The NEA—that’s the National Endowment for the Arts, not the National Education Association, which precedes it in a Google search—was created in 1965, along with the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). As with various policy plans, they were originated—along with, for example, the Great Society and the Vietnam Conflict, as the war was known at that time—during the Kennedy Administration, but they saw their full flower under the Johnson Administration. The Jazz Masters Fellowship program was a latecomer to this federal arts party, debuting in 1981, though the first individual grant to a jazz musician was awarded in 1969 to George Russell.
Rather than recount the jazz history of the NEA, which includes the long-lost years of grants to individual artists, as well as Jazz Masters, or compare jazz support to classical support, all of which is covered at some length in Ka-ching, this section will examine other jazz-related awards, both public and private, and offer additional considerations of Jazz Masters honorees, particularly the handful of avant-gardists among them. I’ll also take a supplemental look at related Congressional jazz policy issues (can you say “national treasure”?), which, again, are examined in the book.
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.”