The National Endowment for the Arts has supported jazz artists and organizations since 1969.
The six 2009 NEA Jazz Masters are: George Benson (vocalist and solo instrumentalist, guitar), James “Jimmy” Cobb (rhythm instrumentalist, drums), Lee Konitz (solo instrumentalist, saxophone), Toots Thielemans (solo instrumentalist, harmonica and guitar), and Snooky Young (solo instrumentalist, trumpet). Recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder will receive the 2009 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy.
“Jazz is a vital part of our nation’s history and cultural heritage,” said NEA Chairman Dana Gioia, “and I am delighted to announce the artists of the class of 2009, whose bodies of work have had, and continue to have, a decisive and enduring impact on the development of this art form.”
Toots Thielemans has been credited with bringing the harmonica to jazz. The mastery of his instrument is evident in his performances with Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Quincy Jones, Billy Joel, and Paquito D’Rivera.