NEA names 3 ‘masters of jazz’

Carmen McRae, Louie Bellson and Ahmad Jamal were named “masters of jazz” Monday, joining 37 other musicians honored with that designation by the National Endowment for the Arts over the last 13 years.

The honors, carrying awards of $ 20,000 each, will be presented Jan. 14 at a ceremony in Boston to be emceed by Billy Taylor, a 1988 winner.

“These colossal talents have helped write the history of jazz in America,” said Jane Alexander, chairman of the endowment.

“They have distinguished themselves as musicians, composers and teachers.”

The awards honor “those living jazz legends who have made a significant contribution to the art form in the African-American tradition,” the endowment said.

McRae, 73, of Beverly Hills, is a singer and pianist. The endowment lauded “her instinctive feeling for rhythm, her skillful vocal technique, her innovative scat singing, as well as her relaxed manner of presentation.”

Bellson, 69, of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., husband of the late Pearl Bailey, is a drummer, composer and band leader. The endowment said he “ranks among the foremost big-band drummers of the swing and post-swing eras.”

Jamal, 63, of Millbrook, N.Y., is a pianist and composer. His 1958 record, “Jamal at the Pershing,” sold more than a million copies.

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