2004 NEA Jazz Masters Ceremony
NEA Chairman Dana Gioia's Remarks
January 23, 2004
I am honored by your welcome, and
especially pleased to be one of the sidemen at this historic occasion.
I mentioned earlier my official capacity of Chairman of the NEA. As
such, I'm proud to expand the NEA Jazz Masters program to one of
greater visibility and stature. But one reason I'm doing this comes
from my personal experience with jazz - which is life-long.
I grew up in a household with a dad who was a prize-winning swing and
Jitterbug dancer. I played the tenor sax and the piano.
My kid brother Ted and I recognized early that jazz was one of life's
great pleasures. He went on to become the real musician.
I wanted to be a composer. But Ted had the greater talent. So
eventually, I switched to poetry - always maintaining my love of music,
my love of jazz.
Many of you know my brother, Ted Gioia, as a distinguished jazz
musician and jazz historian.
Ted and I often look back at our respective career paths and find
ourselves well qualified to answer an age-old question:
Who is likely to earn less money, the poet or the jazz musician?
Luckily for each of us, it is the spiritual recompense that has kept us
But jazz is much more to me than a personal footnote in a sibling
I find myself in a position now to reaffirm my life-long interest and
personal conviction that jazz is one of America's greatest cultural
But jazz's greatness is not all in the past. It is still an exciting
and developing art, with the potential to feed our imaginations, fuel
our potential, replenish the creative spirit that makes us better
I want to expand the country's awareness of jazz, to use it to combat
the cultural impoverishment that threatens us.
The average 16-year old may know the names of 100 NBA stars or hip-hop
artists, but is not likely to know the names of the world's most
accomplished jazz musicians.
The NEA plans to correct that.
We need to reawaken a new generation to the greatness of this truly
American art. We need to recognize jazz, to celebrate and reward living
jazz artists - for their dedication and contribution to American
With my chairmanship of the NEA, I have a chance to do all that, and
I'm going to take that chance. With all of you as partners, we're going
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