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Billy Hart receives a new honor: a 2023 Living Legacy Jazz Award

Drummer, composer and bandleader Billy Hart, named a 2023 recipient of the Living Legacy Jazz Award Presented by PECO.
Desmond White
Drummer, composer and bandleader Billy Hart, named a 2023 recipient of the Living Legacy Jazz Award Presented by PECO.

Billy Hart, the influential drummer, bandleader and composer, has just received a new career honor, as the 2023 recipient of the Living Legacy Jazz Award. He will receive his honor during a concert and ceremony at the Kimmel Cultural Campus in Philadelphia on Nov. 2.

A program of the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, presented by PECO, the Living Legacy Jazz Award honors master artists in the region who are “maintaining the vitality of jazz for future generations through advocacy, mentorship, and the transmission of artistic skill and cultural knowledge.” Last year’s honoree was another legendary jazz drummer, Roger Humphries.

“This is the second year in a row we have honored a truly outstanding drummer with the Living Legacy Jazz Award,” said Romona Riscoe Benson, Director of Corporate and Community Impact at PECO and Chair of Mid Atlantic Arts, in a statement. “Recognized as a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2022, Mr. Hart brings creativity and passion to all of his work — as a musician and performer as well as an educator.”

Hart, 82, is a longtime resident of Montclair, N.J. He leads the acclaimed Billy Hart Quartet, featuring tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, bassist Ben Street, and pianist Ethan Iverson, who recently published two installments of Hart’s memoir-in-progress at his Substack newsletter, Transitional Technology.

Known to his fellow musicians as Jabali — a Swahili name bestowed during his tenure in Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi — Hart is also a member of The Cookers, and a still-prolific sideman. In July he played three consecutive weeks at The Village Vanguard: with the Aaron Parks Quartet, his own quartet, and the Julian Lage Trio. His most recent appearance on record is Sparkle Beings, by the Angelica Sanchez Trio, released this year. In 2021, he appeared on All Things Are as one-third of a collective with Street and pianist Kevin Hays. (I wrote the liner notes.)

Hart has made a broad and lasting impact as an educator, notably at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where he mentored younger drummers like Kassa Overall. He is also an adjunct professor at the New England Conservatory of Music and Western Michigan University, and teaches privately through The New School and New York University.

The selection process for the Living Legacy Jazz Award includes a nominating panel and a jury. This year’s nominators included Alex Ariff, a senior producer at WRTI. The final jury selection was made by WRTI’s associate general manager, Josh Jackson, along with saxophonist and composer Miguel Zenón and DC Jazz Fest president and CEO Sunny Sumter.

For more information about the Living Legacy Jazz Award, visit Mid Atlantic Arts online.

Nate Chinen has been writing about music for more than 25 years. He spent a dozen of them working as a critic for The New York Times, and helmed a long-running column for JazzTimes. As Editorial Director at WRTI, he oversees a range of classical and jazz coverage, and contributes regularly to NPR.