Tag: NEA

Trump Budget Proposal Eliminates NEA

Last night reactions to President Trump’s proposed budget began circulating, which includes a call for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

In response to the proposal, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) underlined that the “administration makes recommendations, but Congress does budgets.” Arts groups are urging their constituents to contact their representatives.

The NEA has made the following statement via its website:

Statement from National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu

Today we learned that the President’s FY 2018 budget blueprint proposes the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. We are disappointed because we see our funding actively making a difference with individuals of all ages in thousands of communities, large, small, urban and rural, and in every Congressional District in the nation.

We understand that the President’s budget request is a first step in a very long budget process; as part of that process we are working with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to prepare information they have requested. At this time, the NEA continues to operate as usual and will do so until a new budget is enacted by Congress.

We expect this news to be an active topic of discussion among individuals and organizations that advocate for the arts. 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.

Who is Creative Placemaking? New Music, Integrity, and Community

Who Is Creative Placemaking?

Billboard graffiti spotted on North Avenue in Station North, Baltimore. Photo by Molly Sheridan

The living, breathing practice of new music brings together many diverse and symbiotic stakeholders. They range from performing artists to composers, from presenting organizations to scholars, and from technical crews to administrators, all striving to create contemporary aural art that challenges, enlivens, and illuminates our human experience. Yet at the end of each day, there is a dirty little secret that each career shares. No matter the specialty, all participants aspire to eat, pay their bills, and enjoy some security and comfort from the labor of bringing new music into our world. This, of course, requires cold hard cash and conversations about funding are rarely pleasant ones. Money from advocacy organizations is in short supply and involves immense competition nationwide. When I see the phrase “many fine projects go unfunded” in grant guidelines, it takes on the ring of gallows humor.

In the past four years, however, a new cash spigot has been cranked open for contemporary arts funding across the nation. Titled “creative placemaking,” this approach purports to culturally and economically reinvigorate American “places” of all stripes, rescuing them from their derelict status through the arts. If current arts policy trends continue, then new music’s institutional vibrancy might depend on how it fits into this rubric, interfacing with communities on levels rarely considered in the past such as neighborhood pride, commercial impact, and livability. But new music should be wary of the covenant that creative placemaking offers, both to artists and audiences, while not losing sight of how the music of our time truly does change our thinking about places and the people in them.

The Dynamics of Place and New Music

The groundwork for thinking about place enjoys a breadth and depth from disciplines as diverse as ecology, geography, history, sociology, political science, anthropology, and philosophy. There are now musical perspectives being added to the fray, ranging from musicologists such as Holly Watkins to composers like Chris Kallmyer writing for NewMusicBox.[1] I tend to think of places as locations—with boundaries that range from fuzzy to rigid, and from vast to confined—imbued with cultural and social energy, both locked up in our memories and being constantly reimagined. But as American philosopher Ed Casey argues, places are things that individuals and collectives are able to experience in real time.[2] Only through the experimentation wrapped up in our daily tests and trials are places altered in substantial ways.[3] By this measure, few human activities empower us to experiment in and with places more than the arts, and in particular, newly wrought pieces and works. Newness is confrontational, newness is the unexpected variable, newness celebrates dynamic, living places: we stumble across new art, often unexpectedly, and discover parts of ourselves yet unknown. Not many would find this idea contentious, but here is the rub: how each contemporary art sub-discipline recasts place(s) in our imagination is another matter entirely.

Paintings, sculptures, photographs, buildings, urban grids, and maps—the list goes on—each organize our world in a way that focuses, endures, and reinterprets. People congregate around buildings, they linger in the aura of sculptures, they frame photos for their intimate living spaces. But what about a new piece of music? How does the music of our time—so fleeting, so temporal, yet so drastic—initiate a change in one’s sense of place, especially through a commission and/or a world premiere? I think new music has a place problem for a number of reasons, stemming in large part from its transitory nature.
First, new music idioms often exemplify styles, technical grammars, or an individual composer’s ethos far more than they center our thinking on a particular city, street corner, building, or even a site in nature. For instance, consider: if a newly composed piece by a native of Provo, Utah, is crafted to memorialize everything she adores about her beloved hometown, how might a listener draw a distinction between it and the aural profile of any other mid-sized American city (even with program notes in tow)? How is Provo-ness truly “made” in a notated or aural setting, as opposed to or separate from Sioux Falls, South Dakota-ness? This is no mockery of Provo’s desirability, but rather a claim that new music artifice and architecture fogs the engrossing idiosyncrasies of particular places, rendering them untranslatable in a listener’s engagement. Similarly, let us ponder the example of a new work for percussion ensemble earning wide acclaim: Augusta Read Thomas’s quartet Resounding Earth for pan-Asian bells and other metal resonators. While the work was conceived and largely composed in Chicago, I think concertgoers are much more likely to experience this piece as a diverse way to play with the possibilities of percussion arrays, rather than, say, connect it as a postmodern commentary between the Windy City and Bangkok, Thailand. New music is deeply cosmopolitan, a jumble of cross-conversations in different shapes, sizes, and sound worlds all fixated on how to add clever new tools to the composition workbench. The where, the place, is simply ancillary.

Second, as delighted as many new music specialists are to discredit or dethrone the Western canon of the past 300 years, perhaps a baby has been thrown out with the bathwater: the canon’s affection for place in the historical imagination. Even the most progressive among us still speak about the Western canon in a way that relies on places and their positions in time, frozen if only for a moment: the two Viennese schools with their transformed complexions; Ives’s idyllic Connecticut; Monteverdi in Venice; and so on. New music simply does not encapsulate places and their epochs as intimately as its earlier, canon-bound brethren. Listening to a piece of electronic music from the mid-1980s by Xenakis, my heart does not wander to IRCAM. When I sit in the audience for a graduate student composition concert, my ears do not perk up because, despite the disparate geographic origins of the composers, all of these works were newly written in Cincinnati and I can hear that plainly. Even watching a production of Kaija Saariaho’s opera L’Amour de loin, I am not transported to romanticized scenes of medieval France or other exotic locales conjured by the troubadour poetry that Saariaho and her librettist drew from.

Third, we must consider how the lifeblood of new music—world premieres, sometimes commissioned, sometimes not—alter the dynamics of place. World premieres have had the power to color or disrupt our sense of place, such as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in the Vienna of 1824, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring in the Paris of 1913, Barber’s Adagio for Strings over NBC radio in 1938, or even John Adams’s On the Transmigration of Souls in the New York City of 2002. Yet such monumental unveilings are few and far between. The majority of pieces that receive a world premiere, often regardless of a composer’s fame and a commission, are never performed again. When we think of a new music world premiere changing a place, we must acknowledge that it likely only has one chance to do so, like a blaze that burns quick and bright before exhausting its fuel. Another hypothetical: does a work written in a log cabin in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, have much to say about the distinctive qualities outside the hall of its birth in, say, Gainesville, Florida? Such pieces are vagrants, effortlessly being uprooted and transplanted from their birth locales into countless other neighborhood spaces hundreds if not thousands of miles away. Indeed, if nothing is lost from a work’s effectiveness when it is inserted into the context of a radically new place, one begins to wonder whether there was anything grounding the piece at its point of origin. This is unlike contemporary trends in other mediums that lean towards the hyper-local. For instance, a mural on a highway overpass, or on the side of a derelict factory, gives voice to the hopes, aspirations, or tough luck of that place, in that moment of the place’s memorialization.
However, I think the music of our time has two yet unmentioned assets that stir us to ponder places. First, new music never sits still, new music is nimble. A great many contemporary art mediums and their works that celebrate place(s) are purposefully designed to be walked past, congregated around, or remain passively integrated with our daily routine, from building facades to oblique outdoor sculptures. But I think, to their detriment, they often acquire a leering sort of quality—like gargoyles on the side of a cathedral, inert, mute, and unmovable—as people, ideas, trends, and indeed, the places themselves, dynamically shift around them. One phrase of Ed Casey’s that particularly struck me is that “places not only are, they happen.”[4] New music, at its core, sidesteps and subverts grand displays and unchanging monuments. New music happens. This idea is akin to earlier exhortations about how people fundamentally experiment with or “try out” places. Musical premieres in particular are experimental events with dangerous flirtations: they are born, flicker briefly and provocatively, and then extinguish themselves, with a reckless disregard for your desire that they might linger longer (or in some unlucky cases, end sooner). Creators, performers, and listeners are beckoned like moths to that flame of a musical premiere in a way which asks us to try out the world, to try out places old and new when time is of the essence.

Second, new music happens and changes place(s) through the collaborative breadth and depth of the individuals and groups that come together to realize it. This is a glorification of process, not product. New music highlights the fact that places are more than just brick and mortar, and indeed, the people who invest themselves in the curation of beautiful, frightening, and provocative things alter a place’s complexion far more than items plastered or girded onto our landscape. For instance, almost every world premiere requires demanding conversations involving compromise, sacrifice, and contested artistic integrity, with bargains struck amongst the creator(s), interpreter(s), and the technical conditions of the performance setting. This is the reciprocal cultivation of artists-in-communities, as well as artist communities themselves. One result of these immersive, sometimes exhaustive collaborative endeavors is that talents are honed which can then be re-inserted into countless other places that crave new and adventurous arts.

A great example of this is Omaha Under the Radar, a contemporary arts festival co-founded by soprano Amanda DeBoer Bartlett that launched for the first time from July 10-13, 2014. After making the rounds of the Chicago and New York new music circles, DeBoer Bartlett transitioned back to the region of her birth and brought her artistic and organizational acumen in tow. Omaha Under the Radar performances will take place in venues as varied as bohemian bars, art galleries, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and a rock club, with an emphasis on Omaha interpreters performing the works of Omaha creators. In conversation, DeBoer Bartlett made clear that artistic homogeneity is a nigh impossible feat in Omaha: the scene is simply too small to remain cloistered within new music, as happened when she gigged in Chicago and New York. Rather than performing to the same 40 new music specialists (“big music scenes are just small towns”), she now challenges stagnant presumptions hand-in-hand with theater, dance, jazz, and visual artists. But, she insisted, her artistic poise in Omaha is largely thanks to her earlier pilgrimages to the larger new music meccas. If the vagrancy of new music works prove detrimental to their impact on places, then the opposite holds true for composers and performers: it is precisely their nomad status that gives rise to places as conglomerates of adroit people, rather than as graveyards for piles of material objects.

Under the Radar Omaha

Omaha Under the Radar
Photo by Karjaka Studios

With a deeper understanding of new music’s diverse dynamic involving place, it is now time to pull apart how these ideas relate to or diverge from creative placemaking as an arts strategy, a regime with the potential to either transform or starve the long-standing institutions of new music.

Creative Placemaking as Musical Policy and Practice

“Creative placemaking” was originally coined in a white paper for The Mayors’ Institute on City Design, a leadership forum jointly brought about by the United States Conference of Mayors, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the American Architectural Foundation in 2010. Authored by Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa Nicodemus, creative placemaking’s intellectual inspiration is the New Urbanism that professes to prioritize mixed-income, pedestrian-focused city experiences with diverse economic, social, and political interactions brought about by close human proximity. Creative placemaking’s adaptation of New Urbanist principles in the white paper harnesses a glossy vocabulary for characterizing the importance of the arts:

“[T]hese…locales [chosen as incubators for creative placemaking] foster entrepreneurs and cultural industries that generate jobs and income, spin off new products and services, and attract and retain unrelated businesses and skilled workers…. Instead of a single arts center or a cluster of large arts and cultural institutions, contemporary creative placemaking envisions a more decentralized portfolio of spaces acting as creative crucibles…. arts and culture exist cheek-by-jowl with private sector export and retail businesses and mixed-income housing, often occupying buildings and lots that had been vacant and under-used….”

Although “placemaking” itself is hardly novel, the prescriptions present in Markusen and Nicodemus’s white paper initiated a re-alignment of the funding landscape for the arts across America. The NEA began an entirely new grantmaking program titled “Our Town,” centered on the creative placemaking enterprise with awards ranging from $25,000 to $200,000. Most significantly, a new collaborative umbrella organization christened “ArtPlace America” emerged in 2011. ArtPlace America pools the resources and capacities from a “who’s who” of six banks, eight federal agencies, and 14 of the great American mega-foundations. With the most recent awards ranging from $33,000 to $750,000, and a ballpark median of $280,000, ArtPlace America commands the attention (and salivation) of culture institutions across the nation. In my resident state of Connecticut, the Connecticut Office of the Arts adopted creative placemaking wholesale in their competitive grantmaking. This is the first state in America to undergo such an arts funding gestalt shift towards creative placemaking, and will likely not be the last.
ArtPlace America
On the national level, in a noisy and competitive marketplace of disciplines, institutions, and projects, this situation is hardly rosy for new music. As part of ArtPlace America’s most recent grant awards for 2013-2014, no organizations or projects with formal commitments to new classical, jazz, or experimental music, American or otherwise, were selected. This is not to say that creative placemaking organizations like ArtPlace America snub new music in its entirety, but of the 134 grants made so far in ArtPlace America’s first three years, I only identify three that grapple with any music in a tangible way: Community MusicWorks in Providence, Rhode Island, to draw resources to the impoverished West End; the Memphis Music Magnet to revitalize the Soulsville, USA neighborhood of Memphis; and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Center to encourage economic growth in the Tremé neighborhood.

As the arts funding puzzle shifts dramatically under the rubric of creative placemaking—from symphony orchestras to dance companies, and from museums to arts councils—the programs, services, and fundamental kind of art being made will necessarily change to enhance an organization’s competitiveness. This is not a situation that new music stakeholders should take lightly. While there is much to conceptually celebrate in the mixed-use landscape trumpeted by creative placemaking, we must interrogate the desired outcomes of this initiative. Creative placemaking’s ideal ends are not experimentalism, artistic integrity, arts education, I think, or even arts accessibility. The advancement of arts concerns (the arts qua arts) are mere means at various segments in the creative placemaking food chain: the ultimate aim of this policy project is robust economic growth. The language trumpeted by ArtPlace America, in particular, heralds an uneasy sheen of neoliberal corporatism and, in places previously abandoned by economic opportunity, the threat of creeping gentrification. Creative placemaking’s loudest selling points in the literature include “increased economic performance,” “captur[ing] new revenue,” and “creat[ing] a place where business wants to be,” a nomenclature that yokes artistic activity as a mechanism for the growth of capital. Notice, the three previous music examples within ArtPlace America’s grant portfolio all function as magnets for industry and investment, rather than herald any intrinsic meaningfulness for artistry.

My reservations about creative placemaking are hardly isolated. Ian Moss and Roberto Bedoya independently describe how creative placemaking projects, even in light of their slippery relationship with measurable outcomes, deserve the scrutiny of other neighborhood uplift crusades: do they initiate displacement as the community becomes “more desirable,” property values increase, and long-time residents—the very people whose cultural backgrounds creative placemaking purports to celebrate—depart or are marginalized en masse? Moss loosely characterizes this phenomenon as the “Arts Colonization Process” wherein the artists flock, a hip reputation follows, and there goes the neighborhood. Megan Wilson’s superb recent analysis of ArtPlace America’s 5M Project gone awry in the SoMA neighborhood of San Francisco reinforces and fleshes out many apprehensions, particularly regarding how the perennial funding desperation faced by city agencies and community arts organizations pushes them towards Faustian bargains they might not otherwise entertain.

This trial for the artistic purposefulness of new music, compelling institutions and creators to bend their objectives and voices to suit the narrow financial framework of those with creative placemaking purse-strings, is born out through two specific examples. The first is an artist collective specializing in composer and performer role-switching workshops, located in an up-and-coming American city and anonymous here for their protection. Through a local family foundation focused on creative placemaking strategies, they receive funding and access to a rehearsal and performance space on one floor of a formerly deserted downtown office building. But the stipulations of the grant bind and inhibit far more than they inspire, or, in the words of the collective’s artistic director, “lots of grants [in this city] are for work being done in unconventional spaces, but they’re unconventional because they suck.” The director bemoaned the lack of a suitable theater or hall for concerts, where good recordings can be obtained and artistic and production facilities are in place. In this instance, a new music organization that was lucky enough to capture creative placemaking largess had to substantially adjust its core capacities and institutional image to meet the dictates of its benefactor.
The second example comes from new music group Clocks in Motion, based in Madison, Wisconsin. Clocks in Motion is comprised of current and former students from the University of Wisconsin at Madison School of Music, cobbling together financial resources from a wide variety of piecemeal sources. The ensemble conducts aggressive outreach work, such as performing accessible and engaging new music for the “at risk” children of the after-school Allied Neighborhood Center and instructing young students in composition, culminating in the ensemble’s premiere of their works. But will the outreach, accessibility, and learning project of ensembles like Clocks in Motion be stymied as resources are shunted away from such endeavors, towards those that lay the foundation for commerce as conceived by creative placemaking? Despite the inventive nature of their engagement activities, Clocks in Motion simply does not fit the parameters prescribed as “proper” creative placemaking: they do not generate desire for new investments of capital, they do not foster pedestrian activity or the spontaneous gathering of people, and they do not perform or rehearse in some token light-industrial site. But how can you tell them they do not change the place they call home?

Clocks in Motion's education work

Clocks in Motion’s education work


What are we left with? First, while this article is not a call to arms, I think we as new music acolytes must make the case, both publicly and privately, that the music of our time can and does color the complexion of places, both for ourselves and for citizens from all walks of life. The mechanisms for change may involve the seductiveness of world premieres, the collaborative skill-building that grows reciprocal artist communities, or countless other avenues I did not enumerate. But just because our art is not planted on soil, bolted to concrete, slathered on a surface, or able to collect dust and grime, that does not mean it lacks the power to shape memories and imaginations about the locations close to our hearts.

Second, creative placemaking in its current outlook is unimpressed by new music’s efficacy as a mercantile powerhouse and, as a result, devalues its presence in the palette of contemporary arts practices presently available. Whether these decisions are deliberate individual acts by well-meaning grant panelists with a checklist in front of them, or the result of some collective unconscious, I would rather not speculate. But in practice, creative placemaking sets up a sieve that new music tends to slide right through, owing largely to new music’s fixation on technique, its disconnect from a historical imagination or canon, and the ephemeral nature of world premieres.

Third, I am not advocating for a wholesale rejection of the creative placemaking project, but rather, a cautious negotiation of how, when, and where new music creators, performers, and institutions sign on the dotted line for funding and logistical support. There is a very tangible risk (one faced by all non-profits and artists, to some degree) that new music will bend to the wind and adjust its creative potential to suit where the money happens to be flowing. Program choices, the sizes and types of ensembles being formed, the complexion of music being composed, the locales in which works are performed, education design, the conversations through which we engage our communities: these all stand to be yoked to creative placemaking if resource desperation takes hold.

Finally, the demonstrated risk of gentrification through creative placemaking, and this initiative’s overt wealth-accumulation project—with vague or nonexistent guidelines on how to grow such wealth in an equitable manner—means that there must be a social justice component to how new music interfaces with creative placemaking. This is surely the case in the locations where creative placemaking is deliberately having a disproportionate impact, such as up-and-coming cities seeking to raise their national profiles (Omaha, Madison, Kansas City, etc.) or ones that are on the mend from deindustrialization (Detroit, Pittsburgh, etc.). From Omaha Under the Radar and Clocks in Motion, to the anonymous artist collective and countless others, new music will have an integral role to play in the recovery and celebration of these communities if we continue to shout, loudly and bravely, about how this art we have dedicated our lives to engages with both the least and most comfortable among us, and gives new voice to the vitality of the places we invest in and call home.


1. Holly Watkins, “Musical Ecologies of Place and Placelessness,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 64, 2 (2011): 404-408 and Andrew Leyshon, David Matless, and George Revill, “Introduction: Music, Space, and the Production of Place,” in The Place of Music, edited by Andrew Leyshon, David Matless, and George Revill (Oxford: The Guilford Press, 1998).

2. Edward Casey, Getting Back Into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993) p. 24.

3. Ibid, pp. 30-31

4. Edward Casey, “How to Get from Space to Place in a Fairly Short Stretch of Time: Phenomenological Prolegomena” in Senses of Place, edited by Steven Feld and Keith Basso (Santa Fe: School of American Research Press, 1997) p. 27.
Additional Works Cited
Leyshon, Andrew, David Matless, and George Revill. “Introduction: Music, Space, and the Production of Place.” In The Place of Music, edited by Andrew Leyshon, David Matless, and George Revill, 1-30. Oxford: The Guilford Press, 1998.

Art and Democracy: The NEA, Kickstarter, and Creativity in America

two roadsEvery once in a blue moon, an arts policy story breaks into the mainstream media—and as with most poorly understood subjects, it’s usually for some profoundly stupid reason. The news that the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter anticipates distributing more money this year than the National Endowment for the Arts was no exception.[1] The story, prompted by a February 24 interview of Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler by Talking Points Memo’s Carl Franzen, led to a flurry of content-free online chatter on well-trafficked channels with frothy headlines like “Could Kickstarter Replace the NEA?” and “Kickstarter Kicks the NEA’s Butt in Arts Funding.”

It’s worth noting that neither Strickler himself nor Franzen’s analysis suggested that Kickstarter was somehow in opposition to the NEA—indeed, Strickler went out of his way to emphasize that he has mixed feelings about the growth of his startup relative to the nation’s second-largest arts funder.[2] But not surprisingly, that was the direction the conversation immediately went. In a way, I can sympathize with the enthusiasm for this easy, attention-grabbing narrative: Kickstarter, after all, has been extraordinarily successful in positioning itself as the hot new tech tool that everyone’s talking about, the creative entrepreneur’s best friend, in more or less direct contrast to the NEA’s comparatively stodgy, bureaucratic image. The comparison, furthermore, is like catnip to conservative and libertarian opponents of federal arts funding, who see the numbers as justification for the argument that their taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be used to support art that they don’t directly endorse. Just as inexperienced artists sometimes mistakenly believe that Kickstarter is going to solve all of their fundraising problems with nary a lifted finger in sight, commentators who have more interest than background in the arts can easily fall into the trap of seeing Kickstarter as “the answer” to United States arts policy.

Seductive as it is, that narrative ignores a number of pertinent facts about the nature of both Kickstarter itself and the arts funding ecosystem in our country. Crucially, it misses the forest for the trees by incorrectly assuming that the NEA is one of the primary means by which our country funds the nonprofit arts sector, following the model embraced by governments in Europe and elsewhere. In reality, Kickstarter and the NEA combined comprise less than 0.5% of the total dollars arts organizations raise and spend annually. The NEA isn’t even the largest line item in the federal budget devoted to arts and culture—that honor goes to the Smithsonian Institution, with an appropriation from Uncle Sam exceeding that of the NEA’s by a factor of five. Instead, nonprofit arts organizations raise nearly half of their revenue from earned sources such as ticket sales and tuition fees, with the bulk of the remainder coming from individual donations (yes, people gave money to the arts before Kickstarter) and foundation grants.

Graph from the NEA's "How the United States Funds the Arts" report

Graph from the NEA’s “How the United States Funds the Arts” report

Moreover, as author and technologist Clay Johnson points out, the NEA and Kickstarter are fundamentally different beasts: the NEA is a mission-centric public agency intentionally focusing its resources in certain directions to attain specific goals, whereas the strings-attached donations that take place on Kickstarter arguably have more in common with purchases of goods and services than with grants. A solid quarter of Kickstarter’s distributions to date have gone toward projects that fall outside of the scope of what the NEA has traditionally supported, such as new product design and commercial entertainment (high-profile projects have included an iPhone dock, an iPod Nano watch, and a movie by Tom Hanks’s son). Indeed, to say that Kickstarter “funds” the arts at all seems an exaggeration; Kickstarter is a for-profit technology platform that takes a 8-10% cut (counting credit card and transaction fees) from the donations that come through its system, money that is currently being used to grow the company and will one day undoubtedly make its founders very, very rich. Saying that Kickstarter should replace the NEA is rather like saying we don’t need libraries anymore because we have Amazon.com.


It’s interesting to me that, in contrast to the apparently exciting (for some) notion of Kickstarter supplanting the NEA, no one has called for the reverse—that is, for the NEA to replace Kickstarter, or at least for Kickstarter to become more like the NEA. That suggests the NEA has a bit of an image problem relative to the darlings of the crowdfunding world. Why might that be? I suspect a big reason is the complex role the NEA plays in United States arts policy, one that is frequently at odds with the expectations placed upon it by liberals and conservatives alike.

Following the first meeting of the National Council on the Arts (the body that oversees the National Endowment for the Arts) in 1965, the Council released a statement that read, in part, “…The Council cannot create artists, but it is passionately dedicated to creating a climate in which art and the artist shall flourish.” That sentence neatly encapsulates the indirect role that the NEA must play in our cultural ecosystem due to its small size. United States citizens can be forgiven, I suppose, for thinking that the role of a federal agency called the “National Endowment for the Arts” is to support artists directly in the creation and production of art. But these days, aside from a handful of literature fellowships, it’s not—any more than the role of the Federal Highway Administration is to make and drive cars. Rather, the function of both agencies is to create and maintain a strong infrastructure to serve their respective constituencies.

Money Trees

One could make an argument that the NEA isn’t so different from Kickstarter in one key respect: neither entity really gives away its own money. In the NEA’s case, that money is ours, the taxpayers’, and just like Kickstarter it takes a cut of the pie for itself: more than 20% of the budget goes toward operating expenses or program support efforts rather than grants. But taxpayers get at least two things for their overhead dollars that their Kickstarter patron and customer counterparts don’t: curation[3] and leadership. The first is becoming increasingly central for the arts field as a whole, as the number of new and growing creative enterprises threatens to overwhelm an already crowded market. Rather than allocate its dollars to grant applicants via some automated process, the NEA invests considerable time in assembling peer review panels to assess each project’s merits and goals in relation to its strategic objectives (creating excellent art, engaging the public, and promoting public knowledge and understanding about the arts). Importantly, as a government entity with no obligation to consider the commercial potential of the projects it supports, the NEA is free to prioritize art that would otherwise fall through the cracks—either because of what it is, who’s making it, or where it’s happening. This freedom is what allows the NEA and other mission-oriented funders to create a subsidy-driven artistic marketplace to serve alongside the profit-driven commercial marketplace.

In short, by making strong, centralized, and values-based curatorial choices, the NEA has the capacity to exercise leadership. And leadership is the means by which the NEA can be relevant despite its modest budget as the most visible national government body supporting the arts. The Endowment has focused a singular attention during Chairman Rocco Landesman’s tenure on setting national priorities and forming partnerships and coalitions around them, resulting most obviously in a raft of new creative placemaking initiatives casting the arts as engines of economic redevelopment in urban and rural centers across the United States. The NEA has also put new energy and resources into its research activities, using its power as a convener to standardize and update methodologies and form liaisons with other branches of government.

Finally, there is one important respect in which the NEA leads by…well…following. Forty percent of the Endowment’s grant dollars go not to organizations or artists directly, but to arts councils via state and local partnerships. This arrangement is part of a decentralization strategy that is aimed at getting national dollars for arts access to every corner of the country. While some commentators feel that the NEA could do more to support arts access in rural areas and away from the coasts, the Endowment is without question a bigger boon to these regions than Kickstarter, whose marketplace-based model (mirroring the economy more generally) inherently privileges geographic clusters.


Right now, it’s not clear that Kickstarter is doing much more than offering a streamlined process for donations that would probably have happened anyway. Aside from a handful of lucky campaigns that “go viral,” anecdotal reports suggest that the vast majority of donors to a typical project are previously known to the recipient. That means that whatever biases and privileges exist in the real world also exist on Kickstarter. Artist-entrepreneurs who have either ready access to networks of family and friends with money or an already-existing fan base will have a noticeable leg up on those who are just starting out or paid their own way in college. In fact, Kickstarter’s all-or-nothing campaign model may exacerbate these inequities, by increasing the risk that those who begin with less will lose the benefits of all their hard work—a fate that befell more than half of all campaigns launched on the site last year.

Given all the above, it may seem ironic that it is Kickstarter that has seized the mantle of democratizing access to the arts in the public imagination, rather than the NEA. A closer examination, however, quickly reveals why. In recent years, the NEA has focused on arts access from the perspective of the audience, particularly through geographic reach. The Endowment publishes national studies on arts participation twice a decade, supports touring programs through its network of regional partners, and frequently supports established organizations that are capable of bringing in large crowds consistently. But these measures are often not so friendly to the creator. The NEA’s focus on pre-existing institutions, its requirement that applicants hold tax-exempt status, and its extensive application requirements and lengthy review process all erect barriers to participation no less formidable than those that face artist-entrepreneurs who come to Kickstarter without access to a video camera. The NEA is simply not set up to provide seed funding of any kind, relying on partners, grantees, and the private sector to fulfill that function instead. By contrast, Kickstarter allows pretty much anyone to sign up and start soliciting in a jiffy, and campaign timelines are purposefully kept short to allow for nearly immediate results. In short, if one fits the profile of an ideal Kickstarter project, that platform offers an infinitely more attractive vehicle for obtaining funding than the NEA.


Precisely because the marketplace for individual giving is so much larger than the capacity for government support, Kickstarter has the potential to deliver a transformative impact on the arts sector by cultivating more and better donors to the arts. (Kickstarter isn’t the only platform of its kind, of course, nor is it even the first. My employer, Fractured Atlas, partners with two of Kickstarter’s competitors, IndieGoGo and RocketHub, and many other online fundraising platforms cover the arts and beyond, including USA Projects, Power2Give, and ArtSpire. But Kickstarter’s large customer base and obvious cachet with the technology community currently put it in the best position to achieve what I suggest here.) Kickstarter has already taken a number of steps to encourage “browsers”—people who donate to projects to which they have no personal connection. The company offers a weekly newsletter featuring projects that catch the program team’s eye, and regularly highlights selected campaigns on its blog and other social media. A “Discover Great Projects” section of the website offers staff picks, and curated pages increase the number of voices in the mix. Strickler’s comments on a year-in-review thread from earlier this year also indicate that Kickstarter is working on ways to make it easier to find projects in close geographic proximity to you.

concert crowd

But Kickstarter could do more. For as much time as it puts into selecting projects to highlight, many, many more will pass unnoticed, a trend that will only worsen as the platform becomes more popular.  By engaging its audience directly in the curation of its projects, perhaps through some kind of guided crowdsourcing process, Kickstarter would expose more of the “long tail” of its project pool to potential review by strangers. That would allow projects that originate from underserved communities and don’t already come in with strong connections to donors a more realistic shot at reaching their campaign goals. Kickstarter’s broad conception of creativity, one that reaches beyond the arts to video games, product design, and even social innovation, holds enormous promise for encouraging the cross-pollination of donors across various fields, perhaps even training a new generation of tech-savvy arts patrons and board members. A robust recommendation engine and more project discovery tools will likely be needed, however, to turn all of those one-time supporters doing a friend a favor into ongoing mini-Medicis (or should we say Bloombergs?) providing a regular stream of dollars to projects and artists they discover for the first time through Kickstarter. Were that vision realized, the notion of Kickstarter as a “funder” of the arts would not seem nearly so far-fetched.


I’ve been pretty harsh on the “could Kickstarter replace the NEA” meme, on the logic that (a) it’s not going to happen and (b) even if it did, it would have little practical impact because of the relatively small dollar amounts involved. Yet the NEA/Kickstarter cage-match narrative compels because it gets at a central debate in American society: the value of shaping markets through planning and policy versus letting them run free. While Kickstarter does not prioritize, and therefore is less successful at, distributing its funds in a way that acknowledges historical inequities and the biases of capitalism, in other respects it does represent a more accessible vision of the arts in America consistent with the Pro-Am Revolution. It is this commitment to lowering the barriers to entry that has made Kickstarter so popular with the media and, in particular, with the innovation-obsessed technology community. And though the NEA theoretically should be able to democratize access to the arts more effectively than a for-profit entity like Kickstarter, for creators, accessing the Endowment—with all of its rules and structure—simply requires a different kind of privilege.

For these reasons, it’s not that hard to imagine Kickstarter and the NEA learning from each other. Though Kickstarter’s mission is not to serve the arts community per se, it would be a shame to see it pass up the huge opportunity in front of it to do just that by flexing more curatorial leadership and empowering its audience to do the same. Meanwhile, crowdfunding’s open-access, instant-gratification model offers an important challenge to the Endowment as it continues to wrestle with how it can best do its job on pennies per capita. If democratizing access to the arts means anything at all, it must include not just who gets to see the artist but also who gets to be the artist. And on that last score, both institutions have a ways yet to go.


1. I’m not going to waste time crafting the world’s seven gazillionth article describing Kickstarter here. If you’re not familiar with it, Anastasia Tsioulcas’s blog post offers a good introduction from a classical music perspective.

2. Depending on the definition used, the NEA is either neck-and-neck with or far behind the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in money provided to the arts annually.

3. Kickstarter does “curate” its projects in the sense that they must meet basic eligibility requirements in order to get listed, but the review and due diligence process is far less extensive than the NEA’s.


Ian Moss
As research director for Fractured Atlas, Ian David Moss helps funders, government agencies, and others support the field more effectively by harnessing the power of data to drive informed decision-making. Ian designed and leads implementation of Fractured Atlas’s pioneering cultural asset mapping software, Archipelago, which aggregates and visualizes information about creative activities in a particular geography in order to better illuminate who’s making art, who’s engaging with it, where it’s happening, and how it’s made possible. Since 2007, he has also been editor of Createquity, a highly acclaimed arts policy blog read regularly by more than 2,000 arts managers and enthusiasts around the world. Previously, he was development manager for the American Music Center and founded two first-of-their-kind performing ensembles: a hybrid electric chamber group/experimental rock band and a choral collective devoted to the music of the past 25 years. He holds BA and MBA degrees from Yale University.

NEA and Jazz, Part 3

It’s important for the National Endowment for the Arts to bestow honors on individuals who spent their lives performing, producing, and promoting jazz. For one thing, the genre is young enough that the lineage from its inception is intact. While most of the first generation of jazz musicians are no longer living, there still is a group of musicians who got to experience that music during its vital times. There are also musicians alive who knew Charlie Parker when bebop was “killing” real jazz. One of them, singer Sheila Jordan, received her Jazz Masters Award at the January 10 ceremony at Jazz at Lincoln Center. She was introduced by another Parker-inspired singer who revolutionized American music, Jon Hendricks. While instrumentalists, especially trumpeters and saxophonists, are generally considered to be the voice of jazz, it is the vocalists who have been instrumental in disseminating it to the general public through teaching. I was very fortunate to have worked for Mr. Hendricks during the first year after I was done with high school. His regular bass player, the late Bob Maize, and I shared a gig at The Reunion club in San Francisco. He had been working with Jon regularly, but when Hendricks put together a scaled-down version of his show, The Evolution of the Blues, to perform on college campuses in the Bay Area, Bob moved to the front line as part of “Hendricks, Hendricks, Hendricks, Hendricks, and Maize” (the four Hendricks being: Jon, his wife Edith, and his two daughters, Rosa and Michele—sometimes a fifth Hendricks, 10-year old Aria, would also participate). Bob enlisted me to play in the rhythm section with pianist Larry Vukovitch and drummer Benny Barth. It was great on-the-job training, partly because of the high level of music being played and partly because the show was a dramatization of the history of jazz. Jon was teaching in the California university system and figured out a way to spread the lessons to a wider audience.

Sheila Jordan is also a teacher, like many of her protégés (Janet Lawson, Jay Clayton, Mark Murphy, Anne-Marie Moss) and her contemporaries (Hendricks, Betty Carter, Annie Ross, Lodi Carr). Teaching jazz singing highlights the chasm between jazz and “classical” music technique and aesthetics more than jazz instrumental pedagogy, which is steeped in Eurocentric methods, despite its liberal use of extended techniques. Jazz singing is done in a chest, or speaking, voice and not the head voice of opera. It’s a pretty basic difference, much like jazz dance vs. ballet, but goes pretty much ignored when it comes to general discussions about teaching jazz. Instrumental jazz teachers will work on facility, learning solos, and studying harmony while vocal jazz teachers include developing a sound produced in a different part of the body. This might be why jazz is often understood as a genre where the performer can best express his- or herself. After all, what is more easily identifiable than a person’s speaking voice. Louis Armstrong couldn’t have begun to sing in a choir or perform lieder, but he defined jazz singing because of his unique voice, a voice that informed and was informed by his trumpet playing. Jordan takes this one step further and improvises lyrics, literally giving song to what she’s thinking about. Without being self-centered, these improvisations can be biographical, conversational (particularly when jamming with other singers, or when she’s teaching), philosophical, and political.

As I mentioned in the first and second parts of this entry, a common thread of socio-political activism ran through what might become the last open-to-the-public NEA Jazz Masters Award ceremony: Drummer Jack DeJohnette cited the social upheaval surrounding Civil Rights activism of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as his early experiences with the Chicago-based AACM, a seminal force in his musical life; Chicago saxophonist Von Freeman was described as growing up in a house that was a haven for musicians, especially Louis Armstrong, who were diaspora from New Orleans in the early 20th century; and Liberation Music Orchestra co-founder and bassist Charlie Haden’s career has been inexorably linked to political activism since the 1950s.

Sheila Jordan (nee: Sheila Janette Dawson) was a teenager in Detroit when she first heard Charlie Parker in the late 1940s. This was a time when white women singers weren’t known for singing bebop. Actually, not many people at all were playing bebop because it was new, yet Sheila found herself pursuing the music of Charlie Parker at full steam. She uses word and song to describe this and other events of her life in an interview on NPR’s Piano Jazz conducted last year. It’s a “must hear” not only because at 82, she’s “still got it,” but because, without intending too, she describes the tradition of jazz education before the current trend of institutional codification which tends to, as one of my jazz history professors put it, study jazz as “a dead art.” Sheila Jordan is not only a consummate artist and virtuoso vocalist, but a link to an important era in the history of 20th-century American music. She describes a time before the Civil Rights movement in Detroit, a city where racial tensions were piano-wire taut. The 1943 riots of Detroit, Harlem, and Los Angeles had no discernible effect on the genocidal tendencies exhibited by certain members of America’s white-male supremacist dominated society. Detroit was a haven for the KKK, Roosevelt’s Fair Employment and Practice Committee had been defunded, and bills to make the practice of lynching a federal crime couldn’t make it to the floor of Congress. It was dangerous to be seen in mixed company, but Sheila Dawson, and two African American singer-songwriters—Leroy Mitchell and William “Skeeter” Speight—formed a singing group, Skeeter, Mitchell and Jean, that wrote and performed vocalise versions of Charlie Parker solos, a decade before Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.

Jordan’s pioneering spirit (I mean pioneering in the sense of Joanna Stratton’s Pioneer Women: Voices From the Kansas Frontier, which is more about escape from social repression into self-actualized living rather than the “pioneering spirit” that seeks to conquer territory for socio-economic gain) led her to New York City and formal studies with Lennie Tristano and informal ones with the jazz community there. Her “informal” teachers included Charles Mingus, Max Roach, Charlie Parker, and George Russell. It was Russell who, in effect, produced her first album as a leader for Blue Note Records, making her one of the first and very few vocalists to appear on the label. It was around this time that she married pianist Duke Jordan, whose discography reads like the Who’s Who of jazz. Their daughter, Tracy, as well as her current bassist, Cameron Brown, attest to Sheila’s passion for creating a world where ethnic diversity is a meeting ground rather than a separation point.

Jordan didn’t gain world-wide acclaim overnight, and she paid heavy dues for her egalitarian temperament. For decades she worked as a legal secretary to raise her daughter and “support the music until it could support me.” This was a time when jazz singing was about singing a melody over a swinging rhythm section and, maybe, including a vocable-based “scat” solo. The most adventurous singers—Jordan, Jay Clayton, Jeannie Lee, Joe Lee Wilson, and Abbey Lincoln—were relegated to “avant garde” status and pretty much ignored by the cultural machine. Betty Carter, Mark Murphy, and Leon Thomas had some commercial success, while singers like Ursula Dudziak and Al Jarreau took to performing more in the commercially acceptable fusion vein. Many artists, like Wilson and Lee, expatriated rather than face second- and third-tier status in the U.S. It was the success of Jarreau and Carter that seemed to make it okay to involve the voice as an instrumental texture that could blend into the group’s overall sound that offered opportunities for singers like Janet Lawson and Sheila Jordan to bring their brand of music-making to a wider audience.

One of Jordan’s re-entry projects began in the 1980s, a duo with bassist Harvie S (nee: Swartz) that piggy-backed on a 1977 Steeplechase recording she made with Arild Anderson that redefined how the Great American Songbook can be interpreted. She wasn’t the first to perform in this setting; vocalist Anne-Marie Moss and bassist Sonny Dallas held down gigs all through the 1960s in New York, and Peggy Lee alluded to the instrumentation with her 1958 hit “Fever.” But Harvey and Sheila’s duo was successful to the point of touring internationally and recording four albums. In 1999, Sheila and Cameron Brown formed another voice/bass duo that will, hopefully, record more in the future. Another association, with pianist Steve Kuhn, continues to this day. Kuhn and Jordan introduced their co-operative group on the 1979 ECM recording Playground. She appeared on four more ECM dates between then and 1983. Sheila Jordan, in her mid-fifties, had finally hit her stride—one that serves as an inspiration to the likes of Judi Silvano, Fay Victor, Roseanna Vitro, J.D. Walter, Melissa Hamilton, Linda Ciofalo, and Vicki Burns.

But she doesn’t rest on her laurels at all and is more active than ever. She has added a new facet to her life story, which is part of her music making. This was revealed during Jon Hendricks’s introduction of Jordan at the Jazz Masters Award ceremony when he confessed that both he and Jordan have Cherokee ancestors. When she took the stage, she greeted Hendricks (“the genius of vocalise”) with a Native American chant that I assume is Cherokee. I have contended since 1976, when I first heard the Tikigaq singers in Alaska, that jazz has a strong, but unrecognized, Native American musical component. So many jazz musicians have Native American ancestry—Max Roach, Jack Teagarden, Don Cherry, Kay Starr, Mildred Bailey, Chief Russell Moore, Kirk Lightsey, and the list goes on and on (Professor Ron Welburn of New Hampshire has been compiling names for a yet-to-be published project)—that a non-existing musical influence is unthinkable. But part of the genocidal tendencies mentioned before is an agenda to erase indigenous North American culture and replace it with an African American historiography. While Hendricks played up his Indian heritage in his introduction, Jordan played it down somewhat. But her approach to her career is one of complete involvement, for her and her audience, and, after thanking the people in her life who she credits with helping her get off the ground, she invited the audience, largely of her peers, to join her in a call-and-response singing of praise to Charlie Parker. The melody that unfolded was strangely non-Western and not African, either. It can be heard here. Scroll to around 85:30.

The next segment of the event was a wonderful tribute to Count Basie, performed beautifully by the JALC orchestra under the direction of Wynton Marsalis. The guests were saxophonists Benny Golson and Frank Wess and pianist Kris Bowers playing Wess’s composition “Magic” (the program listed Frank Foster’s “Who Me?”). At 90, Frank Wess has lost none of the signature lyricism that placed him in Lester Young’s chair in Basie’s “second generation” band of the 1950s. His, thankfully, lengthy solo was followed by another one by the 82-years experienced Golson that was a marvel of improvisational architecture. Rising star Bowers, still a Julliard student, but also a Thelonious Monk Award recipient, delivered a masterful solo that promises great things to come.

Next and last in the NEA and Jazz blog: Jimmy Owens—jazz activist and advocate.

NEA and Jazz, Part 1

According to its annual report, “The National Endowment for the Arts…carries out programs of grants-in-aid given to arts agencies of the states and territories, to non-profit, tax-exempt organizations and to individuals of exceptional talent.” It was established in 1965 but didn’t include jazz within its purview until President Lyndon Johnson appointed Duke Ellington and Willis Conover to its National Council on the Arts in 1968. The next year, $5,500 was allocated to foster jazz in the United States in the form of a single Jazz Composition Award given to George Russell. In 1970, the NEA established a real jazz panel and gave out 30 grants to institutions and individuals totaling $20,050—compared with half as many grants for orchestras totaling $931,600 and eight grants to opera companies totaling $836,000. Even Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (parenthetically allocated for the New York Film Festival) was given $25,000!

In 1980, one of the assistant directors of the NEA’s music board, Aida Chapman, suggested a Hall of Fame to honor the jazz genre. Two years later, the NEA announced the creation of the Jazz Masters Awards, to be “given to those musicians and advocates who have had a significant impact on the field” (according to NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman). These awards included a $20,000 gift and were privately given to three individuals annually (but in 1991 four were given out) until 2004, when the number of recipients was raised to seven, the amount of each gift was raised to $25,000, and the awards were presented at the annual International Association of Jazz Educators convention, wherever it was held. With the demise of the IAJE in January 2008, the award’s ceremony was moved to the Jazz At Lincoln Center’s facility in the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle in New York.

On Tuesday, January 10, I attended the NEA Jazz Masters 30th anniversary award ceremony. The five 2012 award recipients were: drummer/pianist/composer/bandleader Jack DeJohnette, who first came to prominence in Charles Lloyd’s quartet (which also included bassist Ron McClure and pianist Keith Jarrett) in 1966 and then debuting with Miles Davis’s group on Bitches Brew in 1969; Chicago-based saxophonist/bandleader Von Freeman, whose career spans over 70 years and who is the father of saxophonist Chico Freeman; bassist/composer/educator/bandleader Charlie Haden, who was part of the original Ornette Coleman Quartet, the original Keith Jarrett Quartet, and co-founder of the Liberation Music Orchestra; vocalist/educator/lyricist Sheila Jordan, who was one of the first and few, if not only, vocalists to record on Blue Note and ECM; and trumpeter/composer/educator/activist Jimmy Owens, who, when not teaching, composing and arranging, touring, and concertizing, dedicates much of his time to establishing and sustaining organizations, such as the Collective Black Artists and the Jazz Musician’s Emergency Fund, that help musicians in life/career crises.

As in previous Jazz Masters events, the awards’ presentations alternated with performances by select past Masters that occasionally included “emerging” artists considered worthy of inclusion. I don’t know exactly how or who decides this. To be honest, I haven’t thoroughly read all the literature handed to my wife, Francesca, as we entered and exited the event (a playbill listing all of the event’s performers and a program of the concert, a large book that includes single-page biographies of all the past Jazz Masters, and a folder with letter-size descriptions and vision statements of the National Endowment for the Arts, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and some of their ancillary programs); but my initial perusal hasn’t revealed anything about that. Maybe the next read-through will be more informative.

The event opened with a performance of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Things to Come,” an up-tempo minor-key variation on “I Got Rhythm,” by the JALC Orchestra that featured the 2007 Jazz Master Phil Woods and Grace Kelly as guest soloists. Both played alto saxophone. At 80, Woods is venerable, legendary, and still plays his ass off. Nineteen-year-old “saxophonist/vocalist/composer/lyricist/arranger” Kelly’s website lists an impressive career that dates back to 2002 when her first CD was released. Her performance kept up with Woods and matched the tightness of the Orchestra’s execution of Gil Fuller’s arrangement. Because the entire 134-minute concert and ceremony are available to be viewed online, I won’t go into a play-by-play (although the well-paced ceremony’s musical performances are well worth words, of which jazz journalist Howard Mandel has written wise ones (another excellent synopsis, ostensibly by NEA’s Liz Auclair, is worth reading, too).

One thing about this year’s event I thought was interesting and significant was a slant towards the “political” that might have been a reaction to the recent National Public Radio article suggesting that the Jazz Masters program will be discontinued, but this is not the case. (It looks like opera funding will be cut instead.) There is a possibility that the ceremony/concert might be scaled back or eliminated, or even that fewer awards might be given, but the individual award amount will not be reduced.

The political slant began when 2007 Jazz Master Ramsey Lewis, before introducing Chairman Landesman, made a point of “declaring that this music is vibrant, that it’s here now, and it will be here forever.” While Lewis’s oration was presented in a dignified manner in perfectly spoken English, the NEA Chairman’s presentation was peppered with jazz-style colloquialisms (“really knocked-out,” “really cool”). But one got the feeling that Landesman’s enthusiasm for jazz is sincere as he announced that $135,000 will be given to twelve presenting organizations this year.

The evening’s politicalness continued in Jack DeJohnette’s award reception, emphasizing his connection to the avant-garde of the 1950s and ’60s Chicago scene (being “discovered” by 2010 Jazz Master Muhal Richard Abrams, founder of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, who also introduced him to the audience) and his prominence in the 1970s music of Miles Davis and other artists at a time when “consciousness was rising up” and “everything felt possible.” He underlined this experience in his acceptance speech: “It seems to me that, once more, we are in momentous times, historically. As in the sixties, it is a time of changes and huge paradigm shifts. I believe the music has always played a profound part in the emotional and the spiritual development of people and, therefore, we as artists have a great responsibility to contribute to the ongoing changes in a positive way and contribute to the future of world peaceful co-existence.”

Von Freeman, who could not attend, was represented by his sons, Chico and Mark Freeman. They described their father as a musician dedicated to the furtherance of a musical legacy that included very close ties to Louis Armstrong, who used to stay with the family on his earliest forays to the Windy City and play duets with his father, a policeman who also played piano. Von Freeman, who will turn 90 this year, has been playing since 1938 but recorded his first album as a leader in 1972. But, as 1996 Jazz Master Benny Golson attested to in Freeman’s introduction, he has always been a moving force on the Chicago scene and an advocate for maintaining high standards in a local jazz milieu that may have felt second rate when compared to New York. Mark quoted his father’s response to the question of why he kept working in such a difficult career stream as, “for the love of the music.”

Bassist Ron Carter (1998 Jazz Master) and flutist Hubert Laws (2011 Jazz Master) performed a subdued and heartfelt duo (“Memories of Minnie” and “Little Waltz” ) that reminded me, by contrast, of the work of Eric Dolphy and Richard Davis, as well as Sam Rivers and Dave Holland. Rivers, who passed away on December 26 at the age of 88, will not receive a Jazz Masters award, which are only bestowed on the living. When A. B. Spellman read a list of recently deceased Jazz Masters, the unspoken name of Sam Rivers rang in many ears in the audience.

Rising star trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, soprano saxophonist (incorrectly listed in the program as an alto saxophonist) Dave Liebman (2011), pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi (2007), and conguero Candido Camero (2008) joined the JALC Orchestra in Horace Silver’s “Señor Blues” (arranged by Carlos Henriquez). Akinmusire clearly felt the heat of having four of the world’s heaviest trumpeters sitting behind him, and still put in a fantastic performance. Akiyoshi channeled Silver’s style perfectly and Liebman proved why he is a Jazz Master with an amazing performance consisting of his trademark chromaticism.