PBS will air the first jazz series on network TV in 40 years with Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis, which will debut on June 16, 2005 with a one-hour special, showcasing winners of the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters award.
The series premieres with Legends of Jazz: The Jazz Masters, an hour-long special spotlighting five recipients of the NEA Jazz Masters award, the highest national honor in the art form, presented annually since 1982.
The celebrated guests are vocalist Nancy Wilson(NEA Jazz Master 2004); saxophonist James Moody (1998); vocalist Jon Hendricks (1993); Latin jazz artist Paquito D’Rivera (2005); and Newport Jazz Festival founder George Wein (2005). In addition, teen jazz vocal sensation Renee Olstead, who made her major label debut in 2004, appears as a special guest, providing youthful counterpoint to the established jazz superstars on the program.
“One of the most important reasons for me doing this series, aside from the pure entertainment value, is to document and archive this incredible wealth of experience,” says Mr. Lewis, a three-time Grammy Award winner and host of the popular Legends of Jazz nationally syndicated radio program. “It’s an incredible feeling listening to great artists like Nancy, Moody, Jon, Paquito and so many others as they recount their memories and speak about their influences. These people, and those legends who came before them, are jazz, and so it really is like being treated to an oral history of the genre.”
“Since 1982, the NEA Jazz Masters program has honored many jazz greats. We are delighted that this series, which will reach millions of viewers across the country, will begin with a tribute to the music’s true legends,” said Dana Gioia, NEA chairman.
The 13 weekly 30-minute episodes of Legends of Jazz, co-produced by LRSmedia and WTTW National Productions, will begin in Fall 2005. Produced in HDTV and Dolby Surround 5.1 audio, the series will combine live performance, conversation and archival material to provide a first-hand accounting of some of the most memorable moments in America’s art form, jazz. Hosted by Mr. Lewis, each weekly episode features a guest star performing several numbers with him and his trio. Between these informal performances, Ramsey and his guest artist will chat casually about topics related to the show’s theme. Weekly episodes will focus on a single instrument, style or element of jazz.
Crazy, man, crazy – I am a big fan of Lewis as a musician and personality, and it is certainly time for jazz to get some attention on the tube.