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Jazz will be spotlighted in April

American music form traces the country’s history

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WASHINGTON — Jazz is a uniquely American form of music, and now it has its own month.

Starting in 2002, April will be designated Jazz Appreciation Month.

Jazz Appreciation Month is intended to demonstrate how jazz traces America's history, while still lively and innovative.

Jazz "tells the story of the American experience," said Spencer R. Crew, director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

Jazz is about freedom, creativity and the American identity, said John Edward Hasse, curator of American music at the museum. He said JAM will promote national involvement at a cultural and educational level.

April has been picked for Jazz Appreciation Month because school is still in session, and supporters of JAM want to encourage schools to organize programs of their own. It is also the month in which jazz legends Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Tito Puente were born.

JAM will help young people appreciate the unique qualities of the music and appreciate the art form, says Susan K. Sciafani, a counselor in the Education Department.

The Smithsonian will be a partner in JAM through its jazz Web site, SmithsonianJazz.org, which lists events at the museum as well as coming activities. In addition, the Smithsonian has an extensive collection of more than 100 histories of jazz artists, which are part of the museum's Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. It also displays prominent jazz artifacts such as Dizzy Gillespie's angled trumpet.

Quincy Jones says he is optimistic JAM will be an educational force. He said the importance of jazz history is profound, and said he thinks the country has a responsibility to teach it.

"Jazz wraps its arms around everything," he says. "It has a gumbolike quality. Everything is in there. It's timeless," Jones said.

Jones said he thinks it is a shame so few Americans know the history of jazz. He describes jazz as a unique expression of musical hybrids, which are socially driven, tracing African-American history.

The need to teach that history is one reason he joined the Smithsonian and JAM, Jones said; he said he thinks exposure is needed to remind Americans of their past.