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6 Museums That Hit the Right Note for Jazz Lovers

Courtesy of National Museum of African American Music
By AAA Travel Editor Laurie Sterbens
August 10, 2021
From its birthplace in New Orleans more than a century ago, jazz music made its way to northern cities before spreading all over the world. Now music lovers around the globe celebrate International Jazz Day every April 30, while April is Jazz Appreciation Month in the U.S. If your experience is limited to jazz-influenced pop artists or a jaunt down Bourbon Street, you owe it to yourself to learn more about this uniquely American genre. If you’re already a jazz fan, take a trip back in time and get to know the musicians who made it great. Missed this year's events? No worries. These museums offer year-round exhibits honoring the legacy of jazz:
Wiklimedia Commons / CC BY SA/David Brossard

Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame

Birmingham, Alabama
Take a journey through jazz history and learn about jazz greats from Alabama including Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington and Erskine Hawkins at the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame museum, in the historic Carver Theatre building in downtown Birmingham, houses exhibits and a performing arts venue. The museum is under renovation, but guided tours are available with reservations. It will reopen with the Birmingham Black Radio Museum, now in development.
The Hall of Fame also operates WAJH 91.1 FM, Birmingham’s Jazz Hall Radio, which plays classic and new recordings with a focus on Alabama artists. If you’re not in Birmingham, you can access Jazz Hall Radio online at jazzhall.com.
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Courtesy of American Jazz Museum

American Jazz Museum

Kansas City, Missouri
The American Jazz Museum has an extensive collection of jazz-related artifacts including photos, films, sound recordings and artworks that showcase the impact of jazz on Kansas City and the nation. Can’t make it to Missouri? View the museum’s exhibits with a virtual visit to their Google Arts & Culture page. You can also see videos, virtual concerts and more on the museum’s YouTube channel.
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GRAMMY® Museum Mississippi

You may know Cleveland, Ohio, is home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but two hours south of Memphis is a little Delta town called Cleveland, Mississippi, where you’ll find GRAMMY® Museum Mississippi, a treasure trove of American music history. And while you may associate this region with the blues, the museum’s exhibits span the spectrum from the blues to classical, country, gospel, jazz, Latin, pop and rock.
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Wikimedia Commons / CC BY SA/Dmadeo

Louis Armstrong House Museum

Corona, New York
In Corona, Queens, you can visit the home where jazz legend Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong lived with his wife, Lucille, from 1943 until his death in 1971. The house appears much as it did when the Armstrongs lived there, and as you walk through you’ll hear recordings of Armstrong as he practiced, recorded music or visited with friends. Exhibits include artifacts and photos from Armstrong’s career and life in Corona. Note: As of press time the museum is closed until further notice due to COVID-19, but you can visit the museum’s virtual exhibits, which include images, in-depth articles and recorded interviews.
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Courtesy of National Museum of African American Music

National Museum of African American Music

Nashville, Tennessee
Visitors to “Music City” can now explore a vast showcase of African American contributions to American music at Nashville’s National Museum of African American Music. With 56,000 square feet of exhibits, the museum’s galleries cover over 50 genres including blues, jazz, gospel, R&B and hip-hop. The “Love Supreme” gallery traces the history of jazz from its beginnings in New Orleans to its migration north and explores how this blend of African American musical styles transformed into genres including Dixieland, swing and bebop.
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flickr / CC BY/Jeremy Thompson

The New Orleans Jazz Museum

New Orleans, Louisiana
No roundup of jazz history would be complete without a stop in the genre’s birthplace. The New Orleans Jazz Museum, in the historic Old U.S. Mint building, offers rotating exhibits related to jazz history and culture. Films, listening stations and other interactive elements help bring the stories to life, and if you’re visiting in the afternoon, you can see live performances by contemporary artists. (Note: As of press time, the museum is offering virtual concerts only because of COVID-19 restrictions.)
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