These Three Museums are Dedicated to Preserving the History of American Jazz
Jazz, an American art form born in the early twentieth century, celebrates many of its most enigmatic contributors in the month of August. Louis Armstrong – trumpet and cornet player— is one of the many artists who impacted jazz’s founding years. Affectionately nicknamed “Pops,” Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901 and is widely considered to be the father of jazz. He used his scat singing, gravelly voice and personality to play his way into American history, despite segregated color lines.
As America celebrates Armstrong (among others) in August, we look at the commitment to preserve jazz through museums devoted solely to the art form, including the American Jazz Museum, the Louis Armstrong House Museum and the National Jazz Museum.
In Kansas City, in an area known as the Historic 18th & Vine District, stands The American Jazz Museum. Founded in 1997, its mission is “to celebrate and exhibit the experience of jazz as an original American art form through four pillars: research, exhibition, education and performance.” With such a mission, the museum has characterized its legacy with hundreds of performances, education programs, special exhibitions and community events, enabling locals and visitors to its historic space to learn about the legacy of jazz and its contemporary place in musical history.
The museum holds an impressive collection of restored 16 and 35-mm films named after John H. Baker, featuring content and commentary of clips and “soundies” of jazz’s early history, including “Big Bands,” “Women in Jazz” and “African-American Dance in Jazz.” Considering itself the only museum focused solely on the preservation, exhibition and advancement of jazz music, archives such as this show the museum’s dedication to highlighting the contribution not only of Kansas City jazz musicians, but jazz artists throughout the world.
The Louis Armstrong Museum, named after the iconic trumpet player, is a National Historic Landmark in New York City. The museum is located in the Corona Queens home where Armstrong and his wife Lucille actually lived from 1943 until their deaths. The museum’s mission is to “collect, arrange, preserve, catalog and make available to the public materials relating to the life and career of Louis Armstrong and present public programs such as concerts and lectures that preserve and promote the cultural legacy of Louis Armstrong.”
In 1943, when the Armstrong’s were just newlyweds, they purchased the home which later became a National Landmark five years after his death in 1976. In 1986, three years after Lucille’s death, the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation gave the home to the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs with the Queens Museum administering the house. Additionally, a wealth of Armstrong’s personal works, including home-recorded tapes, photographs, scrapbooks and band parts and were given to the Queens College for preservation and to allow the public access to the memorabilia.
Today, the museum holds five major collections— The Louis Armstrong Collection of over 7,000 pieces’ The Satchmo Collection which includes donated materials from friends, fans and collectors; The Jack Bradley Collection, a private collection of Armstrong memorabilia including thousands of photographs, films and periodicals; The Phoebe Jacobs Collection, ten cubic feet of personal papers, correspondence and photographs in relation to Lucille Armstrong; and The Louis Armstrong House Collection of which furniture, paintings and decorations can be viewed.
In 1998, Rogers Marvel Architects, along with local cultural affairs departments and Queens College completed the master plan to make the house a museum. Five yeas later, on October 15, 2003, the house was opened as the Louis Armstrong Museum. In 2005, the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation acquired a private collection of Armstrong photographs by Armstrong’s friend Jack Bradley, that remains on view. A Boy From New Orleans, which opened July 29, 2015 is currently on exhibit and will run through July 2016.
Ever giving voice to the legacy of Armstrong, whose career began in his hometown of New Orleans, this year, The Louis Armstrong House Museum partners with the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans for a new exhibit, Satchmo: His Louis Armstrong. This year also marks the 100th anniversary of Armstrong’s’ first professional gig at Henry Ponce’s in 1915.
The National Jazz Museum was founded in 1997 by Leonard Garment, counsel to two U.S. Presidents and accomplished jazz saxophonist. The museum began with the support of a $1M congressional appropriation, and is based in Harlem. According to the National Jazz Museum, its mission is to “preserve, promote, and present jazz by inspiring knowledge, appreciation and celebration of jazz locally, nationally, and internationally.”
The National Jazz Museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and caters to a wide audience in age, education and musical ability. While the art form started in the early 20th century, the museum’s goal is to keep jazz music alive with a program of live performances, exhibitions, educational workshops and newsworthy archival collections of jazz artifacts.
In 2010, the National Jazz Museum had one of its biggest news events to date, when it acquired The Savory Collection – more than 1,000 recordings taken off the air between 1935 and 1940, featuring new music by greats Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Fats Waller and Billie Holiday. This audio is historic and a remarkable acquisition since it hasn’t been heard since its initial broadcast. Additionally, the museum hosts current exhibitions, conversation series and ongoing events about jazz musicians who made history nationally and around the world.
These three museums are a treasure trove for the American art form of jazz, and even more, for the players in a musical tradition that’s outlived its founding fathers.