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Tops in the Jazz World to Receive Virtual Jazz Masters Honors

A stellar group of jazz luminaries will receive the prestigious Jazz Masters designation during a live virtual concert Thursday.

This year’s honorees are Dorthaan Kirk (A.B. Spellman Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy), Bobby McFerrin, Roscoe Mitchell and Reggie Workman.

The annual National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) event, which was originally scheduled for April, will be presented in collaboration with SFJAZZ during a special online-only concert at 8 p.m. EST. NEA Jazz Master Dee Dee Bridgewater, honored in 2017, will emcee the event, which will include performances lead by acclaimed music director Terri Lyne Carrington and noted jazz musicians including honorees McFerrin, Mitchell and Workman.

The virtual event will feature prerecorded performances from locations around the country. The 2020 NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert is free to watch and will replace the previously scheduled concert at the SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco that was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

SFJAZZ is a new venue for this annual celebration of jazz that has been held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

“While we were disappointed to have to postpone last April’s events, this virtual concert will be an opportunity to bring together jazz fans around the world in celebration of the 2020 NEA Jazz Masters,” said Mary Anne Carter, chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. “We appreciate the creativity and dedication of all involved, from the staff at SFJAZZ to the many musicians who are performing in honor of the recipients so that we can continue our agency’s long tradition of honoring great individuals in jazz.”

Dorthaan Kirk
Dorthaan Kirk (David Tallacksen/WBGO via National Endowment for the Arts)

Kirk has been a major force at WBGO Jazz 88.3 FM, Newark Public Radio for four decades. The station is the only full-time jazz format station in New York and New Jersey. She is an avid supporter of musicians and jazz education for children. Kirk was married to Rahsaan Roland Kirk, a jazz great known for playing multiple horn instruments, until his death in 1977.

Upon learning about her Jazz Masters honor, Kirk said in a statement, “I was absolutely stunned and speechless (I’m never speechless) when I learned I was receiving the award. I will continue my work to the best of my ability as long as I’m allowed to.”

McFerrin, a 10-time Grammy Award winner, is a master of vocal improvisation. He uses his four-octave range in various techniques, from scat singing to polyphonic overtone singing to vocal percussion. He works both unaccompanied and with instruments. He has won awards in both jazz and classical.

“My pursuit of music has always been about freedom and joy, finding inspiration in the folk traditions of every continent, composed music like Bach or Ives or James Brown or Bernstein, plus every sound I’ve ever heard or imagined,” McFerrin said when explaining his philosophy on music.

Roscoe Mitchell
Roscoe Mitchell (Ken Weiss via National Endowment for the Arts)

Mitchell, a saxophone and clarinet player, is considered one of the key figures in avant-garde jazz, integrating influences from everywhere including world music, funk, rock, classical. Mitchell is a founding member of Art Ensemble of Chicago. In addition to being a musician and composer, he is also a jazz educator.

“I’m humbled to be named NEA Jazz Master alongside those who have inspired me and mentored me and am excited to see what music has in store for us in ages to come,” said Mitchell taking a low-key view that is the opposite of his avant-garde style of jazz.

Workman is one of the premier bassists in jazz, performing in mainstream jazz as well as in the avant-garde scene, and a member of two of jazz’s most important groups: the John Coltrane Quartet and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He also is a professor at the New School’s College of Performing Arts in New York City, where he has been teaching since 1987. Workman has worked with a who’s who list of jazz greats including Yusef Lateef, Andrew Hill, Abbey Lincoln, Max Roach, Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, Wayne Shorter, Mal Waldron and many more.

Reggie Workman
Reggie Workman (Richard Kohler/Courtesy of the NEA via National Endowment for the Arts)

“I am glad to join the illustrious NEA alums as we collectively work toward the world’s harmonious existence through music,” Workman said. “The NEA, one of our nation’s most prestigious institutions, which has been known for years to be supportive of this nation’s artists.”

In the D.C. area, the Jazz Masters concert can be heard on WPFW 89.3 FM. The webcast can be accessed at arts.gov, sfjazz.org, and SiriusXM Channel 67.

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