billy Taylor and saxophonist Frank Wess. Famed jazz musicians stopped along U Street’s bustling club scene during tours, ducking into venues like Bohemian Caverns and Blues Alley. This month, the George Washington University will be recognizing that rich history with Jazz Appreciation Month, which honors the cultural significance of jazz not just in D.C., but throughout the nation.
Jazz Appreciation Month was launched in 2001 by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. It has since grown to include events in all 50 states and 40 other countries.
GW kicked off the month-long celebration with the Ravi Coltrane Quartet playing at Lisner Auditorium at the end of March. The free concert paid homage to Mr. Coltrane’s late father, John Coltrane, and commemorated the 50th anniversary of his famous recording “A Love Supreme.”
The performance was co-presented with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and the GW Department of Music, and featured two student groups performing under the direction of Peter Fraize, director of jazz studies at GW, and Herman Burney, adjunct lecturer.
President Steven Knapp welcomed the GW community to the opening event, underscoring the university’s commitment to showing its appreciation for the musical genre.
“I’m delighted to have participated in jazz events every year since arriving at the university,” Dr. Knapp said. “We often say we’re located just five blocks from the White House, but we’re also five blocks from the birthplace of Duke Ellington.”
Mr. Fraize said the event successfully inaugurated Jazz Appreciation Month while also giving student performers a chance to show off their skills to the broader Foggy Bottom community.
“For us, the biggest thing was that two student ensembles opened the show. To play on that stage for a crowd like that was an invaluable experience for them, and quite a thrill,” he said.
Jazz Appreciation Month also brought photographer Chuck Stewart to campus to speak to a jazz history class. Mr. Stewart is known for his portraits of Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and Ray Charles. He also shot John Coltrane during the making of “Love Supreme.”
The celebrations will continue with the Department of Music’s Jazz Fest, a showcase of student jazz ensembles. Performances at Betts Theatre on April 25 and 26 at 7:30 p.m. will highlight student musicians. On April 25, alumni will be invited to join students in the university's weekly jazz jam session in Phillips Hall, B-120. All events will be free and open to the public.
“I’m really looking forward to sitting back and listening to the students play—we have a nice variety of styles our students play, with a Latin band, some combos and a jazz vocal choir,” Mr. Fraize said. “If you teach music and arts, you can't not include jazz in some aspect. It's so central to American art and culture in the 20th century and going forward.”