A drummer, bassist, saxophonist and vocalist take the stage and a jam session begins. This year’s National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) 2022 Jazz Masters can do it anytime.
Drummer Billy Hart, bassist Stanley Clarke, vocalist Cassandra Wilson and saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr., AB Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy, count as a ready-to-go performance band, regardless of musical genre. The quartet will receive America’s highest honor in jazz at a virtual and in-person tribute concert on March 31, in conjunction with San Francisco’s SFJAZZ. Dianne Reeves, 2018 NEA Jazz Master, will host the occasion.
Hart, a respected composer and jazz teacher, commutes between the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Oberlin, Ohio and the New England Conservatory in Boston, Mass. Weekends are usually synonymous with concerts with his band, The Cookers, who recently performed at Blues Alley in Georgetown.
“It was a huge surprise. I didn’t expect it,” Hart said when he learned of the recognition from Jazz Masters. , it’s an honor.”
He grew up in the Deanwood and Brookland neighborhoods of the district, attended McKinley Tech High School and Howard University to study mechanical engineering. The late Buck Hill, another DC native, began mentoring Hart as a teenager. Then, as a young adult, Hart joined the Howard Theater house band, playing behind Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Joe Tex and Otis Redding.
His career took off when he began performing with jazz legends, including fellow Washington native, pianist/singer Shirley Horn, organist Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery.
Hart’s notoriety increased when he began playing with McCoy Tyner, saxophonists Pharoah Sanders and Eddie Harris, and Weather Report co-founders Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul. In the 1970s, Hart joined Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi sextet which consisted of saxophonist Bennie Maupin, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, trombonist Julian Priester and bassist Buster Williams in addition to pianist Hancock and Hart.
“It was the first time I played with people my age,” Hart said of Mwandishi. “Herbie is not only a musical genius; he has a brilliant mind.
Clarke, an accomplished composer and producer, has worked on many award-winning solo and group jazz projects. In the early 70s, Clarke and pianist/composer Chick Corea co-founded the jazz fusion band Return to Forever. [RTF]. Their album “Light as a Feather” produced several popular jazz radio favorites, including the title track with “Spain” and “500 Miles High”. Joining Clarke and Corea to complete RTF’s core band would be drummer Lenny White and guitarist Al Dimeola. In 1977, RTF officially ended.
“It was a very powerful move (but) we only realized it towards the end,” Clarke said of RTF’s impact in the era of jazz fusion. “It was like a ship that had a lot of by-products. We were just trying to get people to know our music.
In the early 80s, pianist, composer and producer George Duke and Clarke created The Clarke/Duke Project. Their sound was a mix of jazz, Latin, pop and slow R&B jams. Their composition “Sweet Baby” topped the pop charts of this collaboration.
“Sweet Baby wasn’t going to be recorded. It was kind of a makeup song for Duke’s wife because they had a fight,” Clarke said.
Next, Clarke became an in-demand composer on television and film projects, including “Boyz N the Hood”, “Poetic Justice”, “The Best Man”, “Lincoln Heights”, and “Pee Wee’s Playhouse”. Clarke has scored over 80 television and film projects.
” I’ve done a lot of things. It’s nice to be recognized for your work,” Clarke said, reflecting on the 2022 Jazz Masters designation. “It’s different because it’s the highest honor the country can bestow.”The live webcast of the 2022 NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert can be viewed March 31 at 7:30 p.m. PT / 10:30 p.m. ET. The four NEA 2022 Jazz Masters will perform at the tribute concert along with an all-star band and the SFJAZZ collective. For a complete list of places to see or listen to the concert, visit NEA Jazz Masters 2022 page.