NEA 2015 Jazz Masters – who stretched “jazz”

joe segal

Joe Segal in front of his idol, Charlie Parker

The National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters of 2015, announced today, are musicians Carla Bley, George Coleman and Charles Lloyd — all personal favorites who provoked my earliest interests in jazz going beyond “jazz.” So here are listening recommendations — and my special shout out to Jazz Master Joe Segal of Chicago’s Jazz Showcase  (receiving the A.B. Spellman Award for Jazz Advocacy) who let teenage me in free to hear real jazz to begin with: Coleman Hawkins, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Jimmy Forrest, Sun Ra, Rahsaan, Mingus, great Chicagoans Wilbur Cambell, Eddie de Haas, Jodie Christian and many more,  putting me on path — Yeah! Thanks, Joe — Thanks!)

  • Carla Bley’s songs full of her personal wit, dry humor and spare lyricism were first recorded by her then-husband pianist Paul Bley. Her sensibility flowered in Genuine Tong Funeral,with large ensemble charts for Gary Burton (a likely future Jazz Master) and next the rousing Liberation Music Orchestra, a ’60s classic and cultural marker. Co-founder with her second husband Michael Mantler of the Jazz Composers Orchestra (and the very important, independent New Music Distribution Service), she wrote with librettist Paul Haines the “chronotransduction” Escalator Over the Hill, a masterpiece of the large, vibrant the late ’60s and early ’70s crossover downtown/Woodstock music community (w/Cherry -McLaughlin – Haden- Motian –  Barbieri – Karl Berger, Enrico Rava, Linescalatorda Ronstadt, Jack Bruce, Sheila Jordan, Don Preston, Leroy Jenkins, et al)). Since then she’s independently produced  many fine, quirky albums with small groups and large, most recently with bassist Steve Swallow, her longtime companion. A total individual whose deadpan sophistication overlays much experience, ache, commitment and originality.
  • George Coleman — performing with his quartet (Geo Coleman Jr. on drums) Friday, June 27 at Alvin and Friends in New Rochelle  — stands tall a lineage of  big hearted, big-toned blues-based/progressive bop sax men. But imho the very most memorable, melody-making improvisations he’s ever recorded are on Herbie Hancock’s beautiful original tunes written for Maiden Voyage. With Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter and Tony Williams on the date, one might have expected Wayne Shorter — but George Coleman is just wonderful: imaginative, confident, mature, nuanced. His solos are burned in my memory.
  • Charles Lloyd has always been interested in frontiers. As Eric Dolphy’s successor in Chico Hamilton’s group, he played flute as well as tenor, and his first albums in the mid ’60s have an edgy feel, related to what Yusef Lateef and Sam Rivers were up to. Then came Forest Flower, Lloyd’s triumphant Monterey jazz fest performance with pianist Keith forrest flowerJarrett, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Jack DeJohnette, that got to rock-heads (sans “jazz-jazz” compromise — but check out “Sorcery“!). I always liked Lloyd’s straight-forward flute rendition of John Lennon’s “Here, There and Everywhere” on his album Love In from the Fillmore West (though in truth it’s nothing special and poorly recorded) — and his visit to the Soviet Union was hugely significant in promoting Eastern European jazz scenes. Lloyd continues to create adventurous, evocative music, finding highly creative collaborators including pianists Jason Moran, tablaist Zakir Hussain and drummer Eric Harland.

The music I’m suggesting here is 50 years old! But timeless. Bley, Coleman and Lloyd remain active, their inspirations and abilities hardly dimmed. Congrats on the official recognition and much appreciation to them for the enduring gifts they’ve given — they are truly jazz masters.

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  1. says

    While I agree that the new group of NEA Jazz Masters may be worthy of the honor, it still irks me that vocalist Mark Murphy has once again been passed over. This man practically created a free and expressive style of jazz singing, which has influenced many who came after him, including those who attended his workshops and master classes. However, he is constantly ignored while classic pop crooners such as Tony Bennett, who merely perform with jazz combos but have never so much as uttered a scat phrase, get awards that I feel should rightly belong to Mark. Let’s face it folks, the Murph is not getting any younger, and it would be a damn shame if he never becomes an NEA Jazz Master, because he passes away before those in charge deem him worthy of inclusion.

    • says

      best thing to do is nominate him with a persuasive letter and get as many people as belief he deserves this honor to write letters of support. There’s a panel that selects the Masters each year. The number of masters has varied, but now is only 4. There are many deserving musicians — I think of Reggie Workman, Joe Chambers, Andrew Cyrille, Henry Threadgill, Ernie Watts, Karl Berger . . . and that’s very quickly off the top of my head.

      • says

        Others (including one earlier NEA Jazz Master) have sent persuasive letters, all for naught. Plus how can anyone justify the ENTIRE Marsalis family (including the lesser brothers whom few outside the narrow confines of the J@LC universe are even aware of), being so honored. I guess it will take a lot more letters and perhaps a petition, to make things happen for Mark.

        • says

          Nominations remain active year after year. I have no interest in speaking up for the Marsalis family award, but it really counted as one — I don’t think all the brothers as well as Ellis received the fellowship funding. More of the musicians who are not NEA Jazz Masters but deserve consideration (and no doubt are being considered) include Andy Bey, Gary Burton, Steve Swallow, Harold Mabern, Bucky Pizzarelli, Nancy King, Dave Holland . . .