News Go behind the scenes with Omaha Performing Arts

Jazz Appreciation Month

Posted On Apr 30, 2021, 18:03 PM by Victoria McGiffin

“Alexa, play ‘Straighten Up and Fly Right’ by Nat King Cole.”  

Colorful notes of the piano started playing in my living room and Nat King Cole’s playful lyrics instantly brought a smile to my face. I imagined the jazz legend casually writing lyrics on a napkin or piece of paper at a café. As it turns out, he did just that, right here in Omaha; the year was 1943. 

I recently had the pleasure of connecting with Eric Ewing, Executive Director of the Great Plains Black History Museum. Eric shared photos and stories with me about the history of jazz in Omaha and surprised me when he mentioned Nat King Cole wrote one of his biggest hits, ‘Straighten Up and Fly Right’ at a café here in town.  

Jazz is one of America’s most fond music genres. The art form originated from African American communities in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the late 19th century and continues to influence artistic expressions today.  

Mr. Ewing explained that Omaha has an abundance of jazz history that often gets overlooked. He shared fascinating stories about jazz artists who stopped in town to play at notable music clubs like Dreamland Ballroom, housed inside the Jewell building, which still stands on North 24th Street today. 

It was an easy decision to pin a date on the calendar for our next meeting, which will be shared with all of you in May! 

I hope you found ways to celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month in April and that you take the time to honor the impact of African American history in the United States.  

And – if you’re up for it, take a listen to ‘Straighten Up and Fly Right.’ You might find a new appreciation for this “local” hit tune.