2019 NEA Jazz Masters controversy

It seems from some of the vitriol I’ve read on various FB post threads that there is no small amount of controversy, and in some cases heavy-duty angst, over the announcement of the 2019 class of NEA Jazz Masters. Predictably about 100% of the questions and at times angry responses are relative to Stanley Crouch’s designation as a NEAJM, with nothing but deserved hosannas for Bob Dorough, Abdullah Ibrahim, and Maria Schneider. Do not consider this post in any way a Stanley Crouch apology or defense mechanism of any kind. In Stanley’s case much of the angry response is self-inflicted wounds of the karmic variety relative to some of his – at the very least – editorial pronouncements over the years about various issues and elements of the jazz community, including his often mean-spirited assessments of certain musicians’ artistic output.
However I did want to clarify a bit certain misconceptions in some of the vitriolic responses to Crouch’s NEAJM honorific. Full disclosure: For several years I served as coordinator of the NEA Jazz Masters on Tour performance funding program administered by my friends at Arts Midwest, where I formerly served as director of their Jazz Program. Some FB posters have questioned how in their estimation a “failed drummer” like Stanley Crouch becomes elevated as a NEA Jazz Master. And yes, Crouch WAS a far less than masterful drummer at one point in his career, back in his Tin Palace days.
What I want to clarify is that Stanley Crouch was not named a NEA Jazz Master on the strength of his dubious drum skills, but as 2019 recipient of the A.B. Spellman award for jazz advocacy. That particular award component of the annual NEAJM designees was developed back when Dana Gioia was chairman of the Endowment, as a means of recognizing those who have made significant contributions to the music OFF the bandstand. Whether you agree that Crouch is a worthy recipient of the A.B. Spellman award is immaterial to this post; I simply wanted to clarify that Stanley is not being honored as a musician or otherwise for his musicianship, but as what the NEA’s panel that made those decisions saw as his contributions to the art form as an advocate, in their determination.

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