Jazz icon kicks off Jazz Appreciation Month

A three-time Grammy award winner told Jazz Appreciation Month celebrants in Jack Morton Auditorium that modern youth lack an appreciation and an understanding of jazz music.

Ramsey Lewis, a musician and the host of the Smithsonian Institute’s launch of Jazz Appreciation Month on Monday, focused his discussion at GW on the declining popularity of jazz among the youngest generation.

“Young people think they can play Charlie Parker songs and ‘look, mo,m no hands,'” Lewis said. “But that’s a means to the end, not an end. Whether it is at the church or at the (YMCA), there is something that can be done for young people in the arts.”

JAM takes place every April and attempts to teach young people about jazz through a series of festivals, speeches and performances. Lewis said large jazz celebrations outside of the annual festival are not very popular among young people.

“There used to be a time where we had three or four-day jazz festivals,” Lewis said. “Now, there must be a pop artist there.”

Of the 70 people that attended this year’s JAM launch, only five attendees were students. Bret Dubois, a senior majoring in political science, said youth representation at the GW event is representative of a national trend. He said the only reason he attended is because Lewis is a family friend.

“Today’s average college kid doesn’t appreciate jazz music and doesn’t really know about it,” Dubois said. “I mean think about it. Do you know anyone who listens to jazz in their room? Probably not. I listen to it but I’m an anomaly because I happen to adore all types of music.”

The GW event also included a performance by the Fredrico Nay International music group, a video clip of the trailer for Lewis’ new television show, an on-stage interview with legendary jazz guitarist Larry Coryell, and speeches by University President Steven Knapp and National Museum of American History Director Brent Glass.

Coryell and Lewis said primary school education is a major culprit behind the ignorance in jazz music.

“Young people, it is my impression, don’t seem to understand the roots (of jazz),” Coryell said.

“Or hip-hop and how it has been influenced by the schools,” Lewis added. “When I went to the public schools in Chicago, these young kids looked at the acoustic base like it was Mars. What is a rhythm? What is a chord? What is a melody? Youth needs to be taught that in the schools again.”

In 2005, Lewis partnered with his wife to create the Ramsey Lewis Foundation, an organization that provides young people with musical instruments and pays for the tuition for students who want to attend colleges with strong music programs; Oberlin College and the Juilliard School are just two examples.

“To ensure that there will be jazz masters 30 and 40 years from now, we must do our part to perpetuate our ideas,” Lewis said.

Glass said jazz is an important part of American culture that should not be neglected.

“The history of America can’t be told without American jazz,” Glass said. “It’s an art form that connects so much of American history.”

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