One of the most important jazz events took place at Jazz at Lincoln Center during the week of APAP last week. The 2012 National Endowment for the Arts held their 30th anniversary of the Jazz Masters Ceremony and Concert to a sold-out crowd. The event pays tribute to the architects of jazz music both living and deceased. More importantly, the NEA gives the current inductees as well as music programs and centers all over the country, grants and funding to continue the legacy of providing the community jazz programming and education to keep the music viable to public. Including this year’s inductees, the NEA has celebrated the work and lives of 128 jazz musicians, awarded more than 2,400 jazz grants, and given over $32 million dollars over the last 30 years. A very important feat for the music that very seldom gets the notoriety or praise like other American black music such as hip-hop, soul, and the blues.
This year’s 2012 NEA Jazz Masters inductees include: Sheila Jordan, vocalist and educator; Von Freeman, tenor saxophonist and bandleader; Jack DeJohnette, drummer and pianist; Jimmy Owens, trumpeter, educator, and advocate; and Charlie Haden, bassist and bandleader.
The festivities kicked off this year in regal fashion as Rocco Landesman, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts gave the opening comments about how rich the NEA’s tradition of celebrating and commemorating of America’s only art form. 2007 NEA Jazz Master Ramsey Lewis and last year’s inductee Wynton Marsalis, artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, also gave opening comments of the historical implications of the 30th Anniversary of this year’s jazz masters ceremony.
NEA Jazz Master Phil Woods along with alto saxophonist Grace Kelly played “Things To Come” composed by former NEA Jazz Master Dizzy Gillespie. The two were backed by the stellar Jazz at Lincoln Orchestra lead by Wynton Marsalis.
Drummer Jack DeJohnette was inducted by his mentor and fellow NEA Jazz Master Muhal Richard Abrams. Abrams helped Jack as a teen study and play both the piano and drums while growing up in Chicago, Illinois. Through Abram’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, Jack developed a love and passion to play both classical and jazz music which helped him decide to play music professionally. In the mid-1960’s Jack decided to move to New York City where he played with the late Rashied Ali in the John Coltrane Quintet. He got his first taste of success when he joined saxophonist Charles Lloyd in his first quartet where he played with a young pianist named Keith Jarrett. During the late 1960’s into the 1970’s, Jack backed and recorded with the likes of Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Special Edition, New Directions, and his long association with the Keith Jarrett Trio with bassist Gary Peacock. Today, Jack is still very active and just released his latest disc “Sound Travels” on the the eOne Music label.
NEA Jazz Master Benny Golson gave the induction speech of 2012 inductee Von Freeman. Freeman, who couldn’t make this year’s ceremony due to illness, was given some praise and adoration by his sons Chico and Mark Freeman, who gave his induction speech. Earle Lavon Freeman, Sr, was born in Chicago, Illinois where he’s been a musical icon for the last 70 years. Von comes from that elite class of Chicago tenor saxophonists like Gene Ammons, Clifford Jordan, and the late Johnny Griffin. During the 1950’s he and his brothers George and Bruz were the house band at the famed Pershing Hotel in Chicago. Von played with a slew of great local musicians that included Jimmy Witherspoon, Sun Ra, and Andrew Hill. In 1972 he recorded his debut recording “Doin’ It Right Now” produced by Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Currently Von plays weekly at the New Apartment Lounge and Andy’s Jazz Club in Chicago.
Bassist and bandleader Charlie Haden has given the world of music and jazz his unique blend of originality and heart. Since he made his way on the bandstand during the late 1950’s, Haden has been a trailblazer and relentless musician always striving to take music to the next level as well as always create new forms of roots music. From his days with saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s group, the quartet recorded the landmark recording for Atlantic Records, “The Shape of Jazz to Come.” But in 1969 Haden would record one of the most ambitious jazz recordings of the time. “Liberation Music Orchestra” was a record that fused the social themes of the times as well as free jazz that spoke volumes in the jazz community. The music was arranged and composed by Carla Bley and the orchestra has been recording sporadically over the last four decades. In addition to Haden’s orchestra, the three-time Grammy Award winner also fronts Quartet West. Charlie couldn’t attend the jazz masters ceremony due to his recovery from a recent surgery. His daughter Patra read his acceptance speech and acknowledged his many accomplishments on Charlie’s behalf.
Vocalist, musical visionary, and NEA Jazz Master Jon Hendricks gave one of the most poignant speeches for his friend and contemporary, vocalist Sheila Jordan. Hendricks praised her accomplishments as a vocalist as well as keeping the vocal tradition alive by teaching the next generation of vocalists. Jordan, a Detroit native, comes from a great tradition and legacy of musicians that have made great and important strides in the world of jazz music. She developed her vocal style while singing in a local group named Skeeter, Mitch, and Jean. But it was her drive and determination that got her to move to New York City where she decided to throw herself into the thriving music scene. When she moved here she learned music theory and harmony by bassist Charles Mingus and pianist Lennie Tristano. Pianist George Russell discovered and recorded her on his “The Outer View” recording in 1962. Sheila made history by recording the first vocal record for Blue Note Records titled “Portrait of Sheila.” Throughout her career she’s recorded and performed with the Steve Kuhn Quartet and Harvie Swartz. Today she continues to teach jazz vocal workshops as well as perform all over the world.
Trumpeter and educator Jimmy Owens is having a stellar 2012 so far. His latest IPO Recordings release “The Monk Project” celebrates and focuses on the compositions of pianist Thelonious Monk. In his 50 years in the business, the 68 year-old musician has been on the front lines for the betterment for working jazz musicians. As a board and active member of the Jazz Foundation of America, part of Jimmy’s lifework has been to help musicians seek funding for medical expenses, legal assistance, housing, and steady work. He founded the Musicians Emergency Fund due to the lack of support from the arts community and serve as a means to never negate the lives of many musicians that haven’t had the support or the able means to survive. Musicians that have benefited from this generous program were Odetta, Fats Domino, Clark Terry, Freddie Hubbard, Cecil Payne, and Sweet Georgia Brown. In addition to his dedication to the JFA, he’s also been a supporter and advocate for the Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians here in New York City. It’s Jimmy’s drive and passion that he’s fought State Politicians to repeal the 8.25% admission tax for clubs and major venues and to take those funds and contribute them to the AFM’s pension fund.This and his dedication to education in jazz music is why he’s been honored as one of this year’s NEA Jazz Master Inductees.
Jimmy, who hails from the Bronx, New York, was exposed to jazz music when he was kid when his parents played the music. He wanted to play the trumpet and one of his first teacher’s as well as mentor, Dr. Donald Byrd, got him to take the instrument and studying it seriously. Over the years he’d back and play with some of jazz music’s leading innovators and icons. Musicians like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillispie, and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra.
Today he still teaches as well as serves as a mentor to many of today’s current jazz musicians and composers.
Some of highlight performances of the evening included two separate duo performances including NEA Jazz Masters bassist Ron Carter and flutist Huber Laws in their rendition of “Little Waltz”/”Memories of Minnie.” Also, Jazz Masters vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and pianist Kenny Barron’s rendition of Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way.” The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra under the direction of Wynton Marsalis did an outstanding job in arranging tributes throughout the concert to NEA Jazz Master Horace Silver featuring Dave Liebman, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Candido Camero, and the new trumpet sensation Ambrose Akinmusire. The Benny Carter and Frank Foster tribute also turned a lot of heads featuring saxophonists Frank Wess and Benny Golson.
I must add that the National Endowment for the Arts have dedicated to the works and mission to keep the jazz legacy alive via the grants they award every year. Also, they’ve been in tune with the jazz community via journalists, the musicians, and the many jazz associations to help educate and get the word out about America’s only original art-form. The NEA has more info for fans to reach out into their community to support the arts. For more info please visit them on the web at arts.gov.