The National Endowment for the Arts recently presented its 2003 American Jazz Masters Fellowship Awards to three artists for their contributions to jazz, artistic excellence and impact on the music field.

John Coltrane's favorite drummer Elvin Jones comes from a renowned family of jazz musicians. His brother, pianist Hank Jones, was named an American Jazz Master in 1989. His other brother, Thad, was an accomplished trumpeter.

Born and raised in Pontiac, Michigan, Elvin Jones discovered be-bop when he moved to New York at age 29. His improvisational style was a perfect fit for groups led by Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and J.J. Johnson. His appearances on such Coltrane classics as A Love Supreme, and My Favorite Things in the 1960s, brought Jones international acclaim. Now 75, Jones performs and tours with his own group, Jazz Machine.

Abbey Lincoln, 72, is the first vocalist to win an American Jazz Master Award since Anita O'Day in 1997. Inspired by Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan, Lincoln began performing in high school in her native Chicago. Much of her success as a soloist comes from her acclaimed musical collaborations. In addition to having saxophone veteran Benny Carter play on her first album, Lincoln appeared alongside Thelonious Monk, Stan Getz, Max Roach and Miles Davis. Often described as a "modern cultural storyteller," Lincoln incorporates her work as a teacher, poet and actress into her music.

Like drummer Elvin Jones, tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath was born into a prominent musical family. His older brother bassist Percy Heath was awarded an American Jazz Master Fellowship in 2002, and his younger brother Albert is a drummer living and working in Los Angeles. At 76, Jimmy Heath says "Between us we've got over 150 years of experience, and we are the elders of the surviving families of this music." Heath worked with such be-bop pioneers as Dizzy Gillespie and Gil Evans, wrote more than 100 compositions, and served as the Director of Jazz Studies at Queens College in New York.

The National Endowment of the Arts' 2003 American Jazz Masters Fellowship Awards were presented on January 10 at the 30th Annual International Association for Jazz Education Conference in Toronto, Canada. A panel of experts selected the winners from a pool of nominations submitted by the national jazz community and the public. Elvin Jones, Abbey Lincoln and Jimmy Heath each received a one-time fellowship of $20,000.