Jazz Appreciation Month (fondly known as “JAM”) was first established in 2001 by John Edward Hasse, curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, to recognize and celebrate the extraordinary heritage and history of jazz for the entire month of April.

JAM is intended to stimulate and encourage people of all ages to participate in jazz – to study the music, attend concerts, listen to jazz on radio and recordings, read books about jazz, and more.

*Pictured above is the 2015 Jazz Appreciation Month poster highlighting the centennial of Billy Strayhorn.*

Jazz Appreciation Month 2020: Women in Jazz

This year, JAM celebrates the dynamic impact of the often-overlooked contributions that women have made to jazz, both on and off the stage. As performers and conductors, educators, and producers and directors of jazz festivals, women have made their mark but have continued to struggle for recognition on par with their male counterparts.

This year, Smithsonian Jazz is highlighting a multitude of women artists on student-made posters from the Duke Ellington High School for the Arts. Features include Mary Lou Williams, the Sweethearts of Rhythm, Leigh Pilzer, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and many others. The winning poster features pianist, band leader, and composer Toshiko Akiyoshi.

2020 Featured Artist: Toshiko Akiyoshi

Billy Strayhorn’s music has been an essential part of composer, arranger and pianist John DiMartino’s repertoire since the beginning of his forty-five year professional music career. He recalls, “My first encounter with Strayhorn’s music was through an older cousin who gave me a recording of Chet Baker and Russ Freeman’s version of Lush Life and requested that I learn the tune.” DiMartino was just 15 years old at the time (ironically, Strayhorn’s age when he wrote the piece. John has been entranced with the composer’s music ever since.

In recent years John has been performing Strayhorn’s music with Paquito D’Rivera. Executive producer Neville Grusd heard a concert they did at Flushings New York Town Hall, which led to his interest in producing this recording.

Joining DiMartino are three of his fellow first call instrumentalists on the New York City jazz scene. Boris Kozlov on bass, Eric Alexander on tenor sax, and Lewis Nash on drums. Vocalist Raul Midon is featured on Strayhorn’s poignant Lush Life. 

Year in and year out, The Eastman School of Music Jazz Studies Program is considered one of the best in the country. We are proud to be a scholarship partner with Eastman and its great tradition. This year we congratulate Justice Freeman, trumpeter and first year jazz performance major. Justice is a native of Rochester, New York and is highly thought of by his music professors and fellow musicians. Continued success to Justice and his budding music career!

Pictured above: Professor of Jazz Studies Bill Dobbins (left), accepting the check for the Billy Strayhorn Jazz Education Scholarship Award winner at Eastman, trumpeter Justice Freeman.

New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) is a regional, pre-professional arts training center that offers students intensive instruction in several disciplines, including jazz. NOCCA was founded in 1973, and some of its distinguished alumni include Terrence Blanchard, Harry Connick Jr., Donald Harrison, Trombone Shorty and Jonathon Batiste just to name a few.

For the 4th straight year, The Billy Strayhorn Foundation honored the recipient of this jazz education award in the JEN host city with a $500 stipend to help with upcoming program activities in the name of Billy Strayhorn. Every year, a remarkable 95-98% of NOCCA graduates go on to college and conservatory programs across the country.

Congratulations to all the programs at NOCCA, including the great work being done by Jazz Program Chair Michael Pellera and his staff with the students in the jazz program. We wish them nothing but continued success!

Pictured above: Students from the NOCCA jazz program and Mr. Michael Pellera receiving their award from Strayhorn family member Galen Demus.

The annual Jazz Education Network conference (JEN) in New Orleans proved to be a great start for jazz education and promoting the Strayhorn legacy. The conference bought together 3,000+ exhibitors, music artists, students and jazz educators in the “Big Easy”. There were over 250 jazz clinics, presentations and music performances over 4 days in January. Visitors to the Strayhorn booth received lots of information about Billy Strayhorn and his place in jazz history, as well as current and future events being held in his honor. Music students from as far away as Japan and England attended the conference. Look for details about the 2021 conference, which will be held in Louisville, Kentucky.

*Pictured above: Music students from Japan at the Billy Strayhorn exhibitor booth

Billy Strayhorn Songs Inc., with the support of The Delta Beta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, presented a multi-media lecture on the life and legacy of Billy Strayhorn November 1st, 2019 at the Chandler Center for the Arts in Phoenix, Arizona. Along with the presentation, artwork from Phoenix area youth, under the direction of professional artist Erica Gillette, displayed their art work in the lobby, titled ‘Artwork from Take the A-Train- Jazz and Abstract Painting’.

It was a first class venue, wonderful crowd, and a lively musical tribute followed the presentation from the Fred Forney Quartet (Pictured above)

Founded in 1997, Litchfield Jazz Camp serves about 300 residential and day students during a month-long program on the campus of the Gunnery School in Washington, Connecticut. Run by Litchfield Performing Arts (estb. 1981), a charitable organization dedicated to changing lives through music, the Camp’s philosophy is simple. They start with a faculty of amazing and inspiring jazz musicians who represent the best jazz players/educators on the scene today. To that they add eager music students in a non-competitive, all-inclusive program. No audition is required; just a desire to attend and make music. 

We salute our 2 Strayhorn scholarship recipients for 2019:

Milei Sagawa is a 15 year old bass player from Brooklyn, New York who has attended the camp for 3 years.

Laura Simone-Martin is also an accomplished bass player from Lawrenceville , New Jersey who has attended the camp for 2 years.

Continued success to both of our young ladies in all their future endeavors!!

Pictured above: Litchfield Jazz Camp participants and staff 2019.

A mural honoring jazz great Billy Strayhorn has been completed in downtown Hillsborough, North Carolina. Max Dowdle, the artist behind the mural, worked with Volume Records co-owner Tony Lopez on the design for the mural, which they named “Take the A Train”, one of Strayhorn’s most well-known compositions.

Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens hopes to see more public art such as this in the future. “Hillsborough has become very much an arts community as well as a place where we preserve our history,” says the Mayor.

The mural was sponsored by the Hillsborough Tourism Development Authority and the Hillsborough Arts Council. According to Stevens, since the mural adorns a building located inside Hillsborough’s Historic District, it had to be approved by the Historic District Commission. “What the Historic District Commission does is review any changes to the exterior of buildings, nothing about the interior, so this falls right under what they do.”

Billy Strayhorn, a renown composer and pianist, burst onto the jazz scene in the late 1930s when he joined Duke Ellington’s band. Although he was born in Ohio and lived in New York City for most of his adult life, he spent much of his childhood visiting his grandparents in Hillsborough.

“Billy Strayhorn came to Hillsborough. This is one of the places where he learned music, so this feels like a local part of our community, and now we have this great art mural,” says Stevens. “It’s quite lovely; that’s the first kind of thing we’ve had like that downtown.” A historical marker located near where Strayhorn’s grandparents house was located also pays homage to the jazz legend.

A renovation project to restore a piece of Hillsborough’s history, will be done by a local artist. It will be the first downtown mural: a tribute to jazz pianist and composer Billy Strayhorn.

Artist Max Dowdle reached out to the town about painting a mural, economic development planner Shannan Campbell said. The mural, “Take the ‘A’ Train,” will honor Strayhorn and collaborator Duke Ellington’s signature composition and feature Strayhorn playing a piano on a field of yellows and blues with a train in the background. The painting could start in early to mid-August 2019 and take about two weeks, Dowdle said.

Strayhorn, who was born in Dayton, Ohio, often visited his grandparents’ home in Hillsborough as a child. His father and grandfather worked at the Eno Mill, and he would take the train to visit an uncle in Durham, the Orange County Historical Museum reported. At age 23, Strayhorn joined Ellington’s orchestra, becoming an influential figure in American jazz. He stayed with Ellington until his death at age 51 in 1967.

Held June 12th at the Library of Congress in Washington DC., this special panel-and-performance event highlighted the personal collection of an important star in the jazz firmament, composer, arranger and pianist Billy Strayhorn. Saxophonist Chris Potter, Strayhorn biographer David Hajdu, and jazz scholar Walter van de Leur, PhD, joined the composer’s niece, A. Alyce Claerbaut, President, Strayhorn Songs, Inc., and nephew, Gregory A. Morris, PhD, for an introduction to the recently acquired Library of Congress jazz treasure. Now available to scholars, researchers and performers, the collection contains nearly 18,000 documents, including approximately 3,000 music manuscripts in Strayhorn’s own handwriting—lead sheets, piano-vocal scores and complete orchestrations—and a rich trove of sketch materials. A list of manuscripts includes hundreds of songs, written by Strayhorn—many for the Duke Ellington orchestra—-among them landmark compositions like “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “Lush Life,” “Something to Live For,” “Rain Check” and “Chelsea Bridge.”