What better way to celebrate jazz music than by devoting the entire month of April to the genre! Fondly known as “JAM”, Jazz Appreciation Month was created in 2001 by The Smithsonian Institution to recognize and celebrate the extraordinary heritage and history of jazz for the month of April.

It 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. As the initiator of JAM, the Smithsonian Institute also graciously provides great resources for Jazz Radio Announcements and a Directory for Jazz Societies. So cool!

JAM 2020 featured Toshiko Akiyoshi. Born in Manchuria, Akiyoshi first moved to Japan with her parents at the end of World War II, and then to the United States in 1956 to study at Berklee School of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. Following a series of performances in top New York venues, in 1973, she and her husband, saxophonist/flutist Lew Tabackin, formed the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra. Known for her uniquely textural big band compositions and Japanese influence, Akiyoshi has received fourteen Grammy Award nominations, was the first woman to win Best Arranger and Composer awards in Down Beat magazine’s annual Readers’ Poll, and received the title of NEA Jazz Master in 2007.

To listen to the engaging words of Toshiko Akiyoshi recorded in 2008, visit her Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Interview.

Toshiko Ashiyoki on Jazz Appreciation Month

Toshiko Ashiyoki


So what’s JAM 2021 all about? This year, the museum is featuring Women’s Impact and Contributions in Jazz! From the genre’s earliest development to present successes and challenges, the museum is recognizing contributions of women in jazz.

I was excited to learn that the 2021 Featured Artist is one of my fav jazz singers, Nina Simone. The museum will explore the historical legacy of this extraordinary pianist, singer, songwriter, storyteller, and civil rights activist. Check back on their website, as they will be adding historic content online programming. The 2021 JAM poster features a beautiful illustration of Nina Simone by a Duke Ellington School of the Arts sophomore visual arts student, Naa Anyele Sowah-de Jesus.

Here is a little background on Nina Simone, courtesy of the S.I. Born February 21, 1933, in Tryon, North Carolina, Simone became enamored with music at the early age of three when she learned to play the piano by ear. She went on to study classical repertoire and aspired to continue her education as a concert pianist at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, but that future did not come to pass. An audition in 1954 at the Midtown Bar & Grill in Atlantic City, New Jersey, was noted by historians as a defining moment in her career that introduced her talents as a pianist and singer to an unsuspecting and enthusiastic audience. Some of her many recordings include her debut album, Little Girl Blue, on Bethlehem Records; the 1962 live recording Nina at the Village Gate; and 1964’s Nina Simone in Concert, which famously addressed racial inequality. Simone received the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2000 and was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. Her 1964 performance of Mississippi Goddam was selected as culturally and historically significant by the Library of Congress in 2018 and included for preservation on the National Recording Registry.

Now that Nina has got you pumped up, how can you celebrate jazz this April and year-round?! Here are some great suggestions, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute:

If you’re a Jazz Fan –

  • Attend a jazz concert at a local concert hall, performing arts organization, church, school, college, or jazz society
  • Follow your favorite musicians or groups on social media
  • Seek out new jazz music, musicians, and albums
  • Share your favorite music, musicians, or new finds with friends and peers
  • Read a biography about one of your favorite jazz musicians, jazz poetry, or other jazz book – fiction or nonfiction
  • Tune into a local jazz radio station or online radio station or playlist
  • Make a pilgrimage to your favorite jazz city, jazz museum, or to a musician’s birthplace or gravesite
  • Watch a jazz documentary, film, or performance
  • Join your local jazz society or organization (If none exists, organize one!)
  • Subscribe to a jazz magazine or other publication online or in print
  • Host jazz listening sessions
  • Hold a jazz-themed party in honor of a favorite musician, or to celebrate jazz in general

If you’re a Musician –

  • Partner with a local elementary, middle, high school or college for a concert, masterclass, or workshop for students
  • Go to Today in Jazz History and find an anniversary around which you could perform a piece, dedicate a tune, compose a piece or more
  • Partner with other local musicians and music organizations to organize a city-wide “Jazz Day” or “Jazz Night” and have a city-wide JAM session
  • Share your upcoming concerts and programs online and connect with other musicians
  • Participate in or organize a local jam session or jazz open mic night
  • Join your local jazz society or organization (If none exists, organize one!)
  • Subscribe to a jazz magazine or other publication online or in print

If you’re a Student –

  • Organize a jam session with your friends or through your music teacher
  • Learn a new piece of music by one of your favorite jazz musicians
  • Attend a jazz concert at a local concert hall, performing arts organization, church, school, college, or jazz society
  • Watch a jazz documentary, film, or performance
  • Follow your favorite musicians or groups on social media
  • Read Gene Seymour’s overview of the music, Jazz: The Great American Art
  • Read Langston Hughes’s First Book of Jazz
  • Read a biography about one of your favorite jazz musicians
  • Ask your teacher to organize an in-class or after school jazz appreciation activity
  • Connect with a local jazz society or organization and see if they offer any jazz education programs

Still have questions? Check out JAM’s FAQ page and subscribe to never miss a beat! (Pun intended.) 🙂

Now go and enjoy, listen, and play some jazz music!

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You can learn more about Pastimes for a Lifetime’s Piano Curriculum and founder/instructor Linda Wehrli by clicking the links or feel free to explore the website.

Pastimes For a Lifetime Art and Piano School is located in Valley Glen, California. 818-766-0614. School is open Tuesday – Saturday year round, except major holidays.

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