Grant Spotlight: American Jazz Museum

By Aunye Boone
Black woman smiling, wearing red eyeglasses and a grey blazer.

Dr. Dina Bennett. Photo courtesy of the National Museum of African American Music

Nestled in the heart of Kansas City, Missouri’s 18th and Vine historic jazz district, the American Jazz Museum stands as a testament to the rich history of jazz music and heritage. Dr. Dina Bennett, executive director of the American Jazz Museum, explained that the museum’s origin story “is embedded in the Cleaver Plan that was introduced in 1989 by then-mayor and current congressman Emanuel Cleaver, to revitalize the 18th and Vine historic jazz district. The revitalization of the area resulted in a 50,000-square-foot museum complex and performance facility, which houses the American Jazz Museum, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the Horace M. Peterson III Visitor Center, and the Gem Theater.”

“The American Jazz Museum celebrates jazz music through our four pillars of performance, education, exhibition, and research,” said Bennett. “Each pillar allows us to explore the importance of jazz’s history and heritage as well as Kansas City’s contribution to its legacy.”

In addition to educational and public programs such as lectures and jazz poetry readings, the organization also provides live jazz music performances in The Blue Room, the Gem Theater, and the Jay McShann Pavilion. The Jazz Storytelling and Kansas City Jazz Academy programs teach youth about the historical and cultural significance of the jazz tradition. “Our exhibitions are dynamic and ever-changing through our rotating exhibition schedule in the Changing Gallery space and our permanent exhibit,” said Bennett.

On a music stage: Black man (front and center) playing on a keyboard and singing, a Black man (left) playing the guitar, and Black man (right) singing backup to the lead vocalist.

Singer, songwriter, and producer Dwele performing at the Charlie Parker In the Yard Community Celebration at the American Jazz Museum, August 2023. Photo by Yoodle Marketing

The Blue Room is named after a renowned jazz nightclub inside of the former Street Hotel. Established and run by Reuben Street and his wife Ella from the 1930s to 1950s, the iconic venue hosted an array of artists. Today's rendition of The Blue Room continues the night club tradition, showcasing the dynamic sounds of Kansas City jazz three nights each week—two performance nights and one night of jam sessions. “Part of our mission is to create, develop, and support jazz musicians by giving them a place to perform in the district and that place is The Blue Room,” said Bennett. “The Blue Room is also an exhibition space that focuses on Kansas City’s connection to the evolution of jazz, featuring a wall of fame exhibiting the images of local musicians that made the Kansas City style swing.”

In January 2023, the American Jazz Museum received an Arts Endowment grant to support the In the Yard Festival, a three-day annual event that brings the community and visitors together to honor the city’s jazz heritage through film, music, and exhibitions, as well as to celebrate jazz icon Charlie Parker's legacy. The festival was established by Rashida Phillips, former executive director of the American Jazz Museum. Her vision for the festival centered around an outdoor community commemoration of Charlie Parker's birthday on August 29th. Reflecting on her aspirations for the festival Bennett said, “I hope [participants] learned more about Charlie Parker, his musical legacy, and how it’s connected to the artists and music today.”

On a music stage: Black man (front and center) playing a saxophone, Black man (left) playing drums, and Black man (right) playing the guitar.

Saxophonist, composer, and producer Logan Richardson performing at the Charlie Parker In the Yard Community Celebration at the American Jazz Museum, August 2023. Photo by Yoodle Marketing

The American Jazz Museum continues to extend their outreach to the community through diverse programs, events, free community concerts, and collaborations with various arts and music organizations across Kansas City. Looking ahead, Bennett envisions a capital campaign for a new, expanded facility with cutting-edge digital interactives.

When asked about jazz’s significance in America, Bennett said, “Jazz is fundamental to our society. It represents the democratic ideals of our country in which everyone can be themselves and experience the freedom to create and explore their individualism as well as their collaborative spirit.”

On a music stage: Black man (center) playing a trumpet, White man (left) playing the guitar, and Black man (right) playing drums.

Trumpeter performing at performing at the Charlie Parker In the Yard Community Celebration at the American Jazz Museum, August 2023. Photo by Yoodle Marketing

Related Content


Grant Spotlight: The Carr Center

Oliver Ragsdale, Jr. spoke with us about the Carr Center’s community engagement, the creative process for the Gathering Orchestra Residency, and the importance of keeping jazz music alive for future generations.