National Endowment for the Arts’ Support of Jazz

NEA Jazz Masters PosterThe National Endowment for the Arts has supported jazz artists and organizations since 1969, providing millions of dollars in grants and awards.

Since 1982, the NEA has presented the NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship Awards, the nation’s highest honor to those who have devoted their lives and careers to jazz, an art form uniquely rooted in American history and culture. Described by The New York Times as a “rare public accolade for jazz”, the recipients represent a wide variety of musical distinction, from singers and percussionists, to vibraphonists and saxophonists, to, in recent years, jazz critics, scholars, and managers—all of whom have shaped and grown the jazz art form through their lifelong commitment.

In 2004, the NEA significantly expanded its NEA Jazz Initiative and in 2005 created the NEA Jazz Masters Initiative, a comprehensive program of jazz support that includes the NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship  Award; NEA Jazz Masters Live, a series of performances, audience outreach, and educational engagements in selected communities, featuring NEA Jazz Masters; radio programming featuring NEA Jazz Masters; a compilation 2-CD set produced by Verve Music Group; educational resources through the NEA Jazz in the Schools toolkit and online curriculum; and publications and reports.


In January 2006 the NEA and Jazz at Lincoln Center launched NEA Jazz in the Schools, a free, five unit, multi-media curriculum that explores jazz as an indigenous American art form and a means to understand American history. It is available at The toolkit version includes a CD, DVD, teacher’s guide, and poster and can be ordered through the website. Since the program’s inception, 20,000 toolkits have been distributed, reaching almost 8.4 million students. In addition, hundreds of visitors per month use the curriculum online. Each unit includes an introductory video; a lesson essay; links to audio-visual resources such as musical excerpts and period photographs; and a teacher’s guide with cross-curricular activities, assessment methods, and student activities. Lesson units meet national curriculum standards in five subject areas: U.S. history, social studies, arts education/music, civics and government, and geography.


NEA Jazz Masters Live grants support performance and educational activities featuring NEA Jazz Masters, recipients of the nation's highest honor in jazz. The program, administered by Arts Midwest, celebrates these living legends who have made exceptional contributions to the advancement of jazz, and offers audiences the unique opportunity to share the artists' expertise in performances, master classes, clinics, lectures, and short-term residencies.

NEA Jazz Masters Live is a continuation of the successful NEA Jazz Masters on Tour program that was started in 2004 in partnership with Arts Midwest. Between 2005 and 2007, 28 Jazz Masters toured around the country, resulting in 193 performances, plus accompanying education and outreach programs. More than 165,000 people saw a jazz performance -- many for the first time -- as a result of this program, including more than 40,000 youth, creating new audiences for this American art form. Since 2008, NEA Jazz Masters Live has reached more than 155,000 people, including more than 8,000 youth. So far, 41 NEA Jazz Masters have participated with performances and educational activities. See the 2012 Grants Press Release for more information on this year's program.


The NEA produces NEA Jazz Moments, 30-90 second interstitials consisting of musical excerpts and short interviews with NEA Jazz Masters and other artists about the Masters’ music and influence on the field. These can be downloaded at no cost to any public, community, college, or low power FM radio stations through the Public Radio Exchange (PRX). To date, 175 Jazz Moments are available.

In April 2006, Legends of Jazz launched on public television —the first new jazz series on television in 40 years. Hosted by musician, radio personality, and NEA Jazz Master Ramsey Lewis (2007), the series brought together master musicians and jazz personalities for an intimate half hour conversation and live music performance. The series was introduced in 2005 with a pilot program featuring NEA Jazz Masters. In April 2008, the series continued with a program devoted to the 2007 NEA Jazz Masters. Legends of Jazz was produced by LRSmedia in partnership with WTTW National Productions.


The Arts Endowment produces an illustrated publication with profiles and discography highlights of all 114 NEA Jazz Masters. The publication includes a CD with samples of NEA Jazz Moments and is available at no charge in hard copy or as a downloaded in PDF-format.

The NEA also partners with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History to produce – and make accessible to the public at no charge – in-depth interviews with NEA Jazz Masters. Established by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in 1992, the Jazz Oral History Program has documented more than one hundred senior jazz musicians, performers, relatives, and business associates—including 52 NEA Jazz Masters. The interviews average six hours in length and cover a wide range of topics including early years, initial involvement in music, as well as experiences in the jazz music world and relationships with their peers. Visit for sample audio clips and full transcripts of featured oral history interviews.