Tag Archive for John Conyers

HR 57: Conyers’ Love Supreme

hr57-1reduced Rarely does a Congressional resolution become the basis of a monumental piece of improvisational big-band music. In addition to Alan Silva and the musicians of the Celestrial Communication Orchestra, we can thank the inestimable House radical John Conyers for this. If H.Con.Res.57 serves no other purpose (and it’s possible that it indeed serves no other purpose), it supplied the lyrics to the multi-sectioned masterpiece called HR57, found on the H.Con.Res.57 Treasure Box, which is surely the most important federal jazz policy-related piece of music ever recorded.

Ironies abound in relation to this work, many of which are explored in Ka-ching, but one that isn’t is the simple fact that the music of Alan Silva and his compatriots likely lies beyond the scope of Conyers’ jazz appreciation, and in the true jazzocratic manner, may not even be considered jazz at all by his lights. It’s not clear exactly what “jazz” he’s referring to when Conyers calls this music a “national treasure,” but it may well not be the jazz that is frequently preceded by “free,” which I use in Ka-ching as an umbrella term for all aspects of the avant-garde. As Matthew Goodheart points out in his voluminous liner notes to disc III of the Treasure Box set, there is a Great Man theory of jazz history, just as there is of any history; a theory whose “direct-lineage iconography,” he contends,

is an attempt at conscious control over the forces that establish culture. It is a framework that establishes institutional authority over creative expression: creative expression is then validated according to the precepts of that authority. And those precepts are nowhere more evident than in the question, “Where is the next genius coming from?” or “Where do we go after Coltrane?”

Later in the essay, Goodheart explains that those questions belong to a panel discussion, “Jazz: Setting a New Standard—Coltrane, Bird and Beyond,” hosted by Conyers, and apparently presented on his Web site back in 2001, or perhaps earlier, which Goodheart calls “essentially a discussion on ‘genius.’ ” He notes, “In the whole discussion . . . there is no mention of anyone involved in the type of music Silva creates.”

The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra

smithsonian-jazz-editedAs John Conyers has pointed out in one of his Congressional statements, the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, founded in 1990, is America’s only federally-chartered jazz orchestra and the only such ensemble with resident status at a museum: the National Museum of American History, no less. This is a piece of jazz policy that fell outside the scope of Ka-ching, but the SJMO’s continued existence, as below-the-radar as the band may be on the national jazz picture, is hardly irrelevant as an instrument of jazzocracy. Conyers, in his 2010 statement—he makes these pronouncements occasionally just to remind everyone in the House that there’s such a thing as jazz—explains just what the SJMO means, and the following bullet points are pulled from the conveniently downloadable Word doc on Conyers’ official House site, which also features statements honoring Gerald Wilson, Miles Davis, and Marcus Belgrave. Actually, there are two statements honoring Davis, one an updated version of the other, both in support of H.Res. 894, the “Kind of Blue” resolution, reaffirming jazz as a national treasure, and both statements curiously include in their summations, after Conyers runs down the allegedly spectacular Kind of Blue backstory: “And that is why jazz has such a special place in Americana and is revered by so many.” Americana?! I’m trying to imagine a Whiter, more Norman Rockwellian word for the place of jazz in America. But perhaps there’s a method to Conyers’ madness—he’s talking to the House of Representatives. But I digress; the excerpt from the SJMO statement:

• The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra educates the public about the history and development of jazz as an art form and means of entertainment. It promotes a greater appreciation for jazz as a valuable American treasure by performing jazz masterworks, and presenting educational activities that engage the public with this great music.

• Further contributing to its status, the orchestra is led by the internationally famous Maestro David Baker–the world’s leading jazz educator, author of over 70 books and 400 articles, and recent recipient of the prestigious American Jazz Masters Award given by the National Endowment for the Arts.

• Madam Speaker, the orchestra has special expertise in engaging and educating its audiences—young and old—about this vital part of American culture. I am pleased to recognize its service and accomplishments over the past 20 years.

You gotta love this, even though the SJMO is resolutely retro, which of course comes as no surprise. The 2013-14 concert season features programs such as: “Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds and ‘Empress of the Blues’ Bessie Smith”; “Suite Ellington”; “The Genius of Charlie Parker”; and “Forms of the Blues,” which is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the publication of W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues.” I know, I know, it’s just not reasonable to expect the federally funded Smithsonian to be bankrolling, say, the Celestrial Communication Orchestra; it wouldn’t just be weird, it would be unseemly.

Defense Spending vs. Arts Spending

Defense_f35_cupcake-6-960In the section of Ka-ching devoted to the NEA and federal arts spending, I compare the cost of a single F-22 stealth fighter (circa $150 million) to the NEA’s annual budget to make the point that the cost of an F-22 is the NEA budget. In the epilogue, written about two years later, I discuss the F-35 boondoggle, which replaced the F-22 boondoggle. Now, in late 2013, as the Pentagon, not unsurprisingly, weathers the sequestration storm to come out on top with a $32 billion increase for 2014, Mother Jones offers a series of graphics that illustrates why guns beat butter every time. As the article points out, “The F-35 program has 1,400 suppliers in 46 states. Lockheed Martin gave money to 425 members of Congress in 2012 and has spent $159 million on lobbying since 2000.”

Even John Conyers, Jr., he of “jazz is hereby designated as a rare and valuable national American treasure” repute, got a little piece of Lockheed Martin treasure in 2012, a mere $1,000. But, on a more encouraging note, the biggest contributor to Conyers’ campaign committee in 2013 is the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, to the tune of $10,000: the labor to Lockheed Martin’s management.

Addendum: In 2014, Conyers briefly found himself off the ballot for the August 5 primary, thanks to his Democratic challenger, Rev. Horace Sheffield III of the New Destiny Christian Fellowship Church (yes, the pastor of a Black church is attempting to unseat Conyers), who charged that some of Conyers’ petition circulators weren’t registered to vote, which in fact is a requirement for this work, but it’s a rule not writ in stone, apparently. When the Conyers camp sued, charging that the requirement prevents people from expressing support for candidates, thereby violating freedom of speech and political association, in late May a U.S. District judge restored Conyers to the ballot, and Michigan is not pursuing the matter further.

Meanwhile, Rev. Horace Sheffield III has been dissing Conyers up, down and sideways:

“He has diminished capacity. Everyone knows that and people talk about it all over town. … The fact of the matter is, he’s lost quite a few steps. The congressman is not all there,” Sheffield said on the Frank Beckman show on WJR Thursday morning. He’s not backing down from those statements.

“I just think that he’s tired, and I think that the people who know him know that sometimes he’s not even sure where he is. If he doesn’t know where he is, he can’t help us go where we need to be,” Sheffield tells FOX 2’s Amy Lange.

Talk about lèse-majesté, not to mention arrant ageism! Never mind the charges against the good pastor for misdemeanor domestic violence against his estranged wife; simply opposing Conyers is a moral felony.

Addendum to the F-35 boondoggle: The latest mishap, as reported on July 4, 2014—how perfect is that?—in The New York Times:

The Defense Department has grounded its fleet of F-35 fighter jets after an incident in which one of them caught fire as it was preparing to take off at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, the Pentagon said. The grounding is the latest in a long string of delays that has plagued the Air Force’s newest, and most advanced, fighter aircraft, and comes just days before the plane was to make its international debut at an air show in Britain.

The article ends with the wry observation, “The planes . . . have run into delays amid criticism of the costs, which can vary wildly.”