NEA Announces 2020 Jazz Masters


Bobby McFerrin is one of the 2020 NEA Jazz Masters. The other honorees are Roscoe Mitchell, Reggie Workman and Dorthaan Kirk.

(Photo: Carol Friedman)

The National Endowment for the Arts has announced the 2020 class of NEA Jazz Masters. The honorees are singer Bobby McFerrin, saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell and bassist Reggie Workman, as well as curator/producer Dorthaan Kirk—who is receiving the A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy.

Acting Chairman of the Arts Endowment Mary Anne Carter said, “The 2020 NEA Jazz Masters have made an incredible impact on jazz, whether it’s through their artistic work to expand the musical boundaries of the genre, their educational contributions or their efforts to reach new audiences for jazz.”

McFerrin, a master of vocal improvisation, is a 10-time Grammy winner who has used his four-octave range in various techniques, from scat singing to polyphonic overtone singing to vocal percussion, working both unaccompanied and with instrumentalists.

In a statement posted on the NEA website, McFerrin said, “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. In the collective improvisations of jazz, to participate fully, each player brings their universe of influences, so we can listen, lead and respond to each other in an ever-continuing, real-time adventure.”

Kirk is a major presence at public radio station WBGO in Newark, New Jersey. Working in various roles for more than four decades, Kirk has been a curator and producer of jazz events primarily in and around Newark. She is an avid supporter of jazz education for children.

Mitchell is a key figure in avant-garde jazz. A saxophonist who also plays other instruments, Mitchell has integrated influences from world music, funk, rock, classical and other sources to create unique music that transcends genres. In 1965, Mitchell became an inaugural member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization founded to advance new music. For decades, he has been a member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and a successful bandleader.

Workman is one of the most celebrated bassists in jazz, performing in a variety of settings, including straightahead jazz and avant-garde groups. He has been a member of two of jazz’s most important bands: the John Coltrane Quartet and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He 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 led his own groups—the Reggie Workman Ensemble and Top Shelf—and has been a member of numerous collaborative groups, such as the Super Jazz Trio with pianist Tommy Flanagan and drummer Joe Chambers, and Trio 3 with saxophonist Oliver Lake and drummer Andrew Cyrille.

For the first time since 2005, the NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert will take place in California. This free event will honor the 2020 class on April 2, 2020—at the start of Jazz Appreciation Month—at the SFJAZZ Center’s Robert N. Miner Auditorium in San Francisco. Organizers plan to stream the concert via live webcast.

More information on all the honorees is available at the NEA website.

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