Back in December of 1987, Congress approved House Concurrent Resolution 57, designating jazz as “a rare and valuable national American treasure.”
Now nearly 16 years later, with passage in both the House of Representatives and Senate, President Bush has signed legislation endorsing the jazz art form, with special praise going to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, which established Jazz Appreciation Month (every April).
While H.R. 57 was a nonbinding joint Congressional resolution, Public Law 108-72, as it is known, is the first time jazz has been the primary focus of federal legislation signed by the President.
Excerpts from Public Law 108-72 cite:
• Jazz has inspired some of the nation’s leading creative artists and ranks as one of the greatest cultural exports of the United States.
• Jazz is an original American art form, which has inspired dancers, choreographers, poets, novelists, filmmakers, classical composers and musicians in many other kinds of music.
• Jazz has become an international language that bridges cultural differences and brings people of all races, ages and backgrounds together.
• The jazz heritage of the United States should be appreciated as broadly as possible and should be part of the educational curriculum for children in the United States.
• The Smithsonian Institution has played a vital role in the preservation of American culture, including art and music.
H.R. 57 was first introduced by Congressman John Conyers of Michigan, who believed it was “important for the youth of America to recognize and to understand jazz as a significant part of their cultural and intellectual heritage.”
In keeping with its tradition of honoring jazz, the Smithsonian recently honored legendary clarinetist Artie Shaw (pictured), presenting him with the James Smithson Bicentennial medal recognizing his lifetime achievement in contributions to American culture and music.
During the event Shaw donated two of his clarinets to the museum, including the same one he played on his celebrated 1938 recording of Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine.”
“Few things are more all-American than jazz,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the National Museum of American History, “and Artie Shaw is a jazz legend. As the nation’s history museum we want to raise public awareness of jazz as one of America’s cultural treasures and we are grateful for Mr. Shaw’s contribution to our growing collection to help reach that goal.”
To learn more about jazz at the Smithsonian please visit smithsonianjazz.org.