Chairman's Corner: October 22, 2020

Jo Reed: I'm Josephine Reed from the National Endowment for the Arts with The Chairman's Corner, a weekly podcast with Mary Anne Carter, Chairman of the Arts Endowment. This is where we'll discuss issues of importance to the arts community and a whole lot more.   

Today we're talking jazz. We have some big news this week. The arts endowment just named four new Jazz Masters, and if you're not familiar with the program let me fill you in briefly. It is the nation's highest honor in jazz, and I'm going to throw it to Mary Anne to tell us more about the program and our new Jazz Masters.

Mary Anne Carter:  Hi, Jo. The arts endowment has recognized 165 outstanding musicians and advocates since the program began in 1982, and that list includes Ella Fitzgerald, Sonny Rollins, Dianne Reeves and Miles Davis, just to name a few. The just-announced 2021 NEA Jazz Masters are Terri Lyne Carrington, drummer, band leader, record producer and activist; Albert "Tootie" Heath, drummer and educator Phil Schaap, radio disc jockey, historian, archivist and producer; and Henry Threadgill, composer, saxophonist and flautist.

Jo Reed:  And of course there will be a concert to celebrate our new Jazz Masters, correct?

Mary Anne Carter:  Yes, that's correct. These NEA Jazz Masters will be honored at a virtual and free tribute concert on April 22nd, 2021, so, all our listeners, stay tuned for more details about that concert, which we will share early in the New Year. SF Jazz, the jazz-presenting organization based in San Francisco, will be our collaborator once again producing the virtual concert. SF Jazz produced the 2020 virtual Jazz Masters concert, and it was amazing. It was hosted by jazz vocalist supreme and 2017 Jazz Master Dee Dee Bridgewater, and I strongly, strongly urge everyone to go to our YouTube channel and watch the archive for an hour of fantastic music.

Jo Reed:  Well, the arts endowment and jazz go back a long way.

Mary Anne Carter:  They sure do. Jazz has been an integral part of the agency's funding portfolio since the beginning, starting with a grant in 1968 to jazz composer George Russell to further his work. Two years later, in 1970, the endowment established a pilot program that gave 30 grants totaling more than $200,000 to individual jazz artists as well as institutions to present jazz programming, and the funding has only increased and developed since. For fiscal year 2020, for example, we've awarded about $2.4 million through 91 grants to support jazz projects, and this would include jazz festivals, artist residencies, education programs and performances taking place across the country, from Juneau, Alaska, to Casper, Wyoming, to Miami Beach, Florida.

Jo Reed:  Well, I'm curious about how these were affected by the pandemic, and I'm really thinking about live performances most particularly, because that really has been so hard-hit.

Mary Anne Carter:  Live performance really was hit hard, but organizations and presenters are doing what we're calling "the COVID pivot." They are working imaginatively to accommodate our newly socially distant lives, and let me give you two examples, Jo. For its annual Labor Day Weekend series of free performances the Detroit Jazz Festival created what the Detroit News called "the jazz bubble," meaning that the festival staff, musicians and crew were together but sequestered from others at the Detroit Marriott during their entire time working the festival, and using multiple soundstages set-up at the hotel artists performed for a virtual live audience through the festival's online platforms and other outlets. Another example is the five-day DC Jazz Fest, which featured prerecorded performances streamed to audiences but culminated in a big-screen concert at the RFK campus. A free ticket provided a 15-by-20-foot parking space in front of the 60-foot-tall screen, and so from inside their cars the audience tuned-in to the music through their car radio.

Jo Reed:  Ah, like a drive-in for jazz.
Mary Anne Carter:  Yes.

Jo Reed:  <laughs> And I've also noticed that projects are integrating jazz within other artistic disciplines.

Mary Anne Carter:  Absolutely. We have funded several jazz-focused cross-disciplinary projects which reflect the flexibility, variety and creative capacity of jazz itself. In North Kansas City, Missouri, the Rabbit Hole KC, a new literary museum for children, will present an exhibition based on three jazz-themed children's picture books by author, illustrator and Caldecott Medal winner Chris Raschka. And the History Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota, will develop and premiere a new musical about the Kim Loo Sisters, a jazz vocal band from Minneapolis that performed widely in the 1920s, '30s and '40s.

Jo Reed:  And while jazz and opera might seem at first glance like strange bedfellows, there really are some exciting collaborations happening between these two disciplines.

Mary Anne Carter:  Some amazing collaborations. Let me tell you about three. Boston Lyric Opera Company's new production of "Champion" by jazz trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard explores the life of black welterweight fighter Emile Griffith. Seattle Opera's presentation of "Charlie Parker's Yardbird" based on the life and relationships of jazz legend Charlie Parker-- the performance in February and March of this year aligned with the 100th anniversary of Parker's birthday. And Stanford University's Stanford Live and its premiere of a reimagined version of Scott Joplin's "Treemonisha."  And on a final exciting operatic note, the Metropolitan Opera, which is closed for the 2021 season, will reopen next year with Terence Blanchard's "Fire Shut Up in My Bones." This work is based on journalist Charles M. Blow's memoir of growing up black in the Deep South. This will be the first time that an opera by a black composer has appeared on the Met stage, and we are proud to have supported the work's commission, development and premiere in 2019.

Jo Reed:  Wow. That is a good place to leave it. Mary Anne, thank you.

Mary Anne Carter:  Thank you, Jo.

Jo Reed:  That was Mary Anne Carter Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.  You can find out more about The NEA Big Read at

Keep up with the Arts Endowment by following us on twitter @neaarts.

For the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed. Stay safe and thanks for listening.

Music Credit: “Renewal” composed and performed by Doug Smith from the cd The Collection.

This week, the subject is jazz! We introduce our 2021 Jazz Masters and look at some innovative jazz programming.