June 13, 2013
Friday, June 14: Drawing at Dusk
Aspiring artists, now is your chance to draw like a pro! Smithsonian isn’t giving you any excuses not to explore your creative side this evening: free materials, a clothed model and thousand’s of the world’s best artworks to inspire you. All ages and ability levels welcome. Free, but with limited space (show up early!). 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. American Art Museum.
Saturday, June 15: Become a Pilot Family Day
Airplane heaven is coming to the Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center. Today, 50 aircraft, from vintage to military to home-built, will be on display outdoors, with expert pilots to explain the skills it takes to fly them. Inside, flight simulators and hands-on activities for kids will allow visitors to put their new pilot abilities to the test. Free ($15 parking). 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center.
Sunday, June 16: Art Signs
Come witness the universal language of art this Sunday at the American Art Museum and join the Art Signs program, a monthly gallery talk presented in American Sign Language (ASL). The 30-minute talk will be given by a deaf gallery guide, and voice interpreters will be present for a hearing audience, allowing both deaf and hearing visitors to learn about art together. ASL is a completely different language than English, with its own set of grammar rules and syntax. Stop by the museum to learn about the art in two different languages. Free. 1 p.m. American Art Museum.
Also, check out our Visitors Guide App. Get the most out of your trip to Washington, D.C. and the National Mall with this selection of custom-built tours, based on your available time and passions. From the editors of Smithsonian magazine, the app is packed with handy navigational tools, maps, museum floor plans and museum information including ‘Greatest Hits’ for each Smithsonian museum.
For a complete listing of Smithsonian events and exhibitions visit the goSmithsonian Visitors Guide. Additional reporting by Colleen Connolly and Michelle Strange.
April 2, 2013
Dave Brubeck. The legendary jazz pianist, composer, and cultural diplomat’s name inspires awe and reverence. Call him the “quintessential American.” Reared in the West, born into a tight knit, musical family, by age 14 he was a cowboy working a 45,000 acre cattle ranch at the foothills of the Sierras with his father and brothers. A musical innovator, Brubeck captivated the world over six decades with his love for youth, all humanity, and the cross-cultural musical rhythms that jazz and culture inspire. In 2009, as a Kennedy Center Honoree he was feted by President Barack Obama who said “you can’t understand America without understanding jazz. And you can’t understand jazz without understanding Dave Brubeck.”
In 2012, Dave Brubeck passed away a day before his 92nd birthday, surrounded by his wife of 70 years, Iola , his son Darius and Darius’ wife Cathy. To understand Brubeck’s legacy one must know him as a musician, a son, husband, father and friend. In tribute to Dave Brubeck during the Smithsonian’s 12th Annual Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) and UNESCO’s International Jazz Day, his eldest son, Darius, offers a birds-eye view into life with his famous father and family and how their influences shaped his personal worldview and career as a jazz pianist, composer, educator, and cultural activist, using music to foster intercultural understanding and social equity. A Fulbright Senior Specialist in Jazz Studies, Darius Brubeck has taught jazz history and composition in Turkey, Romania, and South Africa, among other nations. He has created various ground breaking commissions such as one for Jazz at Lincoln Center that set music he composed with Zim Ngqawana to extracts of speeches from Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, read by actor Morgan Freeman.
What did you learn from your father as a musician and cultural ambassador that guides and inspires you today?
Nearly everything. But here is what I think relates to JAM and this UNESCO celebration. Dave combined being as American as you can get—raised as a cowboy, former GI, always in touch with his rural California roots—with being internationalist in his outlook. People in many countries regard him as one of their own, because he touched their lives as much as their own artists did. If it were possible to explain this with precision, music would be redundant. Of course it isn’t.
He was always curious, interested in people, intrigued rather than repelled by difference, and quick to see what people had in common. I realize, now especially, that I absorbed these attitudes and have lived accordingly, without really thinking about where they came from.
How was it growing up with a famous jazz musician father who had friends like Louis Armstrong, Gerry Mulligan and Miles Davis?
In retrospect, the most important thing was seeing what remarkable human beings these musicians were. They had their individual hang-ups and struggles, but in company they were witty, perceptive, self-aware, informed, and, above all, ‘cool.’ I learned that humor and adaptability help you stay sane and survive the endless oscillation between exaltation and frustration— getting a standing ovation one moment and not being able to find a place to eat the next. Dave and Paul (Desmond) were extremely different people but their very difference worked musically. You learn perspective because your own vantage point is always changing.
For your family music, and jazz in particular, is the family business. How did that shape you as a person and your family as a unit?
It made us a very close family. People in the ‘jazz-life’ really understand that playing the music is the easiest part. The rest of it can be pretty unrewarding. My mother worked constantly throughout my father’s career, and still does. Many people contact her about Dave’s life and music. In addition to writing lyrics, she contributed so much to the overall organization of our lives. We were very fortunate because this created extra special bonds between family members as colleagues, and as relatives.
Performing together as a family is special. It’s also fun. We all know the score, so to speak. We all know that the worst things that happen make the best stories later. And so we never blame or undermine each other. There have been big celebratory events that have involved us all. Dave being honored at the Kennedy Center in 2009 must count as the best. All four musician brothers were surprise guest performers, and both my parents were thrilled.
During the seventies, my brothers Chris and Dan and I toured the world with Dave in “Two Generations of Brubeck” and the “New Brubeck Quartet.” Starting in 2010, the three of us have given performances every year as “Brubecks Play Brubeck.” We lead very different lives in different countries the rest of the time. The professional connection keeps us close.
The Jazz Appreciation Month theme for 2013 is “The Spirit and Rhythms of Jazz.” How does your father’s legacy express this theme?
I know you’re looking for something essential about jazz itself but, first, I’ll answer your question very literally. Dave wrote a large number of ‘spiritual’ works, including a mass commissioned for Pope John Paul’s visit to the U.S. in 1987. His legacy as a composer, of course, includes jazz standards like In Your Own Sweet Way. But there is a large body of liturgical and concert pieces in which he shows people how he felt about social justice, ecology, and his faith.
The ‘spirit of jazz’ in Dave’s music, as he performed it, is an unqualified belief in improvisation as the highest, most inspired , ‘spiritual’ musical process of all.
Cultural and rhythmic diversity is what he is most famous for because of hits like “Take Five,” “Unsquare Dance” and “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” The cultural diversity of jazz is well illustrated by his adaptation of rhythms common in Asia, but new to jazz. He heard these during his Quartet’s State Department tour in 1958.
You were a Fulbright scholar in jazz studies in Turkey. Your father composed “Blue Rondo” after touring the country. How did Turkey inspire him? What did you learn from your time in Turkey and touring there with your father?
Dave first heard the rhythm that became the basis of “Blue Rondo a la Turk” in Izmir, played by street musicians. I was actually with him in 1958, as an 11-year-old boy. He transcribed the 9/8 rhythm and when he went to do a radio interview, he described what he heard to one of the radio orchestra musicians who spoke English. The musician explained that this rhythm was very natural for them, “like blues is for you.” The juxtaposition of a Turkish folk rhythm with American blues is what became “Blue Rondo.”
The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s music encounter with Indian classical musicians at All-India Radio was also very significant. Dave didn’t perform the music of other cultures, but he saw the creative potential of moving in that direction as a jazz musician, especially when it came to rhythm.
Jazz is open-ended. It always was fusion music, but that doesn’t mean that it is just a nebulous collection of influences.
When I was in Istanbul as a Fulbright Senior Specialist in 2007, my first thought was to encourage what musicologists call hybridity, the mixing of musical traditions. This was met with some resistance from students and I had to re-think my approach. In effect, they were saying, ‘No! We’re not interested in going on a cross-cultural journey with you during your short time here. We want to learn what you know.’
They were right. When, and if, they want to combine jazz and Turkish music, they’ll do it themselves, and vice versa. Jazz is world music. It’s not ‘World Music’ in the sense of ‘Celtic fiddler jams with Flamenco guitarist and tabla player.’ Rather it is a language used everywhere. Anywhere you go you’ll find musicians who play the blues and probably some ‘standards’ like “Take the A-Train” or “All the Things You Are.” The other side of this is that local music becomes international through jazz. Think about the spread of Brazilian, South African and Nordic jazz.
In the eighties in South Africa, you initiated the first degree course in jazz studies offered by an African university. Jazz is known globally as ‘freedom’s music.’ South African was under apartheid when you did this. Why was it important for you to do this on that continent, in that country, at that time?
Before I answer, I have to say that my wife, Catherine, is South African. Her political and music connections led to my going to Durban in 1983 to teach at the University of Natal (now the University of KwaZulu-Natal).
There wasn’t a university degree in jazz studies in the whole of Africa. It is somewhat ironic that the first one should be taught by a white foreigner in apartheid South Africa. The ANC in exile was in favor of my going or we wouldn’t have gone. They knew they would be in government sooner or later and saw that transforming important institutions from the inside was a positive step.
There was already an established jazz scene in South Africa that had produced great artists like Hugh Masakela and Abdullah Ibrahim, but they couldn’t work in their own country. So this was a crucial choice for me at the time and an opportunity to do something that mattered. Local musicians didn’t have the training for the academic world; working in a university certainly isn’t the same as gigging and giving music lessons. A lot of ‘improvisation’ made it work. For example, changing entrance requirements so that African students and players could join the program.
How we progressed is too long a story to go into here, but the new opportunities and, eventually, the especially created Centre for Jazz & Popular Music visibly and joyfully changed the cultural landscape on campus, in Durban, and also had an impact on higher education generally. Today, 30 years later, there are numerous universities and schools that offer jazz.
What are your aspirations as a jazz musician and educator? What impact do you want to have on the world?
I’ve just described the biggest thing I’ve done in my life. It took up almost 25 years and I’m in my sixties now. So that might be it, but who knows? I’m back to playing music full-time because I love doing it, not just the music but the life-long friendships and connections that develop in the jazz world.
Also the travel, the especially strange and wonderful opportunities like playing in Israel and Saudi Arabia within a few months of each other. I secretly hope that in some instances my concerts and compositions help people see beyond the barriers of race, nationalism and ideology. That’s what I try to do, anyway.
I don’t have particular career aspirations, except the desire to continue improving as a musician. When I feel I’ve gone as far as I can, I’ll quit. Meanwhile I enjoy having my own quartet, touring sometimes with my brothers, and also lecturing and teaching when the occasions arise.
What’s on the horizon for the Brubeck Institute and your career that most people don’t know?
I hope the Brubeck Institute will take on an even more international role. While it is historically fitting that the Institute and the Brubeck Collection be located at the University of the Pacific in California where my parents studied and met, the true mission is global.
At the start of this conversation I said my father was instinctively internationalist. I think the Brubeck Institute should carry this spirit of cooperation and ecumenism into the future. I will certainly help where I can.
This year I’m hoping to play in far flung Kathmandu, where they have a jazz festival, also to return to South Africa for some reunion performances. I really appreciate that although I live in London, the university where I taught for 25 years has made me an Honorary Professor.
JAM 2013 explores jazz and world culture with Smithsonian museums and community partners in a series of events. April 9, free onstage discussion/workshop with Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez at American history; free Latin Jazz JAM! concert with Hernandez, Giovanni Hidalgo and Latin jazz stars at GWU Lisner Auditorium; April 10, Randy Weston and African Rhythms in concert w. guest Candido Camero/onstage discussion with Robin Kelley and Wayne Chandler ; April 12 Hugh Masakela at GWU.
September 19, 2012
You might not get a day off from work for Ask a Curator Day, but we can assure you, it’s a pretty big deal. On September 19, curators from across the world will be standing by the ready to take your questions and turn them into expert-crafted gold, or at least point you in the right direction. It’s as easy as 140 characters and a hashtag.
Using Twitter and the tag #askacurator, you can ask whatever burning query is on your mind. Experts from Sri Lanka to Switzerland will be fielding questions all day long. And, of course, the Smithsonian will be participating, including the American History Museum (@amhistorymuseum), the National Air and Space Museum (@airandspace), the Freer and Sackler Gallery (@freersackler), the National Museum of African Art (@nmafa) and the National Postal Museum (@postalmuseum).
On the American History Museum blog, meet the experts in advance of the event, including Katherine Ott, a curator in the Division of Medicine and Science who says, “Ask me about ephemera. It’s a weird word—and I love it.” Eric Jentsch, Deputy Chair of the Division of Culture and the Arts, meanwhile, can’t wait to discuss everything from pop culture to sports to one of his favorite finds, an Urkel lunchbox.
At the Postal Museum, historian Nancy Pope, curator of philately Daniel Piazza and curator of postal history Lynn Heidelbaugh are ready to take your questions.
And because good questions (hey, no such thing as a bad one, right?) deserve good answers every day, Smithsonian magazine invites all comers to “Ask Smithsonian,” where we’ll hook your musings up with the appropriate curator all year round, and possibly publish your name and your question in the magazine.
January 20, 2012
Now that you’ve probably burned through the lists of historians, innovators, and food-writers to follow this year, we’re bringing it back home to the Smithsonian. As always, the Mall is cooking up some fascinating, crazy, and sometimes grotesque stuff for 2012. Bookmark these people and projects to keep up with this year:
Nicholas Pyenson: Pyenson studies and curates fossils of marine mammals. Get a feel for what is going on inside his lab and follow his team into the field—fresh from an expedition in Chile—at his blog, Pyenson Lab.
Postal Museum: Time for a pop quiz: A “hamper dumper” is:
a) machine in postal processing
b) bin of misprint stamps
c) failed mail vehicle
d) philatelic tool.
If you know the answer, you should be following the Postal Museum (@postalmuseum) for their daily #PostalQuiz and other philatelic factoids.
Biodiversity Heritage Library: As part of the Biodiversity Heritage Library consortium, the Smithsonian Libraries collects and digitizes biodiversity research for open online access—essentially, a bio-wiki. Check out @biodivlibrary for the species of the day: plants that eat worms, albino penguins and other bizarre creatures you never knew existed.
Archives of American Art Pinterest: The American Art Pinterest lets you browse the archives and “pin” the images you like to your virtual board. Mix and match from collections like “facial hair of note” and “ain’t no party like an artist’s party.”
Book Dragon: The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program’s Book Dragon is the pet project of former APA Media Arts Consultant Terry Hong, featuring reviews of “books for the multi-cultural reader.” Hong highlights literature for kids and adults alike that speaks to the Asian American experience. Follow her at @SIBookDragon.
Smithsonian Vids: For a moving view of the Institution, follow @SmithsonianVids. Meet a scientist studying frog-eating bats, or get a video tour of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings from Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart.
Smithsonian Marine Station: This Natural History Museum field station, located in Fort Pierce, Florida, tweets news updates and photos from the field (er, coral reef) @SmithsonianSMS. Plus, there’s #followfriday trivia every week.
Field Book Project: Also, from the Natural History Museum and the Smithsonian Institution Archives check out this blog, where researchers post updates on their initiative to compile an online database of field books and journals documenting biodiversity research. Besides progress updates, you’ll also find excerpts of century-old field notes from explorers, birdwatchers and scientists (including lots of fun, old-timey sketches) and learn a lot more than you ever thought there was to know about indices.
Encyclopedia of Life: Take your best shot and enter the picture in the Smithsonian’s Encyclopedia of Life Flickr photo contest. The bi-weekly contest could be (and has been) any theme from “backyard life” to “sexual dimorphism.” Even if you don’t enter, be sure to browse the entries for gems like this.
And of course, if you’re not following them already, the museums are always Tweeting up a storm. Here’s the checklist:
American Indian Museum: @SmithsonianNMAI
National Portrait Gallery: @npg
American Art Museum: @americanart
Anacostia Community Museum: @anacostiamuseum
American History Museum: @amhistorymuseum
Air and Space Museum: @airandspace
Museum of Natural History: @NMNH
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden: @hirshhorn
Freer and Sackler Galleries: @FreerSackler
Museum of African Art: @NMAfA
National Zoo: @NationalZoo
Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum: @cooperhewitt
April 9, 2011
All Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are open.
Don’t miss out on all the events and happenings, all scheduled as planned. Tarantula feedings at the Natural History Museum. A special tour of the Kinsey Collections at American History. An Earth Day celebration at the American Art Museum.
And here’s a list of all the exhibitions that are on view. For the first time, the Freer Gallery’s renowned Peacock Room has been restored to its appearance in 1908, when the museum’s founder Charles Lang Freer used it to organize and display more than 250 ceramics from all over Asia. The new exhibition, The Peacock Room Comes to America, debuts today.
Other don’t-miss exhibitions and landmark Smithsonian artifacts like the Hope Diamond, Julia Child’s kitchen, the Ruby Slippers, The Wright Flyer, The First Ladies exhibition can be found at the following Smithsonian museum locations:
- The Smithsonian Castle
- The Carousel on the National Mall
- The Ripley Center and International Gallery
- The National Museum of American History
- The National Museum of Natural History
- The National Air and Space Museum
- The Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia
- The Smithsonian American Art Museum
- The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum
- The National Portrait Gallery
- The Freer and Sackler Galleries
- The Hirshhorn Museum
- The African Art Museum
- The National Museum of the American Indian
- The National Postal Museum
- The National Zoo
- The Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City
- The George Gusav Heye Center in New York City
This weekend marks a special time for Smithsonian visitors and the Institution’s spokesperson Linda St. Thomas expressed her delight that the museums were all open for business this weekend: “People have planned for months, or a year or more, for their spring visits to Washington, which always includes visits to the museums and the Zoo. If it were up to us, we would never shut down. That’s why we are only closed one day a year—Christmas Day.”
Of course spring time is also is presenting Smithsonian photographer Eric Long with some of the most exquisite visual opportunities, enjoy this gallery before gearing up to head out.