Meet the 2022 class of NEA Jazz Masters

The National Endowment for the Arts has named bassist Stanley Clarke, drummer Billy Hart and vocalist Cassandra Wilson to the 2022 class of NEA Jazz Masters.

Saxophonist Donald Harrison, Jr., was also announced as the recipient of the 2022 A.B Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy.

Awarded annually since 1982, these fellowships are the United States’ highest honour bestowed upon jazz musicians, broadcasters and advocates. Recipients are regarded as “living legends who have made exceptional contributions to the advancement of jazz.”

The year’s four honourees will each receive a $25,000 award to go along with their title.

The 2021 NEA Jazz Masters were drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, percussionist Henry Threadgill, saxophonist Albert “Tootie” Heath and historian Phil Schaap. Other past honourees include Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and Dianne Reeves.

The four recipients will be honoured with a concert on March 31, produced by SFJAZZ in San Francisco in front of a live audience. It will also be livestreamed online.

Stanley Clarke

Stanley Clarke’s bass-playing, showing exceptional skill on both acoustic and electric bass, has made him one of the most influential players in modern jazz history. In addition to his solo career, Clarke, as a founding member of the legendary jazz-rock fusion band Return to Forever, has helped redefine the sound of jazz over the last 50 years. Return to Forever — with fellow seminal members Chick Corea, Lenny White and Al Di Meola — would become one of the most popular jazz bands of its day, pulling fans from the rock world to achieve commercial success. As part of his strong belief in giving back, he also established the Stanley Clarke Foundation, a charitable organization which awards scholarships to talented young musicians each year. To date, Clarke has won three Grammy Awards and one Latin Grammy. He is still actively touring, composing, and recording.

Photo credit: Toshi Sakurai

Donald Harrison, Jr.

As a saxophonist, Donald Harrison, Jr., is known for his hard-swinging improvisational style and the creation of “Nouveau Swing,” a blend of jazz with R&B, hip-hop, rock and soul. And his dedication to preserving the music and culture of New Orleans has been crucial to assuring its important legacy survive. Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Harrison increased his activism, creating employment opportunities in his own bands for young musicians who had remained in the city when many others had left. He also mentored now world-renowned jazz artists from New Orleans and beyond, including Jon Batiste, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Trombone Shorty and Esperanza Spalding. He continues to celebrate and promote the culture and music he loves.

Billy Hart

Billy Hart is one of the most sought-after jazz drummers of his generation, able to perform in diverse contexts ranging from straight-ahead to avant-garde to pop. Throughout his career, he has recorded 12 albums in his own name and performed as a sideman on more than 600 recordings. Hart also teaches widely— nationally and internationally — and has authored the book Jazz Drumming. Since the early 1990s, Hart has taught at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, the New England Conservatory of Music and Western Michigan University.

Photo credit: Desmond White

Cassandra Wilson

Cassandra Wilson has used her distinctive voice and fascinating arrangements of standards — in not just jazz but blues, country, and folk as well — to create a body of work that has expanded the definition of jazz. She has recorded more than 20 releases as a leader and has been featured on recordings by musicians such as Terence Blanchard, Bill Frisell, Charlie Haden, Angelique Kidjo, and Luther Vandross, and earned critical acclaim for her performance on Wynton Marsalis’ Pulitzer Prize-winning album Blood on the Fields. Wilson has won two Grammy Awards along with honorary doctorates from Millsaps College (Mississippi), the New School (New York) and Berklee College of Music (Massachusetts).

Photo credit: Mark Seliger

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