by Patrick Jarenwattananon
A group of musicians and major donors pose with Lionel Hampton’s vibraphone at the 2013 Jazz Appreciation Month launch. From left: Mark Dibner of The Argus Fund, drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, Fran Morris Rosman of the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, pianist Randy Weston, Richard Rosman of the Ella Fitzgerald foundation and Smithsonian American History Museum Director John Gray.
The 12th official Jazz Appreciation Month began when April did. But today, the Smithsonian Museum of American History, which founded the JAM campaign, kick started its own celebration with a series of performances, discussions and ceremonies.
A morning gathering for invited guests was highlighted by the official delivery of two musical artifacts to the Smithsonian’s collection. Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, a Cuban-born percussionist known for his translation of Afro-Latin rhythms to the drumset, signed over a purple drum kit with special modifications for cowbells. And Randy Weston, the 87-year-old pianist whose time in Africa informs his musical vision, officially donated the long flowing garment he wore when he was honored by the King of Morocco in 2011.
“It’s not only an honor, but like an impossible dream,” Weston said, regarding his inclusion in a collection with artifacts from Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie.
The ceremony also recognized a financial gift from the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, creating an endowment to support JAM. A quintet drawn from the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra performed to open the day, making use of the vibraphone donated to the museum by Lionel Hampton.
Many other organizations are hosting events branded with Jazz Appreciation Month. The Jazz Journalists Association recognized 25 Jazz Heroes of regional music scenes as part of its JazzApril umbrella campaign. (Disclosure: I am a member of the JJA, but did not participate in selection of Jazz Heroes.) And at the end of the month, the second International Jazz Day launches with a April 30 concert in Istanbul, Turkey.