Front row (left to right): Mary Jo Gitler (representing 2017 NEA Jazz Master Ira Gitler), 2017 NEA Jazz Masters Dave Holland, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Dr. Lonnie Smith. Back row (left to right): 2017 NEA Jazz Master Dick Hyman, Fitz Gitler (representing Ira Gitler), NEA Chairman Jane Chu, Kennedy Center Artistic Director for Jazz Jason Moran and Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter (photo by Yassine El Mansouri)
2009 NEA Jazz Master Lee Konitz (right) and pianist Dan Tepfer perform in honor of Ira Gitler (photo by Shannon Finney)
China Moses and Sherrie Maricle and the DIVA Jazz Orchestra perform in honor of Dee Dee Bridgewater (photo by Shannon Finney)
James Genus (bass), Steve Nelson (vibraphone), Robin Eubanks (trombone), Chris Potter (tenor sax) and Nate Smith (drums) perform in honor of Dave Holland (photo by Shannon Finney)
The interjection “Not to get political, but…” became a leitmotif in writer Gary Giddins’ speech honoring fellow critic Ira Gitler at the 2017 Jazz Masters tribute concert (held for a second year at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.). Not getting political was a difficult undertaking at the 35th anniversary of the National Endowment for the Arts’ fellowship for jazz musicians, the highest honor that the U.S. government offers the music. The Trump Administration’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 calls for the elimination of the NEA, among other federal agencies.
Faced with its endangerment, this year’s recipients of the Jazz Masters fellowship used the ceremony as a rally for its preservation—in Giddins’ words, “that jazz advocacy of the hip, by the hip and for the hip shall not perish from the Earth.”