Congressman Introduces Jazz Bill

Eric Gould
April 9, 2014
Ravi Coltrane (left) listens as Sandra Gibson (center) and Cedric Hendricks (right) brief him on HR 4280, the National Jazz Preservation, Education and Promulgation Act of 2014, recently introduced by Rep. John Conyers.
Photo by John Hasse

Rep. John Conyers recently introduced a bill to preserve jazz recordings, to fund jazz education, and to support jazz artists in cooperation with the Smithsonian Institution. Because such measures underscore the value of jazz and therefore the work we're doing in the Jazz Composition Department and across Berklee, we thought we would share the news with the college community. Below is a transcript of Conyers's speech to the House of Representatives. 

Should anyone have questions about the bill, or an interest in building support for it, please direct them to Conyers' legislative assistant, Daniel Hervig, at 202 225-5126 or


Rep. John Conyers' statement from the congressional record:

"Mr. Speaker, members of the House, I am introducing a Jazz Appreciation Month piece of legislation entitled the 'National Jazz Preservation, Education and Promulgation Act of 2014.'

"In 1986, I introduced a bill in which I simply sought to make a compelling statement about the importance of jazz within American culture. Its final clause read:

'Now, therefore be it Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), that it is the sense of the Congress that jazz is hereby designated as a rare and valuable national American treasure to which we should devote our attention, support and resources to make certain it is preserved, understood and promulgated.'

"The jazz community came together in strong support of that legislation, and through many phone calls and letters generated enough cosponsorships to get House Concurrent Resolution 57 passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on September 23, 1987. The fact that the 23rd was John Coltrane’s birthday made the accomplishment even more special for me and was able to secure approval of the bill by the U.S. Senate a little more than two months later, on December 4, 1987.

"During my work on that bill, which has come to be known as the 'Jazz Resolution,' I saw it inspire successful jazz-related political activity at the local governmental level in New York City, in Philadelphia and in Washington, D.C. While each of these legislative victories were a milestone for the music, with each making profound statements about the importance of jazz in those communities, none of them directed financial resources toward its support. So, a couple of years later, I began working through the congressional appropriations process to do just that.

"In the fall of 1990, I secured funding for the creation of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. I was able to obtain additional funds for the Smithsonian’s jazz program on three subsequent occasions. The result has been the solidification of a comprehensive jazz program that involves preservation, education, and performance. I chose to focus my efforts on the Smithsonian Institution because it serves as the nation’s treasure chest. It is where all things American that are historic and valued are kept. I wanted jazz to have an appropriate and permanent place at the Smithsonian. It has that now.

"I want to express my special thanks to Dr. John Hasse, the Smithsonian’s curator of American music, for his leadership and strong support for jazz. I also want to congratulate him on establishing Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM). Today, is the kickoff of the 13th JAM, which has grown to become a global celebration of jazz as America’s classical music. I am pleased that John Coltrane, one of our nation’s greatest musibians and composers, was selected to be the focus of the 2014 JAM poster and today’s JAM activities. The "Acknowledgement" of his recording A Love Supreme 50 years ago, in December 1964, is a great way to honor John Coltrane. The fact that his original score of that iconic composition is a part of the Smithsonian’s collections and is on display there today is much appreciated.

"Jazz is now well over 100 years old. Scores of many remarkable compositions, artifacts, documents, and photographs are in private hands, at risk of getting damaged, lost, or being sold abroad. In addition, jazz education at the elementary and secondary school level is virtually impossible to find. As such, in order to ensure the continued prominence of jazz as a part America’s cultural heritage, I have just introduced H.R. 4280, the National Jazz Preservation, Education, and Promulgation Act of 2014. This legislation would enable the further implementation the mandate established in H. Con. Res. 57. It will help our nation preserve its jazz heritage, educate our youth about this national treasure, and encourage the promulgation of jazz by fostering opportunities for jazz artists to create and share their music with the public here and abroad.

"H.R. 4280 would authorize funding to establish a National Jazz Preservation Program at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. The program would create oral and video histories of leading jazz artists; acquire, preserve, and interpret artifacts; and conduct exhibitions and other educational activities that would enable generations of Americans to learn about and enjoy jazz. The program would also work with local museums, educational institutions, and community organizations to establish jazz collections and share artifacts between them.

"In addition, the legislation promotes jazz education in several ways. It encourages the introduction of jazz to our youth by authorizing funding to establish a Jazz Artists in the Schools Program. This program should be modeled on the successful one previously operated by the National Endowment for the Arts. It also authorizes funding for the development of jazz education curriculum and materials and their dissemination to educators at all levels. The bill authorizes funding for a Jazz Ambassadors Program. This program should be modeled on the historic one that the U.S. State Department launched back in 1956. That program sent noted American jazz musicians abroad to perform. My bill would enable young jazz musicians and jazz ensembles from secondary schools to be sent abroad on missions of goodwill, education, and cultural exchange.

"Finally, HR 4280 promotes the promulgation of jazz by authorizing funding to support a nationwide series of performances by jazz artists. This would be done through the establishment of a jazz appreciation program at the Smithsonian Institution. This program would work through the network of Smithsonian affiliates to host jazz concerts. The affiliates network includes more than 180 museums, educational, and cultural organizations in more than 40 states, Puerto Rico, and Panama.

"I encourage all of you to take a look at and consider supporting H.R. 4280. I also encourage you to share a copy of it with others that have an interest in America’s jazz music."

Text of House Bill HR4280: