NEA Jazz Masters

Make a Nomination

The NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship is the highest honor that our nation bestows upon jazz musicians. Each year since 1982, the program has elevated to its ranks a select number of living legends who have made exceptional contributions to the advancement of jazz.

The Arts Endowment will honor musicians who represent a range of styles and instruments. In addition, one fellowship -- the A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy -- will be given to an individual who has made major contributions to the appreciation, knowledge, and advancement of the American jazz art form. In 2006, this award was designated in honor of A. B. Spellman, a jazz writer, accomplished poet, innovative arts administrator, and former NEA Deputy Chairman, who has dedicated much of his life to bringing the joy and artistry of jazz to all Americans.

The NEA Jazz Masters Fellowships are awarded to living individuals on the basis of nominations from the public including members of the jazz community. The NEA encourages nominations of a broad range of men and women who have been significant to the field of jazz through vocal and instrumental performance, creative leadership, and education. Successful nominees will demonstrate significant contribution to the art form through their body of work in the field of jazz.

Important Information for Nominators:

  • Nominees must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the United States.
  • Nominations of deceased individuals will not be considered.
  • Individuals who have previously received an NEA lifetime honor award (National Heritage Fellowship or an Opera Honor) are not eligible for an NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship.
  • Individuals who have previously received the National Medal of Arts are eligible for an NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship.
  • Awards will be up to $25,000 and may be received once in a lifetime.
  •  Nominators may submit one or more nomination(s) each year.
  • Only complete nomination files (including nomination letter and resume or biography) can be considered.
  • “Petition drives” for any one nominee are not acceptable. Only one submission is needed to get an individual nominated.
  • No one may nominate him/herself.
  • Nominations remain active for a total of five years unless a nominee is selected for the NEA Jazz Masters honor or passes away.
  • No payment will be made to the estate or heirs of a deceased recipient.

How to Submit a Nomination

Nominations must be submitted online. Materials that are emailed, mailed or faxed cannot be accepted.

These two items – submitted as uploads - are required:

1. A one-page nomination letter:

  • Describe the reasons why your nominee should receive an NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship.  Briefly state or list the nominee’s contributions to the field of jazz and explain why he or she deserves this national recognition. Bullet point format is acceptable for the listing of achievements.  Include your full name and contact information (email address and preferred phone number) in the letter.

2. A resume or a biographical sketch outlining the nominee’s career (not to exceed two pages).

  • Upload the nomination letter and resume or biographical sketch in PDF file format below. The file size limit for each document is 1 MB.
  • Nominations missing either the nomination letter or the biographical sketch or resume will be not be considered.
  • Nominations missing the nominator’s name and contact information will be rejected.

Nomination Deadline

Online nominations may be made at anytime throughout the year. However, if you wish to have your nomination considered for the 2020 NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship round, it must be received by 11:59 p.m. (ET) on October 31, 2018. Fellowship recipients will be announced in 2019.

Nomination Review

Selection criteria:

  1. In the performers category: The artistic excellence and significance of a nominee’s contributions to the development and performance of jazz.
  2. In the jazz advocate category: The artistic merit of a nominee’s contributions to the appreciation, knowledge, and advancement of jazz.

Nominations are reviewed by an advisory panel of jazz experts and at least one knowledgeable layperson. Panel recommendations are forwarded to the National Council on the Arts, which then makes recommendations to the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Chairman reviews the Council's recommendations and makes the final decision on all award recipients.

Agency Contact:

NEA Jazz Masters Fellowships
National Endowment for the Arts
Katja von Schuttenbach (202) 682-5711 or