Written by Nate Chinen from WBGO
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Masters award, which comes with a $25,000 prize, is widely described as United States’ highest honor for jazz. Today, the NEA announced its four newest recipients of the prize: pianist Joanne Brackeen, guitarist Pat Metheny, singer Dianne Reeves and producer Todd Barkan.
The announcement was made on Monday, during a DC Jazz Festival concert featuring Metheny at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. According to custom, the new class will be inducted in a tribute concert and ceremony at the Kennedy Center on April 16, 2018. [Editorial disclosure: The 2017 class of honorees hosted a listening session at NPR’s central headquarters in Washington, D.C. following their induction.]
Brackeen, at 78, is the oldest member of the 2018 class of NEA Jazz Masters; Reeves, at 60, is the youngest. Between them they have more than two dozen Grammy awards and hundreds of album credits. They share a strong foothold in the mainstream jazz tradition, as well as an urge to stretch and transcend boundaries of style.
Each inductee will deliver remarks but not perform, leaving that task to colleagues and peers, at next year’s event. At the 2017 concert, this past April, Reeves paid tribute to her friend Dee Dee Bridgewater.
Reeves, like Bridgewater, is one of the leading jazz vocalists of her generation, with a regal presence and a commanding instrument. Metheny has been a hero of analogous stature on guitar, and a composer-bandleader with a sweeping approach to timbre and orchestration. Brackeen is known both for her searching solo career and her extensive work with jazz artists from a previous generation, like the saxophonists Joe Henderson and Stan Getz.
And Barkan, who will receive the A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy, is a veteran record producer who also served for more than a decade as the programming director for Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. From 1972 to 1983 he founded and ran Keystone Korner, a prominent nightclub in the San Francisco Bay Area. (A recently released archival album, Getz/Gilberto ’76, chronicles an engagement at Keystone Korner, with Brackeen on piano.)
The NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert will be free and open to the public, and streamed online.