Celebrating its 11th anniversary in 2012, Jazz Appreciation Month is the brainchild of Dr. John Edward Hasse, renowned jazz author and curator of the Smithsonian Institution's division of culture and the arts. In describing the idea behind the April celebration, Hasse says, "It occurred to me that jazz's biggest challenge was not a lack of talented, but a lack of audience and appreciation."
With the Smithsonian Institution's backing, and the support of governmental agencies such as the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Department of State, Hasse launched the first JAM in April 2001. Today, JAM is supported by more than 20 federal and nongovernmental partners, including the GRAMMY Foundation, and extends across all 50 states and to 40 countries.
As an extension of the annual Jazz Appreciation Month, this year GRAMMY-winning artist Herbie Hancock announced the launch of International Jazz Day, which will be held each year on April 30. The aim is to bring people together from all over the world to celebrate and support understanding of the art of jazz, its roots and its impact, while highlighting its role as a means of communication. Festivities for the inaugural event begin tomorrow and will feature concerts in Paris, New Orelans and New York.
But even if you're not in Paris, New Orleans or New York, it's pretty easy to recognize Jazz Appreciation Month — you just have to listen to the music. And if you program an hour or so of GRAMMY-winning jazz, all the better. With that, we take this angle to its logical extreme and draw our random JAM playlist from a group of jazz artists born in April. After all, no one is appreciated more than on their birthday.
"Ritmo En El Corazon" (iTunes>)
Among the first congueros to play with a real jazz feel, the Nuyorican Barretto (April 29) was the main man for mainstream jazzers needing authentic Afro-Cuban percussion in the '50s and '60s. But he won his only GRAMMY in quite a different arena, joining with the great Cuban songstress Celia Cruz for the folkloric heat of Ritmo En El Corazon, which won the Best Tropical Latin Performance GRAMMY in 1989.
"Mongo's Blues" (iTunes>)
Sir Michel (April 4) — who has been knighted by his native Dominican Republic — made the first album under his own name in 1985. But even before he gained attention for his flashy and fiery piano work, listeners knew his tune "Why Not?" thanks to a hot recording with lyrics by the Manhattan Transfer. Camilo honored a true hero of Latin music, percussionist Mongo Santamaria, with this composition on Live At The Blue Note, which won the Best Latin Jazz Album GRAMMY in 2003.
Caribbean Jazz Project
The Gathering was the Caribbean Jazz Project's third album for the Concord Jazz label, and garnered them their lone GRAMMY win for Best Latin Jazz Album in 2002. Led by co-principal/flautist Dave Valentin (April 29) and GRAMMY-winning founder Dave Samuels, the album is both accessible and adventurous, evidenced by the romantic and musical themes of "Libertad."
"Anatomy Of A Murder" (iTunes>)
Often considered the greatest jazzman ever, and indisputably jazz's greatest composer, Ellington (April 29) won the first three of his 11 GRAMMYs for Anatomy Of A Murder in 1959, including Best Performance By A Dance Band. When film director Otto Preminger decided that his blockbuster adaptation of the best-selling novel needed an original jazz soundtrack, he went to the source. The resulting music remains a high-water mark of jazz in film.
"Cheek To Cheek" (iTunes>)
The quintessential jazz singer, Fitzgerald (April 25) won 13 GRAMMYs during her career — including an impressive seven from 1958–1962. Her first two statues came in 1958, the GRAMMYs' inaugural year, for Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Irving Berlin Song Book, which included a grand arrangement of "Cheek To Cheek," and Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Duke Ellington Song Book. Symbolic of her stylistic breadth, Fitzgerald took home one GRAMMY in pop and one in jazz.
"A Change Is Gonna Come" (iTunes>)
Hancock (April 12) added GRAMMYs 13 and 14 to his résumé in 2010. He released his star-studded The Imagine Project that year, which spawned two GRAMMY wins for "A Change Is Gonna Come" and "Imagine" for Best Improvised Jazz Solo and Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals, respectively. The latter song features appearances by Jeff Beck, India.Arie, Pink, and Oumou Sangare, among others, and was Hancock's first GRAMMY win in the Pop Field.
"Miles Ahead" (iTunes>)
Tenor saxophonist Henderson (April 24) was an insider's favorite — a jazz musician's jazz musician. His indelible in-and-out phrasings finally resulted in four GRAMMYs in the '90s, thanks to a series of inspired theme albums for Verve Records — including 1993's So Near, So Far (Musings For Miles), his homage to the late Miles Davis. The album itself earned Henderson one GRAMMY; his lustrous solo in "Miles Ahead" earned him another for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo.
"God Bless The Child" (iTunes>)
Holiday (April 7) never won a GRAMMY. She died in 1959, barely two years after The Recording Academy was founded. But "Lady Day" has no less than six recordings in the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, including "God Bless The Child," which was inducted in 1976. Holiday wrote the lyrics for this 1941 recording, and they still resonate today as evidenced by George Benson, Al Jarreau and R&B vocalist Jill Scott's cover that won a GRAMMY in 2006.
"Moment To Moment" (iTunes>)
Hubbard (April 7) was brash, headstrong and exhilarating — a trumpet virtuoso in a lineage preceded by Lee Morgan, Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong. He also grabbed an early foothold on the fusion of rock and jazz that marked the Age of Aquarius, leaving his hard-bop roots in the dust to win his only GRAMMY in 1972 for Best Jazz Performance By A Group for First Light, which featured "Moment To Moment" and other bright new jazz sounds.
"Walk On The Water" (iTunes>)
Mulligan (April 6) first made his mark as one of Miles Davis' collaborators in the creation of cool jazz, and then as an innovative and virtuosic baritone saxophonist. But what won him his only GRAMMY for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Big Band in 1981 were the lightly swinging arrangements written for Walk On The Water.
"I Feel Pretty" (iTunes>)
Previn (April 6) is a quadruple threat — the pianist has won awards for classical, pop, jazz, and musical show recordings. He covered the latter two bases with his 1960 album of music from one of the all-time Broadway hits, "West Side Story," which won a GRAMMY for Best Jazz Performance Solo Or Small Group. Previn was honored with a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.
Who is the only percussionist whose name serves as a punch line in a Mel Brooks movie? That would be Santamaria (April 7), the Cuban-born master conguero/composer who was a forerunner in fusing Latin rhythms with soul jazz. This exemplar of jazz communication is taken from the GRAMMY-winning album Dawn, which marked the first GRAMMY nod for the then-new label Fania Records, soon to be a Latin music powerhouse. (The movie was Blazing Saddles.)
Which jazz artists will you celebrate this month? Drop us a comment and share some of the artists who will make your playlist.
(Neil Tesser has broadcast, written about and helped program jazz in Chicago for more than 35 years. His work has appeared in Jazziz, USA Today, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times, and now online at Examiner.com. Tesser received a GRAMMY nomination in 1985 for Best Album Notes for The Girl From Ipanema — The Bossa Nova Years.)