NEW YORK – At a Monday night ceremony at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Allen Room, the National Endowment for the Arts presented its 2014 Jazz Masters Awards to composer Anthony Braxton and bassist Richard Davis.
Braxton, whose works range from saxophone solos to large-scale musical projects, said he was surprised to be named a Jazz Master.
“I mean for the last 50 years my work has been viewed as not jazz, not black, not contemporary classical music. My work doesn’t swing,” said Braxton. “And after a while I got used to that … and accepted it. I just wanted to do my music.”
Though he’s considered an avant-gardist, Braxton said his influences include everything from the University of Michigan marching band and R&B singer Frankie Lymon to the Dave Brubeck Quartet and modern jazz pianist Cecil Taylor.
Braxton, a professor of music at Wesleyan University, welcomed recognition as a Jazz Master, saying he felt honored “to go from the spy who’s out in the cold to a guy whose work can be brought back to the family.”
Davis was recognized as one of the premier bassists in jazz history and an “eclectic musician” who has performed on some 3,000 recordings, including albums by Bruce Springsteen and Van Morrison.
In his acceptance speech, the bassist noted some career highlights, including working with jazz legends Sarah Vaughan and Sun Ra, performing with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein, and teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis, who co-hosted the ceremony with TV journalist Soledad O’Brien, put together a musical program that he said recognized “the timeless intergenerational quality” of jazz.