*America’s first family of jazz — patriarch Ellis Marsalis Jr. and four of his sons — were presented the nation’s highest jazz honor Tuesday night at the 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Awards Ceremony, reports the Associated Press.
It marked the first time the NEA had ever presented a group award since it launched its Jazz Masters program in 1982. The other 2011 Jazz Masters honored in the concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater were flutist Hubert Laws, saxophonist and educator David Liebman, composer-arranger Johnny Mandel, and record producer and author Orrin Keepnews.
Pianist Ellis Marsalis, 76, who championed modern jazz in his native New Orleans and as an educator mentored not only his sons but such future stars as Harry Connick Jr. and Terence Blanchard, said the award had special meaning to him because he was a member of the NEA jazz panel that chose some of the first Jazz Masters in the ’80s.
“I did get to vote for some of those who became Jazz Masters never really thinking that I would be voted at any time to be one of them,” said Marsalis.
Then turning toward the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra — with its leader, his son Wynton, seated in the trumpet section — a proud Marsalis said New Orleans might be the “birthplace” of jazz, “but we don’t have this in New Orleans.”
The elder Marsalis was then joined by his sons, Wynton (trumpet), Branford (saxophone), Delfeayo (trombone) and the youngest Jason (drums), to play Jason’s composition “At The House, In Da Pocket.”
The awards ceremony was broadcast live by Sirius XM Satellite Radio, WBGO radio and NPR Music, which brought this year’s concert its biggest audience ever, said NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman. He also announced a $250,000 grant to 15 arts organizations to present concerts featuring Jazz Masters — each of whom also receives a one-time $25,000 fellowship.