Meet the Composer grants — not for improvisers

Pursuant to online debates about whether grants and fellowships are good for jazz — here’s a report on the non-profit Meet the Composer‘s choice of 31 recipients for $300,000 towards realization of commissions. Only one jazz-related project among them: composer-guitarist Joel Harrison, commissioned by the Brooklyn-based organization Connection Works, to write for a large ensemble. However, three principals of the new music collect Bang on a Can, as well as celebrated veteran composers Meredith Monk and Steve Reich, and the music theater artist Stew (“Passing Strange,” Spike Lee’s movie of which is scheduled for mid-August release) are grants winners.

If it’s not so good when jazz artists vie for grants (the contention is they’re required to look past their true jazz instincts to conceive application-suitable projects), how do we like it when they’re almost completely out of the running?

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  1. says

    Hi Howard,
    I’m not sure you’d want to draw such broad conclusions about Meet The Composer grants generally based on a single grant program — which is, admittedly, skewed heavily towards classical musicians by its very nature (jazz composers don’t generally get comissions in the first place, let alone grants to help realize comissions).
    But I was one of the panelists for the Cary New Music Performance Fund grants, also adminiterd my Meet The Composer — results here – scroll down — which supports ensembles, presenting organizations, and venues. Among the successful applications: the Festival of New Trumpet Music, the Jazz Gallery, Slavic Soul Party, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, and Roulette (which includes a healthy amount of jazz in their programming).
    And while I haven’t actually done the math on this, but my impression was that the number of jazz-related applications to receive funding ending up being more or less proportional to the number of jazz-related applications received. (There were almost 90 applications and we could only choose to fund 30 of them.)
    HM: Thanks for this further information, Darcy. I know that MTC does good things, in many programs that are detailed on its website; I was once an MTC panelist myself. But after the discussion ensuing from Nate Chinen’s posts earlier, here’s a program that leaves jazz out of it almost entirely, perhaps not for esthetic reasons but as you say, because the way jazz people work is not the same as most contemporary composers getting commissions. Maybe that’s something jazzers could learn from the cc’s — how to get commissioned by umbrella organizations. Maybe jazz clubs can start commissioning. . .

  2. says

    I’m on the board of the Redwood Jazz Alliance and we just received two grants from Meet The Composer’s MetLife Creative Connections program to help us present concerts with Dave Douglas’s Brass Ecstasy and Ralph Alessi’s This Against That this fall. Those are our second and third grants through Creative Connections, and scanning the list of past recipients, I see about 10% of them are jazz artists.
    Scanning the list that Darcy linked to for the Cary New Music Performance Fund grants, I see the Village Vanguard. Looks like at least one jazz club is applying for grants…

  3. says

    Hi Dan,
    The list is actually incorrect — the grant in question went to the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, not the club itself.

  4. Dan Aldag says

    Too bad (although I’m happy for the VJO.) I liked the idea of the Vanguard getting a grant…
    HM: Commercial jazz venues are completely precluded from applying for funding, as far as I know. There are some venues that are non-profits such as those Darcy mentioned in a previous comment — and they have organized themselves that way in order to be able to apply for grants to put on new and unusual music, but a jazz club like the Vanguard is precluded from every grant I’ve ever read about by nature of its commercial enterprise. Most clubs have made money historically by selling booze, and places like the Blue Note, Iridium and Dizzy’s Club in New York expanded that into selling food (and souvenirs). Most of these started as bars or restaurants and brought in music to distinguish themselves. Many of their owners I’ve spoken with over the years sneer at grants, believing wholly in the marketplace and envying non-profit presenters as competition that is unfairly promoted.
    But the commercial jazz venues are I think the least organized segment of the jazz community. They do not have lobbyists, they do not have a union or other organization, they very seldom act in concert with each other, they don’t take out coop ads to push the idea that going out to hear jazz in a club is fun! Big fun! They act as independent centers, which is what they are, but maybe they would find it useful (in the long run) if they got themselves together as a business group. A big job, and not *my* job, but the absence of any such body is obvious. Maybe the need isn’t obvious to those who could possibly profit from it.

  5. Herb Levy says

    Hi Howard,
    The description of the grant program specifically lists jazz as one of the genres supported.
    Do you know of a significant number of jazz-based applicants who weren’t funded or are you just reacting to the list of grantees?
    It’s possible that not many jazz composers applied for this round of of this commissioning program.
    HM: I haven’t heard from any jazz-based applicants who weren’t funded. It’s possible not many jazz composers applied for this round. I don’t mean to cast aspersions on HOW the grantees were selected or the merit of their projects or music. It doesn’t strike me their being given very big grants, what is it, $10k per project? I just noticed that here’s a major grant program and very little jazz on it. And do we think it’s better than way? — because jazz isn’t going to be overly influenced by the granting process? Like it isn’t overly-influenced already by that process, to the point of not being very much included in the recepient body for whatever reason, whomsoever the responsibility is on. Many speculations can be drawn from the Meet the Composer grants — maybe some real reporting is in order.

  6. says

    HM: Investigation into the Meet the Composer Grant suggests the applications have to come from the commissioning body, not the hopeful composer. How many jazz organizations are in the habit of commission new works?

  7. says

    I like the idea of the Vanguard getting a grant.But why only one jazz related project??Is it that there is a lack of jazz composers?
    HM: ASCAP and BMI both have programs for jazz composers; SESAC may have one, also — Chamber Music America does, too. I don’t know what the process was for Meet the Composer, or the outreach into the jazz community. Many years ago I sat on a MTC grant-giving panel, and thought it was a fair, careful group of judges, looking over some well-wrought applications, trying to determine who would use the $ best. I haven’t seen the Meet the Composer grants for this year yet.