Desmond White / Courtesy NEA
It’s been a moment on “Oceans of Time,” from a 2016 album by The Cookers, when alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, Jr. takes on a solo full of overwhelming confidence. The songwriter, master drummer Billy Hart, swings powerfully behind him.
To this day, Hart and Harrison can be identified not only as members of The Cookers, but also by a prestigious title: they are both NEA Jazz Masters 2022, with magnetic singer-songwriter Cassandra Wilson and bassist. virtuoso Stanley Clarke.
According to an announcement made this morning by the National Endowment for the Arts, these four new inductees will be celebrated with a concert and ceremony on March 31, 2022 at the SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco. They will also each receive a prize of $ 25,000, as well as what is considered the highest honor reserved for a jazz artist living in the United States.
“The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to celebrate the 40th anniversary of honoring outstanding jazz personalities with the NEA Jazz Masters class of 2022,” said Ann Eilers, Interim President of the National Endowment of the Arts, in a statement. . “Jazz continues to play an important role in American culture through the dedication and artistry of individuals like these and we look forward to working with SFJAZZ on a concert that will share their music and stories with a wide audience throughout the world. next spring. “
Hart, at 80, is the senior member of this NEA Jazz Masters class. During a career that began in his hometown of Washington, DC, Hart has distinguished himself in a staggering range of settings, always with the earthy elasticity that is his rhythmic hallmark. He was a member of Mwandishi, the pioneering jazz-funk group formed in 2004 by jazz master NEA Herbie Hancock, and supported everyone from Stan Getz to Shirley Horn. For the past 18 years, he has conducted an acclaimed quartet with several prominent young associates; his most recent album is All things are, performed with pianist Kevin Hays and bassist Ben Street.
Toshi Sakurai / Courtesy of NEA
Clarke, who just turned 70, is originally from Philadelphia, where he studied classical music as well as jazz. Recognized as a young phenomenon almost as soon as he arrived in New York City, he amassed numerous sideman credits before teaming up with keyboardist Chick Corea to form Return to Forever, another defining group in the formative era of jazz fusion. Clarke pursued a very successful solo career: her 1976 album School days landed the Top 40, and “Sweet Baby,” a single he did with keyboardist George Duke, was a Top 20 hit. He has also written extensively for film and television, and conducts the Stanley Clarke Scholarship Foundation, which supports promising young musicians.
Donald Harrison / Courtesy NEA
Harrison, 61, is this year’s recipient of the AB Spellman NEA Jazz Masters for Jazz Advocacy Fellowship – an award that often goes to a writer or producer rather than a musician. His qualifications are rooted in a lifelong commitment to his native New Orleans, where he founded the Congo Square Nation Afro-New Orleans cultural group and is artistic director of the Tipitina Foundation internship program. Harrison is also an alto saxophonist and conductor of great distinction, and the ancestor of a hybrid genre he calls “new swing,” which combines elements from across the African diaspora. (Speaking with me in 2019, he explained how this idea applies to his instrumental cover of “Old Town Road,” the Lil Nas X smash.)
Mark Seliger / Courtesy NEA
Finally, we come to Wilson, the youngest member of this year’s class at 65. Born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, she’s been a genre-blurring artist since the 1993 release of her Commercial Breakthrough, Blue light until dawn (recognized by NPR Music as one of 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women). Wilson first appeared nearly a decade earlier as an intrepid singer in the avant-garde musical cohort known as M-BASE. Its rich contralto, tinged with smoke and honey, is an inimitable tone at the crossroads of modern jazz, delta blues, classic country and American folk music.
Wilson has also publicly aligned, in recent years, with a political faction that calls for the elimination of the NEA, among other government programs. But she only expressed positive thoughts about the Jazz Masters award. “This honor bestowed upon me by the National Endowment of the Arts lifts my spirits,” she wrote in a statement, “and brings me great joy to know that music will always continue and the best is yet to come. come.”