Piano Professor Joanne Brackeen Receives NEA Jazz Master Award

By 
Allen Bush
June 30, 2017
Joanne Brackeen, professor and pioneering musician
Image by Carol Friedman

Berklee Piano Professor Joanne Brackeen, an international icon for female musicians, has received the nation’s highest honor in jazz—the 2018 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters award. Brackeen is the first professor to receive the award while teaching at the college. She accepted the honor at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Dianne Reeves, a Berklee honorary doctorate of music recipient, and Pat Metheny, the youngest-ever professor to have taught at Berklee, also received Jazz Masters awards, as did impresario Todd Barkan.

“It's awesome to have received this honor, this title for being and doing what I love most,” said Brackeen. “I am so thankful. My goal is to continue and share my joy, concepts, and spirit through my music with as many people as possible.”

Trailblazing for Female Musicians

A cutting edge pianist, composer, and recording artist, Brackeen has performed throughout the world as a solo artist and bandleader in a career that began in the 1950s. Throughout, she has operated at full capacity in a male-dominated field, breaking through the glass ceiling. She was the first and only female member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, and a collaborator of Joe Henderson, Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, and Eddie Gómez, among others. Brackeen is a prolific writer with a library of more than 300 original works known for their creative stylistic range, emotional depth, and whimsical spirit. Her albums number more than two dozen, and 100 more feature her as a side person. Brackeen has performed at nearly every major concert hall and jazz festival in the world.

NEA Jazz Masters are honored for their lifetime of achievements and exceptional contributions to the advancement of jazz. Each receives a $25,000 award and will be honored at a tribute concert on April 16, 2018, at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall. The concert will be free and open to the public, and streamed live.

"Joanne Brackeen made a place in the jazz world for female artists without compromising her distinct artistry,” said Larry Simpson, Berklee's senior vice president for academic affairs/provost. “When I think of Terri Lyne Carrington, Diana Krall, Luciana Souza, Esperanza Spalding, Grace Kelly, and so many other alumnae, I wonder if they would have made it here if not for Joanne. The NEA has awarded an historical musician."

Since 1982, the National Endowment for the Arts has awarded 149 fellowships to great figures in jazz. The full list of NEA Jazz Masters and materials about them are available at arts.gov. NEA Jazz Master Fellowships are bestowed on living individuals on the basis of nominations from the public including the jazz community. The NEA encourages nominations of a broad range of men and women who have been significant to the field of jazz, through vocals, instrumental performance, creative leadership, and education.