The 2016 NEA Jazz Masters

By Matt Micucci

The NEA Jazz Masters award is the highest honor that the US bestows on a jazz musician and includes a cash award of $25, 000 and an award ceremony and celebratory concert, among other activities. As part of the National Endowment for the Arts’ 50th anniversary events, the annual NEA Jazz Masters celebration will take place in on April 4, 2016 in the nation’s capital in collaboration with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The National Endowment for the Arts will honor four jazz leaders with the 2016 NEA Jazz Masters award for their significant accomplishments in the field.

This year’s honorees range from fiery saxophonists who cut their teeth with the legendary John Coltrane, to a vibraphonist who reshaped the direction of jazz by introducing rock elements, to one who has dedicated her life to assisting jazz musicians in need.

Saxophonists Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp and vibraphonist Gary Burton are the newest recipients of the highest jazz honor in the US.

They have been chosen as the 2016 Jazz Masters by the National Endowment for the Arts, it was announced Thursday. Wendy Oxenhorn, executive director of the Jazz Foundation of America, which assists musicians in need, received the Jazz Masters Award for advocacy.

Pharoah Sanders, who was once described by Ornette Coleman as “probably the best tenor player in the world”, emerged from John Coltrane’s groups of the mid sixties. He is known for his overblowing harmonic, and multiphonic techniques on the saxophone, and considered a key figure in the development of the “free jazz” movement.

Archie Shepp is a jazz saxophonist best known for his Afrocentric music of the late 1960s, a unique style of free-form avant-garde jazz blended with African rhythms, and his collaborations with John Coltrane, Horace Parlan, Cecil Taylor, and the New York Contemporary Five ensemble.

Gary Burton is a vibraphonist, composer and jazz educatior, heralded as an innovator due to his development of a pianistic style of four mallet technique as an alternative to the two mallet technique, and known for pioneering fusion jazz and popularizing duet format in jazz.

NEA Jazz Master awards are bestowed on living individuals on the basis of nominations from the public including the jazz community. The NEA encourages nominations of a broad range of men and women who have been significant to the field of jazz, through vocals, instrumental performance, creative leadership, and education.

A free concert honoring the 2016 NEA Jazz Masters will be presented at 8:00pm on Monday, April 4, 2016, at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall and also available in a live video stream at,, and

Join Our Newsletter
Join thousands of other jazz enthusiasts and get new music, artists, album, events and more delivered to your inbox.

The Authoritative Voice in Jazz