Thirty-five of the world’s most famous jazz musicians were honored here Saturday at the start of an eight-day festival at the Kennedy Center (March 3-10) devoted to the eroding fraternity of living jazz luminaries.
The fest, called “Jazz in Our Time,” debuted with an all-star concert hosted by James Earl Jones that toasted the recipients of its “Living Jazz Legends Award.” The concert was part of the center’s 6-year-old Catherine Reynolds Foundation Series for Artistic Excellence.
Four years in the making, the affair was conceived by pianist Billy Taylor, the center’s artistic adviser for jazz, and KenCen prez Michael Kaiser, to showcase jazz greats, including artists who participated in its golden era.
The lineup included pianists Marian McPartland and Hank Jones, and saxophonist Benny Golson, three artists who posed in the classic 1958 photograph of musicians taken on New York’s 128th Street and were featured in Jean Bach’s documentary “A Great Day in Harlem.” The center collected its own gathering for another group photo.
Among featured artists for the opening concert were Dave Brubeck, Regina Carter, Cyrus Chestnut, Jon Faddis, Curtis Fuller, Jimmy Heath, John Hendricks, Michel Legrand, Wynton Marsalis, James Moody, T.S. Monk and Phil Woods. Singer Nancy Wilson was backed by the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. Other groups included the Clayton Brothers Quintet, the Wynton Marsalis Quintet and the Billy Taylor Trio, which closed the show with Taylor’s signature number, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free.”
Other events in the festival include a celebration of McPartland’s 89th birthday, the Hank Jones Quartet featuring Paquito D’Rivera and Clark Terry, and an evening with pianist Ahmad Jamal accompanied by Donald Byrd and Heath.
Other honorees on hand were trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, Cleo Lane and John Dankworth, Ornette Coleman, John Clayton, Louie Bellson, Frank Foster, Chico Hamilton, Buddy DeFranco, Al Jarreau and Toshiko Akiyoshi.