Saturday, January 14, 2006

Jazz Masters Awards honor Corea, Bennett

Tony Bennett, Chick Corea Honored at 2006 NEA Jazz Masters Awards Concert in New York

Pianist John Levy, left, and singer Tony Bennett chat as they gather with other jazz greats for a special photo shoot during the annual conference of the International Association of Jazz Education in New York, Friday Jan. 13, 2006. Levy and Bennett will be among seven of jazz 'living legends' honored at an evening gala as the 2006 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)When the two big bands filling the stage struck up the opening bars of the Count Basie Orchestra's theme "One O'Clock Jump," the siren call to take part in a jam session was irresistible to the jazz stars in the audience at the NEA Jazz Masters Awards Concert.

Chick Corea, who had been honored earlier Friday evening as one of the National Endowment for the Arts' seven new Jazz Masters for 2006, sat down at the piano to energetically accompany the soloists.

Past Jazz Masters - Cuban-born clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera, tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath, trombonist Slide Hampton and a scat-singing James Moody - took turns soloing as several thousand people clapped along enthusiastically in the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton New York Hotel.

A pint-sized trumpeter, 10-year-old Tyler Lindsay of Virginia Beach, Va., hit the high notes in his solo, earning high fives from the veterans on stage.

It was a rousing, spontaneous conclusion to the awards ceremony honoring this year's NEA Jazz Masters: Corea, singer Tony Bennett, Latin jazz percussionist Ray Barretto, composer-arranger-trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, clarinetist Buddy DeFranco, and John Levy, the bassist who became the first African-American to work in the music industry as a personal manager.

"This is amazing. I'm overwhelmed. It's music that I love so much from all of these magnificent artists," Bennett said as he accepted his award, America's highest honor in jazz.

"More than anybody else I'd like to thank Count Basie for teaching me how to perform," said Bennett, who has always acknowledged that his singing style was largely influenced by the jazz musicians he heard playing in New York clubs.

Singer Nancy Wilson, co-host of the program with pianist Ramsey Lewis, became teary-eyed as she presented the Jazz Masters award to the 93-year-old Levy, her manager for nearly 50 years.

"I want to thank him for being the man who made me," Wilson said.

Corea, who has moved smoothly between acoustic jazz, fusion and classical music during his career, said he felt inspired by the award.

"It is my dream to help ... young musicians to take on the beauty that we've lived and we've created," said the pianist, composer and arranger. "I'm encouraged now to really give it back so I'm going to turn up the heat."

Trumpeter Jon Faddis' Jazz Orchestra of New York opened the musical portion of the program by performing "Beige," a movement from a Duke Ellington suite, and John Coltrane's "Countdown." The Count Basie Orchestra directed by Bill Hughes later played a brief set, highlighted by Grammy-nominated vocalist Nnenna Freelon's stirring rendition of the classic Erroll Garner tune "Misty," accompanied by past Jazz Master Barry Harris on piano.

For the grand finale, the two big bands squared off, paying tribute to the 1961 recording "Duke Ellington Meets Count Basie," with soloists from each orchestra trying to outdo one another on the tune "Battle Royale."

In an interview before the concert, NEA Chairman Dana Gioia said his goal is to give the Jazz Masters awards the same status as the Academy Awards or the Pulitzer Prizes.

"What we're trying to do ... is to take great living jazz musicians and make them celebrated and recognized in their own country during their own lifetime," said Gioia, a poet. "We're trying to give these musicians a chance to perform in ways where people hear them so they can build an audience."

Since taking his post as NEA chairman in 2003, Gioia has expanded the Jazz Masters program, which has honored 87 jazz legends since its inception in 1982.

The NEA provides each Jazz Master with a one-time fellowship of $25,000. The endowment has initiated a 50-state Jazz Masters on Tour program covering 75 cities and produced a two-CD anthology of their music and a special "Jazz Profiles" series with National Public Radio.

It also helped support a "Legends of Jazz" TV series hosted by Ramsey Lewis, which will debut on PBS this spring, as well as a multimedia Jazz in the Schools curriculum offered for free to high school teachers of social studies, history and music.

This year's awards ceremony was held as part of the International Association for Jazz Education convention.

On the Net: Jazz Masters: neajazzmasters.org

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