NEA Jazz Masters concert on ustream, NEA gives 1/4 mil for gigs

Last night’s NEA Jazz Masters concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center was ustreamed — for the first time allowing the world to see live, free and forever America’s official ceremony knighting the duly experienced, accomplished and original wise-people who create and perpetuate America’s living vernacular music. nea jazz masters.jpeg

It was great to actually be there, too — amid a throng of jazz’s most powerful public and private supporters — beside those who make the music, those who present, teach, promote, record, fund, think, write, broadcast, book, manage and counsel it. The jazz “community” (not much more an “industry”) may be commercially embattled, but an unofficial and amorphous coalition of jazz activists has nonetheless succeed in lifting the art form to world-wide adoption and status undreamed of one or two generations ago. 

The mood of celebration was so heady that NEA chairman Rocco Landesman’s announcement of $250,000 in grants for 15 non-profits to support live performance nationwide was almost overlooked.

Musical highlights included:
  • newly-inducted Jazz Master flutist Hubert Laws’ freely (not preordained, formally unconstrained) duet with earlier-inducted jazz master pianist Kenny Barron,
  • Dave Liebman’s soprano saxophone solo a la Miles over and through a stirring rendition of Gil Evan’s arrangement of our national anthem “Summertime,” and 
  • the Marsalis family’s fittingly loose, slickly bluesy finale, in which Papa Ellis shined at the ivories and brothers Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo climaxed with a couple choruses of early New Orleans jazz polyphony, baby Jason marching them all briskly along. 

Each new Jazz Master spoke, sometimes at length, and so did many of their introducers (Benny Golson blew an extravangant verbal solo). The right honorable Mr. Landesman called jazz “the distinctively American art form.”

The buzz in the lobby before and after the concert was relief to be out of the falling snow, into the warm. A lot of attendees had come either from the APAP (performing arts presenters) or JEN (jazz educators) conferences, concurrent in New York and New Orleans, respectively. Folks told each other about what they each had missed.
A couple of hours before, the APAP Jazz Forum had heard a presentation of results from a refined market survey by the Jazz Arts Group, reporting that:
  • Young people don’t like their music classified by style,
  • commercial terrestrial radio is the way most people hear new artists, and
  • small clubs (but not sticky-floored dives) are the preferred places to hear jazz. 

The headline from the educators was that their next meeting will be in Louisville, Kentucky. Jazz ed. is healthy (though cash-strapped) at the high school level and not too bad at college level, either; enrollments are strong, despite the realization there are few steady jobs calling for jazz school graduates. Educators are looking next to the NAMM (national association of music instrument manufacturers) conference.

I myself had produced four days of a Jazz Journalists Association “New Media for New Jazz” conference, trying to foster better collaborations among presenters, musicians, publicists and journalists, and was also full of info on the JJA’s project. So bumping into composer Maria Schneider, Louis Armstrong Foundation keystone Phoebe Jacobs, SFJazz exec director Randall Kline, JazzCorner’s Lois Gilbert, the NEA’s Wayne Brown, High Half Note Records’ Jeff Levenson, Charlie Gans of Associated Press, singers Taeko and Tessa Souter, A Blog Supreme’s Patrick Jarenwattananon, Motema Music’s Jana Herzen, blogger Willard Jenkins (the “arranger” of Randy Weston’s autobiography “African Rhythms”), Robbin Ahrold of BMI, Dan Melnick of Absolutely Live, photographers Jimmy and Dina Katz, WBGO’s Thurston Briscoe and Simon Retner, Jean Cook of the Future of Music Coalition, audio producer Molly Murphy, pianist Amina Figuerova and her husband flutist Bart Platteau, so many others — there was the usual cocktail moment to catch a word and bounce on. Conversations must continue. . . 
The prevailing mood in Rose Hall when records producer Orrin Keepners and arranger-composer Johnny Mandel as well as aforementioned Laws, Liebman and Marsalis claimed their NEA honors, was of of understandably sentimental self-congratulations. Thanks and kudus are truly due the government arts agencies, the philanthropists, the entrepreneurs, the adminstrators, activist listeners and devotees who will not let jazz be commercially marginalized out of existence. We give medals to sports champions, military heroes and yes, jazz musicians. In 100 years those musicians have gone from being taken as the disreputable underclass to being hailed as our most sophisticated role models. That hasn’t happened by accident, or without the concerted efforts of a host of unidentified jazz lovers, whose most heartening satisfaction has certainly been hearing the music itself.
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