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Murray Reviving a Familiar Tune in State Legislature : Lawmaking: Paramount assemblyman again introduces a bill to establish a jazz institute at Cal State Long Beach.

March 28, 1993|MARK GLADSTONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Assemblyman Willard H. Murray (D-Paramount) is reviving an old legislative tune, hoping that Gov. Pete Wilson will find the melody more harmonious than he did last year.

Murray, a jazz buff, has once again authored a bill to establish an Institute for Preservation of Jazz as an Artform at Cal State Long Beach.

Although some might question his efforts at a time when the state is struggling with lingering economic and social problems, Murray makes no apologies for his proposal, saying that the state should play a role in celebrating and preserving jazz.

"It's the only purely American art form with special significance to one segment of the community, the Afro-American community," he said recently. "It's one of the contributions that Afro-Americans have made to American society."

Last September, Wilson sounded a sour note for Murray when he vetoed a similar measure that had sailed through the Legislature. Wilson argued that with the state having just survived a historic budget crisis, the proposed institute would be an inappropriate use of public funds.

While Murray's original bill did not spell out the precise costs to the state of the institute, some taxpayer funds would have been used in its set-up and maintenance.

In reintroducing his proposal, Murray is emphasizing that his bill would not specifically commit any public funds to the institute. Still, by operating it at a state university, some public costs would be involved. And the legislation would allow the institute to seek funds from a variety of sources, including grants and contributions from federal, state and local governments, as well as private donors.

According to one legislative estimate, the institute's start-up costs, including staffing and office expenditures, would be about $100,000.

As Murray pressed his measure last year, the then-president of Cal State Long Beach, Curtis McCray, pledged to raise $50,000 from private donors for the project. Acting President Karl W. E. Anatol, who replaced McCray in January, has said that he would honor that commitment, according to a campus spokeswoman.

It remains unclear where supporters would find the remaining $50,000 to get the project off the ground.

The idea for the institute grew out of a 1991 hearing held by the Legislative Black Caucus on ways the state could preserve jazz and foster an interest in the music, especially among young people.

Murray said the institute, as he envisions it, would help preserve jazz and stimulate interest in it by promoting jazz education and setting up an archive for jazz artifacts.

The Assembly's Higher Education Committee is scheduled to conduct the first legislative hearing on Murray's new bill Tuesday.

Scott Plotkin, director of government affairs for the Cal State system, acknowledged that given the state's financial problems, the Murray measure "is not on our front burner." Nor could he estimate how much it might cost the Long Beach campus in administrative and maintenance costs to house a jazz institute.

But he said the university system supports Murray's bill, as it did last year.

Murray shrugged off questions about whether the state could afford the costs of running a jazz institute.

"There's a lot of money in the state budget," he said. "I mean, there's $50 billion. . . . We don't have enough money to do everything we'd like to do, but there is still a lot of money. The universities are still going to be functioning."

As part of his renewed effort to win the governor's signature on his bill, Murray has launched an unusual public relations campaign aimed at rallying support from celebrities. Those already endorsing his pet project include Wynton Marsalis, an internationally acclaimed jazz trumpeter, and Buddy Collette, a Los Angeles-based jazz composer and musician.

Murray also recently sent out a letter soliciting celebrity backing.

It remains unclear whether Wilson will become star-struck. Franz Wisner, a spokesman for the governor, said that in general, Wilson doesn't take positions on bills until they reach his desk.

Another unknown is whether Wilson has much of a taste for jazz. All Wisner could say is that the governor definitely enjoys singing show tunes with his wife, who plays piano.

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