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Comment on Conyers' New Bill for Jazz: The National Jazz Preservation and Education Act

Beyond H. Con. Res. 57

 

Congressman Conyers is Developing a New Bill for Jazz :

The National Jazz Preservation and Education Act

 

September 2007 marked the 20th anniversary of the passage of House Concurrent Resolution 57 by the U.S. Congress (9/23/87 House and 12/4/87 Senate).  This milestone presented the timely opportunity to assess the resolution’s impact at the Annual Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) Jazz Issue Forum held that same month in Washington, DC.  Congressman John Conyers, Jr. convened a panel of experts to examine the progress made toward meeting the following three challenges that the resolution set forth:  that jazz be promulgated, preserved and understood.  At the conclusion of the panel discussion, Congressman Conyers stated that while it is possible that H. Con. Res. 57 inspired some of the positive developments that have taken place within the field of jazz over the past two decades, it is time to develop new legislation that can help stabilize, secure and enhance the music. 

 

The Challenges We Face

 

During the past few years, two major efforts have been undertaken to explore and report on the status of jazz artists and the market environment for jazz music.  Both of these efforts have been the focus of discussions held during recent CBCF Jazz Forums. 

 

During 2003, the National Endowment for the Arts issued a three-volume report entitled Changing the Beat: A Study of the Worklife of Jazz Musicians. This study examined the worklife of jazz musicians in New York, Detroit, San Francisco and New Orleans. Information from jazz artists using two different survey sampling methodologies - respondent-driven-sampling and a random sample of musician union members - were analyzed and discussed.  The recommendations emerging from the surveys addressed the Basics, Education and Audience Development, Philanthropy, and Business.  They included the following:

 

Basics

  • Access to affordable rehearsal space
  • Access to affordable health and medical care
  • Access to pensions
  • Provision of emergency relief
  • Grassroots performance opportunities

 

Education and Audience Development

  • Educational programs and apprenticeships to help pass on the legacy of jazz
  • Programs to help jazz musicians manage their own careers
  • Coordinated audience development programs
  • Creation of local arts publications where musicians could advertise

 

Philanthropy

  • Restoration of NEA grant awards to individual jazz artists
  • Grants to make records and cover promotional costs
  • Grants to grassroots organizations

 

Business

  • Provide tax breaks for giving free public performances
  • Provide subsidies for presenters to encourage diverse programming
  • Establish a national network of small venues for performance

 

During May 2005, the Johnson Foundation’s Wingspread Conference Center was the site of a gathering that focused on Raising Market Share for Jazz.  It was co-sponsored by MCG Jazz, Jazz Alliance International, Alcoa Foundation, Ford Foundation, the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE), and The Johnson Foundation.  This meeting was held out to be the first effort of the leaders of the jazz music industry to develop a marketing plan for jazz.  Their underlying premise was that for decades, jazz music has been peripheral to the music business, the majority of music is written and performed by older artists, the stars of the 20th century are rapidly dying off, and that without a viable economic market for jazz there is little incentive for new musicians to keep it alive.  The RIAA reported this same year that jazz record sales were “shockingly low” at only 3% of the total.  In response to this situation, those attending the Wingspread Conference agreed to move forward with three programs on behalf of the industry:

 

  • to create an umbrella branding identity for the jazz industry, repositioning the music in a way to invite new audiences;
  • to develop a national jazz sponsorship platform as a vehicle to aggregate audiences from various organizations into a year-round national package for sponsors, building the jazz brand through partnering with like-minded national sponsors; and
  • to build a low-cost grassroot network of students, musicians, and jazz loyalists to help generate interest in jazz through their online, college, and local communities

 

In January 2010, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters devoted the closing session of its annual conference to “the number one challenge facing the U.S. jazz community: providing enough audience to keep the music alive and healthy.”  Among the several recommendations emerging from the session were the following:

 

  • establish a new national service organization for jazz;
  • better educate jazz presenters, audiences, teachers, and students; and
  • re-frame the presenting context: take jazz out of concert halls, even take it out of traditional night clubs, and take it to the people rather than drawing the people to it.

 

More than 40 participants subsequently signed up to serve on task forces created to examine “education, marketing, and a potential new service organization for jazz.  The conference administrator pledged to focus on jazz again at next year’s conference.

 

Today, the state of jazz music remains a topic of great debate.  While IAJE collapsed in April 2008, the Jazz Educators Network is now emerging to take its place.  JazzTimes Magazine has gone through a major transformation and BET Jazz has disappeared.  Yet, this past April, the Smithsonian Institution once again spearheaded the national celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month, a growing event that is now in its 9th year.  Clearly, jazz is continuing to experience ups and downs.  What can be done to stabilize it and secure its future?

 

A Focus for New Legislation

 

Federal legislation can articulate findings of fact as well as establish policy and programs.  H. Con. Res. 57 made a profound statement about the origin and cultural importance of jazz.  It did not, however, directly mandate any new jazz initiatives at the National Endowment for the Arts, or direct national cultural institutions like the Kennedy Center or the Smithsonian to build significant jazz programs.  While we have seen positive jazz related developments take place at these institutions since the legislation passed, can they do more?   Could more investment in them and in jazz organizations and artists at the state and community levels make a positive and lasting difference?   Should new jazz legislation direct such investment?  With respect to the worklife quality of jazz musicians, audience development and marketing, what, if anything, can legislation accomplish?

 

A New Legislative Proposal and a Process

 

To spark a comprehensive and progressive dialog about the nature and scope of a new bill for jazz, a team working with Congressman Conyers has drafted a proposal called the National Jazz Preservation and Education Act.  The elements of the proposal are as follows:

 

Title 1 – Preservation

 

Establish a National Jazz Preservation Program at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.  The Program shall: A. create oral and video histories of leading jazz artists; B. acquire, preserve and interpret artifacts; C. conduct exhibitions, educational activities and concerts; D. continue Jazz Appreciation Month; and E. establish collaborative arrangements with governmental agencies, universities and museums with jazz archival collections and with community-based organizations.  Authorize funds for these purposes.

 

Title 2 – Education

 

Amend the authorization for the US Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Education (20 USC 7243) to specifically provide for the use of funds for Jazz Education Programs, including the following:

 

Jazz Artists in the Schools - Modeled on the program previously operated by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) from 1978 through 1982 as a component of the NEA’s Artists in Schools Program, State arts agencies working with city school administrators would select participating regional jazz artists and schools.  Regional jazz artists, teachers, school and state administrators chosen to participate would be required to attend an annual National Training Workshop in advance of placement. 

 

Educational tools for classroom use – This initiative would promote the development, distribution, awareness, and teacher training related to lesson plans and other educational materials, such as the NEA’s Jazz in Schools program, the Thelonious Monk Institute’s Jazz in America offering, the National Endowment for the Humanities’ EDSITEment Web site, the Smithsonian’s Jazz Class offerings, the Quincy Jones Foundation’s educational modules on American music, and the African American Jazz Caucus/Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies offerings.

 

Ambassadors of Jazz – Inspired by the program that the U.S. State Department ran from 1956-73, sending noted American jazz musicians to perform abroad, and the Jazz Ambassadors program previously operated by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs from 1997 to 2006, jazz artists and orchestras from secondary schools would be sent abroad on missions of good will, education and cultural exchange, to perform for diverse audiences.

 

Congressman Conyers would like to receive your comments on the legislation described above.  Please send them to Arif Haque at arif.haque@mail.house.gov.  Copy me at cedrichendricks@msn.com.

 

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Greetings, I think that all of the stated suggestions will go a long way toward Jazz audience development, but I see nothing in them that funds Jazz/music/performance education in the schools. We need to produce students who perform Jazz, not just those who listen to it. Jazz
should not continue to be a stepchild to marching bands. If Jazz is to continue being "America's
Music", we have to fund music programs that teach it.

I'm currently volunteering in an after school program in Atlanta where children are being taught
the fundamentals of music by Jazz artists and they love it.

Jim Alexander
Hello Jim - Thanks for you input. Cedric
No problem Cedric, i'm just keeping it real, band-aids aren't a good remedy for heart attacks.

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