Since 1982, the National Endowment for the Arts has awarded Jazz Masters Fellowships, the nation’s highest honor in jazz, to individuals who have made significant contributions to America’s classical music. Last week, the 2019 Jazz Masters were announced.
The 2019 NEA Jazz Masters are:
Bob Dorough, vocalist, composer, arranger and pianist
Abdullah Ibrahim, pianist and composer
Maria Schneider, composer, arranger, and bandleader
Stanley Crouch, jazz historian, author, critic, and co-founder of Jazz at Lincoln Center
NEA Acting Chairman Mary Anne Carter said:
The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to celebrate jazz, an art form born in the United States that has since been embraced worldwide. These four new NEA Jazz Masters have been key players in jazz throughout their lives and careers, ensuring that the music will continue to grow and reach new audiences.
The honorees will be celebrated at a free tribute concert on April 15, 2019 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in DC. For more info, go here.
The celebration kicked off with the NEA Jazz Masters Listening Party at NPR, moderated by Jason Moran. The Jazz Masters and Fitz Gitler (representing his father) were joined in conversation by musicians whose lives they have influenced. They generously – and humorously – shared stories about their musical journey.
On April 3, the NEA held a tribute concert in the Jazz Masters’ honor at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
While joy filled the air, there are some discordant notes. If the NEA is defunded, the Class of 2017 may be the last Jazz Masters. The New York Times reported:
President Trump’s budget proposal last month called for eliminating the endowment entirely — the first time any president has proposed such a step. While some members of Congress in his own Republican Party have opposed the move, it is a reminder of the agency’s vulnerability.
Created in 1965, the endowment provides funding to arts organizations, including jazz projects that are supported with dozens of grants each year. It also sends nearly half of its funding budget to regional arts organizations that disperse funds themselves.
The NEA can’t advocate for its own survival. So, as jazz and film critic Gary Giddins noted, it’s “jazz advocacy of the hip, by the hip and for the hip shall not perish from the Earth.”
In collaboration with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the NEA will celebrate the 2017 NEA Jazz Masters at a tribute concert on Monday, April 3. The event will be live-streamed beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET at arts.gov and Kennedy-Center.org. The concert will be broadcast live on SiriusXM Channel 67, Real Jazz.
The celebration will be moderated by Kennedy Center Artistic Director for Jazz Jason Moran, who said in a statement:
This will be another special celebration for people who have been integral to the ever evolving stage of jazz. From the journalist, to the innovator, each of the honorees has demonstrated a timeless devotion to jazz ethics. Each honoree arrives at the music from a different avenue and helps focus the audience’s vision of as the music continues to evolve. Kudos to the NEA for continuing to honor artists who have devoted their livelihoods to contributing to the cultural fabric of America.
The tribute concert will feature conversations with the 2017 NEA Jazz Masters alongside musicians whose lives they have influenced. The performers will include NEA Jazz Masters Paquito D’Rivera and Lee Konitz; National Medal of Arts recipient and Kennedy Center Honoree Jessye Norman; vocalist Dianne Reeves; multi-instrumentalist Booker T. Jones; Sherrie Maricle and the Diva Jazz Orchestra; and Hammond B-3 artist Matthew Whitaker, a 15-year-old protégé of Dr. Lonnie Smith.
The free concert is “sold out.” You can view a live-stream of the event beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET at arts.gov, Kennedy-Center.org and NPR.org/Music. The concert will be broadcast live on SiriusXM Channel 67, Real Jazz.
The 2016 NEA Jazz Masters were honored at a tribute concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
This year’s class includes Archie Shepp who grew up in West Philadelphia. During an NEA interview, Shepp talked about jazz and Philadelphia:
The music that we call jazz has always been important in the African American community, especially in the poorer neighborhoods.
There was a lot of racism and prejudice, but a lot of music, a lot of blues and some good times. Music was all over Philadelphia. You could go down to North Philadelphia and hear young John Coltrane or Johnny Coles, Jimmy Oliver, Jimmy Heath. I suppose that’s what jazz is all about, suffering and good times, and somehow making the best of all of that.
At the tribute concert for Benny Carter, I got a chance to spend some time with Shepp during the break. He reminisced about the jam sessions at the Heath Brothers’ Family Home. He shared that he learned how to play chords from Coltrane and Lee Morgan.
Truth be told, Philadelphia’s contribution to jazz is mostly an untold story. We must capture stories about Philly’s jazz scene while those who know the history are still here.