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"Only a man of undaunted optimism would embark on such a venture." ~Charles Chaplin as Monsieur Verdoux
"A pessimist is sometimes just an optimist with more information." ~Sufi Proverb
This article was supposed to be the first in an ongoing column, but instead I'm just contributing a single multi-part piece and then I'm probably outta here. I don't see how a regular column would really accomplish anything other than to offer a minor speed bump in Jazz' full-throttle rush to oblivion. Unless there is a significant change in the current mindset that is shared by professionals, advocates, arts foundations, educators and most disturbingly even the musicians themselves, the destiny of this profoundly important art form is as dim as our political future.
I can already hear the various wheezing, harrumphing and whining of the ensemble cast of pimps, hustlers and cockeyed optimists who are ready to point to this musician or that one, this facility or that one, or some market study research that indicates something or other to dispel this notion and paint a rosy picture. So, if you want to buy it, you can keep it. But just remember this for when the real future hits you squarely between the eyes - what you're buying won't provide you with any nutrition because it is designed for an entirely different orifice. And neither remaining upright, watching your back or clenching your cheeks will prevent it. All I can offer you is some information derived from a combination of deductive reasoning and in-the-trenches experience that may provide a piece of wall against which you can back up for a bit of protection. But, just as knowing who these men and women currently ruling this country really are and really stand for will not prevent the emergence of the Fourth Reich, unless appropriate use is made of that knowledge; you will not be able to avoid your inevitable unpleasant destiny unless you make good use of the information I'm trying to give you here.
You are all the victims of Big Lies, conceived by Big Liars and spread by small-time hustlers, self-seeking weasels, Kulchur pimps and self-loathing whores - with a little too much help from some truly dedicated and optimistic individuals who are simply unable to see the forest for the trees. Combine this with those most willing victims - the musicians, who insist upon remaining slaves, shackled by their comfortable ignorance, short-sightedness and willingness to plant their silent lips upon the glutes of anybody who can offer them the luxury of allowing them to work for chump change - and you've got the ideal formula for destruction.
We are a culture of Lies and we thrive upon them. Probably the biggest one of all is that we believe we are seekers of Truth. But we have no more of a desire to look into the mirror of Truth than we have to hammer rusty nails into our own eyeballs. As a nation we've accepted Big Lies without even a whimper - that George Bush was elected in 2000; that George Bush was elected in 2004; that we are killing tens of thousands of innocent people on behalf of liberty, justice and self-protection rather than greed, power and racism. We either buy into it, try to put it out of our minds or maybe toss out a prayer, an epithet or a tsk-tsk.
The same ugliness has taken over in the previously sacrosanct world of Fine Arts and Culture. The hypocrisy, inside dealing, back-stabbing, self-serving manipulation, arrogance, racism and unfettered greed that we associate with the despicable realms of ultra-right-wing politics is in full bloom in the supposedly left-wing world of Arts and Culture.
The bottom line here is the bottom line. It all boils down to two things - money and power. Here we find the common link between the ultra right-wing industrialists and imperialistic neo-cons, with the self-deluded ultra-left of Arts, Culture and Education.
Now that you may be seeking some refuge in labeling my claims as the raving of a Sixties-bred Marxist/Utopian paranoid, let's look at some specifics.
Over the past 15 years, a staggering amount of money has been handed out - yes, given away - all to supposedly improve the Jazz environment for musicians, audiences and the American population in general. (BIG LIE # 1 - we'll look at that and the other Big Lies that lie behind this a little later).
In two somewhat consecutive 5-year initiatives, the Lila Wallace Foundation (The 20-city Lila Wallace Jazz Network) and the Doris Duke Foundation (the 14-city Jazz Net) have laid out nearly 25 million dollars purportedly toward the aforementioned goal. This money was distributed primarily to a single facility in each city, with a small regional touring component (Wallace) and a small commissioning component (Duke) in conjunction.
I was first exposed to jazz as a middle school band student. A college ensemble passed through and put on a concert for the band students (of which I was one). The level of mastery and musicianship blew me away, intimidated, and inspired me
I was first exposed to jazz as a middle school band student. A college ensemble passed through and put on a concert for the band students (of which I was one). The level of mastery and musicianship blew me away, intimidated, and inspired me. Try as I might, I was never able to achieve a high enough level of competency to perform at the level I was first and subsequently exposed to. Regardless, I was hooked on jazz and remain so to this day.