Thursday, June 11, 2015


Chamber Music America is a wonderful organization which facilitates a boatload of grant money for independent jazz artists. The organization was founded in 1977 and was mostly focused on classical music for small ensembles. Jazz has been a big part of their work since 2000. The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation gives money to composers for new works and also money to presenters.
I actually won a Doris Duke grant in 2003, which allowed me to do a number of performances with a quartet featuring Gary Thomas, Drew Gress, and Ralph Peterson. ( We recorded a live record and I wish I could figure out a good way to put it out. There's some incredible stuff on there.)

Most jazz artists are independent these days; some are more independent than others. I'm extremely independent! So I've continued to apply for funding since 2003, and I haven't had any luck. I've applied with many different projects, and music that I thought was original. It's extremely competitive given how many jazz musicians need money out there. I've known extremely talented and able musicians who have applied every year and never gotten a grant. I think they only give 10 a year, so it's very selective. It also depends on who is judging, and that changes every year; some of the judges are more " avant garde" and some are more straight ahead in their tastes, judging from some of the recent winners.

Although I haven't won since 2003, I'm still very much in favor of grant opportunities for jazz musicians. However, I have to comment on the judging process. CMA has made it possible to hear what the judges said about your music and your proposal. Last year, I wanted to get feedback, and  I talked on the phone to a woman who works for CMA, and she read from the judges comments. ( She seemed a little nervous; I wondered how many musicians she had given feedback and if any of them had cursed at her....) I welcome constructive criticism because I want to continue learning and growing as a musicians, and also, maybe I'll learn something and then get a grant in the future. In last year's case, I didn't get much out of the comments; I mostly got the impression that the judges just didn't understand the work I submitted( I sent my "Persian Jazz Suite" which uses Persian scales that have non- western tuning; one judges comment was " The poor intonation really bothers me.").

For some reason, after receiving another rejection letter this year, I decided to ask for written summary feedback. I submitted my Theoretical Planets group( we released a CD on Origin last year.)
I'm very proud of this group, although it is a somewhat young group in terms of experience. Some of the feedback was leaning in that direction- saying that the group was "tight" but not as outstanding as some of the other submissions. It's hard to know what to do with that sort of feedback ( You're good, kid, but just not good enough...).

There was one comment that stood out to me. Panelist number 2 said:

 " Good playing. Derivative. Where is your originality?"

This is borderline insulting to me, as somebody who paid my membership fee to CMA, to get comments like this. Derivative? Because I play a conventional drum set? Because I play a swing beat? Because I've been influenced by earlier jazz music? Whose music is completely original, as in having no discernible influence? If you are going to throw out the word derivative, you really need to be more specific. Also, just because one's music doesn't reinvent the wheel doesn't mean it isn't original. Is Hank Jones original? Is he derivative? Is Kenny Kirkland derivative because he clearly checked out McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock? (If he is, I don't care because he's great!)These are extremely loaded words and it just sounds like Panelist number 2 was in a crappy mood and tired of listening to music all day. ( I feel that, after our third round of juries and auditions this year at PSU, which takes three days of listening to students-- CALGON TAKE ME AWAY!)

So in conclusion, I have a Brooklyn- style message for Panelist Number 2. YO! PANELIST NUMBER 2! WHERE IS MY ORIGINALITY? I'VE GOT YOUR ORIGINALITY RIGHT OVER HERE, RUBBERNECK!