With Friends Like These...
“ So the initiatives become facility-based concepts with no other specific goals other than hoping something good will happen out of all those millions tossed on the table. ”
"It's no big thing to make a lot of money, if all you want to do is make a lot of money. (From Citizen Kane)
"More harm is done by fools through foolishness than by evildoers through wickedness. (Sufi saying)
This is the third in a series of pieces examining the current state of the jazz business and how we got here. In the first, Hello... I Must Be Going we saw that although nearly half a billion dollars has changed hands in the past 15 years to supposedly improve conditions, the scene for musicians has gotten significantly worse (unless of course, you buy into the Republican economic philosophy that a tiny percentage receiving the bulk of the benefits signifies a healthy economy).
In the second part, Prelude to a Kiss-off, we looked at how during the late '70s and early '80s the potential for true artist self-empowerment and expanded opportunity was a tangible near-reality. At the conclusion of that piece, I pointed to the circumstances that brought about the complete reversal of that potential and created an entirely new landscape of exploitation from a completely unanticipated enemy - the Fine Arts and Culture establishment. I also mentioned that I, our organization Outward Visions, and a number of similarly dedicated colleagues were entirely overlooked in the planning of the new funding initiatives. We'll go into why a little later, but first it's important to consider two very basic and disturbing facts to get a true understanding of why all this has occurred:
- The world of Fine Arts and Culture does not understand, respect or even like the art form of Jazz, or its creators.
- The advocates and professionals to whom they listen and consistently employ in their various Jazz-related projects have neither the ability nor the desire to actually improve conditions for Jazz artists.
Pretty harsh statements, huh? Maybe, but not nearly as harsh as the reality that has been set in motion through the actions of various bozos from both of these camps.
Consider also (for those of you who haven't bothered to check my credentials for the validation of my perspective), my direct experience in dealing with these Arts and Culture folks. This has been done from both the Jazz perspective as well as from my representation of high-level artists in Dance and Contemporary Music. I can directly attest to an enormous difference in attitude toward Jazz from this world.
Oh, they claim to have great respect for "America's Greatest Indigenous Art Form and all that yabba dabba doo, but engage almost any of them on even the most basic understanding of the music and its creators and you'll find they wouldn't know the difference between Mingus and a dingus.
Consider this: fine arts professionals and presenters often have a direct and major influence upon Jazz-based initiatives simply because they know something about the art form, or because they include a few events a year among the dozens of presentations that make up their overall programming. Do you think George Wein would be allowed to influence Dance funding because he presented some concerts featuring tap dancers; or that Anthony Braxton or Ornette Coleman could be influential upon Western Classical initiatives because of their own forays into that discipline? No way, no how.
(A tiny caveat here - if you speak with folks who toil in these other disciplines today, they will also state that the same problems of facility-based funding, anointed darlings, presenters as stars, and the rich-get-richer syndrome are fully at play in their domains also. However, each of these art forms already had certain structures and methodologies in place prior to the '80s. Jazz only made it into this arena during the '80s. Therefore, its entire context is totally under the influence of this most unfortunate current trend.)
But all of this can be neatly summed up by the Ken Burns Jazz fiasco, in which arts funders stumbled all over each other in their desire to throw money into that boondoggle's $15+ million budget. Can you imagine them dropping any other fine art form into the hands of a filmmaker whose entire experience with it was having "maybe a couple of records in (his) sizable collection ? Never happen. Never. I don't know about you, but if I was laying out the scratch to establish a new franchise in the NBA, I wouldn't be hiring a GM or coach whose entire experience consisted of watching "maybe a couple of games on television.