NEA Names Donald Harrison, Jr. 2022 Jazz Masters along with Hart, Clarke, and Wilson

Nate Chinen
NPR (National Public Radio)

There’s a moment on “Oceans of Time,” from a 2016 album by The Cookers, when Alto Saxophonist Donald Harrison, Jr. takes a solo full of swerving self-assurance. Swinging mightily behind him is the composer of the tune, Master Drummer Billy Hart.

As of today, both Hart and Harrison can be identified not only as members of The Cookers but also by a prestigious title: They are both 2022 NEA Jazz Masters, along with the magnetic Singer-Songwriter Cassandra Wilson and Virtuoso Bassist Stanley Clarke.

According to an announcement this morning by the National Endowment for the Arts, these four new inductees will be celebrated with a concert and ceremony March 31, 2022, at the SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco. They will each also receive a $25,000 award, along with what is considered the highest honor reserved for a living jazz artist in the U.S.

“The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of honoring exceptional individuals in jazz with the NEA Jazz Masters class of 2022,” Ann Eilers, Acting Chairman for the National Endowment of the Arts, says in a statement. “Jazz continues to play a significant role in American Culture thanks to the dedication and artistry of individuals such as these and we look forward to working with SFJAZZ on a concert that will share their music and stories with a wide audience next spring.”

Harrison, 61, is this year’s recipient of the A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy — an award that often goes to a writer or producer rather than a musician. His qualifications are rooted in a lifelong commitment to his native New Orleans, where he established the Congo Square Nation Afro-New Orleans Cultural Group and serves as Artistic Director of Tipitina’s Foundation Internship Program. Harrison is also an Alto Saxophonist and Bandleader of high distinction, and progenitor of a hybrid genre he calls “nouveau swing,” which combines elements from across the African Diaspora. (Speaking with me in 2019, he explained how this idea applies to his instrumental cover of “Old Town Road,” the Lil Nas X smash.)

Harrison is the son of the late New Orleans Folklorist Donald Harrison, Sr., who was known for his involvement in local Mardi Gras traditions. Like his father, Harrison devoted himself to the Crescent City’s Multifaceted Cultural Heritage, founding the Congo Square Nation Afro-New Orleans Cultural Group to honor the place that Blacks, both free and enslaved, could sing and dance in public. “The incredible part to me is, even though the players today don’t have a consciousness of that, some of those things are still at the root of what we call jazz music,” Harrison noted in a 2021 Tennessean Story.

As a Saxophonist, Donald Harrison, Jr.—recipient of the 2022 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy—is known for his hard-swinging improvisational style and the creation of “Nouveau Swing,” a blend of jazz with R&B, hip-hop, rock, and soul. And his dedication to preserving the music and culture of New Orleans has been crucial to assuring its important legacy survive.

Donald Harrison, Jr. is this year’s recipient of the A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy — an award that often goes to a writer or producer rather than a musician. He is the son of the late New Orleans Folklorist Donald Harrison, Sr., who was known for his involvement in local Mardi Gras traditions. Like his father, Harrison devoted himself to the Crescent City’s Multifaceted Cultural Heritage, founding the Congo Square Nation Afro-New Orleans Cultural Group to honor the place that Blacks, both free and enslaved, could sing and dance in public. “The incredible part to me is, even though the players today don’t have a consciousness of that, some of those things are still at the root of what we call jazz music.

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