Thursday, July 11, 2013

2014 NEA Jazz Masters announced

l2r: Jamey Aebersold, Anthony Braxton,
Richard Davis, Keith Jarrett
From the Dept. of Better Late than Never: the National Endowment for the Arts has announced the 2014 NEA Jazz Masters, the nation's highest award in jazz.

I'm always genuinely happy to read this list of names, and not only because the Jazz Masters program was in jeopardy as recently as February 2011, when it was eliminated from President Obama's 2012 budget proposal, to be replaced by a lame-o, all-purpose American Artists of the Year honor. We could have said goodbye right then to any significant recognition for jazz artists that didn't have Doris Duke's name attached, or occasionally MacArthur. But then the House Budget Committee did a surprising thing in June 2011 and directed the NEA to restore funding for the Jazz Masters. So Charlie Haden, Jack DeJohnette, Sheila Jordan, Jimmy Owens, and Von Freeman, who took the Jazz Masters honors in 2012, weren't the last class after all. They were followed in 2013 by Mose Allison, Lou Donaldson, Lorraine Gordon (owner of the Village Vanguard), and Eddie Palmieri. They in turn will be followed in 2014 by Anthony Braxton, Richard Davis, Keith Jarrett, and Jamey Aebersold.

What a wonderful thing it is to be acknowledged and applauded as a Jazz Master. By the time most Masters are named, they are late in their careers. The award carries a $25,000 prize, a lot of money for most jazz musicians. It opens the door to more high-profile appearances, some funded in part by the NEA Jazz Masters Live program managed by Arts Midwest in Minneapolis. It's an honor that never expires, for which the glow never fades. (Had the program been axed in 2012, that would not have been the case.) It's something every jazz artist can aspire to. As Kurt Elling said during an interview in 2012, "When we talk about awards, that's the kind of thing people like me need to see in place so there is another thing to shoot for."

Probably for budget reasons, the annual number of Jazz Masters seems to have settled at four, down from five in 2012 and as many as eight in 2010 (nine in 2011, if you count the individual members of the Marsalis Family, which was given the honor collectively). Four is an okay number. Six would be better.

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