Who decides who’s an NEA Jazz Master

The National Endowment of the Arts panel determining recipients of the annual Jazz Masters Fellowships is a small one. In the interest of transparency, the NEA has supplied the names of panelists who chose the class of ’09. It comprises five previously named Fellows, one “layperson,” one independent record producer, and two longtime jazz adminstrator-activists (who both happen to be honorees of the Jazz Journalists Association’s “A Team”).

Of course, if John McCain becomes president, it’s all moot (as Lee Rosenbaum reports, the GOP has no arts policy in its platform, and I remember writing to McCain during the 1980s objecting to his desire to de-fund the NEA). He’s clearly no jazz candidate — whereas Barack Obama spoke at the site of the Detroit Jazz Festival, on Labor Day, and San Francisco musicians are lining up behind him with a fundraising jam in San Francisco, October 13.
But that’s another posting: back to the NEA panelists – 


Those charged in January 2008 with selecting a handful of 2009 Jazz Masters (who receive $25,000 honoraria and multiple opportunities for public appearances) from 155 nominations submitted this year by the U.S. public were: 

  • Toshiko Akiyoshi, NEA Jazz Master, pianist, bandleader, composer-arranger, NYC
  • William Barke (Layperson), CEO Pearson Higher Education Arts & Sciences; Chair, Pearson Canada; Cambridge, MA
  • Locksley (Slide) Hampton, NEA Jazz Master, Composer-arranger, trombonist, educator, East Orange, NJ
  • Ramsey Lewis, NEA Jazz Master, pianist, radio and television host, Chicago, IL
  • Nancy Wilson, NEA Jazz Master, vocalist, radio and television host (and winner of the Jazz Journalists Association’s 2008 Willis connover-Marian McPartland Award for Excellence in Jazz Broadcasting), Pioneertown, CA

Panelists selecting the 2009 recipient of the A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy: 
  • Toshiko Akiyoshi
  • William Barke (Layperson)
  • Michael Cuscuna (erroneously described as a “jazz musician”), founder and president of the Mosaic Records label, independent producer for Blue Note and other labels, Stamford, CT
  • Gunther Schuller, NEA Jazz Master (previous recipient of Spellman Award), composer, author, scholar, educator, Newton Centre, MA
  • Alfred B. Spellman, retired NEA deputy chair and jazz specialist, author, poet, critic, and lecturer, in 2006 named by the Jazz Journalists Association to its “A Team” of advocates, activists, altruists, aiders and abettors of jazz, Washington, DC
  • Herb Wong, jazz journalist, critic, historian and record producer, former president of the International Association of Jazz Educators, Artistic Director of Jazz in the Meadow (Atherton, CA), in 2008 named by the Jazz Journalists Association to its “A Team,” Menlo Park, CA

It’s a tricky task, choosing wisely among worthy nominees, and it’s hard to imagine the discussions regarding each nominee’s merits. However, there appears to be a current desire to balance the class with well-known and commercially successful artists (this year, George Benson) and lesser known but key soloists (Snooky Young, Lee Konitz), one musician who represents native origin from outside the U.S. (Belgian born Toots Thielemans, though he’s lived in the U.S. since ’52), and a rhythm section stalwart (Jimmy Cobb).  See who has been named an NEA Jazz Master since the program began in 1982, There are categorical criteria, and there has always been an emphasis on jazz musicians who’ve made their reputations on a fairly wide basis — of predominantly local heroes, I see only one: New Orleans traditionalist Danny Barker (who was a significant mentor to Wynton Marsalis). But you can make your own nominations, toward the class of 2010, here.


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