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Regina Carter, Kenny Garrett and Louis Hayes named 2023 NEA Jazz Masters

Regina Carter.
Jonathan Chimene
/
WBGO
Regina Carter.

Three exemplary musicians born and raised in Detroit — drummer Louis Hayes, saxophonist Kenny Garrett and violinist Regina Carter — will soon be recognized as NEA Jazz Masters. According to an announcement this morning by the National Endowment for the Arts, they are among the 2023 class of inductees, along with producer and author Sue Mingus.

The NEA Jazz Masters fellowship, often described as the nation's highest honor for jazz, brings with it a $25,000 award and a prestigious title. According to longstanding custom, the new class will be honored in a gala NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert, to be held on April 1, 2023. The concert, presented in collaboration with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, will be free to attend with a reservation, and webcast live at NPR.org and arts.gov.

Detroit has produced its share of previous NEA Jazz Masters, but never in a sweep like this. "It represents the profound legacy and lineage of jazz from Detroit," critic Mark Stryker tells NPR Music, "and the influence that this city has had on this music over the last 75 years." Stryker's 2019 book, Jazz From Detroit, includes chapters devoted to each of the three new musician honorees.

As for Sue Mingus, recipient of the 2023 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy, she originally hails from Milwaukee, though she's a quintessential New Yorker. Known for her tireless efforts on behalf of Charles Mingus — her late husband, the brilliant bassist and composer whose centennial was commemorated this year — Sue drove the creation of both the Charles Mingus Collection at the Library of Congress and a Mingus High School Festival and Competition. She has kept several legacy bands in circulation; one of them, the Mingus Big Band, won her a Grammy as producer in 2011.

Louis Hayes.
Jonathan Chimene / WBGO
/
WBGO
Louis Hayes.

Hayes, at 85, hails from a generation that refined the sound of modern jazz in the postwar era, with an agile cymbal beat that propelled albums by Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderley, Yusef Lateef and many others. Writing about Hayes' brisk emergence on the scene in the '50s, Stryker observes that "he brought remarkable control to fast tempos, and he mastered the art of 'tippin'' — swinging with fierce intensity but soft-shoe elegance." Since making his self-titled debut in 1960, Hayes has also made his mark as a bandleader. In 2017, when he was celebrating the release of Serenade For Horace, Jazz Night in America caught up with Hayes for a crackling set at Dizzy's Club in New York.

Carter is 55, on the younger end of the spectrum for an NEA Jazz Master, but her achievements speak multitudes. A past recipient of both a MacArthur Fellowship and a Doris Duke Artist Award, she is the most celebrated jazz violinist of her generation, known for a warm, lustrous sound and a springy way with rhythm. Her albums — which variously nod toward Ella Fitzgerald, Paganini, Motown soul and West African kora music — chart a curious mind and a drive to collaborate. Along with bassist and fellow Detroiter Bob Hurst, she played an NPR Night Owl session in 2019. The following year, Jazz Night featured her and her husband, drummer Alvester Garnett, in the pandemic-era series Alone Together, recorded at their home in New Jersey.

Kenny Garrett.
Jonathan Chimene / WBGO
/
WBGO
Kenny Garrett.

Garrett, 61, has been a vital force in jazz since his teens, in a succession of hard-bop bands that spotlighted his combustible energies. He joined Miles Davis' band in the late '80s, veering into a fusion mode on some of the world's biggest stages. By then he had already made his own debut album, Introducing Kenny Garrett, which announced his dynamic presence; his most recent, Sounds from the Ancestors, was listed among NPR Music's 50 Best Albums of 2021. As the title implies, it's a statement about dialoguing with the lineage. "As you get older you start to reflect on the past," Garrett says in Jazz From Detroit. "You also reflect on the future, but you do it with a clearer understanding of what happened before you."

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