Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee to Head New Jazz Caucus, Presents New Preservation Bill

The U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC. 

The Texas Democrat stands to be jazz's new advocate in the House, following John Conyers' resignation earlier this month.

Jazz has a new champion in Congress. Last week, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D–Texas) held a press conference in Washington, D.C. to announce she would be chairing the newly established Congressional Jazz Caucus in the House of Representatives. 

Under this new capacity, Jackson Lee introduced a new House Resolution (HR 4626): The National Jazz Preservation, Education and Promulgation Act of 2017 on Dec. 12, in order to "preserve knowledge and promote education about jazz in the United States and abroad." 

It would authorize $2 million for each fiscal year from 2018-2020 for the purpose of preserving the history and importance of jazz music. The funding would go towards audio and video interviews with leading jazz artists, acquiring and preserving jazz artifacts, continuing to recognize Jazz Appreciation Month each April, establish jazz archival collections with a swath of different organizations, produce jazz concerts and more. 

At the Dec. 13 press conference, Jackson Lee was joined by Capitol Hill Jazz Foundation executive director Herb Scott and board chair Aaron Myers, Grammy-winning bassist Ben Williams and DC Jazz Festival artistic director Willard Jenkins, Downbeat reports. There, she encouraged jazz fans to pressure their representatives to pass HR 4626 into law. 

"This is your time to go all over this Congress, Republicans and Democrats," she said. "Get on this bill."

Jackson Lee's new bill is based significantly on a 1987 resolution HR 57 spearheaded by Michigan Rep. John Conyers, who had been a longtime advocate for jazz in Congress before his resignation earlier this month over sexual harassment allegations. During his tenure, Conyers also created the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s annual jazz concert and issues forum in Washington D.C. 

Since the press conference acted as the caucus' inauguration, it had not yet been formally entered into the congressional record and did not yet have any official members. But, according to Downbeat, Jackson Lee said a number of representatives have expressed interest in joining. 

"This caucus will serve as a symbol of hope for renewed interest in promoting and preserving one of America’s greatest treasures," Scott said. "We hope that it will serve as a forum in which we can begin to acknowledge the rich history of jazz music, but also help strengthen commitment by elected officials to create policies that promote economic development for jazz musicians, venues and the industry."

"I think there is a misunderstanding and a lack of appreciation of jazz," Jackson Lee added. "This story needs to be told. Jazz needs to be held up as individuals who create music, write music, play music."