NEA Arts Magazine

Tuning In

NEA's Jazz Moments Hit the Airwaves

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Curtis Fuller

NEA Jazz Master Curtis Fuller, one of the artists featured in the NEA produced radio series, Jazz Moments. Photo by Tom Pich.

Tune in to the Real Jazz channel on XM Satellite Radio and you won't just hear songs featuring a range of NEA Jazz Masters. You also may discover that the first time Phil Woods met legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker they shared a cherry pie, or that Thelonious Monk once stuck a young Marian McPartland with his bar tab. These insider glimpses are courtesy of Jazz Moments, a series of more than 100 NEA-produced audio clips featuring NEA Jazz Masters talking about their hits, their heroes, and even each other. Hosted by jazz musician/producer Delfeayo Marsalis, the 60- to 120-second vignettes feature first-person anecdotes, musical samples, and historical information.

The raw material for Jazz Moments comes from interviews that the NEA has conducted with past and newly recognized NEA Jazz Masters since 2003. Peabody Award-winning producer Molly Murphy, who has been with the project since its inception, characterizes the interviews as incomparable. "I find jazz musicians to be some of the most engaging people I've ever encountered. I always walk away from interviews feeling inspired and often with some new practical knowledge about how to listen to jazz and even how to live life. [The interviews] provide invaluable historical, social, and emotional context within which to appreciate jazz -- and all the admirable qualities its practitioners embody."

To broaden the reach of these invaluable archives, in 2006 the NEA launched a partnership with Washington, DC-based XM Satellite Radio to air Jazz Moments as interstitial programming on 12 XM Channels, including CNN, Oprah and Friends, and Real Jazz. Real Jazz Program Director Mark Ruffin says that the NEA radio segments enhance his programming tremendously. "The Jazz Moments give the listener a layer of intimacy with the artist. When you can hear Curtis Fuller talking about his love for John Coltrane, and you can actually hear the depth of that admiration in his voice, it makes you closer to that artist. That's something just hearing the music can't do." Jazz Moments and edited transcripts from the source interviews are also available on the newly expanded NEA Jazz Masters section of the Arts Endowment Web site (www.neajazzmasters.org).

The importance of hearing the artists talk about their lives and music cannot be underestimated. To further the collection and availability of interviews with jazz greats, the NEA has partnered with the Smithsonian Institution, on behalf of the National Museum of American History, to support the production of in-depth oral histories with NEA Jazz Masters. To date, 35 have participated in the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program. Nine NEA Jazz Masters, including David Baker and John Levy, are currently featured on the program'sWeb site: www.smithsonianjazz.org/oral_histories/johstart. asp. The complete audio recordings are also available through the Smithsonian's Archives Center. New oral histories are added on an ongoing basis.