What makes a Jazz Master?

2011 NEA Jazz Masters

My thoughts on the 2011 NEA Jazz Masters Awards

Watching the NEA Jazz Masters Concerts was inspiring both as a musician and as an avid jazz listener. Witnessing individuals who have mastered their craft with an incredible amount of passion is unbelievable. I admire them for their hard work and their ability to create music that is so influential among the jazz community. These masters include flutist Hubert Laws, saxophonist Dave Liebman, composer/arranger and musician Johnny Mandel, producer Orrin Keepnews, and the Marsalis Family.  Each person has changed or contributed to the jazz world in some way, whether it be through the music or through the commitment to promoting jazz. Their contributions are what keeps jazz thriving and moving in a forward direction.

As many of the 2011 NEA Jazz Masters played with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, conducted and led by the great Wynton Marsalis, I began to wonder what makes a jazz master. When we refer to a “Jazz Master”, I always think of people like John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie. I feel a jazz master is someone who has  pushed jazz forward in a new direction, a new style, or a new interpretation. Like many jazz greats, the ability to become a jazz master lay in their music and how they approached their artistic creativity with a new perspective. I also believed that it was time that truly determined who is a jazz master.

Yet, after watching this awards concert, I soon found myself noticing that the recipients of the NEA Jazz Masters awards were predominantly young. Now young is not a comparison to the jazz legends who lived about 50 years ago. It also symbolizes their perspective on jazz and how they approach playing music. I guess that’s what also makes someone a jazz great. This concert opened my idea and conception about what makes a jazz master. I learned that it is not someone who is old or someone who has dramatically shifted jazz in a whole new direction, it is someone who has dedicated their entire life to sharing their passion for jazz. It is also taking their talent and abilities to challenge others to broaden their views towards music. This is what truly defines a Jazz Master. Below is a link to interviews with the 2011 NEA Jazz Masters along with a link to watch the actual broadcast of the concert. Continue reading