Angels and the Arts

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I was visiting recently with a friend about angels. Not the Gabriel types, with trumpets blaring, or the ones like Clarence waiting to get their wings, or the baseball players, or the celestial host hovering over millions of tiny creches at Christmas time.

No, we were talking about that critical group of patrons of the arts who invest their disposable income (or in some case their income that isn’t so disposable) to promote the Fine Arts and enrich our lives by elevating our universal culture.

Now I realize that some of these vital folks are merely gamblers hoping for a tidy profit on their speculation and a few do it for self-aggrandizement. However, many are genuinely altruistic and they beneficently donate to perpetuate the finer elements of our human endeavors. We know some of them as names scrolling past our screens before a Public Television program. Whatever their motivation, as the Arts become ever more costly and government support wanes, we are increasingly dependent on the generous beneficence of angels to fund artistic projects.

The problem often isn’t so much that the majority of our population is too busy or too self-centered to care. It is that people are increasingly becoming too intellectually unsophisticated to discern the maggots feeding on manure from orchids growing out of compost. They not only do not assist the arts, they do great harm supporting trash and calling it art. With more dollars than sense they declare because a cactus has thorns it must be a rose. (I have nothing against cactus, some of my best friends are cacti…I’m just trying to make the point.)

Some recent examples of true Angels of the Arts come to mind. I noted a few months back when Max Keenlyside established a “Go Fund Me” page on the Internet to raise money to go to the Buenos Aires Ragtime and Jazz Festival, that he raised the necessary funds in a matter of hours and even exceeded his goal. Then he “angeled” back the excess to the Festival.

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Currently, my favorite example however is Danny Matson and his creative “Buying Rags Project.” Several years ago he began paying modest commissions to encourage composers to write and record new rags. Then Bryan Wright at Rivermont Records agreed to produce a CD of the new works. The two made a great collaboration and the result was the first Ragtime Wizardry CD featuring eighteen new compositions. Danny is now well along on the second round of his project to be titled Victorian Gardens Ragtime.

(See a Review of Ragtime Wizardry on Rivermont)

By the way, I note some familiar names among the Rivermont sponsors of Danny’s first CD: Ronald Bottomly, Brooks Christensen, Glenn Robison, Andres Vaart, and TST’s own Bill Hoffman. As an aside I should point out that several of the established composers on the CD are also Angels of the Arts.

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All this has taken Danny many hours and thousands of his dollars thus qualifying him for Archangel status. It is for both this contribution and for his creativity in conceiving a project that encourages new ragtime compositions and notability for the composers. He would never seek this celestial designation but that doesn’t diminish his worthiness.

I am very fond of Zuzu Bailey’s famous line in It’s A Wonderful Life, when she remarks, “every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” So let’s ring some bells out there and follow Danny’s example by creatively helping to promote the Arts (ragtime and jazz in particular) in the coming year.

We can help the many talented performers and groups find paying engagements (and don’t forget to cover expenses over actual performance fees.) Or, perhaps we might individually commission a new composition. These would make great remembrances or birthday gifts.

For the really ambitious angels, how about starting up a regular ragtime and/or jazz event. Take a look at the “Festival Roundup” pages in this issue of The Syncopated Times and try to plan something in the vicinity of an existing event that will use some of the same headliners without detracting from the established event’s attendance.

And for the freelance writers out there, consider producing articles on performers or musical styles for focused periodicals, promotional publications, and even in-house newsletters. Anything that will inform the public about this great music and aid the artists will be appreciated.

Finally, don’t be shy about passing along some of your disposable income to the many struggling artists out there. It is all appreciated and as an Angel of the Arts you might just be supporting a future National Medal of Arts or Medal of Freedom recipient. Support the Arts in 2018 and have a healthy, fulfilled and joyful year.


Larry Melton can be reached at [email protected]


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