When the biggest names in jazz are tallied, most are men. Not because female jazz musicians and composers haven’t made major contributions to the most American of art forms, but because their impact — sometimes their very presence — has been overlooked or forgotten.
In fact, there are throngs of women in the jazz pantheon, and one — Berklee’s Joanne Brackeen — has just been honored with one of the most prestigious awards in the arts world for her achievements.
Brackeen, 78, is the first professor to win the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award while teaching at Berklee College of Music. The leader on more than two dozen albums, Brackeen is one of the most celebrated jazz pianists of all time, alongside the likes of McCoy Tyner and Keith Jarrett.
As a young musician in California, Brackeen played with bassist Charlie Haden, saxophonist Dexter Gordon, and trumpeter Art Farmer, among others, and years later became the first and only female member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Known as “the Picasso of jazz piano,” Brackeen has turned out more than 300 original works, according to her website.
The 2018 NEA Jazz Masters Award comes with a $25,000 prize. Other recently announced winners include singer Dianne Reeves, producer Todd Barkan, and guitarist Pat Metheny. Brackeen and the other honorees will be inducted at a tribute concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., in April.