Monday, October 16, 2006

Class of 2007

During the previous administration, news of the incoming class of NEA Jazz Masters was treated like a ho-hum event. Under Chairman Dana Gioia the new Jazz Master announcement is actually big news. The Class of 2007 will be:

Toshiko Akiyoshi: a top pianist, bandleader, and arranger who first heard jazz while living in Japan in the late 1940’s.

Curtis Fuller: a trombonist and longtime member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Meesengers, as well as a leader in his own right. (His Cabin in the Sky on Impulse is one of the great often-overlooked jewels yet to be released on CD domestically.)

Ramsey Lewis: Pianist famed for the crossover hit “The In-Crowd” and currently host of Legends of Jazz on PBS (which is sadly consigned to a graveyard timeslot by the NY affiliate).

Jimmy Scott: An amazing vocalist, whose sets now draw celebrity audiences, despite long career hiatuses.

Frank Wess: A reedman who played jazz flute before the flute became the crossover instrument in jazz. Led his own sessions and helped give later Basie bands their distinct sound.

Phil Woods: One of the great Followers of Charlie Parker on alto. Woods was also part of the band that Benny Goodman led on a tour of the Soviet Union on behalf of the U.S. State Department.

Dan Morgenstern: A jazz historian and writer, Morgenstern is currently the director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers.

The NEA is a clear example of an agency that has profited from the superior leadership provided by the current administration, and jazz artists have been among the beneficiaries.