There are many faces of Lamar Harris. He is a soul-funk producer, a cross-cultural collaborator, a conspirator in the FarFetched collective, a member of Tribal Funk and a turntablist under the moniker DJ Nune. One could assume that the Lamar Harris nominated for Best Jazz Artist is the trombonist who has performed alongside jazz legends Christian McBride and George Benson, the one with the sensuous tone and smooth phrasing not generally associated with his main instrument. Calling Harris simply a jazz artist is limiting, which says more about the state of the genre than it does about his diversity of musicianship. Jazz fans often freak about their sacred music losing relevance. Lamar Harris fights this battle on the ground level every time he makes a sound.
Pianist Peter Martin had some enormous shoes to fill when he took Reggie Thomas' spot on the Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville jazz faculty. Martin tends to thrive in high-pressure situations, be it performing to thousands internationally in Diana Krall's band or playing for the President at the White House. Combining the bookishness of Brad Mehldau with the feel and abandon of McCoy Tyner, his melodic sense is intellectually stimulating without sounding academic — a talent not every collegiate professor in the St. Louis jazz scene possesses. Musicians with such skills and reputation are rare, and having one in such close proximity is a gift that should not go unappreciated.