Rhapsody In Green: Jazz Coalition’s Commission Fund Supports Artists

Jazz musician Brandee Younger
Jack Vartoogian / Getty Images
– Jazz musician Brandee Younger
plays harp as she performs onstage with her quartet during a Blue Note Jazz Festival concert at Central Park SummerStage in NYC June 15, 2019. Younger is an inaugural recipient of a Jazz Coalition Commission grant.

New York City is the world’s epicenter of jazz and, when it also became ground zero of the COVID-19 pandemic in April, the most American of artforms found not only its performance spaces but the very artists who create it in danger.

Jazz venues are especially vulnerable, given the often small spaces and elbow-to-elbow audiences will make social distancing nearly impossible even once they are allowed to reopen. 

“It’s pretty dire,” says Brice Rosenbloom, a founder and artistic director of New York’s annual Winter Jazz Fest and owner of concert presenter Boom Collective. “There’s really no end in sight until there’s a vaccine or strategy for going forward or whatever city, state and federal governments can make happen. The tremendous thing is seeing the amount of organizing around [protecting venues and artists]. It is refreshing and inspiring. But it is a struggle. You have to make your voice heard.”

Amid the backdrop of loss, Rosenbloom along with entertainment lawyer and artist manager Gail Boyd, and concert/festival promoter Danny Melnick of Absolutely Live Entertainment, joined forces to create the Jazz Coalition, a collective of more than 200 industry professionals, musicians and other supporters. 

The coalition went to work in April raising funds to support the venues and musicians who play in them, raising more than $70,000 for a Commission Fund that goes toward microgrants of $1,000 to artists awarded through a nomination and jury selection process.

“There are a lot of great relief efforts happening, but what I felt was missing was something more merit-based and something that inspired more value and worth for musicians, and to motivate them to keep working and creating,” Rosenbloom tells Pollstar.

Once selected by the Commission Fund jury, recipients are then commissioned to create new compositions reflective of our current times that will be featured on the Jazz Coalition website, social media messaging, and announcements. In a post-COVID world, the music will live on as a chronicle of jazz during the pandemic.

Among the 50 first-round recipients, announced May 21, are Brandee Younger, Dred Scott, James Carter, Nduduzo Makhathini, Sara Serpa and this week’s Pollstar cover artist, Shabaka Hutchings.

“We’re almost to the point where we can do the next round and use the same jury selection process,” Rosenbloom says. “One thing that’s different is, we handed out the first [round] on May 21 which was just before George Floyd’s death. Right after that, we refocused on racial justice initiatives. While our funding trajectory slowed down a little bit, we focused our goal to responding to the idea of asking artists to create pieces reflecting their experiences of the times that we were in, where initially we were focused on the pandemic.”

Rosenbloom added that in addition to social justice issues, some artists told him they wanted to honor jazz artists who were also lost to COVID-19. 

Also devastating to the jazz community has been the loss of musicians, particularly the genre’s elders. Among those lost in the early months of the pandemic include Ellis Marsalis Jr., Henry Grimes, Lee Konitz, Wallace Roney, Bucky Pizzarelli, Manu Dibango, Onaje Allan Gumbs and Giuseppi Logan, as well as jazz promoters throughout the city. 

As the Jazz Coalition is envisioned as an international community, many of the supporters and members come from the U.K., Europe, South America and Africa. 

In his discussions with European Jazz Coalition supporters, particularly because he is dedicated to ensuring a diverse pool of Commission Fund nominees including international artists, was that many named U.S. artists because they’ve largely been ignored in American relief efforts, unlike in most European countries.   

“We are proud of creating a network of really thoughtful supporters who very much value the jazz community and want to do whatever they can for these people and organizations, venues, artists, musicians and even some foundations that have supported,” Rosenbloom says.

“When all is said and written about these times and all the unknowns, we hope that by creating this work it creates an emotional response that gives it a stamp in time that this is what we’re all experiencing together. That’s what music does. The power of music gives an emotional grounding and, ideally, emotional songs create a joy that is uplifting.”

To contribute to the Jazz Coalition Commision Fund, go to JazzCoalition.org