Because they honor an artist’s entire career, lifetime achievement awards can be tricky. They’re especially gratifying, for they imply that you had more than one or two peak moments, and sustained excellence over a long period. But they also come with the unspoken implication that maybe your career is over, or at least winding down.
One could tell that Jack DeJohnette was genuinely pleased to be named a 2012 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, just such a lifetime achievement award. Five days before the ceremony, the 69-year-old drummer sat in the New York offices of his new label, eOne, and beamed with both satisfaction and astonishment when the award was mentioned. But he was also quick to emphasize his current projects: his new album and his young road band. “They called to tell me last summer when I was in England visiting my mother-in-law, who was very ill,” he said, wearing a blue-knit pullover and rimless rectangular glasses as he leaned back in a conference-room chair. “I was very surprised; it took a minute for it to sink in. When I hung up and told my wife, Lydia, I realized what an honor it was, especially when you think of all the Jazz Masters who came before me. I thought, maybe someone was paying attention after all.”