Who should the next NEA Jazz Masters be?

Who should be the next NEA Jazz Masters? With last night’s triumphant and deeply moving webcast of the NEA’s 2012 Jazz Masters induction ceremonies came welcome news the annual fellowships for these major American artists will continue — at least the financial awards of $25,000 per Master. More significant to many jazzers than the $ is the official government validation of the lives and careers of men and women which typically require substantial sacrifice and determination to create lasting, enriching marks. So who should the next honorees be?

Here’s the criteria for the Jazz Masters fellowships, and process of nomination, directly from the NEA’s website:

The NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship is a lifetime achievement award. The criteria for the fellowships are musical excellence and significance of the nominees’ contributions to the art of jazz. The Arts Endowment honors a wide range of styles while making the awards. There is also a special award given to a non-musician, the A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Master Award for Jazz Advocacy, which is awarded to an individual who has made major contributions to the appreciation, knowledge, and advancement of jazz.

Fellowships are awarded to living artists on the basis of nominations from the general public and the jazz community. The recipients must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States. An individual may submit only one nomination each year, and nominations are made by submitting a one-page letter detailing the reasons that the nominated artist should receive an NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship. Nominations submitted to the Arts Endowment by the deadline are reviewed by an advisory panel of jazz experts and at least one knowledgeable layperson. Panel recommendations are forwarded to the National Council on the Arts, which then makes recommendations to the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Nominations remain active for five years, being reviewed annually during this period.

Lobbying may well help move the jazz experts’ advisory committee — the Jazz Institute of Chicago spearheaded a 10-year effort to get Jazz Master status for tenor saxophonist Von Freeman, who seemed to be at a disadvantage for having performed all but exclusively for decades in Chicago (where he anchored a thriving South Side scene and style, generating dozens of proteges, Rudresh Mahanthappa and Steve Coleman among them). But note that an individual can only make one nomination per year.

Remembering that Sam Rivers is one instance of an artist who should have received the designation, I’ve got my own list of deserving nominees — it starts with Eddie Palmieri — and wonder who’s on yours.

Eddie Palmieri in action

Let me know in the comments section, and let the NEA know by preparing a one-page letter explaining your nomination, in anticipation of a deadline for nominations being announced.


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  1. Mark Stryker says

    Right off the top and with apologies for leaving out any obvious choices, the first names that come to mind in no particular order: Lou Donaldson, Louis Hayes, Marcus Belgrave (service) Keith Jarrett, Roscoe Mitchell, Joe Chambers, Carla Bley, Dave Holland

    • says

      Yes, anyone can nominate someone. McCoy has been named a Jazz Master. I think Lou Donaldson is an excellent call, and Marcus Belgrave is an important addition. Clearly some of our choices will have to wait a year or two. Still, I wonder how much consensus the jazz-loving public would come to, if asked.I guess “what jazz-loving public” is the next question.

    • says

      There’s a very active list of nominees with merit showing up as comments on my posting of this blog on facebook. I suggest eldest of the elders be considered with some priority. One of the names at fb especially deserving serious consideration, in my opinion, is Lou Donaldson, who is 85.

  2. says

    Lou is coming to my hometown of Louisville next month. His playing has been excellent every time I have seen him, but his narrow-minded comments on jazz musicians who do not share his vision of what jazz “should be” are predictable and annoying.

    • says

      I disagree with Donaldson’s pov — it’s not my own. But he has labored long enough to be one of the few who can express those views credibly. And we all know he’s speaking of a time that’s past, speaking from his own perspective which is talking to his own limits and not likely to have much impact on the turning world. It shouldn’t keep him from being honored, imo.

  3. says

    I am surprised to see discussion of deserving nominees as I was under the impression that funding for NEA Jazz Masters was on the chopping block — to be terminated after this most recent round of awards. was going to be I would love to see Pat Martino receive the NEA Jazz Masters award — not only because of his virtuosity, but because of his educational approach and philosophy.

  4. says

    Since Sheila Jordan was named a 2012 NEA Jazz Master, it seems logical that Mark Murphy (who might be considered her male jazz vocal counterpart) should next receive this honor. Throughout his career, he has been creative, innovative, influential and ever forward-thinking. He has directly taught many members of the younger generation of vocalists through master classes and workshops. At nearly 80 years of age, he is still performing and teaching, with gigs in Europe linked up for the end of this month, and in 2010 he released a beautiful cd, “Never Let Me Go”. Therefore, I feel Mark is definitely worthy of being included as part of the next group of honorees, if the NEA Jazz Masters program continues.

    • says

      Good call, Cha Cha — and yes, the NEA Jazz Masters program is to continue, at least the granting of $25,000 fellowships. It’s not clear is all the celebration, the concert, the convening of masters, the production of video portraits, etc. will continue, but the fellowships are going to, according to the NEA.