Our special guest this year for Jazz Appreciation Month in Montenegro was John Edward Hasse (1948), a famous American jazz author, writer, pianist and musicologist. During his two-day visit, Dr. Hasse gave lectures at the Ministry of Culture – “Why We Need the Arts More Than Ever?”, and in Podgorica Gymnasium – “Ella Fitzgerald: First Lady of Song”; he also attended the concerts within the JAM festival, met the minister of culture, secretary of Montenegrin National Commission for UNESCO, and other cultural workers, journalists, musicians and supporters of our JAM; he was interviewed on the National Radio and TV program (RTCG).
Music historian, musician, award-winning author and record producer, John Edward Hasse has served over 30 years as curator of American Music at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, where he was the founding Executive Director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, an acclaimed big band, and he founded the national Jazz Appreciation Month, celebrated every April throughout the U.S. and beyond. He has curated a series of exhibitions at the Smithsonian Institution. John Edward Hasse is a global voice for American jazz music—and a leader himself in the search for creative achievement. He is the author of a critically acclaimed biography Beyond Category: The Life and Genius of Duke Ellington. In January 2018 he received “Legend of Jazz Education” Award, an honor previously given to Ellis Marsalis, David Baker, and Herbie Hancock.
We are delighted to share the interview with John Edward Hasse published on 21 April in “Vijesti” daily.
-Your work for decades as a curator of the American Music in the Smithsonian Institution is very appreciated in the U.S., and is very impressive. Can you please explain your special interests and accomplishments during your work in this prestigious institution?
JEH: For me, my work represented far more than a “dream job”—it was a calling. It was deeply gratifying to pursue my passion—music generally and jazz especially—for 33 years.
My duties were broad and the job was demanding; it meant wearing about twelve different “hats”—collector, preservationist, exhibit curator, scholar, public speaker, advocate, spokesperson, public servant, coalition builder, cultural ambassador, friend-raiser and fund-raiser.
There are three accomplishments I’m particularly proud of. (1) Leading a concerted effort to build the world’s largest museum collection of jazz history, with artifacts from Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, and many others. The Duke Ellington Collection alone is a world treasure—200,000 pages of documents, half of that unpublished music that he and Billy Strayhorn composed for the Duke Ellington Orchestra. (2) Founding Jazz Appreciation Month, now in its 17th year. (3) Founding a distinguished big band, the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, now in its 27th season of concerts and tours.
-What inspired you to create Jazz Appreciation Month?
JEH: I felt that jazz was and is one of the greatest 20th century contributions to American and world culture, but that it was undervalued and underappreciated. Designating one month to focus on jazz creates an annual occasion and platform for all sorts of public celebrations in schools, college, libraries, museums, concert halls, and radio and TV stations. JAM is now celebrated across the United States and around the world.
-How this idea spread to the US and abroad?
JEH: The idea has spread in several ways: through the Smithsonian Institution—the world’s largest museum and research complex; through partnerships with thirty-some national and international organizations; and through the passion of individual jazz musicians and advocates, such as Montenegro’s own Maja Popovic. She leads one of the world’s foremost celebrations of Jazz Appreciation Month. Her vision, leadership, and advocacy deeply impress me.
-You are passionate about music and leadership. You have given a lot of lectures on this topic “Leadership Lessons from the Jazz Masters.” How does jazz provide leaders with inspiration?
JEH: In my talks, I speak about eight core lessons today’s leaders can learn from jazz masters such as Louis Armstrong and Herbie Hancock. Listen closely. Find your own sound. Master the moment. Remain fresh—innovate. Jam. Collaborate creatively. Find and nurture great talent. And affirm diversity.
In your opinion what is the best example of leadership in jazz?
JEH: Duke Ellington. A brilliant composer and bandleader, he led the greatest jazz orchestra in history. He treated each musician as if he or she were very special—a jewel—important to the whole team, and the results were spectacular. He inspired them to perform at, or beyond, their best, and engendered great loyalty and longevity from his players.
Imagine what a different world we’d have if all our leaders recognized what Ellington knew: that each one of us has been given different gifts. And that we all need to find a way to highlight each person’s gifts, downplay their weaknesses, enhance their strengths, and bring out their very best. That’s a powerful leadership lesson from jazz master Duke Ellington.
I consider Ellington the greatest all-around American musician: composer, bandleader-conductor, arranger-orchestrator, soloist, and accompanist. Nobody did all those things so brilliantly as Ellington. His recordings and compositions will resound through the centuries and, I believe, the millennia.
-Recently, you were awarded by the “Legend of Jazz Education”! Can you tell us more about your educational work?
JEH: You could say that education is practically in my DNA: both my parents were teachers, and I believe strong in educating the next generation as well as curious adults. To that end, I have curated Smithsonian exhibitions on Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Ray Charles. I’ve co-authored a leading textbook for college students, Discover Jazz. I’ve contributed to educational offerings on the Smithsonian’s website www.smithsonianjazz.org.
And I consider each lecture an opportunity to educate.
-What are your current projects?
JEH: I just spent a week at the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston, presenting 13 lectures on jazz. I love sharing my knowledge and passion with interested audiences. I also write on jazz for The Wall Street Journal and am exploring ideas for my next book.
-The last JAM at the Smithsonian was dedicated to Women in Jazz; following that idea, this year’s JAM in Montenegro is inspired the women as well. Do you think women deserve more space in the jazz world? Why does this theme still matter, and why we need to talk about it?
There is no question that women need more space and recognition in jazz. It’s a male-dominated field from top to bottom: musicians, composers, record producers, concert producers, booking agents, critics, and even audiences. But the talent that women musicians have displayed and shared with the public is staggering. And they’ve had a very uphill struggle to achieve all that they have achieved. I’d like to see a lot more young women get involved in the music, and as they progress in their careers, they will serve as role models and naturally inspire the next generation of young women to consider jazz as a profession.
–Where can our readers go for more information?
JEH: Four websites: