Every year, the National Endowment for the Arts, or NEA, selects a group of outstanding musicians for its Jazz Masters Fellowships Program. The program honors five artists who have made a significant contribution to the art form, including instrumentalists, vocalists and composers. Previous nominees include bandleader Count Basie, trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, and vocalists Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. A new compilation CD titled NEA Jazz Masters, features music by past and present honorees.
William "Count" Basie was one of the first nominees selected to the NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship program since its inception in 1982. The great swing bandleader and pianist, known for hiring the world's finest soloists, is represented on the CD by this 1938 recording of Jumpin' At The Woodside.
As "Count" Basie was entertaining the world with swing jazz and jump blues, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie was changing the direction of jazz with a new sound called "be-bop."
"Be-bop" broke all the rules, allowing jazz musicians more freedom to play what they felt rather than playing what was written. Dizzy Gillespie, along with Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, re-introduced the idea of improvising on a melody, the way Louis Armstrong did years earlier. Gillespie's A Night In Tunisia, included on NEA Jazz Masters, was significant for fusing American jazz with Afro-Cuban rhythms.
And let's not forget the great ladies of jazz.
Sarah Vaughan's career spanned more than 50 years, and in fact, included her own recording of A Night In Tunisia with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. This track from the NEA Jazz Masters collection features Sarah in her prime, singing George Gershwin's They Can't Take That Away From Me. Dubbed "The Divine One" and "Sassy," Sarah Vaughan was as much a pop star as she was a jazz diva. In the liner notes to Ken Burns' Jazz, author Will Friedwald writes, "There was no limit to the things she could do or the way she could do them."
There's no mistaking this guiding jazz force and NEA Jazz Master nominee, pianist Dave Brubeck, whose unconventional arrangement of Paul Desmond's Take Five made him a jazz legend. Take Five is one of 28 tracks from NEA Jazz Masters.
A special panel from the National Endowment for the Arts considers the nominations for its Jazz Masters Fellowships Program and awards each recipient a $20,000 fellowship.
The 2004 nominees are featured on the NEA Jazz Masters compilation: guitarist Jim Hall, drummer Chico Hamilton, vocalist Nancy Wilson, arranger and composer Luther Anderson, and pianist Herbie Hancock who performs a rendition of Duke Ellington's Cotton Tail.