Every June the Carnegie Hall season comes to a close with a mix of classical and popular concerts, school graduations, and‹for the last 38 years‹jazz. In 1966 The Carnegie Hall Corporation, in partnership with the Institute for Jazz Studies, presented its first June jazz concert in the Hall. And this month, George Wein and Festival Productions bring back the JVC Jazz Festival to Stern Auditorium in an ongoing partnership with Carnegie Hall.
Of course, most people know that jazz in the Hall goes back further than June 1966. But how many know that Carnegie Hall's first jazz concert predates the use of the word jazz itself?
In 1912‹eight years before the word jazz entered the common lexicon and 26 years before Benny Goodman's now legendary concert of swing in 1938‹James Reese Europe's Clef Club Orchestra performed a "Concert of Negro Music" at Carnegie Hall, which included appearances by three important African American composers‹John Rosamond Johnson, Will Marion Cook, and Henry T. Burleigh.
In the years between 1912 and the Goodman concert, some 25 jazz events took place at the Hall, including the all-black 369th Regiment (the "Harlem Hellfighters") in 1919; Paul Whiteman and George Gershwin performing Rhapsody in Blue in 1924; George Antheil conducting the premiere of his Jazz Symphony in 1927; and appearances by W.C. Handy, "Fats" Waller, and Bix Beiderbecke in 1928.
Goodman was convinced that his 1938 concert would be a failure, for up to that point people only danced to swing and rarely sat and listened to it. Goodman, in fact, invited the comedienne Beatrice Lillie to "stand by, just in case." She wasn't needed. The concert was a great success and has come to be regarded as a landmark event in the history of American music.
Archivist and Museum Director, Carnegie Hall
Visit the Rose Museum to find out more about Carnegie Hall's rich and diverse history.