Recently, jazz fans from as far as Florida, Georgia and Connecticut traveled to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., for the formal donation of one of John Coltrane’s saxophones. The instrument will be added to the jazz artifacts in the museum.
Chuck Stewart, a photographer who made jazz his pictorial focus, was also present to donate his series of photos taken during Coltrane’s now legendary recording of “A Love Supreme” (Impulse Records, 1964).
This event marked the kickoff of April as Jazz Appreciation Month and the 50th anniversary of Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” recording. Upon displaying the Selma Mark VI tenor saxophone (made in Paris in 1965), Dr. John Hasse, museum curator of American music, stated, “Every time I open the case, I get goose bumps. Coltrane was a muse to everyone, from Jimi Hendrix to Carlos Santana.”
Unfortunately, Coltrane’s son Ravi was unable to personally make the formal donation on behalf of the Coltrane family. However, he did perform later that evening with his group at George Washington University.
The saxophone is one of three principle saxophones Coltrane played and will be on view in the “American Stories” exhibition starting June 17.
“Today, a cherished and beloved Coltrane heirloom becomes a national treasure, and through Stewart’s never-before-seen images, our view of Coltrane expands,” stated John Gray, director of the museum.
Stewart donated 25 photos of John and Alice Coltrane taken at the “A Love Supreme” studio recordings. “Music and words can seek truth and faith. That’s what I tried to do in my photos of John,” said Stewart. “John’s music dared you to be yourself and follow your dreams. Photography allowed me the chance to pursue and create my dreams. It is an honor to be a part of this wonderful exhibit.”
Dr. Cornel West participated in an afternoon discussion with Christine Passarella of the New York City Department of Education and founder of Kids for Coltrane. During her classroom video, it was refreshing to see young students ages 6 to 9 recognize Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” or “Naima” in five beats or less.
“Through the music of John Coltrane, students are learning to be a spark for change,” said Passarella.
The discussion focused on “Coltrane for Kids” and how his music is inspiring young students in their daily lives and their conceptual understanding of jazz. Visit her website, www.KidsforColtrane.com.
Said West, “Coltrane is not on a pedestal. He is a voice in the vital tradition of Miles, Sarah Vaughan and Donny Hathaway. He has created a global stage rooted in the local community.”
The museum’s 17-member big band, the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, assembled as a quintet to perform Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and John Green’s “Body and Soul.”
During this 50th anniversary, the museum is displaying Coltrane’s original score of “A Love Supreme” in the “American Stories” exhibition through June 17.
The museum is home to the world’s largest museum collection of jazz history, with artifacts including Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet, Herbie Hancock’s synthesizer keyboard, Mongo Santamaría’s conga drum and Tony Bennett’s oil painting of Ella Fitzgerald. The museum established Jazz Appreciation Month in July 2001 to advance the appreciation and recognition of jazz both as a historic and living American art form.
Let’s see how many jazz musicians will appear on national TV during this Jazz Appreciation Month on David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel, Arsenio Hall, “The View” and Oprah. This is the month for jazz celebration.
April was chosen because it is the birth month of many jazz musicians, including Duke Ellington, Fitzgerald, Bessie Smith, Herbie Hancock and Billie Holiday.
Okaru Lovelace, the international singer-songwriter, will host “Spring Jazz Jam” on April 5 at Ost Cafe, 441 E. 12th St. and Avenue A, in the East Village, 8 p.m.-11 p.m. There is no music charge. Her jams are always jamming. For more information, visit okarulovelace.com or call 212-477-5600.
Jazz warrior Hugh Masekela projects a unique sound infused with a heavy blend of jazz, and the Mbaqanga township dance band music of his homeland South Africa will celebrate his 75th birthday on April 4-5 at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall at 8 p.m.
Paul Simon will appear as a special guest on April 4 (Masekela’s birthday). Masekela and Simon formed a friendship after collaborating during Simon’s “Graceland Tour” through South Africa in 1987.
During the trumpeter’s exile from South Africa for three decades, part of his repertoire became an anthem against South Africa’s apartheid, as well as human discrimination, around the world. In 1987, his composition “Bring Him Back Home” became the movement song to free Nelson Mandela. He returned to South Africa in the early 1990s.
The composer, arranger and flugelhorn player has a rich, bold sound that is his personal signature, along with his accented, South African, gravelly vocals. Masekela, who noted that he listened to all types of music growing up including Lawrence Welk, will present a retrospective of his five decades of music (Zulu folklore to swing), with over 40 albums, as well as his work with the late Miriam Makeba, Herb Alpert, Abdullah Ibrahim, Larry Willis and Stevie Wonder.
Masekela’s ongoing quest is to document “the amazing diversity and unfathomable excellence of the African diaspora’s cultural heritage.” For ticket information, visit jalc.org. Tickets start at $30.