Jazz first made its way into the concert hall nearly a half century ago, and its performers often don white tie and tails and play for heads of state. Yet its early associations with the underside of society--Storyville sporting houses, prohibition speakeasys, dime-a-dance gin mills--continue to encourage its use as background music to the sleazier slices of life on TV and in the movies.

Washington saxophonist, radio-show host and jazz researcher Byron Morris wants to do something about that image, and as a first step is helping to launch an ambitious project: the Consortium of American Music. Utilizing both the workshop and the concert format to present "a musical overview of jazz since 1900," the consortium will host a free concert at 7:45 p.m. Friday at the University of the District of Columbia, Van Ness campus.

A pilot project of several UDC professors and bebop pianist John Malachi as well as Morris, it is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and will deal with the blues, swing, bebop and contemporary jazz. Future programs will dip into the earlier periods and styles.

"We consider jazz as a classical American music," says Morris, whose group, Saxes for Lester, will open the evening with some swing-era ensemble sounds. Others on the bill are bluesman Nap Turner, vocalist K. Shalong, saxophonists Ron Holloway and 'Watergate' Clyde Dickerson, and former Lionel Hampton trumpeter Jimmy Owens. Anchorman Jim Vance of Channel 4 will emcee.