The NEA has been addressing the need to give jazz more exposure with its NEA Jazz Masters Live initiative. Started in 2008, NEA Jazz Masters Live provides opportunities for audiences to hear jazz, but with a focus on creating more intimate opportunities for audiences to get to know these great American artists through multiple-event, extended engagements. Terri Pontremoli, executive and artistic director of the Detroit International Jazz Festival, an NEA Jazz Masters Live grantee, said, "The NEA Jazz Masters themselves really do embrace the notion of reaching people through education and their stories and the things they have to say. And the fact that people have access to these artists, where they're actually able to shake their hand and have them sign an old record or a CD, is really meaningful and you don't always get that in performance situations."
Pontremoli described NEA Jazz Masters Live as a "perfect fit" for Detroit's festival. Taking place over four days, the festival not only includes performances, but a Jazz Talk Tent, where audiences can become more educated about the performers they hear and the history of the music. For 2009, the festival's 30th anniversary, the free festival included seven NEA Jazz Masters: Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea, Jimmy Heath, Hank Jones, Wayne Shorter, and Gerald Wilson. Getting such talent isn't easy financially, but the support of an NEA Jazz Masters Live grant made it possible. Pontremoli said, "It helps us as an organization to be able to say, ‘Hey, we have NEA Jazz Masters support.' That's meaningful in leveraging other funding."
With this support, the festival was able to have Wayne Shorter both perform and appear at the Jazz Talk Tent, a rare appearance according to Pontremoli. In the Detroit News, an article about the festival stated, "The festival has scored some coups this year and getting saxophonist Wayne Shorter is one of them. At age 76, he may be a gray eminence but, trust me, the emphasis is on eminence." Such opportunities are exceptional for tried and true jazz fans, but it also goes a long way in creating bonds with new jazz audiences. "Truly, for the kids that come to play at our festival, all the high school band kids and college band kids, to come and to have that kind of access to the Jazz Masters is really special," said Pontremoli.
At the Detroit International Jazz Festival, the NEA Jazz Masters play an important part in diverse lineups that include both established and emerging artists. By engaging these NEA Jazz Masters as part of their events, the grant recipients are making a commitment to supporting the future of jazz and those who helped develop the art form. NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Heath sees value in performing at such festivals where there's a range of musicians presented. He describes the younger musicians as "just super performers. And they will eventually bring in some of their younger audiences. And if we happen to be performing at the same time, we'll be exposed as the veterans or, in some cases, the creators of the music."
At the heart of the NEA Jazz Masters Live program is the opportunity to not only bring greater visibility to the NEA Jazz Masters' incredible artistic skill, but also to give audiences new and exciting insights into the history and culture of jazz as only these artists can provide. And, as a result of these events, the NEA hopes to create a new generation of jazz fans. As Heath says, "Every time you make an appearance, you make an impression."