Bassist Ed Howard is a Washington anomaly. He's among a handful of area jazzmen applying for National Endowment for the Arts grants.

And that makes NEA jazz director Aida Chapman happy. Lately she's been disappointed at the feeble response of Washington area jazz musicians to the NEA's grant program.

Chapman and Howard came face to face recently at a grantsmanship conference co-sponsored by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. cThe meeting was designed to acquaint musicians with available grants and application procedures. Chapman suggested the conference because "last year we only had three applications from the Washington area."

Still, only about 10 musicians showed up for the meeting, and among them was 20-year-old Howard, who's been playing bass for six years.

He wants a study-apprenticeship grant to learn at the feet of Buster Williams or Cecil McBee, two of the finest young bassists, and expects to move to New York next week to be closer to them.

"I need to continue learning about jazz," says Howard. "I want to keep my creativity open.

"Most of my training has been on the bandstand. Except for studying with Marshall Hawkins for about six months, I've taught myself."

Chapman, who has set into motion a whirlwind crusade for jazz since coming to NEA 10 months ago, wants to stir interest among District jazzmen but isn't sure how she'll do it.

Recently, she has been traveling to other cities to drum up applicant interest.

"Four hundred people turned out in Chicago for two different sessions," she says with a smile of achievement. "And 200 turned out in Los Angeles, one day and the next day at a reception there were 150."

A New Yorker, Chapman says, "I could call five people there and a thousand would show up. Last year we had applications for $2 million just from New York City. And we only give out $1 million."

The problem may be, says Chapman, that Washington is not a jazz town, not even a city for music, as New York and Los Angeles are. Also, she says the musicians' union in Los Angeles has been active in drumming up interest in the endowment program.

"Here in Washington, the jazz community isn't identifiable," she adds. "There's a lot of individual pockets. And the methods used by the D.C. Commission on the Arts haven't penetrated the jazz community."

Howard got the word anyway. He needs the grant money to pay for lessons and travel expenses to New York. But Howard isn't the classic case of a destitute artist needing a handout.

"My financial situation has been very good lately," he says. "I've been working, weekends mostly. And I've got some things lined up for July. At least I've been able to quit my day job [as a furniture mover].

"I'm a very economical person. I don't spend money on a lot of foolish things. I noticed that when I was working regularly as a tie dyer, I spent more money than I had to.

"I could save a little by staying with my mother. But I want to keep my integrity as a self-sufficient person."

So he's been working sporadically at local clubs like Beverly's, the Golden Booeymonger, Blues Alley and Mr. Y's.

Pianist Lawrence Wheatley, leader of a now-inactive big band called Homemade Jam that included Howard, says, "He's coming right along. He has good drive and I think he can be an excellent bassist. He's a deserving musician."