“A jazz musician is not a jazz musician when he or she is eating dinner or when he or she is with his parents or spouse or neighbors. He’s above all a human being . . . the true art form is being a human being.”
– Herbie Hancock
A number of people have graciously linked to this blog since Vikram and I started writing it over the summer. Some of those linkers have expressed a little confusion, or perhaps just curiosity, over the scattershot subject matter of our posts. One week, it’s a music blog, the next week political commentary, and then the occasional bacon recipe.
This is intentional.
We are both musicians, and we went to school to study jazz music. But we’re also poker players, and bemused political observers, and voracious readers, and gourmet dessert fans. We have interests besides music, and this blog is an attempt to put everything together in a pot to see what bubbles up.
During our graduate studies, we each had the opportunity to take a few lessons, play a few tunes, and enjoy a few sandwiches with a brilliant musician named Adam Benjamin. For those of you who don’t know him, Adam is a co-leader of the band Kneebody and keyboardist in Dave Douglas’s Keystone. He’s also an avid baseball card collector and mall enthusiast. Take the time to check out Adam’s bloggy-thing here.
One of the major themes of our work with Adam was our personal relationships with music, or more specifically, how music related to all the other interests in our lives.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal published an article by Larry Blumenthal, celebrating Jazz at Lincoln Center’s fifth season in Rose Hall and evaluating J@LC’s impact on the New York jazz scene. Chris Rich, at Brilliant Corners, posted this characteristically acerbic response. Couched in Rich’s flame-thrower language, however, was an idea that I think deserves further exploration. About J@LC’s $38 million budget, Rich writes:
“Most musicians I know who actually keep the parasite afflicted idiom alive and healthy are quite thrilled to do a gig for 600 bucks a person. That is good money, so 38 million is more than fifty thousand gig units. You could buy an instrument for every poor kid in LA, New York City, Chicago and New Orleans who wants one and probably have enough change to pay their tuition at Julliard.”
This is the common complaint against J@LC — that all that money could be better spent if it was dispersed through the jazz community, rather than consolidated at one institution. There are a few other institutions that give artistic grants for jazz, such as the NEA and the MacArthur Foundation, and these spread wealth out into the community. But their grants tend to be huge lump sums to established artists, and thus prosperity is not so widely shared. Besides, there weren’t even any musicians listed among this year’s recipients of the MacArthur “Genius” Grants. This kind of top-down support is good, but it is not enough to maintain the grassroots of a community. What might an alternative look like?