2013 NEA Jazz Masters Honored at Dizzy’s
On Jan. 14, pianist Mose Allison, alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, Village Vanguard owner Lorraine Gordon and pianist Eddie Palmieri joined the ranks of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Masters, expanding the list of honorees to 128 members.
Due to budgetary constraints, the NEA diverged from the more expansive celebrations of recent years by consolidating the proceedings into a one-day event that culminated with a black-tie gala at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Twenty-eight NEA Jazz Masters attended with their families and guests. A worldwide online audience viewed the ceremony via simultaneous HD webcasts from both Jazz at Lincoln Center’s website and the NEA website, as well as through collaborative live broadcasts on WBGO-FM, NPR Music and Sirius XM Satellite Radio.
After a set by pianist Helen Sung, bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Obed Calvaire, emcee Wynton Marsalis introduced NEA Jazz Masters pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jimmy Cobb as the house band for the evening. The group interpreted Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way” with an extraordinary level of interactivity, nuance and swing.
NEA Director of Music and Opera Wayne Brown then introduced each of the Jazz Masters in attendance: Muhal Richard Abrams, George Avakian, David Baker, Candido Camero, Paquito D’Rivera, Chico Hamilton, Roy Haynes, Jimmy Heath, Ahmad Jamal, Sheila Jordan, Lee Konitz, Dave Liebman, Dan Morgenstern, Jimmy Owens, Annie Ross, McCoy Tyner, George Wein, Randy Weston, Joe Wilder and Marsalis family members Ellis, Branford, Delfeayo and Jason.
Wein introduced Allison, who accompanied his daughter, Amy, as she sang his hymn-like ballad “Was.” Then author A.B. Spellman offered a discursive, elegantly rendered, extemporaneous eulogy for late NEA Jazz Masters John Levy, Von Freeman and Dave Brubeck. “Lives like this are so rich, so full, so productive, so creative, that they can’t really be mourned; they can only be celebrated,” Spellman said. “These are people we build statues to in our hearts.”
Spellman then brought Weston to the stage. Still a formidable presence at 86, the pianist noted the recent passings of Ted Curson and Jayne Cortez before spinning a “few variations” of the tune “Hi Fly” with Carter and Cobb, who remained on point for the entirety.
Deborah Gordon served as proxy for her mother, Lorraine, who was ill. Deborah conveyed Lorraine’s sentiments that “this honor really belongs to Max,” referring to Lorraine’s husband, Max Gordon, who founded the Village Vanguard in 1935. (Lorraine helped him run the venue, and she took over ownership after Max’s death in 1989.)
Heath—a regular presence at the Vanguard—and the house trio paid homage with a sweet rendition of “Sweet Lorraine.” Heath developed the melody continuously with a warm, mellow tone, inspiring equally effervescent turns by Barron and Carter.
The house band then welcomed Jordan, who sang the self-penned, autobiographical “Sheila’s Blues.” Tyner said a few words about Palmieri, who stated being introduced by Tyner was his “highest honor.” Palmieri offered a solo performance of “Iraida”; then, on a good Steinway, he elicited an orchestral array of colors and carved out enough spirit-evoking polyrhythms for a drum choir.
Cobb introduced Donaldson, who paid tribute to his comic hero, Redd Foxx, and his musical hero, Charlie Parker, with a well-wrought “Blues Walk.” After this vivid master class on old-school values came a forward-looking finale—D’Rivera, on clarinet, and Liebman, on soprano sax, stretched out on “All Blues.” Each musician displayed the individuality and creative spirit without which the term “Jazz Master” is meaningless.