“The Soul of Jazz: An American Adventure,” American Jazz Museum

In December of last year, while news of a new COVID-19 variant was dominating the headlines, something very special happened at the American Jazz Museum.

On the 10th of that month, in front of an excited audience including students from Lincoln College Preparatory Middle School, “The Soul of Jazz: An American Adventure” opened at the museum.

After dynamic introductions from Dr. Dina Bennett, the Museum’s Director of Collections & Curatorial Affairs, Rashida Phillips, AJM Executive Director, and Mayor Quinton Lucas (among others), this energetic, vibrant, and colorful exhibition opened to the public, guiding viewers through a sensory rich history of jazz using vivid imagery, music, and physical artifacts from both the American Jazz Museum’s esteemed collection and the Pixar animated film “Soul.”

First introduced at the EPCOT inside of Disney World, this innovative exhibition is the result of a unique collaboration between Pixar, The New Orleans Jazz Museum, the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, and The National Jazz Museum in Harlem. 

As stated in the American Jazz Museum’s press release, “Musician and co-composer of Disney and Pixar’s “Soul,” Jon Batiste, hopes the takeaway from this exhibit is one that makes people want to sing, dance, and feel the transcendence that jazz evokes. Similar to the joy and deeply rooted nostalgia Walt Disney created in his theme parks, ‘jazz really has the ability to do that and add to that vision in a way that’s tremendous,’ Batiste remarks.”

This is more than an exhibition; it is an experience. “The Soul of Jazz: An American Adventure” is a multisensory, interactive, and outright fun “deep dive” into the roots, history, and influence of jazz. From maquettes based on characters in the film to maps and charts detailing the history of jazz, the exhibit is designed to accommodate all ages and learning styles.

A traveling exhibit, “The Soul of Jazz” is customized to shed a light on each stop’s particular contribution to jazz. At the American Jazz Museum, that translates into the inclusion of artifacts from the AJM collection, including Samuel “Baby” Lovett’s bongos, Count Basie’s Musicians’ Protective Union membership card, and a signed photo of Louis Armstrong and his dog.

Like the spread of jazz itself, the exhibit opened in New Orleans, is now on display in Kansas City, and will move to New York City.

The exhibit has a special impact for Kansas Citians. As Rashida Phillips told “Northeast News,” “So often when I’m traveling, not only in the nation but in the world, everyone knows who we are. Those names like Count Basie, Charlie Parker, are legendary around the world. We are just blessed to live here and be with it every day. But sometimes it causes us to forget a little bit. This is just an opportunity to step back and really see about the roots of who we are, how much we’ve contributed to the world, and to expression and to music, and not only celebrate sports — we’ve got great sports in this town — but we’ve got real core arts in this town and music is really at the center of it all.”

The Soul of Jazz: An American Adventure” continues in the Changing Gallery of the American Jazz Museum, 1616 E. 18th St., through April 24. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. For tickets, visit americanjazzmuseum.org. For more information about the exhibit, visit disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog/

Harold Smith

Harold Smith is an educator and multimedia artist who lives and works in the Kansas City area. Most of his work is focused on his experience within the American black experience.

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