Seasoned musicians Bobby McFerrin, Roscoe Mitchell and Reggie Workman along with broadcaster and advocate Dorthaan Kirk have received the United States’ highest honour in jazz.
The National Endowment for the Arts named the four of them as the newest NEA Jazz Masters. These fellowships are awarded annually to great figures in jazz; some past recipients include Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and Dianne Reeves.
“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,” said Mary Anne Carter, the NEA’s acting chair.
Bobby McFerrin is a vocalist, composer and conductor who has won 10 Grammy Awards. He’s a master of improvisation with exceptional range, fluidity and control, and he’s well known for his expert use of techniques like scatting, polyphonic overtones and vocal percussion, and has worked alone and with instrumentalists such as Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul and Yo-Yo Ma. His song Don’t Worry, Be Happy was a smash hit when it came out in 1988, becoming the first a cappella song to reach No. 1 on the Billboard charts.
Roscoe Mitchell is often described as one of the key figures in avant-garde jazz. As a bandleader and as co-founder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the iconoclastic saxophonist has been pushing the boundaries of music and tearing down walls between the genres of jazz, funk, rock, classical, world music and more since the 1960s. He’s also well-known for co-founding the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a nonprofit organization devoted to supporting “serious, original” jazz music.
One of the premier bassists in jazz, Reggie Workman was a member of two of jazz’s most legendary groups: the John Coltrane Quartet and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He was also a member of bands led by Wayne Shorter, Red Garland, Gigi Gryce and Roy Haynes. Since 1987, he’s been working as a professor at The New School’s College of Performing Arts.
Nicknamed “Newark’s First Lady of Jazz,” Dorthaan Kirk has been a prominent voice at the New Jersey public jazz station WBGO for more than 40 years. She’s also curated and produced numerous jazz events in the area and avidly supports up-and-coming musicians and children’s music education.
The four recipients will be celebrated at a tribute concert in San Francisco in April, 2020.