In its coverage of the 2013 NEA Jazz Masters class (October 2012), the DownBeat magazine writer who contributed that bit of reportage fumbled the ball. One line read “President Obama’s 2012 federal budget proposed eliminating the Jazz Masters program altogether.” What an amazing misnomer – particularly glaring in an election year! Let’s examine that concept for a moment… Is the writer actually suggesting that the Prez 2012 budget proposal was so ingeniously micro-managed that the Commander in Chief actually proposed the specific elimination of this among the myriad NEA programs across the landscape of performing and visual arts they serve?
Roughly speaking, here’s a quick & dirty on how the budget process works: the Prez, in consultation with his economic advisors, proposes a budget and each department of government affected by said budget then takes that allocation and in its own sweet way determines exactly which programs or initiatives will feel the axe. So to suggest that the Prez zeroed in specifically on the NEA Jazz Masters program for elimination among the many programs and initiatives operated by the NEA is at best a ludicrous proposition.
Reality, as reported elsewhere, shows that the NEA Chairman proposed to Congress the elimination of the individual arts masters awards – the NEA Jazz Masters, Opera, Folk Arts, etc. Subsequently all those individual masters awards would – under the proposed plan – be folded into one kind of omnibus American Arts awards; which had the plan been adopted would have meant that perhaps one jazz master – along with masters from the other folded-in genres – would be honored annually. Reportedly Congress kicked it back, specifically citing the NEA Jazz Masters program as one which must remain intact. Subsequently for 2013 4, as opposed to the previous 6-8, NEA Jazz Masters have been named; additionally the annual NEAJM awards program, previously staged in grand style each January in conjunction with the Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference, has been scaled back from Rose Hall to a more modest evening at Dizzy’s Club.
Another example of how the writer in question drank the Kool-Aid came in his quoting the ever-churlish 2013 NEAJM Lou Donaldson on the subject. Donaldson, whose put-downs of practically anyone in jazz history have become a parody of his persona among musicians and anyone who’s heard his cock & bull pronouncements, summoned a wellspring of temerity and pronounced that with regard to past NEA Jazz Masters, “Some of the people that got in there couldn’t even be a sideman in my band. They got all these young guys just starting, and that’s ridiculous.” Is he suggesting that past NEA Jazz Masters couldn’t cut “Alligator Boogaloo”? As they say on ESPN’s NFL pre-game show ‘come on man!’, show some sense of grace for once! Fact is, prior to the 2011 honoring of the Marsalis Family – which still seems to chap some folks – (“young guys”?) Paquito D’Rivera was the “youngest” honoree, at the youthful age of 57! Get real, Lou Donaldson!