U.S. institutions promoting jazz?

Of the 32 formal concerts in the Library of Congress 2009-2010 season only two or three are jazz-related. Does this say something about the nation’s commitment to jazz, our “rare and valuable national American treasure”?

The Library’s 84th concert season focuses on “the art of the string quartet” with two commissions and presentation of works by Beethoven, Mendelssohn (celebrating his bi-centennary all year), Shostakovich, the Schumans (Robert and Clara), Samuel Barber, Mozart and Dvorak, among others. The Library also co-sponsors Americana concerts with its American Folklife Center. Coming up: cowboy poetry and songs from Montana, Native American Passamaquoddy songs from Maine (very rare — no samples found on the web), Texas r&b, Norwegian-American dance music from Virginia.
But as for jazz, there’s Cuban-born drummer Dafnis Prieto’s quartet and pianist Uri Caine‘s trio, grouped with Palestinian oudist Simon Shaheen thusly in the press release:

Classically trained, with commissions from prestigious ensembles and institutions, the three are recognized for a command of technique and expression across musical cultures, and for their strong influence on musicians and composers of their generation.

What the Library says is true — and Prieto is an inspired drummer, Caine an imaginative  pianist, Shaheen an invaluable genre-defying musician. Furthermore, the Library has scheduled Monday nights in April for to-be-announced “Jazz in the Spring at the Nation’s Library” series. The Library has run a “Jazz Film Series” curated by Larry Appelbaum (the Library’s jazz specialist who discovered the 1957 Monk/Coltrane tapes from Carnegie Hall, issued by Blue Note Records in 2005) for the past 12 years. It has a distinguished history of commissioning major jazz composers, including Benny Carter, Gerald Wilson, Buddy Collette, Dave Douglas, Anthony Braxton, George Russell, Muhal Richard Abrams, Don Byron, John Zorn and Cecil Taylor, as Anne McLean, senior producer for concerts and special projects informed me. 
So why is jazz represented so thinly this year? It’s all about $ and old $, Ms. McLean explained in an email:

(T)he Library’s mission includes a strong mandate to collect, preserve and present all genres of American music, including music theater, pop, folk, and rock. In addition to chamber music, the traditional focus of the series, we present many of these genres each season, with some represented more than others in a given season depending on funding. For example we can occasionally offer events on music theater like our concerts of Sondheim and Bernstein, due to a specific endowment to support this. Regrettably, there is as yet no specific endowment–privately donated money–dedicated to jazz. Occasionally we receive a gift to support one or more concerts or a specific project. If you happen to know if any generous jazz-loving patrons, please let me know and we’ll pursue them! 

(T)he Library’s concerts are run from endowments established decades ago . . .  all costs associated with the artists, fees, production, etc. are completely borne by the endowment funds, which have taken a huge hit from the economic situation. These endowments were primarily established in the ’20’s and ’30’s to support chamber music . . .At the moment, with sharp funding cutbacks, our concerts will include more string quartets and chamber ensembles, because those endowments are generally quite tied to specific genres, almost exclusively classical, sometimes stipulating a specific instrument or chamber format, because that’s what the patrons’ wills stipulated.

Got it — there’s no money for jazz. Come on, you generous, future-oriented American music advocates! Set up an endowment supporting  more Library of Congress jazz, so in 2109 our descendants will celebrate the bi-centennials of Art Tatum, Ben Webster, Benny Goodman, Chick Webb, Gene Krupa, Jay McShann, Johnny Mercer, Lester Young, Lionel Hampton and Stuff Smith! Say, why can’t we earmark a dollar on our tax returns towards that goal, starting soon? Or as Jeremy Gerard of Bloomberg News suggests, levy a 1/2 of 1 per cent tax on commercial cultural industries to support the arts on a national scale. 

By the way, that jazz as American “treasure” bit at the top of this post is from House Resolution 57, passed by Congress in 1987 urging jazz’s preservation, understanding and promulgation. How are the Federal district’s cultural institutions acting on that mandate? Tomorrow — the Smithsonian Institution’s jazz program for 2009 – 2010.
This is the first in a three-part series on  major, federally-supported institutions and jazz
Part I Library of Congress
Part II  Smithsonian
Part III Kennedy Center

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  1. Anne McLean says

    I appreciate the slant you gave toward the call for funding. . . . In fact our 07-08 and 06-07 seasons were quite exciting. Those lineups–from years with more funding, or special partnerships (a couple were underwritten by embassies or foundations)– demonstrate much better just how strong our commitment is and how we look carefully into how to go about presenting truly imaginative artists.
    Dhafer Youssef world music/jazz
    Wayne Shorter co-commission–Terra Incognita (premiered by Imani Winds)
    Fred Hersch
    Allen Toussaint & Henry Butler double bill (!!)
    Mark O’Connor & Rosanne Cash double bill
    Vijay Iyer/Miguel Zenon Quartet double bill
    Guillermo Klein Sextet
    Luciana Souza Quartet/Romero Lubambo
    Jonathan Larson (Rent) music theater evening
    Sangam–Charles Lloyd’s trio
    Bill Charlap with Sandy Stewart
    Seeger Family Tribute–Pete, Mike, Peggy and others
    Marc bamuthi Joseph slam poetry/performance art
    ICP Orchestra–half avant garde jazz/ half Ellington arrangements
    Opus 21 Motown/classical show
    I do hope we might get a nice response from someone interested in finding out more about the concerts and collections here, and we will try to put up some of our recent jazz events on the web, like the fabulous Jim Hall Trio concert last season.
    Anne McLean
    Senior Producer, concerts and special programs
    Music Division, Library of Congress