Donald Byrd, Marian McPartland and David Baker, three jazz musicians who have helped the music develop and worked to educate the public about it, have been chosen by the National Endowment for the Arts as this year's American Jazz Masters.
The awards, which will be presented tonight at a concert in New Orleans, recognize both artistic and public leadership. Past winners include Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon and Sarah Vaughan. The honor was established in 1982 to recognize jazz musicians who are often overshadowed in the general music awards programs.
"These three jazz masters are being recognized not only for their musical genius and for the incredible body of work they have created during their careers, but also for their dedication to educating young people about this uniquely American art form that is such an important part of our country's living cultural heritage," said Bill Ivey, the NEA chairman.
Byrd, a trumpet virtuoso, emerged on the public scene in the mid-1950s when he worked with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Over the years he has played with Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane and released more than 60 albums. Byrd helped start the jazz studies programs at Rutgers, Howard and North Carolina Central universities.
McPartland, a tireless pianist, has toured, composed and played since the 1940s, bringing an intimate style to jazz rooms in Chicago and New York with her trio. The British-born musician brought an even larger audience to jazz with her interviews and playing for the last 20 years on National Public Radio's "Piano Jazz" program.
Baker, a trombonist and cellist, started playing with Wes Montgomery, Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, Lionel Hampton and Quincy Jones. In a varied career, he has composed more than 2,000 works in many musical genres and has written several jazz textbooks. He serves as both the chairman of the jazz department at Indiana University and the music director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra.