CMA Announces Recipients of First-Ever Jazz Grants

CMA Announces Recipients of First-Ever Jazz Grants

Don Braden
Don Braden
photo by Joseph E. Rybczyk

Chamber Music America has announced the first recipients funded through New Works: Creation and Presentation, a new grant program supporting composer/performer-led ensembles in the creation of music in the jazz idiom. The grantees were selected from a pool of eighty applicants by an independent panel of jazz composers, who screened audio work samples without knowing the performers’ identities.

Working closely with a task force comprised of leading jazz artists including Geri Allen, Ben Allison, Paquito D’Rivera, Marty Ehrlich, Matt Glaser, James Newton, Eric Reed, Sam Rivers, and Maxine Roach, CMA has designed this grant program to address the unique funding needs of jazz composers and recognize the artistic process of jazz ensembles. Through this program, CMA hopes to stimulate the development of a significant body of music honoring tradition, original voices, and new directions in jazz.

Task force member Matt Glaser commented that he and his colleagues wanted to “make it as painless as possible to get money to creative musicians to do their work.” Glaser, who is a professor at Berklee, as well as a member of the CMA Board, is excited by the organization’s recent efforts to broaden its membership to include “all kinds of great music, whether it is notated or not.” He calls CMA is the “appropriate organization” to “solidify in public consciousness…the many commonalities between classical music and jazz.” He describes the differences between musical styles as exaggerations created by “guys in suits.”

The grant program marks the beginning of the pilot year of the Doris Duke Jazz Ensembles Project, made possible with funding support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The Project itself will eventually introduce, in addition to the grant program, professional development and consultation services, jazz-related talks at CMA conferences, and the expansion of CMA benefit programs to include jazz musicians.

Stewart noted that jazz artists such as Oliver Lake and Dave Douglas have been funded by CMA in the past, but that many jazz musicians have up until now felt that “there wasn’t a program for them.” This program is unusual because it is specific to artists who composer in the jazz idiom. Most grant programs are not jazz-specific, commented Lisa Stewart, who directs the Jazz Program at CMA. For this reason, many jazz artists refrain from applying for grants entirely, she thinks; according to Stewart, the application process would require that they “reinvent themselves.”

Michael Formanek
Michael Formanek
photo by Sandra Eisner

Two aspects of the application process are designed to “reflect the lives” of jazz musicians, according to Stewart. The first is that CMA does not require applicants to submit a score. Composers whose work is highly improvisatory thus remain on equal footing with those who write everything down. The second is that CMA recognizes the difficulty of keeping a jazz ensemble together. Stewart explained: “The [directors of] the program want to make sure that there is continuity of membership, [but they are] flexible enough that if other members have to carry out the project, that is acceptable, as long as there is a core [group of musicians] who stay with the project throughout.”

$170,000 in awards, ranging from $10,000 to $13,140 will be presented to the 12 winning artists and ensembles. The terms of the grant dictate that recipients create a “piece of substantial length” that “demonstrates their artistic ability,” according to Stewart. The piece must be written for the composer’s existing ensemble, and this ensemble must perform the piece twice before December 31, 2001. Grant recipients will provide CMA with an archival recording that will be used “for tracking purposes only,” and they will be given the option of submitting a score of the work that will be housed at the Library of Congress.

Funds for community-based projects will also be available to the grant recipients.

In order to request this money, up to $3000, recipients must apply along with an organizational partner. Stewart will provide assistance to the recipients, both in defining the projects, and in finding partners. The idea of the project, according to Stewart, is to reach “audiences who lack resources to normally access music of this quality.” She also commented that many jazz musicians engage in community-based projects regularly without getting paid, and that this additional grant money is a way of recognizing that such work “has tremendous value.”

Six pianist/composers received awards. David Berkman’s 1998 recording Handmade was named one of the top releases of the year by The New York Times, Jazz Times, and Jazziz. Xavier Davis composes for the large ensemble The New Jazz Composers Octet. Andrew Hill has led bands for nearly four decades. This year he was awarded a fellowship from the Civitella Raneri Foundation in Italy. Frank Kimbrough is a founding member and composer-in-residence of the New York City-based Jazz Composers Collective, and leader of the ensemble Noumena. He teaches at New York University. Phil Markowitz has been performing for thirty years, and has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts. His new composition will be a five-part suite based on the paintings of masters of the Abstract Expressionist movement. Marcus Roberts, a classically-trained pianist, was the first jazz musicians to have all three of his first recordings reach number one on the Billboard traditional jazz chart. He will compose a suite entitled Music-New Orleans Style for his trio.

Awards were also given to four saxophonists. Michael Blake, who is also a composer-in-residence with the Jazz Composers Collective, will write a new work for the group Free Association. Jane Ira Bloom is a former NASA artist who was honored this year by having an asteroid named in her honor by the International Astronomical Union. She will write a new suite inspired by Jackson Pollock for her ensemble The Jane Ira Bloom Quartet. Larry Ochs will write a new extended work for his group The Rova Saxophone Quartet. The Quartet has released more than two dozen recordings of original music, and produces a concert series in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Saxophonist Don Braden, who is the former musical supervisor for Cosby, teaches regularly at William Paterson University, and frequently directs jazz education camps. In an interview, Braden commented on how excited he was that CMA is “focusing on [jazz musicians] who are trying to be serious.” Braden views grant programs like this as the possible salvation of jazz; his view of the current economic prospects for jazz musicians is bleak. “There is huge competition for the time of any consumer, ” Braden explained. “With the increasing amount of technology [available], it makes people’s lives easier, but [it also means that] people don’t go out as much. Couple that with difficulties in retail that are impacting us negatively, all of this reduces our opportunities to pursue normal ways of doing business.” Braden admitted that the internet is opening up some new opportunities for jazz musicians, but stressed that “the other great thing happening now is the funding of jazz music…by big sources like the Doris Duke Foundation.”

Braden is using the grant money to create a composition for his Octet based on the writings of children in the Litchfield, CT-based program “Poetry Live!” He anticipates writing a seven- to ten-part suite based on the poems. This music will in turn be used for a dance performance based on the poetry, choreographed by Earl Mosely and danced by the school children and professional dancers. Braden will be writing this piece for his Octet. Braden is currently exploring the use of live music for the Poetry Live! Concert in May; his Octet will also perform the new work at the Litchfield Jazz Festival in August.

Braden will also apply for community grant money to do a separate concert in the near future. Braden anticipates using this money for a performance or two of the new work at a free concert designed “to expose people to music.” His partner in this project will be Litchfield Performing Arts, the organization behind Poetry Live!

The other two award recipients were Bassist/Composer Michael Formanek and Guitarist/Composer Rob Levit. Levit was recently awarded the Julius Hemphill Composition Award for Composition by the Jazz Composers Alliance, an Individual Artist Award for Composition by the Maryland State Arts Council, and an ASCAP special recognition for original music.

Formanek has performed professionally for nearly twenty-five years. He will write a new work for his bass/saxophone group, The Tim Berne/Michael Formanek Duo. Formanek is glad that the grant will “afford [him] the time to spend some time writing substantial music for the Duo.” Berne commented that much of their repertoire consists of adaptations of numbers they play with other, larger ensembles. He is looking forward to writing a piece uniquely suited to the “starkness of the [Duo’s] instrumentation.” Formanek is planning two one-hour sets of music. The new pieces will “encompass a lot of different areas, from very heavily notated music to more improvised music.” Throughout the two sets, Berne and Formanek will focus on switching instruments: Berne from alto to baritone sax, and Formanek from a bass tuned in fourths to one tuned in fifths. Formanek is looking forward to the chance to take some of the small, interesting musical ideas he and Berne have discovered in the course of their work and “blow them up, way out of proportion.” Formanek has plans to perform the two pieces in the early part of next year.

“I am not a grant-applier,” Formanek admitted. “This is the first [grant] I have applied for on a national level that made sense, that made do the work [necessary] to apply.” Like Braden, Formanek is aware of the financial pinch that comes with “playing jazz that is not quite so commercial.” He also has his own hesitations about the value of the Internet, explaining that the huge “flood of recorded music” available to people has pushed music “not geared to the soundbyte generation” even further from commercial viability. He believes that partly for this reason, “grant processes like this are absolutely necessary,” especially for jazz composers, in order to “give [them] the time necessary to think it through.”

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