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


2012 NEA Jazz Masters Jack DeJohnette, Sheila Jordan, and Jimmy Owens at the 2012 NEA Jazz Masters awards ceremony and concert on January 10, 2012 at Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Not pictured: Von Freeman and Charlie Haden. Photo by Michael G. Stewart

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 jazz and its importance in American culture.  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 is archived in our NEA Jazz Masters web section.

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 event, produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center, 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 17-year-old saxophonist Grace Kelly. 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 families 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 tribute celebrating their lives and were introduced by fellow NEA Jazz Masters. 2010 NEA Jazz Master Muhal Richard Abrams introduced Jack DeJohnette by describing his meeting with Jack in the 1960s and  how impressed he was 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’ “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 Freeman and Chico Freeman accepted the award on his behalf. 1996 NEA Jazz Master Benny Golson introduced Mark and Chico, who 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, A. B. Spellman recognized the NEA Jazz Masters who were unable to attend the concert, and 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) “Señor 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.

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 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 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, winner of the 2011 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition and first recipient of the Luther Henderson Scholarship at The Juilliard School.

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 flugelhorn to NEA Jazz Masters who have passed away and, in particular, Dr. 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.”

To close the historic night, Rocco Landesman announced the final song, 1986 NEA Jazz Master Benny Carter’s “Again and Again,” played by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra; a photo montage of moments from previous NEA Jazz Masters programs played behind.

About NEA Jazz Masters

Each year since 1982, the Arts Endowment has conferred the NEA Jazz Masters Award to living legends who have made major contributions to jazz. With this new class, 124 awards have been given to great figures of jazz in America, including Count Basie, Dave Brubeck, Sonny Rollins, and Nancy Wilson.

NEA Jazz Masters are selected from nominations submitted by the public and receive a one-time fellowship award of $25,000, are honored at a public awards ceremony, and may participate in NEA-sponsored promotional, performance, and educational activities. Only living musicians or jazz advocates may be nominated for the NEA Jazz Masters honor.

In addition to NEA Jazz in the Schools, a partnership with Jazz at Lincoln Center, the NEA’s jazz programs include NEA Jazz Masters Live, a series of performance and educational engagements in selected communities, featuring NEA Jazz Masters; radio programming featuring NEA Jazz Masters; and publications and reports. For more information on NEA Jazz Masters, the public is invited to visit the website.

The National Endowment for the Arts was established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government. To date, the NEA has awarded more than $4 billion to support artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities. The NEA extends its work through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector. To join the discussion on how art works, visit the NEA at

Jazz at Lincoln Center is dedicated to inspiring and growing audiences for jazz.  With the world-renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and a comprehensive array of guest artists, Jazz at Lincoln Center advances a unique vision for the continued development of the art of jazz by producing a year-round schedule of performance, education, and broadcast events for audiences of all ages.  These productions include concerts, national and international tours, residencies, weekly national radio programs, television broadcasts, recordings, publications, an annual high school jazz band competition and festival, a band director academy, jazz appreciation curriculum for students, music publishing, children's concerts and classes, lectures, adult education courses, student and educator workshops, and interactive websites.  Under the leadership of Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis and Chairman Lisa Schiff Jazz at Lincoln Center produces thousands of events each season in its home in New York City, Frederick P. Rose Hall, and around the world.  For more information, visit


Liz Auclair, NEA

Related Content

Click here for high-resolution images from the 2012 NEA Jazz Masters awards ceremony and concert.