I had a long conversation with trumpeter Jimmy Owens in preparation for a feature in the January issue of Hot House, which is just out. He had far more to talk about than there was space for in the profile. He’s getting the A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy at the NEA Jazz Masters event January 10 at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall.
It is very well deserved. Owens’ involvement as an advocate regarding the rights of jazz artists led to the founding of the Jazz Musician's Emergency Fund, a Jazz Foundation of America program that helps individual musicians with medical, financial and housing assistance. He is also actively involved in issues related to pension benefits for jazz artists. Earlier, he co-founded The Collective Black Artists Inc., which kept 18 musicians working - touring up and down the East Coast and as far west as Chicago and Detroit. He also taught a business course on things that made a difference economically and control-wise for their lives.
Speaking off health issues, here’s what he also has to say about the current health of the jazz recording industry:
“There are no real jazz record companies and the majors call a few artists ‘jazz’ now and then,” Owens told me. “Artists are now saying, ‘I’m not going to wait any more. I’ll make my own.’ Now we have some really great self-produced recordings, and some pieces of shit. It is relatively inexpensive to make your own CD and press 500 or 1,000 copies. Sometimes they are really good, sometimes they are mediocre, and sometimes they are really bad. This is the state of the record industry and jazz. It’s not a very good state that we’re in today.”
Some would argue that the points he makes extend far beyond jazz.