NEA Gets Jazzed Up in NYC
In the late morning of January 13, 2006, a crowd of onlookers formed, necks craned, for a peek at a group gathered for a photo shoot in the lobby of the New York Hilton. The group, average age 75 years old, greeted each other with smiles and hugs, laughing and joking with each other. Reporters and photographers waited anxiously for their turn with the group, and it became clear that this was not just any ordinary group of older Americans. In fact, these prominent artists were among the greatest names in jazz history, and all were NEA Jazz Masters.
The NEA Jazz Masters Awards, America's highest honor in jazz, are given annually to those artists who have made significant contributions to the development and performance of jazz. Receiving the award later at a special concert and award ceremony during the International Association for Jazz Education conference in New York City were percussionist Ray Barretto, singer Tony Bennett, trombonist and composer/arranger Bob Brookmeyer, keyboardist Chick Corea, clarinetist Buddy DeFranco, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, and manager John Levy, receiving the A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy.
The evening concert and awards ceremony was hosted by jazz greats Ramsey Lewis and Nancy Wilson, and A. B. Spellman, former NEA deputy chairman and noted author of Four Jazz Lives. The award for jazz advocacy was named after Spellman last year for not only his contributions in the jazz field as a writer and advocate, but also for his invaluable contributions to expanding the NEA Jazz Masters program.
Chairman Dana Gioia provided the opening remarks, stating "Most everyone will agree that the two greatest artistic exports from the United States are jazz and film. Film has its internationally famous prizes – the Academy Awards. Now, finally, after a century of great jazz, we have the equivalent. The NEA Jazz Masters award."
The Jon Faddis Jazz Orchestra of New York played during the first half of the show and the Count Basie Orchestra, under the direction of Bill Hughes, played during the second half of the ceremony, highlighted by vocalist Nnenna Freelon's rendition of Erroll Garner's "Misty" with NEA Jazz Master Barry Harris on piano. For the grand finale, both orchestras played with dueling soloists, in a tribute to the 1961 recording Duke Ellington Meets Count Basie. NEA Jazz Masters Chick Corea, Paquito D'Rivera, Slide Hampton, Jimmy Heath, and James Moody joined the band onstage for a rousing finale. And in an impromptu illustration of the NEA's mission to bring jazz to new generations, the venerable group was joined on stage by 10-year-old trumpeter Tyler Lindsay, who held his own and staked a claim to the NEA Jazz Masters class of 2056.