As John Conyers has pointed out in one of his Congressional statements, the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, founded in 1990, is America’s only federally-chartered jazz orchestra and the only such ensemble with resident status at a museum: the National Museum of American History, no less. This is a piece of jazz policy that fell outside the scope of Ka-ching, but the SJMO’s continued existence, as below-the-radar as the band may be on the national jazz picture, is hardly irrelevant as an instrument of jazzocracy. Conyers, in his 2010 statement—he makes these pronouncements occasionally just to remind everyone in the House that there’s such a thing as jazz—explains just what the SJMO means, and the following bullet points are pulled from the conveniently downloadable Word doc on Conyers’ official House site, which also features statements honoring Gerald Wilson, Miles Davis, and Marcus Belgrave. Actually, there are two statements honoring Davis, one an updated version of the other, both in support of H.Res. 894, the “Kind of Blue” resolution, reaffirming jazz as a national treasure, and both statements curiously include in their summations, after Conyers runs down the allegedly spectacular Kind of Blue backstory: “And that is why jazz has such a special place in Americana and is revered by so many.” Americana?! I’m trying to imagine a Whiter, more Norman Rockwellian word for the place of jazz in America. But perhaps there’s a method to Conyers’ madness—he’s talking to the House of Representatives. But I digress; the excerpt from the SJMO statement:
• The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra educates the public about the history and development of jazz as an art form and means of entertainment. It promotes a greater appreciation for jazz as a valuable American treasure by performing jazz masterworks, and presenting educational activities that engage the public with this great music.
• Further contributing to its status, the orchestra is led by the internationally famous Maestro David Baker–the world’s leading jazz educator, author of over 70 books and 400 articles, and recent recipient of the prestigious American Jazz Masters Award given by the National Endowment for the Arts.
• Madam Speaker, the orchestra has special expertise in engaging and educating its audiences—young and old—about this vital part of American culture. I am pleased to recognize its service and accomplishments over the past 20 years.
You gotta love this, even though the SJMO is resolutely retro, which of course comes as no surprise. The 2013-14 concert season features programs such as: “Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds and ‘Empress of the Blues’ Bessie Smith”; “Suite Ellington”; “The Genius of Charlie Parker”; and “Forms of the Blues,” which is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the publication of W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues.” I know, I know, it’s just not reasonable to expect the federally funded Smithsonian to be bankrolling, say, the Celestrial Communication Orchestra; it wouldn’t just be weird, it would be unseemly.