Full disclosure: Willard Jenkins is a coordinator of the NEA Jazz Masters Live program which funds NEAJM presentations at sites around the country. Email if you’d like further information…
Last Tuesday evening was yet another sublime NEA Jazz Masters awards concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s sumptuous Rose Theatre. The evening commenced with each of the living Masters in the house being introduced at their seats to warm applause as the audience saluted these great artists who’ve meant so much to the development of jazz music. Members of the 2010 class were introduced separately starting with revealing excerpts from video interviews conducted by writer and former NEA official A.B. Spellman. Several of the 2010 class also performed during the evening.
Muhal Richard Abrams
(photo by Alan Nahigian)
The first presentation featured 2010 inductee pianist-composer and founder of the AACM Muhal Richard Abrams, conducting the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra through one of his typically knotty and challenging compositions. This in itself was a revelation, given that some misguidedly view the orchestra as a representative of staunch jazz conservativism. They played Muhal’s music with grace and skill; a later conversation with JALCO alto saxophonist Ted Nash revealed eager enthusiasm for such an opportunity because it afforded the band a chance to really stretch.
Later in the evening another stunning performance was turned in by the duo of 2010 NEAJM Yusef Lateef and his percussionist Adam Rudolph. If there as a deeper, more satisfying sound on flute than Lateef’s rich tone then I haven’t heard it. He worked his way through several manner of flutes, including a couple of haunting end blown instruments – which Lateef also employed for their inherent percussiveness – tenor sax, and traditional western flute while Rudolph tastefully accompanied on frame drum, small flutes, piano, and dijeridoo.
These were but two in an evening of immense celebration and abundant love for this great art form that was summed up so beautifully by vocalist Annie Ross. After her acceptance speech Ms. Ross sang a piece whose lyrics were a litany of jazz greats that aptly recognized the ancestors.
NEA Jazz Masters are selected annually — and along with the recognition each receives a check for $25K — through nominees from the general public subsequently selected by a panel of Masters. For further information on the NEA Jazz Masters who’ve been selected since the 1982 inception of the program (must be living), and how you may nominate some deserving Master who has not yet been selected, visit www.arts.endow.gov and click on the Lifetime Honors icon. All it takes is a simple one-page letter.