Columbus Celebrates the Sweet Sounds of Jazz in April

By Brooke Chavdar

From ragtime and blues to big band and bebop, jazz has been a part of the fabric of American history for more than 100 years. The famed musical tradition has its roots in the southern United States, specifically the city of New Orleans, where African American musicians merged the rhythmic and melodic musical styles of the black community with the European compositional styles brought to the city by its diverse immigrant community.

Jazz has grown tremendously since then, producing multiple subgenres and large followings in major cities such as Chicago and New York. To honor the long-standing history of one of America’s oldest and most celebrated musical genres, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History (NAMH) designated April as Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) in 2002. This year’s celebration, which marks the 10-year-anniversary of JAM, “examines the legacies of jazz women and their advocates who helped transform race, gender and social relations in the U.S. to build a more just and equitable nation.”

Columbus’ vibrant and active jazz scene will be bustling with activity over the course of the next several weeks, with activities to celebrate, promote and educate the local community.

The Ohio State University School of Music will host its 34th Annual Jazz Fest April 7-10 on campus in Weigel Auditorium.  The Festival is an immensely popular tradition which provides something for every jazz lover— OSU jazz bands, guest university jazz bands, high school jazz bands, workshops and renowned guest artists. The 2011 Festival opens with a concert by the Kenyatta Beasley Septet, featuring the music of Frank Foster on Thursday, April 7 at 8 p.m., in Weigel Auditorium. Beasley joined the faculty in 2009 and has had a successful career performing with major artists such as Wyclef Jean, P. Diddy, Usher and Gladys Knight and has won awards for numerous film scores.

The Jazz Arts Group of Columbus (JAG), America's oldest not-for-profit jazz organization, will be putting on a few performances and hosting a number of workshops throughout the month. JAG will kick off its celebration on April with a performance by Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue at the Lincoln Theatre as part of its Inside Track performance series, and will close out the month with a concert called Birth of the Cool at the Lincoln Theatre, which will pay tribute to the cool jazz movement of 1950s and ‘60s.

JAG’s Jazz Academy serves to educate and bring musical opportunities to the people of Columbus through two programs: Jazz in the Community and Jazz in Schools. The 5,000 square foot Jazz Academy community instructional space located in the Lincoln Theatre is home to multi-generational and recreational music making, ensemble playing, after-school programs, technology instruction and lectures with world-class musicians. Jazz in Schools brings local, national and international musicians to Columbus schools to teach, perform and provide hands-on experiences for students of all ages.

Judy Shafer, director of the Jazz in Schools program, says that they have something planned for nearly every day in April.

"We have all sorts of events going on," says Shafer. "We're also working with GCAC's Artists-in-Schools artists including the American Jazz Experience and Jazz 4 Kids. We're also launching new program called Jazz is Spoken Here.  All three programs are assemblies that highlight behaviors of jazz musicians and their ability to cultivate ideas and respect opinions and teamwork. So it's not just about the music, but also about character development and respecting others.

The Columbus Jazz Orchestra (CJO), the flagship performing ensemble of JAG, brings music to the community year-round with over 40 subscription concerts each season. In celebration of JAM, CJO will be performing Night at the Apollo, featuring guest artist, Marva Hicks, at the Southern Theatre April 13-17.

"Women play an important role in the history of jazz," says Scott Vezdos, director of Marketing & Communications for JAG. "They have been involved since its inception. However when we think of women in jazz, we automatically think of the legendary vocalists, but women instrumentalists were also pivotal dating back to the early '20s including pianist Lil Hardin (who helped shape Louis Armstrong's early career), Marian McPartland, and Mary Lou Williams, this year's Jazz Appreciation Month poster honoree. This theme still plays a significant role today with the largest crop of serious female jazz players out there from the likes of Anat Cohen to this year's Grammy winner for Best New Artist, Esperanza Spalding."

Jazz brings people from different backgrounds together through the universally spoken language of music. A shared passion for jazz transcends social barriers and fosters open communication and collaboration, which not only advances musical development, but also strengthens our community. The Columbus jazz scene is a testament to music’s incredible power of fostering unity and it continues to grow and thrive every day through the passion and dedication of the thousands of musicians, teachers and students that support it.

Here's a list of what's going on this month at Jazz Arts Group to celebrate:

Brooke Chavdar served as GCAC's Marketing & Communications intern for winter quarter.  She is set to graduate with honors in June with a degree in Communication and Psychology, with a minor in Professional Writing from The Ohio State University.

Image:  Ohio Theatre, one of Opera Columbus' venues.  Courtesy of

Jazz and Poetry with William Evans
Presented by Jazz Academy
April 2, 2011 - April 16, 2011

"Eat, Drink & Be Merry" Art Show
Presented by The Atrium Gallery at the OSU Hillel Foundation
Through April 28, 2011

Paging Columbus! (a poetry reading)
Presented by OSU Urban Arts Space
April 14, 2011

MFA Concert: Teoma Naccarato & Maree ReMalia
Presented by OSU Dance
April 14, 2011 - April 16, 2011

Opera Ball 2011
Presented by Opera Columbus
April 16, 2011

Earth Day 2011: Lighten Up!
Presented by ARTillery
April 23, 2011

2011 OhioDance Festival and Conference
Presented by OhioDance
April 29, 2011 - May 1, 2011