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Kennedy Center Honors Jazz

Franz A. Matzner By

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All of this has underscored the Kennedy Center
Since first committing to establishing a jazz program more than ten years ago, the Kennedy Center has steadily increased the frequency and depth of its programming. The addition of the KC Jazz Club—a small, intimate venue housed within the main building, replete with bar—expanded the Kennedy Center's ability to highlight a broader spectrum of modern jazz. Not only has the Kennedy Center showcased a mix of genres throughout its 2006-2007 season, it has also embraced a compelling variety of instruments, ages, genders, and nationalities.

This season's audiences have been graced with everything from intimate performances by up-and-coming Norwegian guitarist Lage Lund, to headline acts by Kurt Elling, Dave Holland, and Rufus Reid, and crowd- pleasing main events like the annual NPR Jazz Piano Christmas or the New Year's special featuring Freddy Cole and the Dizzy Gillespie All Star Band. Peppering this line-up have been performances by Gerri Allen, Dave Samuels and the Caribbean Jazz Project, a jazz ballet based on the life of Billie Holiday, and a surprise appearance by officially retired Dr. Billy Taylor at which he debuted his young protégé, seventeen-yea- old Christian Sands. All of this has underscored the Kennedy Center's dedication to celebrating both poles of modern jazz—its venerable history and its vibrant next generation—including everything in between.

The piece de resistance for this year, however, may be March's upcoming weeklong celebration entitled "Jazz in Our Time," which will honor over thirty-five of our most accomplished jazz musicians by bestowing upon them the "Living Legend Jazz Award.

According to Dr. Billy Taylor, who continues to serve as the Kennedy Center's artistic advisor, "It is important to honor musicians while they are alive. So often, jazz luminaries are recognized for their achievements only after their death. With 'Jazz in Our Time,' we are reflecting on the massive impact these jazz artists have had on the development and continuation of jazz around the world.

Hosted by James Earl Jones, the "Jazz in Our Time festival will stretch from March 3 to March 10th, and will comprise twelve concerts, featuring performances by Nancy Wilson, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, violinist Regina Carter, drummer T.S. Monk, pianist Cyrus Chestnut, Ahmad Jamal, Jimmy Heath, the Hank Jones Quartet, vocalist Roberta Gambarini, Paquito D'Rivera and Clark Terry. And if past Kennedy Center events provide any indication, audiences should arrive expecting a plethora of top-notch special guests.

The main events will occur March 3rd, 4th, 9th, and 10th, while eight additional shows will take place on the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage, a free venue typically dedicated to multiple art forms, but for this week reserved to documenting the arc of jazz's historical development by showcasing a different era of jazz each night, from 1920's ragtime to modern jazz/hip-hop crossover.

Most importantly, while many musical tribute events suffer from an undue emphasis on lengthy congratulatory remarks and long-winded acceptance speeches, the Kennedy Center consistently strikes a balance between acknowledging the historical merit of the event and remembering that the best way to honor musicians is to put on a solid, room-rocking night of entertainment. A survey of the scheduled performers—some of which have admittedly become staple Kennedy Center attractions—indicates that this could evolve into a truly once-in-a-life-time event, particularly if the Kennedy Center lives up to its track record of bringing to the stage numerous unexpected performers and unpredictable twists.

In short, the "Jazz in Our Time tribute promises to fulfill the Kennedy Center's dual charge, as our National Performing Arts Center, of serving the community as both an educational and entertainment facility. Fortunate to be classified as a congressionally-funded, non-profit entity, it is doubly rewarding to see this privileged status interpreted, in the jazz arena at least, as an opportunity to embrace jazz's past while exposing audiences to the topography of modern jazz culture.



Living Legend Jazz Award honorees include:


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