Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Willard Jenkins weighs in on the Jazz Masters

When I wrote last week about the likely demise of the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters program, I mentioned wanting to hear what Willard Jenkins had to say. Jenkins is a journalist, arts consultant, presenter, and coordinator of the NEA Jazz Masters Live program, which each year sends Jazz Masters to perform and teach in communities across the nation. 

This topic is being discussed at the Jazz Journalists Association member site, and I have permission from Willard to excerpt from his comments:
NEA Jazz Masters ""Live" supports NEAJM performances at select sites around the country. And lest anyone get the false impression that those NEAJM "Live" performances only occur in major metropolitan areas, I am on my way to Moscow, Idaho to conduct a site visit on one such funded NEA Jazz Master residency with the great Jimmy Heath.  I doubt Jimmy Heath would be performing and educating in Moscow, Idaho were it not for the NEAJM "Live" grant.  And let's not overlook the jazz audience development potential of such funded engagements. 
Forthcoming NEA Jazz Masters "Live" supported performances are scheduled throughout this year in such places as Albuquerque, New Mexico; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Hartford, Connecticut; and sites across the country. 

JJA site administrator (and jazz writer) Howard Mandel sent an email recently to JJA members asking, "Does the continuation of the Jazz Masters program, or other forms of NEA support for jazz, matter? Maybe it doesn't make any difference—that is, nobody cares about the Jazz Masters. Maybe grassroots jazz support groups have their own ways of recognizing local 'Jazz Masters.' Maybe it's time to retire the title, since the number of giants of jazz on this earth, to some ways of thinking, is getting smaller and smaller. Or maybe the loss of this program will be a blow to local jazz communities—and the jazz world at large." 

The discussion taking place at the JJA site is a lot less lively than one might expect, which I find disheartening. Do most jazz journalists not care? Have they not heard? Is the loss of the Jazz Masters program simply too insignificant when compared to everything else that is being or will be cut? Maybe it is. Or maybe the idea of recognizing jazz musicians for their contributions and excellence in a serious, meaningful way is worth preserving. 

The decision to end the Jazz Masters program came from the NEA itself. Rather than contact our representatives in Congress, perhaps we should contact the individual members of the National Council on the Arts, including jazz musician Irvin Mayfield. That is, if we care.

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