Things may be somewhat up-for-grabs at the National Endowment for the Arts, with chair Rocco Landesman stepping down at year end (NEA Senior Deputy Chairman Joan Shigekawa will serve as the agency’s acting head), but assuming the show will go on I urge Reggie Workman (b. 1937, Philadelphia) receive a 2014 NEA Jazz Masters Award.
Workman is an oak of a bassist who has helped sustain, secure and advance jazz before and since the revolution started by John Coltrane. He’s been a messenger of jazz with many of the music’s leading lights (including Art Blakey), an instrumentalist who erases distinctions between tradition and the avant-garde, and has worked across genres, often in multi-media situations. He hasn’t often led recording sessions, though his 2000 album Summit Conference (with reedist Sam Rivers, who tragically was never officially recognized as a Jazz Master; pianist-composer Andrew Hill, who learned of his NEA honor just prior to his death in 2007, and drummer Pheeroan akLaff) is a fine one (I may have written the liner notes). He’s also been an invaluable mentor and professor at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. Among many worthwhile contenders, Reggie is outstanding.
The Jazz Masters induction ceremony on January 14, 2013 is the NEA’s next high profile public event — and has been announced as a free webcast, televised live starting at 7:30 est from Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola (in NYC’s Jazz at Lincoln Center). Wynton Marsalis will emcee, and several already inducted Jazz Masters, as well as 2013 honorees Eddie Palmieri, Mose Allison and Lou Donaldson, will perform. Though in 2011, under Rocco Landesman’s watch, the Jazz Masters’ program was decreed completed, it was revived later that year at the insistence of the House Appropriations Committee. Anyone may nominate a musician for a Jazz Masters Awards — the process is detailed at www.NEA.gov and deadline for nominations of a 2014 NEA Jazz Master was last October 12.