Tag Archive for Federal Music Project

The Federal Music Project: Intro

FMP2One of the salient differences between the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Great Recession of 2008 and counting, never mind the official pronouncements that it’s over, is that during the four years the Federal Music Project thrived, America not only enjoyed by what today’s standards would be the radical-left politics of FDR, but the country supported a viable Communist Party whose Popular Front movement lived up to its name. Socialism at that time, as incredible as it may seem in 21st century Tea Party America, when states with reactionary electorates are unironically called red, attracted the interest of perhaps more than a quarter of the nation. Though it may be largely coincidental, the FMP and the Popular Front run concurrently, 1935-39. Not only was the FMP created in 1935, that year also marked the official arrival of the swing era, heralded by Benny Goodman’s Palomar Ballroom concert in Los Angeles, but this too is largely coincidental—the FMP was not dedicated to swing or to any other brand of popular music; it was primarily an instrument of European-derived classical music, led for the better part of its life by the founding conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra.

One of a fantastic four of arts projects under the Works Progress Administration banner—projects likely never to be seen again in what passes for federal cultural policy in America—the somewhat staid FMP was also generally considered to be the least left-wing of these storied organizations. As a supplement to Ka-ching, which also includes consideration of several jazz-related Federal Theatre Project productions, this section of the site will look at 1930s jazz/cultural policy issues and civil rights battles that illuminate the grand scope of the comparatively glorious WPA and FDR years.

A History of Federal Jazz Policy

This book is a revised version of my Long Island University/C.W. Post (now known succinctly as LIU Post) master’s thesis, submitted in December 2011, in “partial fulfillment,” as they like to say, of the degree of Master of Public Administration. An extensive epilogue was added to what was already an extensive text—this was a dissertation-sized thesis, you might say—in 2013.

FJP Cover 1AThe abstract as it appears in the original thesis:

An investigation of the meanings and motives of federal jazz policy—to the degree that federal interest in jazz rises to the level of what can rightfully be called policy—during the three periods of its chief instantiation: the 1930s WPA Federal Music Project; the State Department’s Cold War jazz diplomacy program; and the National Endowment for the Arts’ individual grants to artists and its Jazz Masters program, as well as jazz-related Congressional resolutions promoted by the Congressional Black Caucus. The examination suggests that a “jazzocracy” is sometimes at work, which may co-opt the Black revolutionary character of jazz and delegitimize the avant-garde as it mainstreams the music and validates largely specious, racially opaque principles of American “democracy.”

If it appears I have a political bone or two to pick with federal jazz policy, such as it is—”such as it is” being the standard qualifier of “federal jazz policy”—well, I do. “Jazzocracy” and “democracy,” as the book shows, are generally two sides of the same loaded coin.