Dorthaan Kirk, Bobby McFerrin, Roscoe Mitchell And Reggie Workman Feted At Jazz Masters Ceremony


Reedist and National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters fellowship recipient Roscoe Mitchell, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, bassist Junius Paul and drummer Vincent Davis perform during Thursday’s NEA ceremony.

(Photo: Courtesy SFJAZZ)

As the Democratic National Convention streamed in what seemed like an alternative universe on Aug. 20, Dee Dee Bridgewater serenaded an online audience from the foyer of her home backed by the SFJAZZ High School All-Stars Big Band at the beginning of the 2020 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters ceremony.

Mary Anne Carter, chairperson of the NEA, then welcomed folks and thanked SFJAZZ for cohosting the event, before radio presenter Dorthaan Kirk was introduced as the evening’s first remote honoree. Each of the four fellowship recipients—which also included bassist Reggie Workman, reedist and composer Roscoe Mitchell and improvising vocalist Bobby McFerrin—was lauded through video tributes and biographical details dispensed by fans of the artists. The ceremony originally was planned to be held April 2 at the SFJAZZ Center, another event dramatically changed by the pandemic.

Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, the evening’s music director, followed Kirk’s section with a medley of work by her husband, reedist Rahsaan Roland Kirk (1935–’77).

Workman’s tribute centered on his Philly roots, with Bridgewater narrating a star-studded career arc, calling him a “scientist of sound.” The bassist traced his own story, too, describing his experiences with John Coltrane, Art Blakey and any number of other genre-defining bandleaders.

“I do realize the importance of giving back,” said Workman, who teaches at The New School in New York, where he mentors the next generation of composers and innovators.

As Workman performed remotely with a Carrington-led troupe, the online chat section overflowed with accolades and exclamations: “NIIIIIICE #FootPrints,” one viewer wrote.

In a nontraditional night filled with nontraditional musicians, Mitchell still stood out, with Bridgewater noting his use of little instruments.

“The AACM had a good mission, and we were encouraged to be individuals,” the composer recalled about his early days, going on to discuss 50 years of Art Ensemble of Chicago history.

Likely the best known honoree of the evening, Bobby McFerrin also was honored for following a career path that disregarded boundaries, crossing back and forth between vocal experimentation and pop-world success. “All that technique is just a vehicle for the spirit,” Bridgewater said in her introduction.

Seated in front enormous succulents, McFerrin scatted his way through an acceptance speech before Carrington led a Bridgewater-fronted ensemble through “Lift Every Voice And Sing” to close out the evening. DB

Updated Aug. 25

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