April 16, 2018
It has been such a privilege for me to have lived alongside and worked closely with so many of the greatest musicians of our time. Several of them have also received this award in recent years, among them; my most important mentor, Gary Burton, who I could never thank enough for so many lessons learned along the way; my best friend in life, Charlie Haden, who i miss every single day; and my two all-time favorite drum heroes, Jack DeJohnette and the great Roy Haynes – also two of my favorite people in the world. To be noted among them and so many of my other major heroes in this music tonight is an almost overwhelming honor. When I look at the community of musicians recognized historically by this distinction, representing an almost indescribably wide variety of musical dialects, I see one common thread; a complete commitment to creativity, a commitment to represent who they are and where they came from with honesty and integrity and soul – a commitment to bring a sound into the world that reflects their own personal experiences and individuality. To me, that mission is the central objective in this music, and my goal has always been to do my best to try to meet that aspiration. As musicians, we find ourselves trading in a currency that has way more actual value than many people at the top might realize. Sometimes it takes years, decades even, for the true impact of what this community has offered to be felt. Politicians come and go. Great music has way of lasting and remaining influential for a really, really long time. Anyone seeking long term political influence should probably pay attention to that. What is represented in this music at its best and the incredible range of musicians who populate it is often transcendent of the culture it is made in, even while being deeply formed by the forces at work at the time of its inception. Right now, without question, there are major cultural and political challenges that we all have to face. It is important to note whenever possible how the language of music, and this music in particular, offers its value intrinsically and fundamentally within the currency of good notes and sound itself with little regard for the more everyday kinds of ways that folks tend to measure value. The messaging system that that has evolved through the work and research of the practitioners of this music, the actual values that we trade in every night, can serve as a ideal model for many of the goals that we collectively aspire towards as human beings and as a society.Having lived through a number of political ups and downs, if I think back on my favorite music, it is hard to remember which administration was in place during this or that time; the hard currency of music and the arts in general has a way of going far beyond any of that. Even if the work at hand is formed through the tensions of a particular time and place, the best music suggests a way of living and being that often provides a kind of timeless substance that goes way past the immediate conditions of its creation, even while presenting sometimes important perspectives on current events or the circumstances of history that affected its arrival. One important thing to note on this front; The NEA really understands all this. The fact that we are all together here tonight is a testament to that. It is very important for all Americans to fight for and support its continued survival. It represents on an institutional level the soul that a functioning democracy must have to exist. In closing, there is one observation that I had over the years that i try to point out to musicians as often as i can. The majority of people who will get the most out of this music are likely not on the planet yet. Our biggest audience and the folks who will gain the most from what we are all working so hard on and are so committed to are quite possibly not even born yet. There is a very particular kind of faith revealed in knowing that and still devoting every waking minute to finding the right resolution, the right groove, the right ways to push and pull and to fight and to listen. What we are all swinging for is something eternal. It is always worth it, no matter what the struggle. This music at its best is proof positive of the true value represented in that faith; a kind of value that makes the contents of Fort Knox seem utterly insignificant in comparison in the larger scheme of things.The essence of music somehow contains the secrets of how we all got here and where we are all going. What a privilege it has been to live a life inside that music. Once again, Thank You to the NEA for this incredible honor – I am humbled and grateful beyond words.