An Interview with Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra Executive Director, Kennith Kimery

Wed, Sep 20, 2017 at 10:20AM

We cannot believe that we are already celebrating our seventh year of hosting the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra in Daytona Beach. We are very much looking forward to their concert performances at the Museum on Saturday, September 30th. This is a throwback to an interview done with SJMO Executive Director, Kennith Kimery from last year that explains the history of the SJMO as well as their experience performing at the Museum of Arts & Sciences.

The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra (SJMO) has flown to Daytona Beach to entertain and educate the community with jazz concert performances at the Museum of Arts & Sciences for the past six years. It has been our pleasure to host such an amazing and talented group of people. In this article, we took the opportunity to interview Kennith Kimery, Executive Director of the SJMO, and drummer, about the orchestra, and their experiences working with and visiting the Museum of Arts & Sciences.


What is the history of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and what other locations have they played?

In 1990, the United States Congress, recognizing the importance of jazz in American culture, authorized the establishment of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra (SJMO).

As the national jazz orchestra, the SJMO perpetuates some of the greatest music that jazz has created. Through its 25 years, the orchestra has distinguished itself as one of the crown jewels of the Smithsonian, itself a pre-eminent national treasure.

The band has performed for audiences at the Smithsonian Institution, Kennedy Center, The White House, the United States Capitol, Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater, and the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. The band has also performed at prestigious music festivals such as Ravinia and the Monterey Jazz Festival, in schools and colleges, and throughout Canada, Europe, the Middle East, Egypt, Russia, Ethiopia, and Kenya. On a 2008 State Department-sponsored tour of Egypt, the Orchestra won many new friends for the United States. After an outdoor performance at the Pyramids and Sphinx, the Cairo Daily News raved, “The backdrop was incredible, the band was superb.”

Other critical reactions have been enthusiastic. Wrote The New York Times: “Culturally important… spectacular musically. After being embalmed on recordings, the music suddenly came alive.” Syndicated columnist David S. Broder wrote: “The impact of these live performances is everything the showmen, scholars, and politicians who brought this small miracle to pass imagined it might be. It is electrifying…”

The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra educates the public about the history and development of jazz as an art form and means of entertainment. It promotes a greater appreciation for jazz as a valuable American treasure by performing jazz masterworks and presenting educational activities that engage the public with this great music.

What role does the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra play at the Smithsonian?

Jazz is the musical embodiment of American ideas and ideals. We steward the role of jazz in our shared past, present, and future. We bring the Museum’s world-class collections, research, and exhibitions to life through our concerts and educational programs, and we are committed to preserving and exploring the role of jazz for future generations. In these actions and activities, we strive to embody the values of democracy, diversity, and diplomacy that are intrinsic in jazz and teach us the ideas and ideals of equality and risk-taking, individuality and collaboration, and history and evolution. In this way, through these three pillars, we create unique opportunities for our audiences to understand the American experience through the transformative power of jazz.

Are there any other programs like the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra in the world?

While the SJMO is not the only jazz orchestra in America, it is unique. As the only federally-chartered jazz orchestra, it enjoys a position of prestige and importance. As the only such ensemble resident at a museum (one with vast holdings of jazz music and history), it’s in a unique position to make the jazz legacy come alive.


What makes a Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra performance unique?

The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra educates the public about the history and development of jazz as an art form and means of entertainment. It promotes a greater appreciation for jazz as a valuable American treasure by performing jazz masterworks and presenting educational activities that inform the public of the character of this music.

How did you first become involved with the Museum of Arts & Sciences?

In 2011, MOAS Chief Curator, Cynthia Duval, contacted me about the possibility of having the SJMO perform at MOAS as part of their Smithsonian Affiliate month-long programming. The SJMO had performed throughout Florida with great success prior to 2011 but not in association with a Smithsonian Affiliate.


Members of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and MOAS staff after the final performance by the SJMO in 2016.



How does the SJMO like coming to MOAS?

We take great pride in our relationship with MOAS as a Smithsonian Affiliate and the Museum’s dedication to its history, but most importantly, we are honored by the close friendship and trust MOAS staff and its community have bestowed upon the SJMO. It has truly been a joyous homecoming for the last six years.

How have you seen MOAS change over the last six years?

I have witnessed many wonderful changes over the past six years. From the renovation of MOAS and addition of the new Planetarium to the planning and opening of the Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art, to the hiring of Executive Director, Andy Sandall, and additional highly talented museum staff, not to overshadow the fact that the Museum already had incredible talent when we arrived six years ago.

What are the highlights of your performance at MOAS?

Every year is special. What makes it special for us is the Museum’s trust in our curating a wide-range of concert themes (Ella Fitzgerald to Sidney Bechet, Ornette Coleman to Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis to Johnny Hodges) and the genuine audience feedback for each of our programs.

Are you interested in experiencing a live performance from the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra? There is still time to purchase admission to their September 30th performances! Show times are at 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. and admission can be purchased by calling the Museum at 386-255-0285.


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