[Dixielandjazz] The Gioia of Jazz

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Wed Jun 15 20:26:24 PDT 2005

>From the Stan Kenton Chat List. Sourced from the Wall Street Journal. Not
much OKOM but it is a start.

Steve Barbone

The Gioia of Jazz 
The National Endowment for the Arts' head champions "one of the great
American inventions."

Wednesday, June 15, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT
No one with government funds to dispense has done more to bring jazz to
American audiences than Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for
the Arts. He has long considered the music "one of the great American
inventions," and has been listening to it since his childhood in a
working-class neighborhood in Los Angeles where, at home in the kitchen, his
mother would put on records by Count Basie and her husband's favorite--Bunny
Berigan, the trumpet player best known for his exhilarating version of "I
Can't Get Started With You."

As Mr. Gioia was born in 1950, he remembers "growing up to the music of
jazz, which was still America's popular music. You could even hear it on the
TV variety shows. And in high school, the coolest group was the jazz band.
As for me, the music conjured up a world of excitement and seemingly
unreachable sophistication."

Now, however, except for the BET Jazz channel, not available in all parts of
the country, there is currently no regular jazz programming. Indeed, there
is hardly any jazz on broadcast or cable television. And on radio, the music
has been almost entirely limited to a number of local public-radio stations,
and some programming on National Public Radio.

Mr. Gioia--a poet (whose "Interrogations at Noon" won the 2002 American Book
Award), a literary anthologist and a teacher--became the ninth chairman of
the NEA in February 2003. One of his first initiatives was to increase the
NEA's jazz program.

Starting in 1982, the NEA had been presenting jazz originals with American
Jazz Masters Fellowships, including what is now a $25,000 accompaniment to
the award. The first three musicians honored were Roy Eldridge, Dizzy
Gillespie and Sun Ra, followed the next year by Count Basie, Kenny Clarke
and Sonny Rollins. Mr. Gioia has expanded the number of annual Jazz
Masters--there are seven this year. And in 2004 he added a new category,
Jazz Advocate, which began with a nonmusician, this writer, who plays only
an electric typewriter after a brief and unpromising venture long ago as a

The chairman is involved in expanding audiences for all the arts, but he is
especially driven to "expand the country's awareness of jazz, to use it to
combat the cultural impoverishment that threatens us." In an era of
"reality" television, and a music scene where even Merle Haggard is hardly
heard on commercial country music radio stations, Mr. Gioia doesn't consider
it necessary to define "cultural impoverishment."

He has launched "NEA Jazz Masters on Tour," sending Jazz Masters across the
U.S. to nonprofit organizations--from, the NEA declares, "the Maine Center
for the Arts in Orono, Maine, to the Anchorage Concert Association in
Anchorage, Alaska." The co-organizer is Arts Midwest, and the sponsor is
Verizon with additional support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
Verizon also sponsors other NEA jazz initiatives.

Also, the NEA was a partner in an hourlong television program, "Legends of
Jazz," which will be shown on various PBS stations beginning Thursday and
throughout July and August. (Check local listings.) The program is hosted by
pianist Ramsey Lewis, a wide-ranging contributor to jazz history. Included
are NEA Jazz Masters James Moody, Nancy Wilson, Jon Hendricks, Paquito
D'Rivera and jazz impresario and pianist George Wein, designated a 2005 Jazz

After this premiere showing, a 13-week series of "Legends in Jazz" will
follow on PBS. The NEA will not be involved in that continuance, which is
historic in that it will be the first national weekly jazz series in some 40
years. That absence may not have been "the wasteland" Newton Minow once
called television, but it sure was a cultural deficit.

Mr. Gioia has also helped regenerate a valuable National Public Radio
series, "Jazz Profiles," which was illuminatingly researched and set a
standard for broadcast jazz biographies. New productions were halted by NPR
in 2002 when it reduced cultural coverage in favor of higher ratings for
news. In partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, NPR
resurrected the series this year with one-hour profiles--both updated and
new--of NEA Jazz Masters. While the series ends on June 29, there is hope
that there will be yet more "Jazz Profiles" to come on NPR.

What may be the most long-lasting Gioia project for raising this nation's
consciousness of its most original contribution to world culture is NEA Jazz
in the Schools, which the chairman heralds as a way of enlivening "American
history in exciting, soulful and insightful ways."

This Web-based curriculum and DVD toolkit are, says the NEA, "designed for
high school teachers of social studies, history and music." Included will be
"a teacher's guide of five curricular units with teacher tips,
cross-curricular activities and assessment methods."

In each kit, along with a timeline poster and student materials, there will
be "a CD, and a DVD featuring video and musical excerpts along with all
print materials in digital form."

To get the first curricular unit, public, private and charter schools that
are interested can download it from www.neajazzintheschools.org. The
complete kit will be available at no charge this September. While designed
for high schoolers, the Jazz in the Schools curriculum can bring educational
pleasures to middle-school students as well. And after seeing strongly
appreciative letters from elementary schools after jazz musicians quickened
the rhythms of their classrooms, I would suggest that teachers of earlier
grades should also click on to the swinging Web site.

In Stanley Crouch's masterly profile of Sonny Rollins in the May 9 New
Yorker magazine, that colossus of the tenor saxophone ends: "I know what I
got from Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Dexter Gordon, Don Byas, Charlie
Parker, and all the other guys who gave their lives to this music. . . . All
I want to do is stand up for them, and for the music, and for what they
inspired in me." 

Dana Gioia's multidimensional Jazz Masters initiative will, I expect,
increase the American audience for this music's originators and their
devoted progeny. I would think that a president of any political party might
eventually recognize Dana Gioia's contributions to freedom with the Medal of
Freedom, accompanied by a New Orleans marching band!

Mr. Hentoff writes about jazz for The Wall Street Journal.

All the best, stay well and in touch,

Tony  Agostinelli (on the Kenton Chat List)

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