NEA Jazz Masters (1982-2011). I wasn't quite sure what to make of the news last week that President Obama's 2012 budget proposal pitched the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts' Jazz Masters award. Sadly, the NEA is being downsized, and similar opera and folk awards programs are joining jazz in the budget-cutting Dumpster.
My first reaction was a shrug. Since 1982, 119 jazz artists and groups have been hailed as a jazz master, including an entire family last year. Seems that everyone who is or was someone in jazz has been recognized by the NEA. If the pace continued, the regal roster would soon include great jazz listeners. [Pictured: NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman]
Then I realized how much I will miss the annual NEA gathering at New York's Jazz at Lincoln Center. There are no real gala affairs for jazz, where all of the living legends come together in one place for a night dressed in tuxedos and wearing broad smiles. For a jazz fan, this is a red carpet affair, akin to the Oscars. [Pictured: Jazz Master Gerald Wilson]
Then I realized that President Obama isn't to blame. The real question is why such a prestigious event is on the federal endowment dole in the first place. At the heart of the problem is the jazz community's complete inability to work the system effectively.
What do I mean? Let's do some math: The prize handed out to each NEA Jazz Master last year was $25,000. Since there were five winners, the total was $125,000. I have no idea what it costs to rent out Jazz at Lincoln Center, hire bartenders and a band. But let's say the whole event plus labor clocks in at $300,000.
Now let me show you a couple of things. In this age of draconian belt-tightening, New York State's members of Congress this year have requested nearly $7 billion in earmarks. Earmarks are requests for dollars for constituents' programs that Congressmen add to unrelated bills. They're financial stowaways. But to be fair, I fully understand that's how our system works and how the world turns.
So I decided to take a look online to see who is requesting and receiving $300,000 in earmarks this year. According to Taxpayers Against Earmarks, Rep. Charles Rangel [pictured] has requested $300,000 for a green roof construction for the 116th Street Block Association. Here's the entry for the request:
"The funds will be used for complete construction of a green roof that will contribute to the better quality in the community, including the completion of a recreation area and garden for the residents of Colon Plaza Apartment."
Now I have nothing against green roofs, 116th Street, Rep. Rangel or the Colon Plaza Apartment [pictured]. My only point is if Rep. Rangel is willing to submit an earmark for a block association, perhaps someone with some pull and savvy can ask him to request the same amount for a Jazz Hall of Fame in New York.
But wait. Since a Jazz Hall of Fame will need to be up and running for 10 years to raise funds and generate interest, let's opt for $3 million (10 x $300,000). At this level, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand [pictured] requested $3 million for the Brooklyn Museum's climate control system for its Living Legacies gallery. Thirty jobs will be created.
Again, no knock on Senator Gillibrand or the Brooklyn Museum. This is how things are done. What I would recommend, however, is that if someone is planning a Jazz Hall of Fame, he or she might want to take someone at the Brooklyn Museum to lunch to find out how this earmarks stuff works. And on the way home, this person may want to swing by the 116th Street Block Association. They may have a few pointers as well.
Toni Harper. Singer Toni Harper sent along an email last week to inform me that a collection of her videos has been posted here. And here's a sample of what you'll find there. Toni is joined in Tokyo in 1963 by Joe Zawinul on piano, Sam Jones on bass and Louis Hayes on drums...
Gil Evans. Ryan Truesdell, a composer, copyist and producer, has been given complete access to the late Gil Evans' scores by Evans' family. Now Truesdell is planning to hire an orchestra to record the arrangements in May 2012. But first he has to raise cash. He has come up with a novel way of doing so. Go here.
Jazz radio. AccuJazz is an all-jazz radio platform that holds over 50 jazz channels based on categories of style, instrument, composer, region, decade and more. Each channel is further customizable by the option to "deselect" artists the listener would rather not hear. Go here.
Oddball album cover of the week. Once again, here's Lenny Dee, our hombre of the Hammond, strutting his double-decker stuff in 1962. Decca's spending on the pop organist's album-cover concepts knew no bounds. Here, the kooky keysman is accompanying a water skiing ballerina as she whooshes backward (based on the spray). Most amusing is her enjoyment of Dee's riffs, despite the fact that there are no speakers on board Dee's skiff. Makes you wonder how many times they had to shoot this one to get it right. Dee's shoes certainly must have taken a beating. I can't tell if that's a cow's head on the organ. If someone has the actual cover, please let me know.