According to trumpeter Jimmy Owens, recipient of the NEA’s 2012 A. B. Spellman Award for Jazz Advocacy, “None of the jazz clubs you go to, and spend your money at, pay into the musician’s pension fund for the musicians who are working there.”
It’s important for the National Endowment for the Arts to bestow honors on individuals who spent their lives performing, producing, and promoting jazz. For one thing, the genre is young enough that the lineage from its inception is intact.
The NEA Jazz Masters ceremony was more about the soul of the music and its proponents than about who won and who didn’t. The messages delivered by the recipients, as well as by the planners and emcees, were sincere in their attempts to describe the value of this music as being more than mere entertainment, as transcending the profit motives of the very corporate sponsors who began marketing jazz in 1917.
On Tuesday, January 10, I attended the NEA Jazz Masters 30th anniversary award ceremony. As in previous Jazz Masters events, the awards’ presentations alternated with performances by select past Masters that occasionally included “emerging” artists considered worthy of inclusion.