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NEA Jazz Masters 2015: Immaculate Presentation

Celebrating the new honorees with a smart, concise program

2015 NEA Jazz Master Joe Segal at the 2015 NEA Jazz Masters Awards Ceremony and Concert on April 20, 2015 in Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall in New York City.
2015 NEA Jazz Masters Charles Lloyd, Carla Bley, George Coleman and Joe Segal with NEA Chairman Jane Chu (from left)
Carla Bley, 2015 NEA Jazz Masters Awards Ceremony and Concert, JALC, NYC
NEA Jazz Master George Coleman performs at the 2015 NEA Jazz Masters Awards Ceremony and Concert, JALC, NYC
George Coleman performs with Harold Mabern (piano), Eric Alexander (saxophone), John Webber (bass), and Joe Farnsworth (drums), NEA Jazz masters Concert 2015, JALC, NYC
2015 NEA Jazz Master Charles Lloyd at the 2015 NEA Jazz Masters Awards Ceremony and Concert on April 20, 2015, JALC, NYC

The 2015 NEA Jazz Masters Awards Ceremony and Concert, held Monday, April 20, at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater in New York, was, as big-institution presentations go, a nearly painless experience. Honoring Carla Bley, 79; George Coleman, 80; Charles Lloyd, 77; and Chicago club owner Joe Segal, 89, it was fun, and moving, and its two-hours-plus runtime seemed neither too brief nor too long. That first sentence might seem cynical-how could an all-star jazz confab be trying?-but as awards shows on network TV keep proving, just because an organization has a lot of resources doesn’t mean it knows how to utilize them. The host at Rose, bassist and broadcaster Christian McBride, was pitch-perfect, and the speeches, including introductions by other NEA Jazz Masters, were mostly prewritten, which meant they didn’t ramble. The video presentation for each awardee was meaningful and reflective of a real budget.

The occasion merited such savvy and professionalism. The Jazz Masters Fellowship, which the NEA initiated in 1982, is accurately touted as the nation’s highest honor in jazz. It comes with a one-time stipend of $25,000, and is viewed as entry into a hall-of-fame for the music. In recent years the number of annual Masters has been pared down to three musicians plus a non-player recipient of the A.B. Spellman Award for Jazz Advocacy. Still, it’s a coup for jazz in 2015, when any new information about public arts funding is too often a tale of woe.

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