NEA Jazz Masters — Who’s Tom McIntosh?

At the National Endowment for the Arts party last week announcing the 2008 of Jazz Masters at least one celebrant was hoping the award would kick-start a professional cycle.
“You know,” said the 80-year-old trombonist/composer, paraphrasing the sequence of recognition he said Fernando Lamas had once applied to his career arc: “Who is Tom McIntosh? Get me Tom McIntosh! Get me a Tom McIntosh type! Get me a young Tom McIntosh! Who is Tom McIntosh?”
Who indeed?

Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts Dana Gioia was a happy fan at the induction party held three months earlier than usual at Dizzy’s Club in Jazz at Lincoln Center, because the next International Association for Jazz Education Conference, traditional site of the announcement, is scheduled for next January in Toronto, difficult for several of the Masters to attend. “A soulful class of Masters,” I remarked and Gioia, enthralled with Jazz Master George Wein playing piano behind Lew Tabackin and Randy Brecker on the stage at Dizzy’s Club in Jazz at Lincoln Center, answered, “A room full of great people!”
Indeed, past masters Paquito D’Rivera, Frank Wess and Randy Weston were there, along with the newly named: besides McIntosh, the 86-year-old Cuban-born conguero Candido Camero, 85-year-old trumpeter Joe Wilder and 82-year-old Gunther Schuller. Quincy Jones, 74, couldn’t make it, nor the late pianist-composer Andrew Hill, though his wife Joanne Robinson Hill was there (as was late Jazz Master Gil Evans’ widow Anita and late Jazz Master Ray Barretto’s widow Brandy). Guitarist Howard Alden, who mentioned that Sean Penn had been one of his best pupils learning to play for Woody Allen’s elegy for gypsy guitarists Sweet and Lowdown was in Wein’s happy band, with bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny (not related) Washington. . . Wein, best known as producer of the JVC and Newport Jazz Festivals, was celebrating his 82nd birthday, comping at the keyboard with bouyant swing . . .
But who is Tom McIntosh? And why is he a jazz master? Having retired in the late ’60s from touring in Dizzy Gillespie’s big band McIntosh went to Hollywood, where he composed music for Gordon Willis’s autobiographical film The Learning Tree, then worked on Shaft, Shaft’s Big Score!, A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But A Sandwich and some lesser genre films. In the 1990s he took a teaching position at New England Conservatory, and issued his first album, With Malice Toward None, in 2004. (Mostly positive reviews here are from AllAboutJazz reviewers Jim Santella, John Kelman and One Final’s David Dupont). A rumored second volume is still forthcoming.
Thin credits for a Jazz Master? Not necessarily — McIntosh is among the legion of accomplished, professional musicians who’ve survived the jazz life with courting outrageous fame or ostentatious fortune, simply respected by aficionados and his peers. Admirable modesty — if not for Quincy Jones and to a lesser extent Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Gunther Schuller, such modesty might be the theme of this year’s jazz Masters.
After all, Joe Wilder didn’t lead a band in New York City under his own name until a 2006 stand at the Village Vanguard, though he’d been a dependable lead trumpeter in big bands since graduating from Les Hite to Lionel Hampton, Jimmie Lunceford, Gillespie and Count Basie in the ’40s and ’50s — see him solo with Basie’s all-stars on “Fast and Happy Blues”.
Candido — percussionist — is still making New York City sessions and gigs, having immigrated from Cuba in 1952 to work with Gillespie (following the great Chano Pozo), Stan Kenton, Sonny Rollins and others, though seldom in a spotlit role.
Andrew Hill spent the better part of his career being elusive (however, here is the entire last concert of his trio, at Trinity Church in New York City on March 27, 2007, less than a month before his death). Self-deprecating or not, Hill’s presence was such that at his memorial service in September, his bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson performed as though he was sitting right there, pausing to listen to them in the midst of a solo.
Gunther Schuller is well known in the jazz firmament as the french horn player in Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool recordings, proponent of Third Stream music, founder of New England Conservatory’s highly productive jazz program, father of rhythm section George and Ed Schuller, conductor of Mingus’s “Epitaph,” author of Early Jazz and The Swing Era, two of jazz’s most authoritative books (he’s currently working on his autobiography, rather than volume three of his jazz history, promised to cover the modern era), and Joe Lovano’s recently ambitious records Streams of Expression and Rush House.
Quincy Jones — is his most memorable musical accomplishment the opening bars of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”? I’ve never been at a party where that didn’t drive everyone to dance. More thrilling than Thriller, more of an anthem than “We Are The World,” hotter than his soundtrack for In The Heat of the Night — Q, one of black music’s biggest moguls! An A-list celeb! Grammy winner, Academy Award nominee, producer/publisher and Jazz Master to boot!
The Jazz Masters program was begun in 1982, and since then 100 “great figures in American music” have been so named. They are nominated by the public, selected by a specially constituted NEA jazz board. Jazz Masters receive $25,000 fellowships, and participate in jazz outreach and promotion programs (details available at the NEA’s site. There are all kinds of Jazz Masters — Toshiko Akiyoshi to Sun Ra. Who is a jazz master? Get me a jazz master! Get me a jazz master type! Get me a young jazz master! Who is a jazz master?

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  1. says

    If they’re looking for jazz masters, Von Freeman, recently turned 85, is probably amongst the most deserving still with us.

  2. howard Mandel says

    Absolutely — I was among those who nominated Von a couple of years ago (I thought *then* on the occasion of his 85th). I’m sure he’s been considered — the entire city of Chicago (including the Jazz Institute) turned out its support. I heard him play a sublime, highly individualized “Body and Soul” (way modern, too — intentional, intonational jazz beyond jazz) the next summer during the Chgo Jazz Fest, one afternoon on the modest side stage. . . his brother guitarist George is bad, too.

  3. Jazz Lunatique`- WWOZ New Orleans says

    I think that if the NEA focused more on the rest of the country and not on jazz on the Atlantic or California, they might find equally if not more deserving folks. I have nominated Harold Battiste, Ellis Marsalis, and Kidd Jordan in New Orleans. Certainly Von Freeman or Fred Anderson in Chicago are good ones, and although I am not aware of such, there must be musicians of such caliber in places like Kansas City, Seattle, and Detroit.

  4. Ed Berger says

    Actually, the trumpet soloist on “Fast and Happy Blues” from the Sound of Jazz is Joe Newman. Joe Wilder solos on “Dickie’s Dream”
    MY MISTAKE! thanks for the correction, Ed. Now I’ll just go to YouTube and look for “Dickie’s Dream.” All hail Joe Newman, anyway. — HM

  5. Peter Campbell says

    I go with whomsoever suggested Fred Anderson as a Jazz Master. Not only is he a phenomenal musician at aged 78 but his club, the Velvet Lounge is an institution that provides a valuable arena for young jazz musicians to hone their craft. The other guy that I would recommend is Jiri Stivin from Prague in the Czech Republic. Equally at home in either the jazz or classical music genre, he is possibly the world’s greatest jazz flautist and his tenor playing is just astounding especially so when one considers that his early years were spent in a socialist block country and, even now, there is virtually no state funding for jazz musicians and jazz music.
    HM: Fred is a jazz master, and a jazz-beyond-jazz master, whether the NEA recognizes him as such or not. Please hear Song For, Joseph Jarman’s Delmark debut album, with Fred’s band and sound, already fully formed. And the Velvet is one of the great places to hear music in Chicago.
    I don’t think Jiri Stivins is elegible to be a Jazz Master — they probably are supposed to be Americans (though I wonder if there’s a citizenship requirement). World’s greatest jazz flautist — now there’s a stretch, though having never heard him live I’d like to retain my judgement. Puts him up there though with Nicole Mitchell, James Newton, Robert Dick, Frank Wess, Jamie Baum, Sam Rivers, Michel Edelin, Jeremy Steig — heady company.

  6. Red Colm O'Sullivan, says

    You give a list of great jazz flute payers (in response to reader Peter Campbell’s own comment) and omit James Moody – the No. 1 by a mile. Also Sam Most is most important (and Hubert Laws and the Australian Don Burrows).
    I’d love to see Cedar Walton as an NEA Jazz Master.
    HM: Thanks for the note, of course James Moody — my favorite is his album with Milt Jackson live at the Museum of Modern Art — “Flying Saucers” if I recall right with honking cars or sirens on 53rd St. at just the right time . . .Most and Laws I admire, Burrows don’t know (but NEA’s Jazz Master ought to be just for US citizens and established residents, I think — like the President’s 6 annual (Kennedy?) Awards for the Arts, which last year honored Townsend & Daltrey, right?!?!?!?! (Sidebar on that: Congrats to Jeff Beck for appointment to the official Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame).
    Sure, besides Cedar Walton there’s a long list of American musicians who should be honored — but they CAN be, by the communities which are in a position to support them directly, by taking advantage of their creativity and energy and employing them to full advantage for everyone.
    The NEA’s Jazz Masters program can and should be a seed project, emulated by Americans who recognize masterful artists. Many associations, organizations and individuals can join in the effort. Now, April which is the U.S.’s official “Jazz Appreciation Month,” is a good time to discover how — check out its website .
    The Jazz Journalists Association’s Jazz Awards is another initiative of high recognition, from New York but only and with online global outreach. . . the JJA’s announcements of nominees are coming this month, and recipients will be announced June 16 at the Jazz Standard. Watch this blog for details!