June 16, 2005


The Gioia of Jazz: The National Endowment for the Arts' head champions "one of the great American inventions." (NAT HENTOFF, June 15, 2005, Opinion Journal)

No one with government funds to dispense has done more to bring jazz to American audiences than Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. [...]

The chairman is involved in expanding audiences for all the arts, but he is especially driven to "expand the country's awareness of jazz, to use it to combat the cultural impoverishment that threatens us." In an era of "reality" television, and a music scene where even Merle Haggard is hardly heard on commercial country music radio stations, Mr. Gioia doesn't consider it necessary to define "cultural impoverishment."

He has launched "NEA Jazz Masters on Tour," sending Jazz Masters across the U.S. to nonprofit organizations--from, the NEA declares, "the Maine Center for the Arts in Orono, Maine, to the Anchorage Concert Association in Anchorage, Alaska." The co-organizer is Arts Midwest, and the sponsor is Verizon with additional support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Verizon also sponsors other NEA jazz initiatives.

Also, the NEA was a partner in an hourlong television program, "Legends of Jazz," which will be shown on various PBS stations beginning Thursday and throughout July and August. (Check local listings.) The program is hosted by pianist Ramsey Lewis, a wide-ranging contributor to jazz history. Included are NEA Jazz Masters James Moody, Nancy Wilson, Jon Hendricks, Paquito D'Rivera and jazz impresario and pianist George Wein, designated a 2005 Jazz Master.

After this premiere showing, a 13-week series of "Legends in Jazz" will follow on PBS. The NEA will not be involved in that continuance, which is historic in that it will be the first national weekly jazz series in some 40 years. That absence may not have been "the wasteland" Newton Minow once called television, but it sure was a cultural deficit.

Mr. Gioia has also helped regenerate a valuable National Public Radio series, "Jazz Profiles," which was illuminatingly researched and set a standard for broadcast jazz biographies. New productions were halted by NPR in 2002 when it reduced cultural coverage in favor of higher ratings for news. In partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, NPR resurrected the series this year with one-hour profiles--both updated and new--of NEA Jazz Masters. While the series ends on June 29, there is hope that there will be yet more "Jazz Profiles" to come on NPR.

What may be the most long-lasting Gioia project for raising this nation's consciousness of its most original contribution to world culture is NEA Jazz in the Schools, which the chairman heralds as a way of enlivening "American history in exciting, soulful and insightful ways."

This Web-based curriculum and DVD toolkit are, says the NEA, "designed for high school teachers of social studies, history and music." Included will be "a teacher's guide of five curricular units with teacher tips, cross-curricular activities and assessment methods."

In each kit, along with a timeline poster and student materials, there will be "a CD, and a DVD featuring video and musical excerpts along with all print materials in digital form."

To get the first curricular unit, public, private and charter schools that are interested can download it from www.neajazzintheschools.org. The complete kit will be available at no charge this September. While designed for high schoolers, the Jazz in the Schools curriculum can bring educational pleasures to middle-school students as well. And after seeing strongly appreciative letters from elementary schools after jazz musicians quickened the rhythms of their classrooms, I would suggest that teachers of earlier grades should also click on to the swinging Web site.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 16, 2005 12:00 AM
Comments for this post are closed.