The National Endowment for the Arts has announced the latest class of NEA Jazz Masters, the highest recognition that the United States bestows on its greatest jazz musicians. The 2022 NEA Jazz Masters fellowship recipients include bassist Stanley Clarke; drummer Billy Hart; vocalist Cassandra Wilson; and saxophonist, educator, and activist Donald Harrison, Jr.
On both acoustic and electric bass, Clarke is generally regarded as one of the most influential players in modern jazz history. In addition to maintaining a solo career for more than 50 years, he was a founding member of the jazz-rock fusion band Return to Forever, which would become one of the most popular jazz ensembles of the 1970s, pulling fans from the rock world to achieve commercial success.
Hart, one of the most sought-after drummers of his generation, has recorded 12 albums as a leader and performed as a sideman on more than 600 recordings. Along with Harrison, he is currently a member of jazz “supergroup” the Cookers. He also teaches both nationally and internationally, and has authored the book Jazz Drumming.
Wilson has recorded more than 20 albums as a leader since 1986, creating a body of work that has expanded the definition of jazz. She has collaborated with a wide range of artists, from Charlie Haden and Henry Threadgill to Angelique Kidjo and Luther Vandross, and she earned critical acclaim for her performance on Wynton Marsalis’ Pulitzer Prize-winning Blood on the Fields (1997).
Harrison, although a celebrated musician with a distinguished career that stretches back to the late 1970s, will receive the Jazz Masters’ A.B. Spellman Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy. This is, at least in part, a recognition of the work he has done on behalf of the jazz community in his native New Orleans, especially since Hurricane Katrina in 2005: mentoring local musicians, finding them employment, serving as artistic director for the Tipitina’s Foundation afterschool internship program, and founding the Congo Square Nation Afro-New Orleans Cultural Group, among other notable achievements.
The NEA Jazz Master fellowship carries with it a $25,000 cash award, as well as a tribute concert that will take place March 31, 2022 at SFJAZZ in San Francisco.
The NEA inaugurated its Jazz Masters program in 1982, and since then has awarded 165 fellowships. For further information, and for full-length biographies of the 2022 inductees, visit the NEA website.