With Jazz Appreciation Month underway in April, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) recently honored its 2019 class of Jazz Masters with three days of events throughout D.C.
This year’s honorees were Stanley Crouch, Abdullah Ibrahim, Maria Schneider and the late Bob Dorough.
Crouch missed the event due to illness and Dorough, who died last year, was recognized posthumously. But even in their absence, fans who took in the three days of events got their fill of jazz through the NPR Listening Party on Sunday, an All-Star Tribute Concert on Monday and the Master Class at Howard University on Tuesday.
Crouch, an influential jazz historian, author, critic and co-founder of Jazz at Lincoln Center, received the A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy. His written reviews have influenced musicians for decades and, as a drummer himself, he has long championed jazz music to the general public.
“He’s very unapologetic and very honest about how he feels,” said Christian McBride, bassist and host of “Jazz Night in America,” who was in high school in the 1980s when he discovered Crouch’s writings. “What I have always deeply respected about Stanley is he has a personal connection with the people or things he is writing about. I never thought of him as doing guesswork. He’s always at the club talking to the musicians.”
Schneider’s career has put her out front as a bandleader, composer and arranger, and her work is considered a combination of jazz and classical. As a college student, she orchestrated with renowned jazz pianist and bandleader Gil Evans, also a NEA Jazz Master.
“Those were the moments I said I was going to start my own band,” Schneider said. “To me, music is an expression of life and music is just a conduit.”
Ibrahim, who proudly turns 85 this year, combines the rhythmic influences of South Africa with the improvisation of jazz to create his spiritually enriching music. Born in Cape Town as Adolph Johannes Brand, he was widely known as Dollar Brand early in his career before changing his name when he converted to Islam.
Some of the jazz luminaries Ibrahim has worked with include Duke Ellington, Ornette Coleman, Elvin Jones, John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp and Cecil Taylor. One of the high points of his career came in 1994 when he performed at the presidential inauguration of Nelson Mandela.
Ibrahim on Tuesday held a master class with students in the Jazz Studies Program on the Howard University campus, an event that annually wraps up the ceremonies for the year’s NEA Jazz Master honorees.
“Jazz music, from my perspective, is the highest developed form of music ever,” he said. “What jazz music does is gives you that insight into yourself because you constantly challenge yourself.”
Dorough, who died shortly after being notified of the designation, was known across many generations as a vocalist, pianist, composer and sought-after arranger. His career spanned more than 70 years, collaborating with great talents such as trumpeter Miles Davis, saxophonist Phil Woods and Maya Angelou. His compositions have been recorded by Mel Torme, Tony Bennett, Diana Krall, Jaime Cullum and many others.
In the 1970s, Dorough gained a new following from composing and performing songs for the animated series “Schoolhouse Rock,” including the multiplication song “Three is the Magic Number.”