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NEA Jazz Masters Announced

There was a little twist in last Wednesday’s announcement of next year’s National Endowment for the Arts’ Jazz Masters Award recipients. Not only was pianist Dr. Billy Taylor on hand to perform at the announcement ceremony performing with a group of young prodigies from NYC’s La Guardia High School for Music and Art, but the awards themselves have been expanded to include not three, but six masters of jazz.

The 2004 honorees will be pianist Herbie Hancock (pictured), guitarist Jim Hall, rhythm instrumentalist Chico Hamilton, vocalist Nancy Wilson, arranger-composer Luther Henderson and-here’s the twist-JazzTimes‘ own back-page columnist, Nat Hentoff.

The 2004 NEA Jazz Master honors have been expanded to include a “jazz advocate” and that honor has been granted to jazz critic and historian Hentoff. That’s right, you know longer have to spend hours with a Selmer Mark VI practicing the ins and outs of “Cherokee” to master this American art form-just sit down at a typewriter (keep a thesaurus at the ready) and critique your way to jazz mastery!

The 2004 Jazz Masters will be honored at an awards ceremony and concert held in New York City on January 23, 2004, with each newly-minted Jazz Master receiving a one-time fellowship award of $25,000. The ceremony will be televised nationwide.

Since 1982, the NEA Jazz Masters program has selected living artists honoring these artists for their outstanding contributions to the development of jazz as an art form. As of today, 73 jazz artists have been given the title of “Jazz Masters.”

The Jazz Master selection process is pretty simple, all things considered. First, the American public submits nominations; then, a panel of jazz experts reviews these nominations; the experts make their recommendations to both the National Council on the Arts and Dana Gioia, Chairman of the NEA, who grants final approval. To date, 73 artists have been recognized as NEA Jazz Masters (see list below).

In other Jazz Master news, the NEA is working in association with the Verve Music Group to release a special double-album set of recordings from select Jazz Masters on January 13, 2004. The set will contain over two hours of music from artists including Count Basie, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Sonny Rollins and Nancy Wilson. Odd man out Nat Hentoff won’t be contributing any music but he comes in handy for the album’s liner notes.

For more information about the Jazz Masters, visit

Here is a list of the Jazz Masters dating back to the inception of the honor in 1982:

1982: Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Sun Ra

1983: Count Basie, Kenneth Clarke, Sonny Rollins

1984: Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, Max Roach

1985: Gil Evans, Ella Fitzgerald, Jonathan “Jo” Jones

1986: Benny Carter, Dexter Gordon, Teddy Wilson

1987: Cleo Patra Brown, Melba Liston, Jay McShann

1988: Art Blakey, Lionel Hampton, Billy Taylor

1989: Barry Harris, Hank Jones, Sarah Vaughan

1990: George Russell, Cecil Taylor, Gerald Wilson

1991: Danny Barker, Buck Clayton, Andy Kirk, and Clark Terry

1992: Betty Carter, Dorothy Donegan, Harry Edison

1993: Milt Hinton, Jon Hendricks, Joe Williams

1994: Louie Bellson, Ahmad Jamal, Carmen McRae

1995: Ray Brown, Roy Haynes, Horace Silver

1996: Tommy Flanagan, Benny Golson, J.J. Johnson

1997: Billy Higgins, Milt Jackson, Anita O’Day

1998: Ron Carter, James Moody, Wayne Shorter

1999: Dave Brubeck, Art Farmer, Joe Henderson

2000: David Baker, Donald Byrd, Marian McPartland

2001: John Lewis, Jackie McLean, Randy Weston

2002: Frank Foster, Percy Heath, McCoy Tyner

2003: Jimmy Heath, Elvin Jones, Abbey Lincoln

2004: Herbie Hancock, Luther Henderson, Jim Hall, Chico Hamilton, Nancy Wilson, Nat Hentoff

Originally Published