National Endowment for the Arts Celebrates 30th Anniversary of NEA Jazz Masters Program with Special Performances

Concert will be webcast and radio broadcast live

New York, NY—At the 2012 NEA Jazz Masters Awards Ceremony & Concert on January 10, 2012, the National Endowment for the Arts not only welcomed five new inductees into this elite group, but also celebrated 30 years of celebrating jazz and the innovative artists who have perpetuated and grown this art form. Held at Rose Theaterin Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, nearly 40 previously named NEA Jazz Masters attended and more than 15 – including three of this year’s inductees – joined the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis in a program of works that were also all composed by NEA Jazz Masters. The concert was webcast and broadcast live and an archive will be available at

The 2012 NEA Jazz Masters are drummer, keyboardist, and composer Jack DeJohnette; saxophonist Von Freeman; bassist, composer, and educator Charlie Haden; vocalist and educator Sheila Jordan; and educator, trumpeter, flugelhornist, composer, and arranger Jimmy Owens, recipient of the 2012 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy.

The evening began with a performance by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra of “Things to Come” by Dizzy Gillespie, a member of the 1982 inaugural class of NEA Jazz Masters. Joining the orchestra was 2007 NEA Jazz Master Phil Woods and saxophonist Grace Kelly, a four-time recipient of ASCAP Foundation’s Young Jazz Composers Award and four consecutive years as the "Best Jazz Act” in the FNX/Phoenix Best Music Poll. Ms. Kelly was the first of three up-and-coming jazz musicians to join the NEA Jazz Masters in performances. As Ramsey Lewis, a 2007 NEA Jazz Master, welcomed the guests to the concert, he explained, " Tonight is a night to say 'Thank You' for giving us this opportunity to pass on the torch, for it is a night of saluting our past while embracing our future and it truly is a night to celebrate." 

Lewis then introduced the nearly 40 NEA Jazz Masters as well as the widows of NEA Jazz Masters who were in attendance. Rocco Landesman, chairman of the NEA, introduced the 2012 NEA Jazz Masters and announced the 12 organizations who will receive 2012 NEA Jazz Masters Live grants in support of performance and educational activities featuring NEA Jazz Masters. He said, "At the NEA, we want to ensure that every American has the opportunity to enjoy our Jazz Masters in person. And that is why tonight I am pleased to announce $135,000 is being awarded to 12 organizations across our country that will create live events over the coming year with our NEA Jazz Masters."

Following these remarks, each of the 2012 NEA Jazz Masters were lauded with a video bio celebrating their lives and careers and presented with their awards by fellow NEA Jazz Masters. 2010 NEA Jazz Master Muhal Richard Abrams presented Jack DeJohnette with his award and described meeting Jack in the 1960s and being impressed by his musicality. DeJohnette said that to be "honored for playing and writing the best honor I could receive." Following this, 2011 NEA Jazz Master Hubert Laws and 1998 NEA Jazz Master Ron Carter performed Laws’s “Memory of Minnie” and Carter’s “Little Waltz”. This performance was one of several new musical collaborations during the evening. As Jazz at Lincoln Center Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis explained, "Every moment on stage is a Moment of Firsts, where improvisation occurs during and in between the notes. In that spirit of discovery, tonight will be a night of historic firsts, where some of our esteemed Jazz Masters will collaborate on the bandstand for the first time."

Although Von Freeman was unable to attend the awards ceremony, his sons Mark and Chico Freeman accepted the award on his behalf. 1996 NEA Jazz Master Benny Golson introduced Mark and Chico, and described their father as having "something special...he went beyond himself, poured himself out like a gift offering." In his remarks, Mark described asking his father what gives him the energy to keep playing. Von Freeman answered, "For the love of the music."

Next, jazz advocate A. B. Spellman recognized the NEA Jazz Masters who were unable to attend the concert, especially those who passed away in the last year – Bob Brookmeyer (2006), Frank Foster (2002), and Snooky Young (2009).  He said, "We salute all of our past NEA Jazz Masters – your spirit and contributions to jazz live on." Spellman's speech was followed by Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s performance of Horace Silver’s (1995 NEA Jazz Master) “Senor Blues”, arranged by Carlos Henriquez, with guest artists Toshiko Akiyoshi, Candido Camero, Dave Liebman (2007, 2008, and 2011 NEA Jazz Masters, respectively), and Ambrose Akinmusire, trumpeter and winner of the 2007 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition and the 2007 Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Solo Competition.

Charlie Haden was also unable to be in New York to accept his award but his daughter Petra Haden accepted on his behalf. Writer Stanley Crouch also spoke about Haden's contributions, saying, "I think the great virtue of [his] playing is his sound...As soon as you hear his sound you have a musical experience." 2010 NEA Jazz Masters Bobby Hutcherson and Kenny Barron then performed 1999 NEA Jazz Master Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way”.

Fellow jazz singer Jon Hendricks (1993 NEA Jazz Master) presented Sheila Jordan with her award, saying she "began right away to utilize her instrument of choice: her voice." In Jordan's remarks, she thanked the young musicians working in jazz saying, "You will keep this music alive." The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra then played “Magic" by 2007 NEA Jazz Master Frank Wess, in tribute to 2007 NEA Jazz Master Frank Foster and 1983 NEA Jazz Master Count Basie. Joining the orchestra was Wess and fellow NEA Jazz Master Benny Golson (1996), as well as pianist Kris Bowers who won the 2011 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition and is the first recipient of the Luther Henderson Scholarship at Juilliard.

The final award of the evening, the A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy was presented to Jimmy Owens by 2000 NEA Jazz Master David Baker, who described Owens' support of the jazz field through his work with providing jazz musicians with access to healthcare and pension benefits. Owens described this work in further detail then performed a short tribute on the trumpet to NEA Jazz Masters who have passed away and, in particular, Billy Taylor. He then joined his fellow 2012 NEA Jazz Masters Sheila Jordan and Jack DeJohnette, along with 1998 NEA Jazz Master Ron Carter for 1984 NEA Jazz Master Ornette Coleman’s “When Will the Blues Leave”.

Lastly, Rocco Landesman announced the final song of the evening, 1986 NEA Jazz Master Benny Carter’s “Again and Again”, played by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as a photo montage of moments from previous years of NEA Jazz Masters events played on the screens.


Liz Auclair, NEA