FEATURE: NEA FUNDING CUTS
I would imagine that people who read my newsletter are well aware of what is happening with the proposed funding cut for the NEA, which of course affects the Jazz Master’s Program, but more importantly, public radio and television. So the following is exactly what the cliché “preaching to the chorus” means, but these things need to be reiterated on the off chance that someone who is not aware of the situation can make their voice known in objection.
Considering that I was recently granted a cash award and the honor of Jazz Master by the NEA, one would expect that I would be in a positive frame of mind towards the U.S. government in matters cultural, which was and is temporarily true. On the other hand after being honored in January at a wonderful ceremony (more below), I, like all artists are very upset at this impending disaster. Specifically in the case of jazz, it is imperative that this program continue, that musicians who have given their life to jazz playing and teaching be recognized in their own country for the cultural contribution this music makes to the world at large. I have written extensively about why jazz is so important as a spiritual force beyond the music itself, and below I will be including some words from others about the place of music and art in our lives.
But there is more to this discussion than the music. From a philosophical standpoint, what is the role of government vis a vis the populace? These observations are not mine…I can’t tell you where I first saw the following points made. And obviously if we look at what is presently happening in the Middle East with their stultifying governments, a “philosophical” discussion is hardly realistic, but for the sake of argument I will go forward. In life, one should at least be cognizant of what is at the top of the mountain, if only to see oneself in relation to what is possible in the best of all worlds. The bottom line is that in a democracy we, the people, choose the members of our government to put principles to work. So we need to be clear as to what these principles of good government should be and how America is doing in these areas.
An elected government in a democracy has four responsibilities towards maintaining the well being of the people: defense, education, health and culture.
Defense…There’s no doubt that the U.S. government has been quite active in this field for the past several years. Depending upon your view, this activity could be at least to some degree be construed as offense, rather than defense, not too successfully as it seems. I am no expert on terrorism and the real threat that exists to us, but I have to note that sending in troops to countries like Iraq and Afghanistan with technology and equipment that is worth more than what a whole village or province earns in a year, has to be construed in some way as a bit over the top. It is the manufacturers of all the hardware and their cohorts who are profiting from these adventures, certainly not the men and women serving on the front line, nor our citizenry unless we allow the rampant paranoia, so well orchestrated by our government since 9/11 to cause us to believe that the people of these countries are an imminent threat to our well being, when they hardly have enough food, etc., to sustain day to day living needs. In any case, there is evil in the world and defense of a country’s well being is a legitimate and necessary function of government.
Education…Now that my daughter is officially part of the “higher education” system, a privilege for which I pay nearly $50,000 a year, it is clear to me and I’m sure anyone else in the same position that this whole education thing has truly gotten out of hand and appears to have no ceiling, in the financial sense at least. Let’s just look at the economics: fifteen to eighteen hours of class a week and more work to do out of the classroom along with housing and supposedly board, (although a lot of food is on her dime) for a total of thirty weeks. For the sake of argument let’s say that this is truly cost effective, all towards the intended result of a graduate being able to make a living in a satisfying, decent paying job that contributes to the world and all that good stuff. We all know that with the economic situation the way it is in America, obtaining a viable job, no matter the line of work, after graduation is not looking too positive these days, let alone a summer job to offset expenses. More importantly, what about those who cannot afford anything like college and will do qualify for the limited financial aid available in this period of belt tightening happening everywhere, especially on the state level of junior and community colleges. The truth is that higher education, which is mandatory for any kind of decent job opportunity, is out of reach for more people than ever and this isn’t a good sign for the future of democracy. The mythical haves and have-nots dividing line will only broaden unless a way for public education to thrive is supported.
Health…You would have to be from another planet to not realize what is going in this area. I don’t pretend to know the intricacies of Obama’s health plan but it does appear to me that keeping young adults longer on their parent’s policy while making sure that everyone is somehow covered cannot be bad. Again, my situation….I pay about $20,000 a year before one day of sickness, just in case a catastrophic situation arises. Once again, I can afford it so far and only have three people to worry about, but what about all the uninsured? And some jokers want to repeal these provisions? Once again it is the haves and have-nots scenario looming larger and larger as time goes by with health care being so out of reach for most people.
Culture…Finally what appears to be the most expendable of the “my government to fulfill wish list” raises its head. OK, they don’t want to fund the elites, the snobby effete people who dig jazz, public radio and public TV, etc. So why not mandate that funding must be used in downtown Detroit or like that…..but don’t cut cultural monies off. Culture raises the level of daily life of the populace in ways beyond mere entertainment. A citizenry needs art, executed by people whose lives are dedicated to expressing feelings, beauty and truth… some of the virtues of real art. Artists are not looking for handouts, just support towards bringing what appears on the surface to be non-essential to the people. Without support from up high, what is left is a waste land of cable TV, social networking, so-called smart phones, etc., for informing people about ideas and matters of the mind and spirit. Of course there is a place for this technology as we are witnessing in North Africa these very days as a means of promoting vital communication between people in spite of repression and censorship. But a society needs thoughtful and considered forums of discussion beyond the click of a key. It is a bad sign for any democracy if funding for culture is cut off and especially non-commercial avenues like public radio and TV.
The response to all these points is always on a financial level: “There’s no money left” and all that. It is hard to believe that with such a big corporation as the U.S. government is, there are no places where inefficiencies, existing loopholes, out and out larceny/graft/corruption and so forth are occurring and costing tons and tons of money. In the final result, it is about priorities and what is important beyond the here and now for the future. Are we just supposed to let the people we elected to represent our best interests allow matters to sink to the lowest common denominator without a fuss being raised. We need an educated, forward looking populace that insists on these priorities being straightened out and making their voices heard towards positive change. I am most concerned about the boundary between the haves and the have nots broadening to such a degree beyond what is happening today, that we will have in essence a two class system in what was supposed to be a place according to the Declaration of Independence where “all men are created equal.” This does not bode well for the future of any country.
A few supporting documents concerning the value of music:
From Jamey Aebersold, in a letter to a music teacher’s organization about some specific pedagogical points....the ending statements are apropos:
“Zoltan Kodaly said: ”Every healthy child would improvise if we’d let him.”
I have often felt our present day crisis in public music education is a direct reflection of institutions of higher learning not “keeping up with the times.” There is no valid reason students can’t be taught to read the notes on the page AND play the notes that lie in their minds musical ear.
People who learn to improvise often continue to make music their entire life. Music becomes their friend. They become a well-rounded person and music is a big contributor to their well being. Once they are encouraged to create music by improvising it’s like a missing piece of their life is found. The desire to create comes with each person’s first breath. They won’t all become pros but they CAN learn to improvise music.
Improvisation is where the fun is. Being forever tied to the notes on the page is a disservice to our many music school graduates. It doesn’t have to be this way. Music is for life.”
And this from Dr. Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of the music division at the Boston Conservatory, who gave this welcome address to the parents of incoming students at the Boston Conservatory on September 1, 2004:
“I have come to understand that music is not part of “arts and entertainment” as the newspaper section would have us believe. It’s not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds. Some of you may know Samuel Barber’s heart-wrenchingly beautiful piece Adagio for Strings. If you don’t know it by that name, then some of you may know it as the background music which accompanied the Oliver Stone movie Platoon, a film about the
Vietnam War. If you know that piece of music either way, you know it has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make you cry over sadness you didn’t know you had. Music can slip beneath our conscious reality to get at what’s really going on inside us the way a good therapist does.
I bet that you have never been to a wedding where there was absolutely no music. There might have been only a little music, there might have been some really bad music, but I bet you there was some music. And
something very predictable happens at weddings—people get all pent up with all kinds of emotions, and then there’s some musical moment where the action of the wedding stops and someone sings or plays the flute or
something. And even if the music is lame, even if the quality isn’t good, predictably 30 or 40 percent of the people who are going to cry at a wedding cry a couple of moments after the music starts. Why?! The Greeks. Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can’t talk about it. Can you imagine watching Indiana Jones or Superman or Star Wars with the dialogue but no music? What is it about the music swelling up at just the right moment in ET so that all the softies in the audience start crying at exactly the same moment? I guarantee you if you showed the movie with the music stripped out, it wouldn’t happen that way. The Greeks: Music is the understanding of the relationship between invisible internal objects.
What follows is part of the talk I will give to this year’s freshman class when I welcome them a few days from now. The responsibility I will charge your sons and daughters with is this: “If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you’re going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.
You’re not here to become an entertainer, and you don’t have to sell yourself. The truth is you don’t have anything to sell; being a musician isn’t about dispensing a product, like selling used Chevy's. I’m not an entertainer; I’m a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You’re here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.
Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don’t expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO: below is the whole story and site address to let your voice be heard:
On Thursday, February 17, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to make a deep cut to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The vote added an additional $20.5 million cut on top of an already underlying $22.5 million reduction. If the U.S. House completes its work on this appropriations legislation (H.R.1) at the end of this week, the NEA's FY 2011 budget will have been reduced from $167.5 million to $124.5 million – a cut of 26% and the deepest cut to the NEA in 16 years.
Now we must turn our attention to the U.S. Senate - for they will consider this legislation perhaps as early as February 28th. Because members of Congress will be at home next week in observance of President's Day, we have provided a web address to register your voice. Media Alert for you to send to your local media outlets in support of the NEA.
http://capwiz.com/artsusa/issues/alert/?alertid=28957501 (paste into your browser)
NEA MASTERS CEREMONY: Obviously, a highlight for the recent past but also for my whole life. There were three components for the two days including a panel discussion, where basically my contribution for a question in that direction was a quick summary of the feature article above. The second component was the high point, a luncheon sponsored by the performing rights organization, BMI. All past recipients were invited as well as widows of previous awardees, which I think is a classy touch. My table was named for one of my recordings, “Miles Away” and along with Caris and Lydia, we sat with Ahmad Jamal, his wife and Kenny Barron. I have to tell you to be in the presence of forty past and present masters of jazz ranging from Jon Hendricks and Candido at ninety years old, to me being the youngest (beside the Marsalis clan who received a group award) was a heavy experience, because it is not often that I am the youngest in the room!! I basked in the glow of all that talent, history (not only of jazz but of America in the 20th century), camaraderie (Joe Wilder and Johnny Mandel reminiscing about being together in the trumpet section with Count Basie in 1941); and most of all the depth of humanity gathered in that room. The truth is that once a year this meeting by definition captures in a secular way some of the highest spiritual energy on the planet by having all these masters of the art in one room. (From my own personal standpoint this is enough of a reason to keep the Jazz Masters program intact.)
Finally, the actual award ceremony with Hubert Laws, Johnny Mandel, Orin Keepnews, the Marsalis clan and myself all being introduced, saying a few words and playing. Lee Konitz was scheduled to be my presenter but he called in a panic a few days before saying he lost his passport and probably wouldn’t make it. He said something really nice: “I practiced my speech for you more that the saxophone recently.” I asked David Baker who I know for decades through the Aebersold clinics and as the conductor for one of my personal favorite recordings that I did with strings, “Dedications” in 1979. (By the way Lee did make it to the ceremony but wanted David to do the presentation anyway.) I played with the orchestra from Gil Evans-Miles Davis’ Porgy and Bess, “Summertime” and There’s A Boat That’s Leaving For New York.” The link to see the ceremony is below…it was an excellent production by Jazz at Lincoln Center. I had a contingent of home boys present since I was the only awardee who is a native New Yorker. It was nice to have a posse out there….a great and memorable day for me and my family. I thank all those people who have helped me get there.
The link to the full show---(I go on at around 50 minutes):
Receiving award from the heads of NEA and BMI
JEN CONVENTION/AIRMEN OF NOTE: Representing my new Liebman Model soprano saxophone for the Keilwerth Company (still waiting for it to go into production), I attended the second Jazz Educators Network convention in New Orleans. Some of you know that JEN arose out of the ashes of the IAJE which went bankrupt a few years ago. This second meeting had two times more attendance than the year before and was low key and pleasant enough. I am sure it will continue to grow because there is a need and demand for such an event. I just hope that they will not over step themselves as the IAJE did, but this leadership truly seem to be watching their p’s and q’s. I got to play with the Air Force big band; the Airmen of Note which is an incredibly tight unit that made me fantasize what it it’s like to have rehearsal time. My big band gets together a few hours before a gig and it sounds like that in some ways. It can’t be denied that when you have time to practice and refine music, the level is raised. We do the best we can.
HUNGARY WITH GABOR GADO: I had a great gig in Budapest with a fantastic guitarist, Gabor Gado playing with a young French trio, Mathieu Donnarier, Sebastian Boisseau and Joe Quitzke who were really dealing. Fantastic musicians EVERYWHERE these days with their own stuff.
SAX SUMMIT/QUEST: February was quite a month with two separate weeks at NYC’s Birdland Club featuring Saxophone Summit (Joe Lovano, Ravi Coltrane, Billy Hart, Cecil McBee, Phil Markowitz) and Quest (Richie Beirach, Billy Hart, Ron McClure). As noted, the one common denominator in both groups besides me is drummer Jabali Billy Hart, without whom both of these group would not be the same. Billy just does it every night, every set and still continues to improve as do all the guys. If you get a chance to play with any regularity, it is inevitable that your and everyone around you will evolve up the food chain in skills.
Sax Summit at Birdland
DEER HEAD INN GIG: For the second time I had a chance to play with pianist Uri Caine who is a real killer, swinging and totally into the heat of the moment. Along with Mike Stephans and Tony Marino we played the entire “Love Supreme” recording, something I did only once decades ago with a Japanese pianist at the Knitting Factory. Needless to say this was quite different. What a compelling piece of music!
RECORDING PROJECTS: Somehow, with the jazz record business almost lifeless I managed to record with three of my major ensembles: Saxophone Summit, doing all original, quite free material which I think will be an unusual recording in the group’s history; with Quest we decided to concentrate on the mid ‘60s Miles Davis Quintet repertoire, recording some of the greatest compositions every written: Pinocchio, Neferttiti, Paraphenelia, Prince of Darkness, Vonetta, Fall and Hand Jive; finally as a result of a grant from Chamber Music America given to saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, we recorded with the group Different But The Same. Along with Ellery and myself, the group includes Tony Marino and the incredible Jim Black. The centerpiece of this recording was a suite by Ellery, a wonderfully constructed and conceived piece plus “Ghosts” by Albert Ayler and two originals of mine including “New Breed” from my Elvin Jones period. This recording it seems will appear on Hatology next year when we tour Europe.
NEW RECORDING-KNOWINGLEE(Out Note Records (France)
This features trio with Richie Beirach, Lee Konitz and myself. I spoke about this in a newsletter a few months ago, concentrating on the experience of playing next to one of the greatest and most swinging melody players in jazz history.
OF INTEREST: FIRST THE RECORD BUSINESS- NOW MUSIC PUBLISHING(from the NY Times):
“The site, the Internet Music Score Library Project, has trod in the footsteps of Google Books and Project Gutenberg and grown to be one of the largest sources of scores anywhere. It claims to have 85,000 scores, or parts for nearly 35,000 works, with several thousand being added every month. That is a worrisome pace for traditional music publishers, whose bread and butter comes from renting and selling scores in expensive editions backed by the latest scholarship. More than a business threat, the site has raised messy copyright issues and drawn the ire of established publishers.” Another nail in the coffin!!
ITINERARY (go to venue web sites for exact dates, times and info):
MARCH: Classes and Dave Liebman Group performance at Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA; the Stone, NYC with poet Steve Dalachinsky; concert at Littlefield, Brooklyn, NY with Robert Garcia (drums), John Hebert (bass), Micheal Gentile (flute) and Daniel Kelly (piano); duo tour with pianist Jean Marie Machado in Europe; On The Corner at Theatre d’Orleans with Andy Emler (keyboards), Manu Codjia (guitar), Linley Marthe (el. bass), Badal Roy (tablas, percussion), Eric Echampard (drums).
APRIL: Workshop at the Global Institute, Berklee School , Boston, MA; performance with George Garzone and the Fringe, Lily Pad, Cambridge, MA; Sketches of Spain conducted by Jean Charles Richard at the Brucknerhaus, Linz, Austria; performance at the Carriage House Café, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; performance with the CNY Jazz Arts Foundation, Carrier Theater, Syracuse, NY; Jazz Standard with Saxophone Summit playing Coltrane’s “Africa Brass” recording commemorating fifty years of Impulse Records; performance and workshops at the Tallinn Jazz Festival, Estonia; performance with the Brussels Big Band, Belgium.