Still Swinging

25 Years of NEA Jazz Masters

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Chairman Gioia, Dan Morgenstern, Phil Woods, Curtis Fuller. Front row, from left: Toshiko Akiyoshi, Ramsey Lewis, Jimmy Scott, Frank Wess

Chairman Dana Gioia joins the 2007 NEA Jazz Masters. Back row, from left: Chairman Gioia, Dan Morgenstern, Phil Woods, Curtis Fuller. Front row, from left: Toshiko Akiyoshi, Ramsey Lewis, Jimmy Scott, Frank Wess.
Photo by Tom Pich.

Twenty-five years old and still swinging, the NEA Jazz Masters program celebrated its silver anniversary with a spectacular January 12 concert at the International Association for Jazz Education conference in New York City. The capacity crowd -- including jazz educators, enthusiasts, musicians, journalists, and industry professionals from around the globe -- gathered to honor the NEA Jazz Masters Class of 2007: bandleader Toshiko Akiyoshi, solo instrumentalists Curtis Fuller and Frank Wess, keyboardist Ramsey Lewis, vocalist Jimmy Scott, and composer/arranger Phil Woods. Dan Morgenstern, Director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, received the A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy.

Since the program's inception in 1982, 94 individuals have been recognized as NEA Jazz Masters. NEA Chairman Dana Gioia noted that the award is "the greatest honor in jazz -- equivalent of the Academy Award or Pulitzer Prize."

The evening's energetic tempo was set with performances by the Clayton Brothers Quintet and the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, directed by NEA Jazz Master Slide Hampton, with special guests trumpeter Roy Hargrove and vocalist Roberta Gambarini. Rounding out the big band line-up were NEA Jazz Masters James Moody and Jimmy Heath.

Other conference activities included the annual NEA Jazz Masters group photo. Fans waited patiently behind the roped-off staging area -- many in disbelief that so many jazz icons were standing shoulder-to-shoulder a mere 10 feet away. The shoot was followed by a festive reunion luncheon with 25 NEA Jazz Masters enjoying a rare opportunity to get together. Conference attendees also were invited to visit the NEA kiosk for demonstrations of the NEA's free-of-charge Jazz in the Schools online curriculum (www.neajazzintheschools.org).

Poet (and retired NEA Deputy Chairman for Guidelines & Panel Operations) A.B. Spellman, in addition to his role as co-host with Chairman Gioia of the awards concert, moderated a lively hour-long panel discussion with six of the new NEA Jazz Masters. Chairman Gioia surprised Jimmy Scott by taking the stage to present to him a congressional recognition from U.S. Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones (Ohio–11th District). Tubbs Jones thanked Scott "for sharing his beautiful voice and boundless talent with fans around the world.