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Joel Harrison

I missed all this last month, since I don't read blogs much, but I am inclined to weigh in having received an embarrassing share of CMA funding, 4 grants in all. I am responsible for the "densely-textured suite" in this year's funding. I know- it looks a bit pretentious on the page! Frankly, I don't even remember using that phrase...

There is an art to grant writing, to be sure. And there is dumb luck, depending on who is on the panel. I have profited from both. Of course, worthy folks don't get grants from year to year, but worthy people don't get a lot of things in the jazz world, so what else is new?

Improvisers surely should get this grant, as much as "notaters", and in fact at least 2 of this year's participants are basing their work largely on improv.

Unlike the classical world, it is close to impossible to write a complex jazz piece and get it performed without losing bucket loads of money. One can be commissioned to write in the classical world for a pre-existing ensemble, that will not only perform at their own expense, but give you a comfortable seat to sit in while you listen to the work- but that is virtually unheard of in jazz. Repertory ensembles are extremely rare in jazz; one must be responsible for writing AND performing the work. I don't see a problem in writing a piece I always dreamed of writing, and because of support from CMA,I can actually PAY people well to perform it.

Naturally, there are grants given that seem high-falutin and overly conceprtual. But let's not damn the whole process based on the few. Furthermore, if one ignores the rhetoric, some of those pieces are really good.

This CMA grant holds a singular niche in the arid landscape of jazz funding. It is a beginning of what one hopes is increasing insitutional support of an art form that is broke on many levels. Composers need to be encouraged to venture into impractical and dangerous territory. And it is important to note that as this grant enters its second decade it has grown itself. The program keeps morphing according to need, and I have witnessed an extraordinary openness to feedback and change.

One of the first rules of grant writing is to only apply for something you might want to do anyway. In general, I see this grant as moving people's careers forward by allowing them to expand into more challenging terrain, to make more explicit and strong impulses that already exist.

I would like to see more encouragement for this type of thing. Classical composers can actually survive off grant money. Why shouldn't jazz musicians? Jazz composers are almost completely ignored in the scene at large- everyone talks about the hip performers, but who talked about George Russell?
The best piece of music I ever wrote, The Wheel, was the recipient of two grants.(not from CMA) I was able to write and record a massive undertaking and not lose a dime. When it came to performing it...well, I lost the aforementioned bucketful of money. CMA, in their wisdom, has a grant that enables us to be paid to write AND perform our work. Halleluia!
Joel Harrison

Allan Chase

This is a fascinating discussion. I've been on panels similar to the one under discussion here, and have taught a significant proportion of the current younger applicants, but (in 30+ years in the field) I've never applied for a grant because (a) I can't afford to pay the steep annual dues to belong to CMA and (b) I can't imagine what 90-second excerpt of my current music would get the necessary reaction to possibly make the cut, given the usual guidelines, spoken or unspoken. I don't blame the panelists for that; having been one, I can see that the bias toward knockout passages (with short-term variety, clarity, precision, and forward motion) is inevitable given the number of applications and the guidelines.

I have a few points to add:
-Funding of non-profit jazz/creative music venues across the country rather than (or in addition to) artists' projects has the benefit of creating more possibilities for touring, and could enhance a healthy kind of competition for gigs among bands of many kinds, not just the kind that succeed in this kind of grant competition. This worked nicely in the Netherlands in the 80s and early 90s -- jazz societies in every town with coordinated schedules to facilitate touring, reasonable pay for bands (and full houses), etc. Admittedly that was a very different culture, time, and geography, but LA to Vancouver tours, midwest tours, southeastern tours, etc. could be made (more) viable in the US.
-Nate, the problem of disproportionately rewarding exoskeletonic (George Lewis's joke), high-concept, skillfully composed music is real, but far, far less egregious than in the previous era, when NEA and others funded many massive large ensemble projects by people who had little or no experience (or in some cases, ability) writing such things -- giant operas commissioned from geniuses of free jazz trio playing, etc. Not that these were all bad, but some of the pieces were performed once at great expense with inadequate preparation, and not even recorded for release. Imagine all that money going into tour support for the artists' own real working bands, which were much more innovative and important. The bands might have survived much longer and been heard by far more people in more places. The CMA/Doris Duke project addresses many of those problems by emphasizing performable music by working smallish bands, requiring performances, and hearing an example in front.
-The elephant in the room here is the massive shift in the class background of the musicians who can compete in this arena, relative to even 25 years ago, not to mention 40 or 50. No one who likes jazz wants to write about that; it undermines much of the myth around the music. But it's a fact that musicians from poorer, less highly educated families, no matter how good they are, are increasingly marginalized by the conditions around funding. (Of course there are exceptions; I'm talking about a shift of the mean in a large, somewhat diverse group.)


I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



matana roberts

Personally I believe Miles Davis and a few of those other folks actually knew quite well how to play the game too- the difference back then is the game was a bit more private( patrons, jazz record labels with huge marketing departments). It was also a time when this music was progressing on a certain track based on the cultural phenomena of the reorganization of the American conciousness surrounding questions of race and in some cases gender.I think that's really important to remember in discussions like these that can have us over romanticizing a past that actually in many ways, and for lack of a better term, culturally sucked and was questionably restrictive. But hey,historically speaking, nothing sells art like perceived struggle of the under dog...

Also i think thats the problem sometimes with the way artist's approach these grants-- if u approach a grant based on what you think is a p.c. concept that will bowl the panel over you will
( hopefully) be in for a rude awakening/good learning experience. Unfortunately this is not always the case, I've sat on a few multi arts panels and must say that I have sometimes been floored myself at what impresses people for funding. At the same time who am i to say someone's work is valid versus another?

I think the only way to approach these things is to do your work tenaciously, see what comes up and when it seems like the integrity of the foundation of your idea is clear and 100% personal to you and your path, apply.The sad thing about it is it may turn out what you are trying to formulate doesnt really have the weight to get grant support, but at least you will have your own personal self integrity still intact and not the residual sludge of knowing you applied for something solely because you thought you were slick enough to get it. But again if used as a constructive tool, you can approach the grant process as a way to strengthen all that you are and all that you hope to be in terms of the artistic contribution you hope to leave behind. Thinking like this could be sort of detrimental, as tommorrow is not gauranteed but at least it gives one a hope to strive for.

I think most artists only real complaint about grants in NYC and maybe elsewhere-- if not careful it can create an atmosphere of work that's all over calculated surface and filler; absolutely no meatiness of truth, honesty, and real experimentation for the sake of experimentation regardless of the outcome. I'm most interested in this and wonder where does it exist in these strange slight labels of "straight ahead", "free jazz", "avantgarde?".
Maybe the grant thing is frought with trouble because we have to be so blocked in with the identifying terminology that in some ways pitts us against one another?

I remember one time putting on a record for a uber talented friend/peer that plays usually in a more post bebop influenced groups and the first phrase out of his mouth, not even five minutes into the listening, was
"this sounds like grant music." ouch.
( it was a julius hemphill record by the way)

Sorry for all this commenting, i just find the discussion really interesting.

All the best,

Jason Parker

This is a fantastic discussion, and one that needs to happen more and more and on as many platforms as possible. Thank you Nate for starting the dialog. This is the way blogs should work!

And it's so nice to have folks chiming in from all sides of the issue: funded artists, non-funded artists, grant panelists and grantors themselves. There have been so many responses I can't remember who said what, but one respondent noted that we need the dialog to take place, and it's taking place right here.

I would like to add my perspective as well. I have applied for numerous grants for a "concept" that I have been working on. I thought it was tailor-made for a grant. It's a band called Clave Nagila, which blends Latin-Jazz with traditional Jewish melodies. Easy to explain concept, cross-cultural, "world" music aspect...all the things we think the grantors are looking for, right? I spent much time on the applications themselves, trying to use just the right language and explaining the public benefit, etc. What I didn't spend enough time on was the work sample. I submitted some very rough demos, thinking that the concept would outweigh the execution. I was wrong.

Then I decided to apply for a grant to help me complete a record with my band the Jason Parker Quartet. A straight-ahead jazz record. Not a very compelling concept. But we had already recorded some of the music and it was high quality and well executed. I was awarded 100% of the funding I asked for.

My take-away: that it is indeed true that most often it is the strength of the work sample, not the strength of the concept, that will move the panel. This has changed the way I process my applications. This may not be true all the time, but it seems that a large number of grantors really are concerned with the quality of the work and the feasibility of the project.

I would also like to add that while it's great to have national organizations like the CMA funding jazz project, don't discount your local organizations too. The grant that I received came from the county in which I live. It was a multi-disciplinary grant in which I was up against painters, writers, sculptors, classical pop and jazz musicians, etc. While you may think that this kind of competition is daunting, it may very well be that a jazz project will stand out even more when up against such a wide variety.

Thanks to all for your insightful comments.

But on the other hand the good done by the availability of this money far outweighs the slight bias which may occur from time to time – and after all, bias occurs in all handing out of money. Ronan

Are more straight-ahead musicians less inclined to apply, given what they see as an institutional bias? That would indicate a self-perpetuating problem. Nate

I believe it’s only a very very few (A Rollins, a Parker, a Miles etc.) who are so brilliant that they would have made it whether they knew how to play the game or not – the rest have to figure the economic/political landscape out, as well as play as best they can. Ronan

matana roberts

hey there Nate,

i did this kind of backwards and just looked at the old gig column article all this discussion has come from. And found it interesting that you would use Nicole Mitchell's work as one of many examples of the possible problems with grants vs. the traditional way of working with record labels. I am of course toooooooooootally biased on anything having to do with Ms. Mitchell because she is a close friend of mine and i've gotten to see in real time, more than most people, how hard she has worked to be able to get to the point she is in her work now.....
but i will say that I felt a little slighted myself when you mentioned towards the end of your article that you suspected that her Delmark release might be the more rewarding of the her two projects. How do you know this? You must know what kinds of "deals" independent record labels are ( in some ways forced)to do with artists these days who focus on experimental "jazz" musics? It's not pretty. For the labels nor the artists.

i'm going through something now where i have to consider asking musicians to record for no money because i can't cover them and neither can the label, but the label can offer tour support, covered recording costs and the finished product that could MAYBE help in delayed income. This is all positive but the silent questions is-- Who can live on MAYBEs? I can, because i have no real dependents, and in some ways a high threshold level for how low i can deal with letting my self integrity go to be a performer, but someone like Nicole Mitchell, who is a mother, can't. I guess this why we all agree here that grant funding is great.

The labels have to survive, but so do the artists and somewhere in there there the lines are probably more sketchy than they've ever been, because outside of heady arts academia and some of the repeat fluff at places like JALC, the art form is just not taken as seriously.Perhaps because regurgitated traditional art is interminable at this point in sound history and/or experimental musics have become too provincial and maybe interminable in a different way? Or perhaps experimental music influenced by american jazz form is not very experimental right now?
( because we're all trying to get that grant?) I don't know....as you can probably tell I find it very frustrating.

The reality is that there is not a single jazz influenced composer/sound conceptualist in NYC that i know of, that has been able to survive without grant support of some kind unless they have understanding family members/close friends that can help them float when times are hard or are already independently self sufficient/wealthy by other means or as my father often says to me " a real job". Which in many ways regulates the art form to a "hobby" for those of us that don't have those particular personal networks.( i owe a lot by the way to commissions i have received from from Jim Staley at the Roulette, Patrica Parker of Arts for Arts Sake,the good folks at Neues Cabaret over at the brecht forum and the awesome team at the Jazz Gallery who always give me a gig no matter if i can't seem to pack the house.)

I think the question that should really get more focus is whats progressive in this music anymore? Maybe progressive is too pretentious a word? You've got musicians who are playing at the levels of some of their heroes but can only get support for their projects by staying overly tight in very specific "tradition bags" and becoming way to culturally insular. And you've got musicians who are in some ways carrying and expanding on these same traditions but in very personal voices who can only get support for their projects
if they can explain its complexities as if it's musicology thesis. That can be a pretty insular "bag" too.

Looking at all these great responses your piece has brought forth is fantastic; your questions on it very important i think to the whole discussion. But it's really making me ask--- who are we really kidding? I'm kind of starting to feel that the reality is really that the joke is squarely on us.

Maybe if i disappear for some 30 odd years and get rediscovered i too will finally be able to survive off my music without having to stare down microsoft word. But someone would probably have to do that for me anyway judging by this economy and lack of hunger in the American public eye for this music. Sorry, really taking reaches here.Just trying to come to a new understanding. It's obviously time for a different approach.

all the best to you,

Chris Jentsch

I’m a little late to the party having read Nate’s piece before most of the comments went up. Nate: you asked many of the right questions and as a grant recipient of ACF, NYSCA, MTC, and AMC, I wasn’t offended by anything you posted about jazz grant applicants and their music. People should also remember that grant-writing composers have a vibrant musical life outside of their administrative, narrative, and logistical responsibilities, although it can often feel like the contrary. But since so many good points have already been broached, I’d like to just delve deeper into one of the issues I have with the CMA/DD.

I applied for the CMA/DD for the first few years of its existence, as it seemed tailor-made for my situation as a composer who wrote for and played in his own improvising jazz band of some longevity. I’m still a CMA member, but I became discouraged a few years ago when the guidelines changed requiring a record of substantially more annual performances. I do a couple of gigs a year if I’m lucky, stopping short of booking myself into a lot of poor gig situations just to pad the app. I thought that this was initially part of the problem that CMA’s program was trying to address (?).

Here I am with over a decade of experience doing projects with my same core band, getting other grants, doing music I like with or without the grants, and I can’t figure a way to finesse the CMA guidelines. Now that I’ve followed a couple of large ensemble projects through to conclusion (same core group!), I’ll be turning back to a smaller group for a bit and applying again for the CMA by trying to weave my narrative thread through all of this terrain (core ensemble, a variety of projects, and a consistent amount of substantive gigs over time). I believe the above reports that before the narratives are over-considered, the music samples are what really move applicants through to the final rounds of the CMA/DD, and in that there’s hope for all.

So for this and other more obvious reasons I’m really with Ellery and Howard on the problem of limited venues in which to present the music - playing for the door, lousy sound, getting one’s second set cancelled if there aren’t enough customers, etc. I understand why in a commercial environment that this is sometimes the case, but it’s really hard to grow the music without meaningful performance opportunities. I’m grappling then with the lack of interest by the public at large for contemporary progressive jazz and the changing business models we’re all trying to figure out, but one must understand that the music has long since abandoned its pure pop music roots. At this point someone usually floats something like the need for “more education in the schools” – which for me ends the discussion in an unsatisfying manner.

I think some people will always be playing jazz well on their own initiative, and I believe that the music should be able to stand on its own – that it can be art music and approachable or even popular at the same time. Some of those musicians will always find an audience, and when reaching an obstacle, the music finds its own way…like water…or like those dinosaurs in Jurassic Park that jumped gender in order to promulgate.

After all, nothing is constant except change itself. In the future, once the clumsy decades tramp through with these organizations neglecting or not knowing how to deal with this music, jazz may be able to flourish in a different way with help in part from academia and other public and private organizations in the same way that contemporary concert music does now. Not just the “densely textured suites of sonic tapestries”, but many different styles. Just think of how poorly the phrase “concert music” describes the banquet of different sounds and styles produced by composers since 1945…or even 1985…from Ades to Zappa.

Jazz will be like that: an art music of varied popularity modulating density and quality. As difficult as the future may be to imagine compared to our vision of the history of the classic jazz club hang, somehow I don’t think jazz musicians had it any easier ten or fifty years ago. Ralph Gleason’s original liner notes to Bitches Brew still apply: “how can it ever be the same? i don’t mean you can’t listen to ben. how silly. we can always listen to ben play funny valentine, until the end of the world it will be beautiful…”

Lastly, JFK used to make the argument for more government funding better than I ever feel comfortable doing so these days.

David Weiss

I also want to mention that winning the CMA grant gave me the grant bug and I researched the other possibilities out there. As I mentioned before, there isn't much. Part of the beauty of the CMA grant is that (until this year) it really isn't that difficult of an application process compared to most other grants. Sure you have to write a little about yourself and about the proposed new work and that can be painful but it is not really all that difficult. Another great grant opportunity out there that really hasn't been mentioned is the American Composers Forum. This is also not a difficult application process but it is an American Music grant so jazz is not the only music considered. Depending on the panel there is usually one or two jazz commissions awarded a year. I won this one a few years ago and everyone involved in the organization is wonderful and very supportive. They did tell me that the panel was mostly made up of people in the classical field and while they appreciated the compositions, they were particularly swayed by the execution of the material and the tightness of the band so you never really know what is going to work.
Past this though, there is not much else out there if you are not a non profit 501C organization. I've never explored that option myself but maybe some others have that sort of ambition.
There is also Meet The Composer where they allow you to apply with an umbrella 501C organization. If you thought the CMA grant process was tough, go through this application process and you'll appreciate CMA and ACF even more.

David Weiss

Interesting discussion, who thought a no brainer like funding jazz artists could generate such thought provoking discourse.
At this point, I'm pretty well versed in what is out there grant-wise for the U.S. based jazz composer. Frankly there isn't much and for the individual, the CMA/Doris Duke New Jazz Works is about the best shot we have out here. I do want to clear up a few things about this grant and the organization. First, while the grants are administered by Chamber Music America, I don't really think that "the organization is upfront about its dedication to Chamber Music" comes into play at all when considering who gets the grants. The judges are all from the jazz world and they have a "jazz person" on staff who coordinates all this and they have jazz people on their board. Also, the grant is for a commission for a composer to write a work for their already existing ensemble (though there were some slight changes to this this year I believe) and the ensemble had to be together for at least 2 years I believe and had to have done a certain amount of performances together as well (so I hope this dashes your notion about "I just hope that the promise of these grants isn't what motivates that work", that's a lot of work to just get a grant. It reminds me of Jon Stewart's theory about why there is this uproar from the birthers about Obama's lack of a birth certificate that I saw today.
). So this would seem to curtail the more ambitious aspects of the project at least in terms of size and should instead fund the composer to do something he should already be well versed in, writing for his group. Now maybe the composition would be longer than usual or be the dreaded suite (which just might be a way of stringing together 4 or 5 individual tunes instead writing one huge piece) or something a little more conceptual or high-minded than usual. Perhaps these concepts were just to dazzle the panelists (or we just had to write something) and once awarded the money, one might just write music like one always does by trying to write the most compelling stuff possible without any extra-musical influences. Perhaps some get carried away because the weight of the grant makes them feel they have to come up with something special and perhaps they reach too far and miss but that is also what experiment is about, you do miss the mark sometimes. If you don't, you aren't really experimenting. The point might be to know when you've missed the mark and either rework it or put it away.
I believe in the application you are told you are judged on the merits of the composition of course but also on the strength of the ensemble and by extension the strength of the soloists so improvisation does have some playing in the judging, it's not solely based on the composition which I think is enough of a distinction to separate it from a more classically minded model.
I lead an 8 piece jazz composers collective and we have won the CMA award three times now. Our pianist Xavier Davis has won twice and I have won once. I think we are the only ensemble to have two different composers win the award. Xavier won it the first year it was offered and I won it the second year. Xavier subsequently won it again a few years ago (he was the first to be commissioned for a second time) so we have been getting support from this organization from pretty much day 1. Having an 8 piece band is not really an economically feasible entity in jazz. We've been together for 12 years though and the support of this organization has been a great help to us and we need all the help we can get. We also won an additional grant from them, I think it was called Encore or something like that that provided us with funds to perform Xavier's first grant piece again at the Artist's Collective in Hartford, CT. This was a gig that would not have happened without this support. Touring with a band this size is not really possible. We're not "famous" by any means even in jazz terms and we have a lot of mouths to feed, 8 plane tickets and 8 hotel rooms cost a lot and that is before paying the group a modest sum so there are not a lot of opportunities for us to be out there in a prominent way. These grants help sustain us and in small way also validate us. We would do this anyway, the music is our calling but a little recognition for our work is nice too.
While these grants have been great, there is another area that needs to be addressed. I think there needs to be a grant available somewhere that provides funding to record these grant pieces (or any such ambitious projects). I think with the current climate in the jazz business at the moment and with most major labels gone, there is little support out there to record the more ambitious projects (the good ones, not the overwrought or overthought ones Nate). I do some work with a French label producing some of their artists who come over here and record with some prominent American musicians. This is partially (well more than partially, usually well more than half the costs are covered) funded by the French government. Recording is really the way the preserve these potentially important works and these days a lot of artists don't have the money to record their more ambitious projects or record them properly at least.
Now the question I have Nate is......do these grants serve any other greater purpose. Does the prestige of these grants help the artist garner any more work or attention than they would normally get. Has anyone gotten a gig because they got a CMA grant. Have you been more inclined to check an artist out or write about them because they got a CMA grant Nate? Has there ever been anyone on the grant recipient list that you were unfamiliar with that you subsequently checked out and liked? Does the fact that an artist has won a grant like this make you potentially see them in a new light or at least perhaps want to reexamine their work a bit?
I do have to say there was one thing that thrilled me more than winning the grant or the money and that was when they asked me if I wanted to here the judges comments on my work and it turned out Andrew Hill was one of the judges and he had wonderful things to say about my work.
As for the musical content vs the written proposal question, I think what is said above is correct, that the music counts the most but say they pare the worthy applicants down to 20 but only have 12 grants to award. At this point the written word is what will sway the jury and eliminate the rest of the applicants so it does have some weight and if you have that ability to spin a good tale, you're good. I do see a parallel between this year's awardees and the general consensus in the jazz world these days that other worldly influences is the flavor of the month. Perhaps critics and grant panelists are both swayed by a good yarn.

matana roberts

wow. what a pandoras box you opened here Nate. great ideas and commentary though from everyone. I'm a bit sensitive about the whole grant process as I have yet to receive one I've applied for
( i have actually applied for CMA twice, should probably give it a third go round, but that membership fee is a bitch sometimes), and kind of am at a loss as to what I'm doing wrong in some ways.... At the same time what I think the simple act of applying for grants does right is it allows an artist the head space to really think critically about their work, which is why i have and will continue to encourage other musicmakers to apply for these things. I believe it removes a certain kind of "step and fechit shuffle" that I feel many jazz artists have had to do in the history of this music in order to be seen and heard, and opens up the lineage of the music for actual creative experimentation and not creative regurgitation... But at the same time i feel it creates a different kind of "step and fecth it" dance for grant panels and also a weird divide-- especially a possibly generational and class status divide as it seems to support the idea of the most important musical skill not necessarily being about the sounds that comes out of one's instrument but the sounds of the type pad on one's computer? I don't know...
I failed many a composition class in my musical training( i have a very confusing brain), but always managed to pass english/writing classes with flying colors and have been more grateful for that in some ways on many a grant application...but am not sure i should actually be happy about that?As it means i should probably get a degree refund...

I've been around musicians that really look down on grant funded music, from elders down to peers, but i can never understand how they survive without it's possibilities and the sad fact of the matter is many of them don't these days...And the racial dynamic is troubling to me in more ways than i care to point out right now ( this is already too long)

The bottom line is Why can't American musicians afford to make American art in their own country without having to do this kind of hoop jumping? Where did this idea come from that forces a music maker to operate from a well of desperation rather than abundance? Why should i even have to reiterate to a concerned family member that being a soundmaker is a real job? because the only real wage exists from these grants these days. everything else is peanuts.my recent social security statement can attest to that. am i bitter? not yet, but am now having an even better understanding of how its possible, thanks to the mound of paperwork ahead if i really want to survive on my sounds alone.

cheers to everybody!
Matana Roberts

Ellery Eskelin

Hello Howard,
Well, the idea in my mind was not that the club owners would get rich but that there would be more clubs that could actually pay musicians a fee and hence, help sustain a scene in which more musicians benefit, such as is the case when we perform in Europe.

Tangental thought...given the better conditions that US musicians generally experience when traveling in Europe (decent fees, paid hotel and travel expenses, meals; all due to funding) I'm often embarrassed when I compare notes with my European colleagues when they try to put tours together in the US. But at least they receive funding from their governments to subsidize the travel.


Howard Mandel

Fine discussion -- one point Ellery made that no one commented on was the possibility of funding venues. If jazz of the vigorous, vital, improvisatory core-values is to be promulgated, subsidizing jazz clubs (which are typically NOT able to apply for any kinds of grants because they are for-profit ventures) might be an answer. The musicians who would benefit would still be at the discretion of a "curator" -- a jazz club manager -- with distinct preferences. But if the funding community thinks those preferences are reflected in the good music that comes out of the clubs, and the aim is to give "mainstream" musicians gigs (hence, $s) for playing good ol' jazz-jazz, helping clubs on-the-verve might be a way to go. Since many clubs already believe they're competing unfairly with non-profit presenters, there won't be opposition on their side of the initiative. But it doesn't get the $s directly into the musicians' pockets, which is a drawback -- we're not trying to make clubowners rich, right?

John Goldsby

I had the good fortune in '88,'90 and '93 to receive NEA Jazz Performance grants. Those were very helpful to my development as a player. I used the grant money to work on three different projects that I probably never would have completed otherwise.

Now I have more good fortune in that I play bass in the WDR Big Band, Cologne. The band is supported by the government and the radio and TV tax that is collected from all individuals in the region. In a radio big band in Germany, as Graham Collier mentioned, "the musicians are on salary - although their unionized rehearsal hours are often a shock . . ." That being said, the technical and creative integrity is usually on a very high level.

So, I've been on the receiving end of a lot of subsidies for music.

A huge benefit of offering subsidies or grants to create new music is that the standards are raised for the art form in general — the musical, the conceptual, and the production standards. The music of the grant recipients is supported, but all other musicians benefit because of the new musical territory being explored.

Even when a musician does not receive a grant, I think that musician still benefits from the process of organizing a concept and applying for the grant. Whether we receive the grant is almost secondary — the seed and desire and focus that is generated by the act of committing to an idea is what can push the music forward. I would guess that for every recipient of a CMA grant, there are a dozen others who have their idea still burning in their head. They did not get the funding, and maybe they will not realize their idea on the grand scale that they might with the grant support, but I would guess that a lot of them follow through. This is one of the unseen benefits of subsidized creative music.

Rez Abbasi

Hi All,

Since I did receive the CMA grant this year, after not getting it 3 other times, I would like to share.

I agree with most of what everyone is saying and this thread has covered a lot of ground. I would like to add that grants serve not only as a financial benefit but also as a way in which an artist can think outside of the box and nurture ideas that may be buried in their sub-conscious. Having had to explain my music and where I wanted it to go was a tiring and difficult process. It was like putting a mirror up and looking for cavities. Luckily it didn’t appear I had one but I speak to the process and how it helped me to clarify my own ideas. If it were not for the opportunity to receive this or any other grant, who knows if some of the great music we’ve heard would have come to fruition? I’m sure there is a universal creative force that’s within all, but without being motivated on different levels, it can easily stay dormant. We can remember how Bach, Mozart, Handel and many others wrote much of their music under time constraints that were based on financial incentives. Although I’m sure those giants would have gotten around it some how, our minds in today’s world work differently for obvious reasons. As far as writing music merely to receive a grant, that almost sounds like wanting to become a boxer to make a lot of money. Sure there is money at the top but if you’re heart is not into getting punched, then you’re in the wrong ring!

About the grant panels, one thing we can't expect from them (this year there were 161 applicants) is patience. It’s an unfortunate reality because the scope of a composition can easily be overlooked for glitter, as Vijay pointed to. Although glitter can come in many forms, glitter for glitter‘s sake is gratuitous and I hear a lot of that in music these days. Another undervalued or overlooked element in the listening process might be the "vibe" a composition is creating. It’s that unspoken feeling that great composers can tap in to regardless of style. A visceral feeling that is not easily accessible to a listener looking for harmony parts and busy melodies.

Overall, I would hope that every panelist would recognize the position they are in and stay conscious of the fact that whatever they are seeking, may be beyond the number of written notes and well beyond the written words.

Thanks for reading,

Rez Abbasi

Ben Cameron

On the heels of Sara's comments, I wanted to add just a few notes from the perspective of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF), where I am the Program Director for the Arts.

DDCF is the funder of the CMA Programs for Jazz and the American partner in the FACE program others have mentioned.
We do our best to listen to input from musicians, panelists, journalists--anyone with a vested interest in jazz who can help us create a more responsive and appropriate support system for jazz.

I remember Nate's editorial in Jazz Times last year and took to heart his concern that the application emphasized notions of "concept" that might prove a barrier for some artists who think and create in different ways. It was Nate's comments that led us to change the application and to say this year "Describe the new work. Topics can include, but are not limited to structure, improvisational elements, extra-musical influences, concept, and themes"--an attempt to be more responsive and to create an application that would let a musician speak from the vantage points where she/he feels most comfortable.

At heart, the applications are designed to help a panel understand what do you (the artist) want to do? With whom do you want to do it? Why now--e.g. what will be the significance of this to your own larger body of work? (Will it give you a chance to play with new collaborators? Help you branch out into new terrain? Go deeper into terrain you're already exploring? etc.)
That said, the written application--at least in the CMA/DDCF composer program--comes into play as the final piece of deliberation. Panelists listen blind to two rounds of samples--one where their attention is primarily on the composition,one attuned to the skills of the ensemble (since the program supports composition for a specific ensemble). Based entirely on these blind listening rounds, a very short list is produced--which is when consideration of the written application materials come most strongly into play.

Other commentators here have rightly noted the annual turnover of panelists and the consequences that can have. To that I would only add that all panelists are jazz professionals (which can be obscured by the very name of Chamber Music America, leading many to perhaps assume that classical musicians judge their work--not the case at all!) and that dedication to diversity is a key value for us. We indeed insure the panels are diverse in every one of our grant programs, and the most recent round was adjudicated by a panel that was 40% African American and 80% people of color.

One last note: while the CMA Programs are our primary vehicles for serving the jazz field, we do serve jazz and musicians through other programs--the new Jazz/Next program Sara mentioned, and various national projects, including a project at LINC centered in health care for artists (including jazz artists) and a Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute program through the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University.

Jazz is one of three key disciplines at the Foundation (modern dance and theatre being the other two): we're dedicated to service to the jazz field now and for the future and welcome all input, responses, advice, and more anyone wants to send our way.

Nate Chinen

The following comes from Sara Donnelly, the program officer for jazz at the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation. She was unable to log in here for some reason, and I offered to post her remarks. - NC

I'm reading these posts with great interest, and was equally curious about Nate's referenced JT piece written a year ago. As noted in one post, you should converse with funders, if you don't have the whole history, process, data and desired outcomes for jazz granting programs. Annual reports and press releases don't count enough. Disclaimer: I'm the Program Officer for Jazz at Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation; we've just launched Doris Duke's next jazz initiative called Jazz.NEXT (clever, right?) I also used to manage NEA Jazz Fellowships back in the late 80's/early 90's when jazz individuals (and they didn't compete against other musical genre artists) could actually get direct non-matching support for performance, composition, study, demos, special projects, and, of course, the NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship, which has only grown in significance. Nate, I know I've attempted to contact you a couple of times to discuss these dynamics, get you on a panel, hell, just introduce myself, and we've yet to connect. (That's okay, perhaps I used the wrong email.) The point is that funders rarely benefit from direct communication with a solid cross-section and representation of artists and/or critics/chroniclers to get solid insights feedback on arts policy, except for attempts during program creation and the panel process. If we're good at our jobs, we try to first, know who you are and get a hold of you, regularly, but it's not even close to possible given how poorly organized the infrastructure is, in general, and some lack of interest, i.e., with the exception of artists posting here, an artist is often more interested in a recording opportunity, festival or club date, securing press/publicity/distribution, cash, before thinking about a grant.

In fact, the bigger systemic problem is the vacuum in conversation and awareness between non-profit and commercial entities advocating for (or dare I say, profiting from) jazz. When I saw Nate's piece last year, I was thrilled that someone was actually bringing some visibility and discourse to these decisions in print media -- even though I found his position slightly limited (sorry).

Of course, the by-products of the digital explosion and the downward spiral of the recording and publication industries are beginning to tighten up the communication divide. Hence, we have great bloggers out there covering some of this content over the past year, and I get to chime in on this healthy conversation pretty easily.

Now that NPR has recently dedicated resources to a fresh jazz blog, the NEA continues to leverage or increase its jazz budget, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation funds CMA and Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, among others, and increases its commitment to jazz re-granting -- all in the midst of global economic nightmares -- I recommend looking at the bigger picture.

Think about how jazz is getting funded in relation to dance, folk/trad/world musics, theatre, chamber/contemporary, opera, literature,orchestras, and, even, the entire outpouring of visual, media, and museum arts, not to mention, arts education. Then, think about the delivery systems for grants: are they for individuals to perform, tour, record, eat and live, or organizations to present, commission, block-book, contextualize and educate, etc... I spend personal time advocating that jazz gets big and good pieces of pie, but, honestly, sometimes it's a major deal that jazz is IN the pie in the first place. Right now, really. Just ask a member of a contemporary dance company how he/she prospers up against some of the fees paid jazz artists, and don't even compare the tech riders. Look at the losses presenters take every time they present jazz, not because they don't have an audience, but because the expenses are too high to begin with.

Back on topic, writing grant applications is not easy. The guidelines are generally written in grantspeak and are easier for development staff, which I know every jazz artist has (right!) I always encourage applicants to communicate directly with the contact listed to get the clearest indicator of what could make an app successful. Ask any question. If it takes multiple emails, be a squeaky wheel. There are calls I still haven't returned from my most recent deadline that slipped between the silent cracks.

So...it's positive recovery news about Wein, JazzTimes, great blog content, perceived interaction, thoughtful artists like those that have posted or not. These artists are not in a club, but if there is a club, please make it a lot bigger and more diverse. That's on the incoming applicant pool. Also, not all funders have drunk the Koolaid trying to come up with juicy ad copy to describe grant projects. You know what didn't get talked about enough with these CMA posts? How high the quality is of this music, how interesting and provocative and non-stale it is. I say this purely based on the names of these artists, without reading about esoteric instrumentation or musical hybrids, etc... Think about all of the truly boring and not-the-highest-in-quality grants you read about. I personally feel that those qualities are not present in this CMA list.

Finally, I only have admiration for jazz artists and writers that take all of these issues on, especially when they're not getting paid. This is a great conversation. Thanks for it. When I have more info on how Jazz.NEXT rolls out, I'd like to get it to you and have another conversation.

Take a minute to look at the websites and guidelines for these programs. DDCF's page is pretty insightful regarding their full arts program policy and updates. CMA,
MAAF,APAP, not to mention the Jazz Journalists Association, also spend money convening jazz stakeholders (sick of that word, yet?) to support a jazz ecology, platform, community. Look for those opportunities to lend your thoughts.

Sara Donnelly

Jason Crane

Hello all,

If you'd like to listen to the conversation that Miles Okazaki refers to above, you can do so here:


Thank you for this enlightening discussion.

All the best,

Jason Crane
The Jazz Session

Scott Burton

This is a great discussion! I like all the points given, and have some thoughts of my own.

As a jazz musician in Richmond, VA, I have many conflicting thoughts on the grant process. I was pointed in the direction of the CMA by saxophonist Matana Roberts, and I will definitely be applying for one with my group "Glows in the Dark." I have a concept that I use to generate ideas for the band, and I've realized that it sounds good on paper, but I definitely came up with the concept before seeking funding for the idea. All the work I've done has been derived away from the mindset of seeking funding. Even with these concepts, when I'm writing music I won't let the concept keep good ideas out of the music just because they don't seem to fit. The CMA seems like a great opportunity to just get the music out there, in a time when the market has no place for jazz.

I think a key difference in the work of grant winners and the work of Coltrane, Davis, Monk and others is that the grant winners have music and need to get it out there, while the Coltrane's and Davis' had record label support in a market that allowed that opportunity. Now, many independent labels support you by "letting" you pay for them to release your album. The tables have turned because of the market change.

It's easy to get cynical with that massive shift, but anyone that has talked with these great labels (Clean Feed, Cuneiform, Songlines etc) knows that they have genuine interest and are doing the best they can.

I have many more thought, all of which are probably conflicting, but that will do for this comment!

Scott Burton

Graham Collier

As the first British jazz musician to receive a grant from the Arts Council of Great Britain and a few (almost too few to mention) since, I am glad that this thread is as lively as it is and there’s no argument with most of the points that have been raised.

But I think one has to be realistic about these grants – at least in the amounts that were and are given out by British organisations: they’re never enough. The composer has to subsidise the work in some way – often by accepting a per-day rate that would disgrace any other working man; the bandleader (usually the same person) has to work his socks off to get the musicians together and the gigs; and the musicians involved often have to rehearse for nothing, or very little, to make the gigs happen.

When you’re commissioned by European radio stations the situation is somewhat different of course – they pay well (as many American composers have been discovering over the years!), and the musicians are on salary - although their unionised rehearsal hours are often a shock to those of us used to the more laissez-fair approach of jazz musicians!

I was once introduced as someone who had – because of that first Arts Council grant – been living with the support of the Arts Council for most of my professional life. My riposte was that I had actually received more money from Radio Denmark in my career than I ever had in grants from my own country, and had often used Denmark’s money to subsidise my work in Britain.

Graham Collier

George Grella

Ellery, that's very interesting information to me, thanks. The language of the grant guidelines I find quite intriguing, on it's face it allows for a tremendous amount of creative lee-way.

What Steve wrote made me realize, specifically, an idea that I've had in my head for a long time that I haven't been able to articulate to myself. Jazz is perhaps the original DIY music of the 20th century, a music that pretty much starts out in one's life coming off of the primary technology of the era, recorded sound, and leaves the inspired young person with the thoughts of wow, WTF?!?! And then, how do I do that? And then, I do it by doing it. Absolutely there's the constant tension of trying to match resources and ambitions, but I think in the long run it's a good tension. One feeling I still always get, even after 30 years, is that sensation that comes about when I catch someone live, and realize, again, that the material I hear on recordings is just a fraction of what they command as musicians, and this is the way to find that out. It's always exciting and moving.

Vijay Iyer

(To clarify: the venues/presenters I listed above are largely supported by some form of patronage or philanthropy. I don't mean to imply the opposite, i.e. that they are themselves "patrons" - though some of those organizations do regrant funds for projects, as I mentioned.)

Vijay Iyer

Dear all, It's wonderful to see so many brilliant artists chiming in. I'm glad especially to read Ellery's comments from both sides of the CMA grant. And it is important to stress again what a small amount of impact this grant has in the scheme of things.

I should also add a few things to what I said earlier:

1) When I described the pressures of being on a panel, I was not referring to the CMA panel (as I said, I've never been on that panel) but grant panels in general, and particularly in recent years. And I was saying so chiefly to indicate a condition of being in the arts in America today: there's just too little funding to go around and the system is glutted with worthy applicants.

So, it is also partly the responsibility of panelists to be conscious of the process and the situation. Once when I was on a panel, I chose to intervene a few times to force a closer listen to several artists that had gotten short shrift the first time around. And two of those artists were then voted for funding.

2) A list of past CMA recipients, pretty diverse if you ask me:

Ellery pointed out that the panelists change every year, and with them the panel's priorities shift. Not only that, CMA's grant guidelines themselves have altered slightly each year. It's important to see this grant as a continual work in progress, generally grappling with the same questions internally as we might be asking from the outside. We should get CMA honcho Margaret Lioi in on this discussion.

To the discouraged, don't sweat the language or structure of the grant. A "collection" of pieces is as good as a "suite" - it seemed to work that way for Duke Ellington. Just know that you just have to keep applying to these things, year after year, if you want results. In my own experience I've gotten some grants, including one from CMA, but I've gotten a FAR greater number of rejections, including a few from CMA. (I didn't apply this year, if that matters to anyone.)

3) Some philanthropy does exist for American jazz and creative music, mainly at an institutional level. That's what makes the following presenters and venues possible:

Jazz at Lincoln Center, NYC
The Stone, NYC
Outpost Performance Space, Albuquerque, NM
Roulette, NYC
The Jazz Gallery, NYC
San Francisco Jazz Festival
Earshot Jazz, Seattle, WA
Chicago Jazz Festival

and so on. The festivals and some of the venues themselves commission bandleader-composers to present new works, and they also support local artists and do educational and community work.

4) A bit of back story: CMA's jazz initiative came about because Doris Duke was a jazz lover and set aside money in her will that funded the initiative's first few years. Now that's what I'm talking about. Surely there are celebs or billionaires in our era who would act similarly, and maybe wouldn't even wait until the afterlife to do so.

Best wishes,

Ellery Eskelin

Like Ronan and Vijay, I've been on both sides of this equation. In fact, I was on the very first CMA Jazz grant panel in 2000. I share some of the concerns expressed, however I think Ronan and Vijay made spot-on observations so I won't belabor those points. But George asked how these things go on the inside and I thought it important to point out that the panels for this grant in particular are made up of musicians who are active on the scene. People you have heard of.

In 2000 I was on a diverse panel (gender/race) made up of five musicians from across the spectrum in terms of musical style. The submissions were divided equally among us. We each listened completely to our portion of the submissions before the first meeting and then came together to present what we had to the full panel for listening and discussion. We listened "blind", not knowing who we were listening to.

The musical portion of the submission got the heaviest consideration by far. The text of the proposal was considered afterwards. So while "grant-speak" is an issue, it didn't carry as much weight as you might think. And the members of the panel reacted to all of these issues in many of the same ways that is being discussed here.

One other thing to remember is that the panel is different every year. So the outcome of this process has much to do with who applies and who's on a particular panel in any given year. I do suspect that there are musicians who assume that they won't be chosen and do not apply. In fact, I know that's the case. Personally, I applied for the grant almost every year since 2000 and was ready to throw in the towel a number of times. But I decided that I had no justification for complaining about it if I didn't apply. This year I managed to hit.

One thing I should point out. The grant guidelines (which can be downloaded from the CMA site) make it clear that this is a composition grant. Further, it says that "The work must be of substantial length, comprise multiple sections or movements, and feature improvisation." While that may seem to rule out certain approaches it does afford the opportunity for a musician to devote some real time and energy into a work that might otherwise prove difficult to see through to the end.

Interestingly, the issue came up on the panel I was on as to whether a fully improvised piece of music would be eligible. We were told that we could in fact consider fully improvised works. Ironically, one of the other panelists stated their feeling that it didn't seem right to give all that money to someone to just come in and improvise the whole thing. But again, the panel changes each year.

So I guess I'm writing this not so much as a defense of the process (which I, like everyone else, have certain opinions on and reservations about) but to point out that the issues were less structural than might be guessed. It boiled down much more to what was hashed out among a particular panel, much as is being done here, and who again, are musicians that we all know.

And to address Nate's general claim (as I understand it), I don't think this affects the scene at large as much as you may feel it does. It's just one grant. And while any approach is likely to have serious shortcomings in terms of solving some of the practical problems (such as dealing with the length of a musical submission) the greater problems as I see it lie more in the "big-picture" areas of that support which is lacking in the scene at large as opposed to the little support we do have.

However, I do agree with Alex about the "winner take all" approach. We see it in jazz polls as well (which to me serve no real purpose even though I feel obliged to use them in my own press kits). I'd like to see much more attention paid to the general scene. For example, I think some sort of venue support should be looked into more deeply. The places we play in Europe are all funded. And if it wasn't for Europe we'd be totally screwed.

Given that, I'm a recipient of the CMA grant this year and given the current economic conditions I'm very happy to receive the support. So in practical terms, I'd simply encourage more musicians to apply, especially those who might think that this grant doesn't work for them. I think that would have the most pronounced effect on the outcome.


Steve Lehman

Many thanks to everyone for their insightful comments.

Following this discussion I can't help but think that there may be an even larger point lurking at the crux of the issues raised by Nate's original post--specifically that of jazz's relationship to massive infrastructure and financial resource more generally.

Part of what's so amazing about jazz is that it can produce such incredibly rich and meaningful music with virtually zero infrastructure. But in many ways, that aspect of the music has actually been used as a tool, over the past 100 years or so, to limit and restrict the possibilities of the medium/milieu and to define it; often in unnatural ways.

Taking even a cursory glance at the history of this music, there seems to be an abundance of evidence in support of Miles Okazaki's suggestion that jazz has always been highly conceptual, whether or not it was consistently articulated as such. And perhaps even more to the point, the very core of the most conservatively sanctioned canon of this music is full of examples of performer/composers who have taken great pains to expand the nature of the arts-based infrastructures made available to them; usually with very limited success.

There is the example of Scott Joplin's inability to have his operatic works performed at a high level during his lifetime. Charlie Parker's articulation of his desire to compose music for larger/orchestral forces and Edgar Varese's refusal to accept Parker as one of his composition students. Jackie McLean's discussion in the documentary "Jackie McLean On Mars" of his decision and the decision made by many of his peers (Max Roach, Yusef Lateef, Horace Tapscott, etc.) to move into academia, based, in part, on a desire to "perpetuate some concepts from another vantage point than just always on the bandstand." Or Anthony Braxton's remark regarding the re-release of his Composition 82 for 4 Orchestras: "Can you imagine anyone now giving a Black composer the money to perform and record a piece for 4 orchestras? Or one orchestra for that matter? 40 musicians?"

I realize that these comments bring up a collection of issues that may seem peripheral to the core of this very valuable and useful thread. But, for me, they point to jazz's very rich and lengthy history of (attempted) engagement with massive arts-based infrastructure -- in most cases involving the music's most seminal practitioners.

George Grella

Miles, I'm interested in some of the things you discuss, especially as they are seen from inside the granting community - anyone can offer that perspective? Vijay?

One question is how important a 'concept' is in a grant application, and by that I mean more the 'high-concept,' Hollywood-style pitch. As for-argument's-sake examples, one concept is composing directed jazz improvisation within a notated framework for a non-jazz string quartet, another is writing a suite of tunes for an instrumentation based on Balkan brass bands, utilizing time-signatures and harmonies common in that music. How are things like this viewed from inside the granting community, as opposed to "I'm a jazz musician and I lead a working group and I want a commission to support me in my continued work." Because isn't that what goes on in the end? But do musicians need to clothe their desire for support in a conceptual package?

Another thing Miles gets at that I have serious issues with is this idea that since these are grants, everyone has to think in terms of composition. There's a bit of a game going on here, and it has to do with concepts and titles. Jazz is jazz and classical is classical, they are great, they meet at interesting points, they inform each other in interesting ways, but they are not and never will be the same thing. Their aesthetic criteria are different, so why the emphasis on vaguely classical ideas of structure and composition? If I had drafts of 8 pieces for a jazz ensemble and asked for funding for them, and if I said the same 8 would be a "suite," which is more likely to get a grant? Of course, calling something a suite, or an opera, or a song-cycle doesn't make it so.

That's why the three examples I thought of are meaningful to me. The "Ebony Concerto" and "City of Glass" are 50 or so years old. Where else can classical inform jazz, and vice-versa? I don't think it does jazz any good to try and develop form and structure like classical, it usually just makes the music self-consciously stiff and weak. But there are experimental areas that classical has suggested that jazz is the perfect idiom to further. Is that an effective 'concept' package inside the granting community? I hope I don't seem cynical about this, because I'm not, there's a question of effectively gaming the system when one approaches any institution, and that is a means to achieve a worthwhile goal. Any ideas?

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