NEA Jazz Masters Ceremony Honors Musicians But Doesn't Let Them Play

By Ian Holubiak on Apr 08, 2016 05:02 PM EDT
National Endowment for the Arts The NEA Jazz Masters concert was held this week in Washington D.C. at the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall. While heavyweights light Archie Shepp, Gary Burton and Pharoah Sanders were honored, they unfortunately weren't able to perform the tunes that helped make their careers. (Photo : Bryan Bedder/Getty Images)

This year's National Endowment for the Arts induction ceremony was a series of firsts. For one, it wasn't held at its standard Jazz at Lincoln Center venue and it also didn't feature the honorees in performance.

Held Monday night in Washington at the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall, the NEA honored a new class of "Jazz Masters," which included vibraphonist Gary Burton and tenor saxophonists Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp. Unfortunately, the honorees spoke briefly about the accolade then adjourned to watch others perform their tunes.

However, as it's been reported, the performances that did happen are not to be slighted. While it's unfortunate Burton couldn't join his frequent collaborator Chick Corea on stage, it's been noted that performance that did take place was still resounding.

Mike West wrote of the performances:

"If the absences [of the honorees] were a letdown, the performances that did take place were not without their charms. It was delightfully jarring to hear a medley of Shepp's avant-garde tunes, 'Hambone' and 'Blues for Brother George Jackson,' played in all their dissonant glory by the likes of trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, trombonist Roswell Rudd, and saxophonists David Murray and Rudresh Mahanthappa. Rudd and Murray were especially enjoyable, the former employing traditional jazz licks and good humor while the latter used his instrument's full register to devour the tune with relish."

West continued to write, also, that the occasion wasn't unlike any occasion that has been held at the Kennedy Center. That is, the gala may actually have been a "trap" for jazz in this era.

Archie Shepp was not happy about the pervasive elitism that was indelibly omnipotent, though, and seemed to be outspoken about it, too.

Nonetheless, the concert was hosted by Jason Moran, pianist and Kennedy Center artistic director for Jazz, and included remarks by Jane Chu, chairman of the NEA, and Deborah F. Rutter, president of the Kennedy Center.

Congratulations to all the honorees at this week's gala. Be sure to check out a preview of the iconic Archie Shepp below in the meantime.

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TagsArchie Shepp, Chick Corea, Gary Burton, Pharoah Sanders, National Endowment for the Arts, Kennedy Center

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