Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Great Show, Easy Applause

Last month the International Association of Jazz Educators held their annual conference in Manhattan. There were some great concert performances, particularly e.s.t. and Javon Jackson. There were also worthy lectures and seminars, but I heard a common refrain from speakers complaining about America’s lack of government financing for jazz. It was an easy applause line, but was it fair?

Representatives from the Smithsonian, the NEA, and the Library of Congress all made presentations on their jazz programs. The Smithsonian ( was touting April as Jazz Appreciation Month. The NEA presented their annual Jazz Master Awards, the jazz equivalent of the Academy Awards, during the conference’s marquee concert ( They also reported on their NEA Jazz in the Schools on-line curriculum Representatives of the Library of Congress ( reported on their archival efforts, and tantalized the audience with clips of rare performance recordings, largely unheard since their original radio broadcast, including a clip of Dinah Washington singing with the Ellington band. The newly discovered Thelonious Monk/John Coltrane Carnegie Hall concert tapes released on Blue Note are an example of these treasures in the LOC archives. Between each government agency or quasi-governmental entity, Uncle Sam actually produces, promotes, and preserves jazz in many ways.

Frequently, speakers complained that European governments are much more supportive, pointing to their subsidized radio bands, like the WDR Orchestra in Germany. Yet, the American government funds several excellent big bands, but it’s actually the Defense Department picking up the tab. The U.S. Army Blues Jazz Ensemble ( performed twice at the conference, including a fantastic set with newly crowned NEA Jazz Master Buddy DeFranco. Other military big bands, like the U.S. Military Academy Jazz Knights, the USAF Airmen of Note, and the U.S. Navy Band Commodores were present as exhibitors. In fact, military uniforms were a fairly common sight at IAJE.

I don’t know how much American taxpayers spend on jazz. I’m not sure anyone has tried to total it up, but I suspect it is much greater than conventional wisdom suggests. Oddly enough, some speakers repeated the same complaint about Uncle Sam’s stinginess towards jazz, even though their fantastic work seemed to contradict the point. It always received a nice round of applause though.