The National Endowment for the Arts has named its 2014 Jazz Masters, and as usual its picks happily include artists whose mastery was never in question.
Pianist Keith Jarrett leads the organization's field of honorees, and the recognition comes during a year that's also seen the release of the live recording "Somewhere," which is another bewitching collection from his "Standards" trio of bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette. The trio comes to UCLA's Royce Hall this September to celebrate its 30th anniversary.
In a statement released by the NEA, bassist Charlie Haden, who was also named an NEA Jazz Master in 2012, said "Along with Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett is perhaps the most influential pianist in the history of improvised music." Jarrett will also release an interpretation of J.S. Bach's "Six Sonatas for Violin and Keyboard" with violinist Michelle Makarski on Sept. 3.
Also honored was the adventurous saxophonist Anthony Braxton, whose category-defying body of work has influenced a wealth of instrumental explorations in the avant-garde and beyond. In addition to a wealth of solo compositions (often titled with inscrutable graphic symbols), Braxton has also teamed with Wadada Leo Smith, the supergroup Circle with Chick Corea and Dave Holland and, more recently, the noise-rock group Wolf Eyes.
Though the NEA Jazz Masters honor justly places him squarely alongside many figures from the jazz firmament, including Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie and the Marsalis family, Braxton has often been at odds with the label and considered it too limiting to describe his music.
In the same statement released by the NEA, pianist Jason Moran noted, "Anthony Braxton's expansive catalog has always been an inspiration. [He is] a ... supreme improviser and composer who searches with sounds."
Also honored was bassist and educator Richard Davis and Jamey Aebersold, who received the 2014 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy for his work as a musician, educator and producer of a "Play-A-Long" series of instructional books and CDs.
The 2014 NEA Jazz Masters each receive $25,000 and will be honored at an awards ceremony held in New York City in a partnership with Jazz at Lincoln Center on Jan. 13, 2014.