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2014 National Endowment Jazz Masters announced

July 4, 2013


The National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowships are the highest honors that our government bestows upon jazz musicians. These fellowships are given in recognition that this magnificent art form, so profoundly based in American culture, is one of America’s greatest gifts to the world.

2014 NEA Jazz Masters

Jamey Aebersold:

Jamey Aebersold

Jamey Aebersold

Born July 21, 1939 in New Albany, IN.
Educator, Saxophonist, Pianist, Bassist, Banjo Player

“To be chosen for the NEA Jazz Master award is the highest award our country gives and I am humbled to have been chosen. This is an exceptional honor for me because it recognizes jazz education’s contributions to the jazz legacy. I will continue to offer my services to further this marvelous American art form and I wholeheartedly thank the NEA for this award.”

“There is not a second that goes by that a person is not practicing with a Jamey Aebersold Play-A-Long record,” Aebersold noted in a 2009 interview. These Play-A-Long recordings have made it possible for jazz players young and old to create an interactive jazz environment in a classroom, their living room, on a street corner, or in a subway station. With the production of his first Jazz “Play-A-Long” recording in 1967, a new form of jazz education began, one that allowed novice or professional students to practice improvisational skills alongside professionals and noted jazz musicians without a classroom or a teacher–one that made practicing fun. For close to 50 years, Aebersold has produced 133 volumes of jazz recordings and books, along with various supplemental items, carving out a new avenue for jazz education.

In 1962, Aebersold graduated from Indiana University with a master’s degree in saxophone, one of several instruments he plays (he also plays the piano, bass and banjo). Aebersold’s inspiration to create the first Play-A-Long recording came in 1966 while assisting at a workshop in Connecticut. A student requested a recording of his piano accompaniment, with which he could then rehearse and improvise at home. That first volume, titled How to Play Jazz and Improvise, has since been translated into six languages and is sold all over the world. The Play-A-Longs feature such well-known musicians as, Kenny Barron, Randy Brecker, Dave Brubeck, Ron Carter, David Liebman, Mulgrew Miller, Jimmy Raney, and Cedar Walton.

Aebersold also is the director of the Summer Jazz Workshops – held annually since 1977 at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, where he served on the faculty for many years – which for more than 40 years have provided intensive training in jazz improvisation for musicians at all levels. The Summer Jazz Workshops have been held in eight countries and feature an element of jazz education that Aebersold has trumpeted – the value of small group combos. These workshops attract people from more than 20 countries each year to the University of Louisville campus.

In 1989, Aebersold was inducted into the International Association for Jazz Education Hall of Fame and in 2004, the Jazz Midwest Clinic honored him with the Medal of Honor in jazz education. Aebersold has taught at three colleges and universities in the Louisville, Kentucky, area, and in 1992 he received an honorary doctorate of music from Indiana University. He continues to teach, conduct jazz clinics around the country, and perform as leader of the Jamey Aebersold Quartet in addition to running Jamey Aebersold Jazz.

Anthony Braxton:

Born June 4, 1945 in Chicago, IL.
Saxophonist, Clarinetist, Flautist, Composer, Educator, Author

Anthony Braxton contrabass saxophone.

Anthony Braxton contrabass saxophone.

“For me, the recognition of my place in creative American music is quite a surprise – welcome surprise, that comes at the right time in my life. To be named an NEA Jazz Master recipient opens the door of reconciliation to the whole of my musical and cultural family, and completes my “inner nature and balance” in the most positive way. This is so because no matter the nomenclature, I have never separated myself from the great men and women whose creative work changed and elevated my life – and reason for wanting to live. The NEA Jazz Master family has profoundly shaped the dynamics of American and world culture – it doesn’t get any better than this family. The story of creative music is the story of America and the story of composite human vibrational dynamics. The discipline of creative music is one of the greatest gifts that the cosmic forces have given us.”

“My music occupies a space in between defined idioms.” So stated Anthony Braxton, succinctly capturing the nature of his compositions, as complex and enigmatic as the diagrams he creates for their titles. While he might not consider the music he currently makes as “jazz,” certainly the improvised and rhythmic nature of the music he began playing 50 or more years ago still influence him, and his performances on his “In the Tradition” recordings demonstrate his ability to play the standards beautifully.

Braxton began played music as a youth growing up in Chicago. He then attended the Chicago School of Music from 1959-1963, and went on to Roosevelt University to study philosophy and composition. Braxton joined the U.S. Army in 1963 and played saxophone in an Army band; upon his discharge in 1966, he returned to Chicago where he joined the newly formed Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. In 1968, he recorded For Alto, a double-album of unaccompanied saxophone, which is considered a landmark jazz solo instrumental recording.

In 1970, after a short-lived stint with Barry Altschul, Chick Corea, and Dave Holland in the avant-garde group Circle, Braxton began leading his own bands in New York City, recording in a variety of settings, from duos of saxophone and Moog synthesizer to full orchestras. His music was moving away from even traditional jazz avant-garde and moving toward its own idiosyncratic voice. In the 1980s and 1990s, Braxton’s regular performing quartet included Marilyn Crispell, Mark Dresser, and Gerry Hemingway, although he continued to record and perform with a variety of musicians both in and out of the jazz genre.

For the past 20 years, Braxton has been focusing on large-scale musical projects, such as the Ghost Trance Music he began working on in the mid-1990s to create a “melody that doesn’t end” with performers determining what parts to play. His Falling River Music uses large, colorful drawings to direct the musicians, but again, lets the performers determine their own way through the compositions. Diamond Curtain Wall Music takes the Falling River Music further, using interactive electronics. Braxton also released an increasing number of works for large orchestras and his Trillium operas cycles.

He has taught at Mills College and currently is professor of music at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, teaching music composition, music history, and improvisation. He also authored multiple volumes explaining his theories and pieces. In 2010, he revived his dormant nonprofit Tri-Centric Foundation (originally created in 1994) to support the dissemination of his work. Among his awards, he received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1994 and was honored with the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award for his lifetime achievements in jazz in 2013.

Richard Davis:

Born April 15, 1930 in Chicago, IL.
Bassist, Educator

Richard Davis, professor of music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, works with First Last during a one-on-one learning session in his office in the Mosse Humanities Building on April 21, 2011. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

Richard Davis, professor of music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, works with First Last during a one-on-one learning session in his office in the Mosse Humanities Building on April 21, 2011. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

“I am pleased to be chosen to receive the 2014 NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship Award. It is exciting to join past and current recipients alike. It is also comforting to be recognized by NEA officials and those who nominated me.”

One of the premier jazz bassists in history, Richard Davis is widely recorded, not only in jazz settings but also in the pop, rock and classical genres as well. In addition to his prowess on bass, Davis is a noted educator, having been a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 1977.

Part of the Chicago generation of musicians that included Johnny Griffin and Clifford Jordan, Davis studied bass in high school under the direction of Walter Dyett. He then attended Chicago’s VanderCook College of Music while playing with both classical orchestras and jazz combos at night, including gigs with Ahmad Jamal and Sun Ra.

In 1954, he moved to New York City commencing a now six-decades-long performing and recording career. Davis toured with Sarah Vaughan from 1957-60, including a tour of Europe, and worked as a sideman on numerous recordings in the 1960s, but was in special demand by Jaki Byard, Eric Dolphy, Booker Ervin, Andrew Hill, Elvin Jones, and Roland Kirk, with whom he cut several albums each. He was a member of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra from 1966-72.

Proficient in any style, Davis was in demand in pop and rock circles as well, playing on albums by Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, and Van Morrison. Davis was equally at home in the classical world, performing for some of the music’s finest conductors: Leonard Bernstein, Pierre Boulez, Gunther Schuller, Leopold Stokowski, Igor Stravinsky, and George Szell. He is still in demand as a performer, often touring internationally.

A longtime educator, Davis’ students have included David Ephross, William Parker, and Hans Sturm, among others. In 1993, he created the Richard Davis Foundation for Young Bassists, which annually assembles a team of master instructors/performers to work with emerging talent to expand “the horizon of the student in terms of how they perceive their own potential and that of the bass itself.” In 1998, Davis created the Retention Action Project on the UW-Madison Campus to discuss multicultural differences by bringing together university representatives and social change activists. Additionally, he founded the Madison Wisconsin Institutes for the Healing of Racism in 2000 to raise consciousness about and address the history and pathology of racism.

Davis has received many honors and awards, including DownBeat magazine’s Critics Poll, which named Davis “Best Bassist” from 1967-74. He also has received two honorary doctorate degrees; a Hilldale Award for distinguished teaching, research, and service from the University of Wisconsin-Madison; the Wisconsin Governor’s Arts Award (2001); the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award, bestowed by the City of Madison, Wisconsin (2003); and the Spencer Tracy Award for Distinction in the Performing Arts, presented by the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Keith Jarrett:

Born May 8, 1945 in Allentown, PA.
Pianist, Composer

Keith Jarrett

Keith Jarrett

“Although only music excites me, and awards and ceremonies do not, I feel honored to receive this NEA Jazz Masters Award, due to the many players on the list since 1982 that have been influential in my life. I’m honored to be in their company, and am reminded that the true nature of jazz has always relied on the individual players making their mark on the music of the future. Jazz is not dead as long as someone is playing with true inspiration.

Keith Jarrett’s talent for playing both abstractly and lyrically, sometimes during the same song, continues to astound and delight audiences around the world. His ability to work in both the jazz and classical fields as both performer and composer demonstrate the breadth of his creativity. A master of many instruments, Jarrett also plays harpsichord, clavichord, organ, soprano saxophone, and drums. However, during the last 20 years, he has performed and recorded mainly on the acoustic piano.

Jarrett began playing the piano at age three, and studied classical music throughout his youth. Moving to New York City, in 1964, after a short time in Boston, Jarrett hooked up with Art Blakey‘s Jazz Messengers, and then joined the Charles Lloyd Quartet from 1966-68, becoming part of a stellar cast with Cecil McBee on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. Playing electric piano with Miles Davis‘ fusion band in 1970-71, Jarrett then went on to lead his own group – assembling a dynamic quartet with Charlie Haden on bass, Paul Motian on drums, and Dewey Redman on saxophone – which released 13 albums together.

In 1971, Jarrett began a relationship with the record label ECM that continues to this day, producing more than 60 recordings ranging in diversity from solo piano to full orchestras. Perhaps Jarrett’s best known work is 1975’s The Köln Concert, a meditative, lyrical solo piano performance that captivated audiences, making it the bestselling solo piano recording in history. ECM celebrated the artist’s four decades with the label with its 2011 release Rio, an hour-and-a-half solo piano performance demonstrating Jarrett’s continuing exploration of new musical directions.

In 1983, Jarrett invited bassist Gary Peacock and DeJohnette to record an album of jazz standards. The session ended up producing three albums and marked the beginning of a fruitful collaboration that has lasted 30 years; the trio will celebrate the anniversary with a 2013 world tour that includes Japan, Korea, Europe, and the U.S.

Jarrett has released numerous classical recordings as well, including Bach’s “Goldberg Variations,” Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87, Handel‘s Suites for Keyboard, and two volumes of Mozart Piano Concertos.

Jarrett‘s numerous honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Prix du President de la Republique and Grand Prix du Disque awards from the Academie Charles Cros (France), seven Deutscher Schallplattenpreis awards (Germany) and two of the world’s most prestigious music awards: the Polar Music Prize (Sweden) and the Leonie Sonning Prize (Denmark). In 2008, he was inducted into the DownBeat Hall of Fame, and in 2010, his recording The Köln Concert was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, a select list of recordings of lasting quality and historical significance that are at least 25 years old.

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