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   ALL THAT JAZZ!  A World-Class Musical Event Lands in Las Cruces
2010 - Volume 1 Issue 2
¡Comidas Sabroso!
Let's Go Out
Article: David Salcido
courtesy of The Meridian
International Center, Wash., D.C
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What do Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and the city of Las Cruces, New Mexico have in common? Until recently, the answer was: nothing. NMSU music professor, historian and Jazz musician Dr. Jim Shearer is hoping to change all that. His mission to bring a world-class photography exhibit, entitled Jam Session: America’s Jazz Ambassadors Embrace The World, to the Branigan Cultural Center has resulted in an unprecedented collaboration between some of the more notable arts and education organizations in the Mesilla Valley.

    Photo Captions

1.) Louis Armstrong entertains children at the Tahseen Al-Sahha
Medical Center. Kaduna, Nigeria, 1960. Courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum.

2.) Dizzy Gillespie with Yugoslav musician and composer Nikica Kalogjera and fans. Zagreb, Yugoslavia, 1956. Courtesy of the Marshall Stearns Collection, Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University.

3.) Dave Brubeck receives a bouquet upon arrival at the airport. Baghdad, Iraq, 1958. Courtesy of the Brubeck Collection, Holt-Atherton Special Collections, University of the Pacific Library © Dave Brubeck.

4.) Benny Goodman performs for a young audience in Red Square. Moscow, Soviet Union 1962. Courtesy of Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, Benny Goodman Papers, Yale University.

5.) Sarah Vaughan at the Newport-Belgrade Jazz Festival. Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 1973. Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayettville.

6.) Louis Armstrong meets Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sarauna of Sokoto and Premier of the Northern Nigerian Region. Kaduna, Nigeria, 1960. Courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum.

Most events are Free to
the public. Find out more,
by visiting:

Las Cruces Jam Session

Branigan Cultural Center
Combining the exhibit with a two-month long series of events throughout the city, focusing on the art and culture of Jazz, the entire musical package will consist of multi-media exhibits, concerts, films, public gallery talks and educational outreach to students of all ages. Scheduled for December 10, 2010 through February 3, 2011, this multi-level exposition, anchored by the Jam Session exhibit on loan from the Meridian International Center in Washington, D.C., will be the first of its kind in Southern New Mexico.

“This is the first time that so many arts related entities have come together in the city of Las Cruces,” Shearer admits. “The City of Las Cruces Museum System, The Doña Ana Arts Council, the Center for the Arts, the NMSU Cultural Series, the NMSU Music Department, the Las Cruces Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, all of these different entities are working closely together to make this event happen. It’s cool to see our city coming together like that.”

Will Ticknor, administrator of the Las Cruces Museum System, agrees with that assessment. “It has been very rewarding to work with all the folks from the Arts Council and NMSU,” he says. “Everyone has brought significant resources to the table. Our goal with this exhibit is to expose Las Crucens to a uniquely American form of music, while at the same time honoring the amazing Jazz Ambassador’s Program.”

Consisting mainly of photographs and other important historical documents, the exhibit tells the story of the Jazz Ambassador’s program, begun by the State Department in 1956, which sent musicians like Armstrong, Gillespie and Ellington, among many others, around the world as goodwill envoys. Though smaller versions of the exhibit have followed suit and traveled all over the world, part of the coup in bringing it to Las Cruces is that this will be the full one hundred and ten-image exhibit. The problem facing Shearer and his co-conspirators was how to make the exhibit more accessible to the general public.

“What’s really cool about our version and how we’re doing it, compared to a lot of other exhibits, is that we have a lot more ancillary things going on,” Shearer explains. “Beyond the exhibit itself, we have twenty-seven other events that are taking place during this two-month period and nobody else has really done it quite like this. Our only concern was, what a great exhibit if you’re a Jazz fan, but if you don’t have a real understanding of the context of Jazz in the first place, this is just a lot of nice photographs on the wall. So, how can we make this more three-dimensional?”

“That’s where we came up with the concert and film series,” he continues. “So the Every Other Tuesdays that the Rio Grande does, we’re going to do every Tuesday. We’ll have a film, the concert will be tied to the film and the lecture the preceding Saturday at the Branigan Cultural Center will also be tied to the film. So, after a lecture on Saturday about Charlie Parker, a concert on Tuesday will be Roman Chip playing the music of Charlie Parker and then the film at 7pm will be Bird, by Clint Eastwood.”

Complimenting the main exhibit at the Branigan Cultural Center, the Rio Grande Theatre will dedicate its two side galleries to the cause. Each gallery will be filled with local and Southwest Jazz memorabilia. One will deal specifically with the history of Jazz in the Las Cruces/El Paso area, while the other will be devoted to the Jazz photography of noted Albuquerque artist Jim Gale. Then there are the concerts by such Jazz notables as Byron Stripling, the Jim Cullum Jazz Band, Jazz and classical pianist Willis Deloney and New York Jazz legend Junior Mance, taking place during various dates throughout the run.


Jam Session in Las Cruces  << click to open or close the Schedule of Events

  • Fri, December 10, 5:00pm
    Opening of Jam Session exhibit
    Branigan Cultural Center

  • Sat, December 11, 11:00am
    Gallery Talk: Louis Armstrong
    Hosted by Jim Shearer
    Branigan Cultural Center

  • Sun, December 12, 7:30pm
    Concert: Byron Stripling and
    The NMSU Jazz Band

    Sponsored by the Center for the Arts
    / NMSU Foundation & NMSU Music Dept.
    Rio Grande Theatre

  • Tue, December 14, 5:30pm & 7:00pm
    Concert: New Horizons Band
    Film: High Society
    Sponsored by DAAC
    Rio Grande Theatre

  • Wed, December 15, 7:00pm
    Concert: El Paso Brass
    Sponsored by KRWG
    Rio Grande Theatre

  • Sat, December 18, 11:00am
    Gallery Talk: Musicians of the
    Newport Jazz Festival Series

    Hosted by Bob Burns
    Branigan Cultural Center

  • Tue, December 21, 5:30pm & 7:00pm
    Film: Holiday Inn
    Film: White Christmas

    Sponsored by DAAC
    Rio Grande Theatre

  • Tue, December 28, 5:30pm & 7:00pm
    Concert: Creole Jazz Band
    Film: Satchmo

    Sponsored by DAAC
    Rio Grande Theatre

  • Tue, January 4, 5:30pm & 7:00pm
    Concert: MST Jazz Trio
    Film: Mo’ Better Blues

    Sponsored by DAAC
    Rio Grande Theatre

  • Sat, January 8, 11:00am
    Gallery Talk: Duke Ellington
    Hosted by Jim Shearer
    Branigan Cultural Center
  • Tue, January 11, 5:30pm & 7:00pm
    Concert: Allan Kaplan
    Film: ‘Round Midnight

    Hosted by DAAC
    Rio Grande Theatre

  • Sat, January 15, 11:00am
    Gallery Talk: Benny Goodman
    Hosted by Ken Neidig
    Branigan Cultural Center

  • Tue, January 18, 5:30pm & 7:00pm
    Concert: Jazz Unlimited Big Band
    Film: Benny Goodman Story

    Sponsored by DAAC
    Rio Grande Theatre

  • Sat, January 22, 11:00am
    Gallery Talk: Dizzy Gillespie
    & Charlie Parker

    Hosted by Jim Shearer
    Branigan Cultural Center

  • Sun, January 23, 7:00pm
    Concert: Jim Cullum Jazz Band
    Sponsored by KRWG
    Atkinson Recital Hall, NMSU

  • Tue, January 25, 5:30pm & 7:00pm
    Concert: Roman Chip
    Film: Bird

    Sponsored by DAAC
    Rio Grande Theatre

  • Wed, January 26, 7:30pm
    Concert: Willis Deloney
    Sponsored by the Center for
    the Arts / NMSU Foundation
    Branigan Cultural Center

  • Sat, January 29, 11:00am
    Gallery Talk: Dave Brubeck
    Hosted by Jim Shearer
    Branigan Cultural Center

  • Wed, February 2, 7:00pm
    Concert: Jazz for Black History Month
    Sponsored by NMSU Black Programs
    Branigan Cultural Center

  • Thu, February 3, 8:00pm
    Concert: Junior Mance Quartet
    Sponsored by NMSU Cultural Series
    Rio Grande Theatre

To further enhance this exhibition, Shearer will put his love for teaching to good use with a very special type of educational outreach. He will be at the Branigan Cultural Center throughout the run of the exhibition, giving tours to student groups of all ages. “The educators are on board, they want to bring their kids out,” he says. “The University is supporting me, I’m on sabbatical, so I’m really able to spend a lot of time with the exhibit and put it into context for anybody who’s interested. If they’ll listen, I’ll talk about it.”

A lot of effort for something that has never been attempted in Las Cruces before, but will it work? Garland Courts, exhibit manager, believes so. “We have never had an exhibit in which we’ve incorporated so much extra programming,” he says. “It’s sure to draw in audiences that have never been to the Cultural Center before and we are looking forward to that.” Ultimately, however, it will be the citizens of Las Cruces who make that call. Is Las Cruces ready for a world-class Jazz exhibition?

Shearer sums it all up like this: “I think we’re going to do really, really well. I’d like to bring together a diverse group. People who are fans of photography, people who are fans of fine arts, this exhibit is for them, but so are the concerts that are going to be down the street at the Rio Grande. We hope that they’ll cross over and experience that. People who are music fans will come to the shows, because before the show, we’re keeping the exhibit open for you. Go see the exhibit at 5:30, or 6 o’clock, then come on down at 7 for the concert. I’m really hoping that we get a lot of that cross-pollination. That’s my hope.” ///
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