Happy International Jazz Day!

The scene at Congo Square, in New Orleans, during International Jazz Day festivities in 2012.

Happy International Jazz Day!

I had suspicions and reservations about that greeting six years ago, when UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and pianist Herbie Hancock (who is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador) announced the global initiative.
After the years of Ken Burns-inspired jazz nationalism and so many wrong-headed jazz boosterism programs, well, I’ve grown defensive…
But I’ve come to like and admire the International Jazz Day program, which picks one city for an all-star concert and educational programs, streamed online, and links jazz’s figurative arms around the globe through hundreds of events.
This year’s main concert, from Havana, Cuba—at 9pm tonight EST, live-streamed (and archived) here—will feature stars from the U.S. including Hancock, bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding, violinist Regina Carter, bassist Marcus Miller, and from Cuba, including pianist Chucho Valdés, along with musicians from several other nations, all gathered at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso.
I’m in New Orleans now at the annual Jazz & Heritage Festival, which this year hosts its own contingent of Cuban musicians, including Valdés.
Here, five years ago, International Jazz Day had its main event at Congo Square (see the picture I took, above): I suspect that this year, in Havana, hand drums will again be prominent. This is less a sign of jazz’s globalism that a return to its deepest roots.
Five years ago, I wrote in the Village Voice, Continue reading “Happy International Jazz Day!”

Celebrate NEA Jazz Masters Tonight (And Advocate for the Endowment Tomorrow & The Next Day…)

Dee Dee Bridgewater. Photo by Mark Higashino
Dee Dee Bridgewater is among the NEA Jazz Masters class of 2017. Photo by Mark Higashino

I suppose we’re past the point of irony these days. And yet I’ll note: Before the Trump International Hotel was installed at Washington D.C.’s Old Post Office Building on Pennsylvania Avenue (which involved a thoughtless renovation, involving crystal chandeliers, polished brass railings and marble tiles that contradict the structure’s architectural integrity), the historic building was home to the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Trump administration’s initial budget plan, released last month, proposed eliminating the NEA, along with the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. (Who needs culture and history when you’ve got gleaming brass and chandeliers?)
Much has been said—and need be said—about the practical wisdom of sacrificing support of arts and culture to save a mere .003 per cent of the federal budget (roughly forty-six cents per capita) not to mention the symbolism of axing this sort of governmental priority while increasingly military spending.
statement from NEA Chairman Jane Chu noted “as a federal government agency, the NEA cannot engage in advocacy, either directly or indirectly. We will, however, continue our practice of educating about the NEA’s vital role in serving our nation’s communities.” There’s another useful NEA website document on this subject here.
As Chu said, the NEA is continuing its valuable practice, which makes a significant mark across arts and culture, and is deeply felt in jazz circles. For instance, the most recent round of NEA Art Works grants for presenters more than 40 grants to support jazz projects or projects that have a component related to jazz. (The NEA was one of the earliest and remains among the largest funders of jazz in this country; since 2005, the NEA has awarded more than $33.5 million in jazz-related grants and additional support to the field.)
As Ann Meier Baker, the NEA’s director of music and opera told me during a recent interview, “We’re supporting the entire ecosystem of jazz, from the top down and from the bottom up and often blurring the lines between disciplines because that’s what jazz musicians do.”
The most visible and celebrated aspect of the NEA’s support for jazz is the Jazz Masters Program, which this year will be celebrated with a tribute concert at the Kennedy Center on April 3, 2017. Below are the facts and links.

WHAT: National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) honors the 2017 NEA Jazz Masters at a tribute concert held in collaboration with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, hosted by Jason Moran. The concert will also be webcast live.

The 2017 NEA Jazz Masters are:

The tribute concert will include remarks by the 2017 NEA Jazz Masters (representing Ira Gitler will be his son, Fitz Gitler); as well as Jane Chu, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts; Deborah F. Rutter, president of the Kennedy Center; Jason Moran, pianist and Kennedy Center artistic director for Jazz; NEA Jazz Masters Dan Morgenstern and Kenny Barron; jazz and film critic Gary Giddins; and National Medal of Arts recipient and Kennedy Center Honoree Jessye Norman. The concert will include performances by NEA Jazz Masters Paquito D’Rivera and Lee Konitz, as well as Bill CharlapTheo CrokerAaron DiehlRobin EubanksJames GenusDonald HarrisonBooker T. JonesSherrie Maricle and the Diva Jazz OrchestraPeter MartinMike MorenoChina MosesSteve NelsonKassa OverallChris PotterDianne ReevesNate SmithDan Tepfer, and Matthew Whitaker.

WHEN: Monday, April 3, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Kennedy Center Concert Hall (2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20566); video-streamed live at arts.govKennedy-Center.org, and NPR.org/Music; and audio-streamed at SiriusXM Channel 67, Real Jazz.


In addition to the concert, there are two other events celebrating the 2017 NEA Jazz Masters:

  • NPR Listening Party with the 2017 NEA Jazz Masters on Sunday, April 2, 2017 at 2:00 p.m.
  • Howard University Master Class with 2017 NEA Jazz Masters on Tuesday, April 4, 2017 at 2:00 p.m.

Full details are available here.

Continue reading “Celebrate NEA Jazz Masters Tonight (And Advocate for the Endowment Tomorrow & The Next Day…)”