NEA Arts Magazine

The NEA and Jazz

A Commitment to One of America's Treasures


Close-up of four young African American students playing saxaphone during intermission at an NBA arena

Youth perform live at basketball games as part of the NEA-supported Jazz Sports program. Photo: Courtesy of Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.

This special edition of NEA Arts celebrates the Arts Endowment's deeply held commitment to jazz, which is best illustrated by the NEA Jazz Masters initiative. The NEA's support for jazz goes back to 1969, when the first grant was awarded to George Russell, who later received an NEA Jazz Masters Award in 1990. Since that first grant, funding has exploded from an annual budget of $20,000 in 1970 to more than $2.8 million in 2005.

The Arts Endowment has consistently supported jazz programs over its 40-year history. For example, Milt Hinton, years before he received his NEA Jazz Masters Award, received a jazz music fellowship from the NEA, which he used to not only support his music but also his extensive photography collection, documenting the history of jazz through the 20th century. In collaboration with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the NEA supported JazzNet, a five-year initiative to support commissions of new music and performances around the country in partnership with local presenters. The NEA also funded Jazz Sports, developed by the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, which provides students with instrument training and performance opportunities at basketball games in Los Angeles and Washington, DC. These are just a few of the jazz activities for which the NEA provided grants.

The NEA also has taken the lead in developing research on the jazz field. In 2003, an important report was released on the current state of jazz musicians: Changing the Beat: A Study of the Worklife of Jazz Musicians. This report provides a detailed examination of working jazz musicians in four major metropolitan areas: New York, Detroit, San Francisco, and New Orleans.

Jazz is one of America's treasures, one of the great art forms born and bred in the United States. Through its support of many jazz programs, and especially through its own NEA Jazz Masters initiative, the NEA is committed to fostering vitality in and increasing access to jazz music.