Three Black musicians receive $25,000 NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship

The honorees are from Detroit, which is said to be the hometown of 10% of the jazz masters since 1982, the inception of the awards.

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The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) recently announced the recipients of the 2023 NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship and the three musicians are all from Detroit.

Regina Carter, Kenny Garrett and Louis Hayes have each been awarded $25,000, and will be honored during a public concert in Washington, D.C., next year at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (Kennedy Center). Additionally, artist Sue Mingus  — widow of jazz great Charles Mingus — is the recipient of the 2023 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy, according to a statement on the NEA website.

Violinist Regina Carter has also received a “genius” grant. (Photo by Jeff_Dunn)

“From its origins in the Black American experience to what is now a global treasure, jazz continues to be a source of inspiration and creativity, due in large part to the stewards of this tradition, four of whom we are excited to honor this year,” said NEA chair Maria Rosario Jackson. “Congratulations to the 2023 NEA Jazz Masters! We look forward to collaborating with the Kennedy Center on an event that will celebrate their contributions and passion for jazz with a wide audience.”

Carter, 55, is a renowned violinist and recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant and a Doris Duke Artist Award. She received an individual NEA jazz grant in 1990. Garrett, 61, is a Grammy Award-winning saxophonist, arranger and composer who has worked with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the Mel Lewis Orchestra and Miles Davis. Hayes, 85, has more than 50 years in the industry as “one of the premier drummers in jazz,” according to the NEA statement..

Kenny Garrett is a Grammy-winning saxophonist, arranger and composer. (Photo by Jimmy Katz)

“I’m just kind of in shock,” said Carter, who is one of the youngest musicians to be chosen for the fellowship since it was formed in 1982, the Detroit Free Press reports. “I would never think of myself as a master of anything, and I just thought, ‘I’m too young for that. That’s for folks that I look up to as an admirer.’ We’re all professional students in life, you know?”

Garrett told the Free Press that the fellowship further validates the Motor City as a musical powerhouse that encompasses more than the Motown Sound. “The fact that we have three people from Detroit — this shows that Detroit has a whole bunch of talent. And it didn’t just start with Motown, there were a lot of jazz musicians who were playing on those records,” Garrett said by phone from Wiesen, Germany, where he is on tour in support of his album, “Sounds from the Ancestors.”

Mark Stryker, author of “Jazz from Detroit,” pointed out that since the inception of the honors, 10% of the jazz masters have been Detroiters. He also observed that the current masters are from different periods.

“What’s so powerful about this batch of honorees is that it’s multiple generations of Detroiters. You have Louis Hayes from what we think of as the golden age of bebop, and then you have Kenny Garrett and Regina Carter, who came along in the 1970s and ‘80s and have had a big impact on jazz in the 21st century.” 

Louis Hayes is “one of the premier drummers in jazz,” according to the NEA statement. (Photo by Janette Beckman)

Continued Stryker, “This group of honorees (are) a reflection of the way Detroit’s jazz legacy regenerates itself generation after generation. Kenny and Regina both came up here under Marcus Belgrave and Kenny Cox and Donald Walden and that generation of mentors. And I have no doubt that in another 10 to 15 years, Kenny Garrett and Regina will also deliver an NEA Jazz Master. This is an ongoing thing in Detroit.”

Jason Moran, Kennedy Center Artistic Director for Jazz, said in the NEA statement: “Regina Carter’s violin sings the sonic legacies of Detroit into the world; Kenny Garrett blasted a fearless fire into his alto saxophone; Louis Hayes’ drums swung every band he was in into the stratosphere; and Sue Mingus is a champion galvanizer, producer, and manager of her late husband Charles Mingus’ immense legacy.”

The concert honoring the jazz masters is slated for April 1, 2023.

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