NEA Arts Magazine

Hailing the New Masters

The 2009 NEA Jazz Masters Awards Ceremony in New York

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Lee Konitz playing saxophone in performance 

NEA Jazz Master Lee Konitz performs "Body and Soul" with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at the 2009 NEA Jazz Masters awards ceremony. Photo by Tom Pich

More than 20 NEA Jazz Masters assembled in New York City on October 17, 2008, to celebrate the 2009 class of NEA Jazz Masters: vocalist and guitarist George Benson, drummer James "Jimmy" Cobb, saxophonist Lee Konitz, harmonica and guitar player Jean Baptiste "Toots" Tielemans, trumpeter Eugene Edward "Snooky" Young, and recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder, the recipient of the A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy.

The festivities opened with a symposium on the future of jazz moderated by poet, jazz historian, and former NEA Deputy Chairman A.B. Spellman. Panelists included NEA Jazz Masters David Baker and Billy Taylor, jazz musicians Nicole Mitchell and Helen Sung, Executive Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center Adrian Ellis, and Executive Director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem Loren Schoenberg. The lively discussion focused on jazz education and the belief that more Americans deserve the opportunity to hear and explore jazz. Following the symposium, Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) hosted the NEA Jazz Masters for a luncheon at the Russian Tea Room, allowing the master musicians to reconnect with old friends and band mates, share on and off-stage anecdotes, and welcome the new class of NEA Jazz Masters.

The camaraderie among the musicians was especially evident during the evening's awards ceremony and concert, held in the Rose Teater at Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, the NEA's partner for the 2009 celebration. Following the annual pre-concert conversation with the new honorees, and a procession of all of the NEA Jazz Masters present, each of the 2009 recipients was presented with his award by a previous honoree. Tom McIntosh recollected hearing George Benson's father boast about his talented son; Gerald Wilson described how his grandchildren refer to Snooky Young as "Uncle Snooky;" and Phil Woods quipped of his fellow saxophonist, "If anyone was ever overqualified to be a Jazz Master, it's Lee Konitz."

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis saluted each 2009 honoree with a special selection that reflected his style or career. NEA Jazz Masters Candido Camero and Tom McIntosh also took the stage along with four of the evening's honorees, including Toots Tielemans, whose harmonica version of "What a Wonderful World" brought the house to its feet. Lee Konitz took the stage after Tielemans, asking, "How do you follow that?" before giving a performance of "Body and Soul" described by the New York Times as "a quiet astonishment, both inventive and respectful." For the more than 1,000 people in attendance, as well as the thousands more who listened to the live broadcast on WBGO and Sirius XM, the immense skill and experience of each NEA Jazz Master testified to exactly how deserving each recipient was of our nation's highest honor in the field of jazz.