June 17, 2024

The 12th Annual National Endowment for the Arts
American Jazz Masters Fellowships Awards Concert

by Phyllis Lodge

Great moments, like great artists, – along with the singular opportunity to witness their receiving even a portion of the accolades they so richly deserve – happen so rarely that we must seize the moment immediately. This episode is one that I share with great joy, enthusiasm, and yes, some emotion. Last month I had the honor of attending the Jazz Masters Fellowships Awards Concert where the legendary Frank Foster, Percy Heath and McCoy Tyner were the recipients of the Fellowship in acknowledgment of their immense, musical contribution. And long overdue, I might add.

The ceremony was extremely well presented and the entire evening was like something out of the stuff that Bright Moments are made of. It was certainly a Bright Moment for me, because Alfred McCoy Tyner was my escort for the event. Aside from being one of the legends in his field, McCoy is also my mentor and friend. If someone had told me even ten years ago that I would be participating in this experience, and witnessing his receiving this acknowledgment of his work, I would have immediately asked where the “fast forward” button was. Just sitting there watching McCoy, Frank Foster and Percy Heath sit and enjoy someone performing for them was exhilarating.

As an aspiring historian, I could barely stay in my seat as I listened to A.B. Spellman devote a portion of time highlighting the musical careers of each of the musicians with care and precision. Watching the videos that chronicled the musical careers of each musician growing into his art, was like heaven. For many years, McCoy Tyner has been probably my greatest influence outside of my family in my quest to document and memorialize this great art form called jazz. And the only thing I am grateful for even more than this experience of learning about the man and musician, is that the world stood aside long enough to grant me the opportunity to nominate him. One thing about McCoy, the greater he becomes, the humbler he grows. McCoy Tyner, like his beloved music is always growing. And even more rewarding was seeing the never-ending line of well-wishers express their congratulations to McCoy. I am certain Percy Heath and Frank Foster enjoyed the same kind of outpouring of love from the folks who were there that night.

I walked away from this night with a spirit filled with beautiful memories, although a couple of things stand out more than anything. Percy Heath shared some extremely poignant remarks on what this music is really about. It brought tears to the eyes of some, I’m sure, and it definitely brought the entire audience to its feet. And we thank him for this. I sat in front of the Heath Brothers and friends, and to sit and honor not only masters, but a family of masters, is a real shot in the arm for an African-American woman such as myself who was raised to be proud of her heritage and culture. And to sit alongside Frank Foster whose musical prowess enabled us to experience the Basie magic for just a little while longer, made me look quietly to my musical ancestors whose years of teaching and caring brought me to be among these great ones. “It was even more gratifying to hear Frank express his appreciation for his wife and friend, Cecilia who has truly experienced the ups and downs of this business right along with her husband.”

One last thing. Just watching McCoy, as well as Percy and Frank, savoring that experience and especially enjoying the music, I urge you who read these words to take the time to nominate another of our musicians for this fellowship. It is an annual NEA Fellowship. Percy admitted that he didn’t even know who submitted his name, but he certainly thanked them for it. The experience is immensely rich, you get to rub elbows with legends like Frank Foster and Percy Heath and McCoy Tyner, and you will be one of those who thanked them for their countless performances in a very meaningful way.

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