Founded in Birmingham in 1978, the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame (AJHOF) celebrates the state's jazz history and artists. In addition to honoring the accomplishments of jazz musicians and others who have contributed to jazz in Alabama, the AJHOF oversees a museum and an education program that promotes musical performances across Birmingham and organizes visits by musicians to local schools.
Each year the AJHOF board of directors selects a nominating committee composed of current members. Potential inductees are divided into four categories: performers, nonperformers, early influences, and side men. Performers qualify for induction after 15 years of playing jazz and contributing to "the development and perpetuation of jazz music." Nonperformers include a variety of related professions, from disc jockeys to music journalists, whose body of work has significantly influenced Alabama's jazz heritage. Early influences include performers of music that predated and influenced jazz, such as ragtime and the blues. The side men category celebrates normally unsung back-up musicians whose work has supported the performances of more visible jazz artists.
Hall of Fame charter members, inducted in 1978, are Frank E. Adams Sr., Amos F. Gordon, Erskine Hawkins, Haywood Henry, Sammy Lowe, and John T. "Fess" Whatley. Since that time, nearly 200 members have been inducted, in addition to six honorary members in 1985 that included former Birmingham mayors and AJHOF supporters Richard Arrington Jr. and David Vann and former Alabama State University administrator J. Garrick Hardy. New members were inducted each year until 1996, which saw no new hall of famers. Five were inducted in 1997 and two in 2001. After a six-year gap, eight new selections were made in 2008.
On September 18, 1993, the Hall of Fame established a museum facility in the newly renovated Carver Theater, located in Birmingham's civil rights district near the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Kelly Ingram Park, and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. The museum's collection, which covers more than 2,200 square feet, includes instruments and other personal effects of jazz greats with ties to Alabama, such as Sun Ra (Herman Blount), Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and Nat "King" Cole.
In addition to the museum, the AJHOF features a 12-member jazz faculty made up of music instructors, many teaching more than one specialty. Among the faculty were Frank Adams, a jazz clarinetist and saxophonist who was tutored as a child during the 1930s by jazz legend W. C. Handy and influential music educator "Fess" Whatley. He also has taught music for the Birmingham Public School System for nearly 50 years. Current director Ray Reach records and produces classical and jazz records and directs the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame All-Stars jazz ensemble composed of AJHOF faculty members. The AJHOF's educational programs benefit musicians from elementary school to beyond college with programs such as "Fun With Jazz," a series of free workshops and jazz concerts held around Birmingham by jazz hall faculty, sponsored by the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Alys Stephens Center for the Performing Arts. Another program, the Annual Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame Student Jazz Band Festival, started in 2003 and draws jazz students ranging from middle school to college from across the state.