Four ‘living legends’ named as 2021 NEA Jazz Masters

The National Endowment for the Arts has named Terri Lyne Carrington, Henry Threadgill, Albert “Tootie” Heath and Phil Schaap to the 2021 class of NEA Jazz Masters.

Awarded annually since 1982, these fellowships are the United States’ highest honour bestowed upon jazz musicians, broadcasters and advocates. Recipients are regarded as “living legends who have made exceptional contributions to the advancement of jazz.”

The four inductees each receive $25,000 along with their title.

The 2020 NEA Jazz Masters were vocalist Bobby McFerrin, saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, bassist Reggie Workman and jazz advocate Dorthaan Kirk. Other past honourees include Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and Dianne Reeves.

The four recipients will be celebrated with a free digital broadcast on April 22, presented in partnership with SFJAZZ.

Terri Lyne Carrington

A powerful force on the drum kit since the ’80s, Terri Lyne Carrington has more recently turned her attention toward empowering the next generation of jazz musicians. Along with her talents as a musician, composer, bandleader, producer and educator, Carrington is also the founder and artistic director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, an organization created to address gender equity and social justice in jazz.

Carrington has released several albums as a leader, and has performed on more than 100 recordings and produced other artists’ projects, including Tia Fuller and Dianne Reeves. She has received two honorary doctorates from the Manhattan School of Music and from Berklee College of Music, and she won the prestigious Doris Duke Artist Award in 2019.

Albert “Tootie” Heath

Percussionist and educator Albert “Tootie” Heath is “the consummate jazz drummer,” having performed on more than 100 recordings with a great deal of versatility. An expert in many styles of jazz, he also delved into R&B, studied improvisation in Indian classical music, and has been praised for his ability to add his personality to any repertoire. He has played with the likes of John Coltrane, Nina Simone, J.J. Johnson, Art Farmer, Benny Golson, Dexter Gordon, Herbie Hancock, Wes Montgomery and countless others. He’s the youngest of the three Heath Brothers; saxophonist Jimmy and bassist Percy were both NEA Jazz Masters themselves.

As an educator, Albert “Tootie” Heath was an instructor at the Stanford Jazz Workshop summer camps for more than 30 years and has conducted clinics and workshops across the U.S. In 2018, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jazz Foundation of America.

Henry Threadgill

Saxophonist, flautist and composer Henry Threadgill has been on the cutting edge of avant-garde jazz since the ’60s. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2016, one of only three jazz artists to win the prestigious award. A sought-after composer, his commissions have premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Carnegie Hall, the Miller Theatre at Columbia University and a number of international productions.

Threadgill’s other honours include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a United States Artists USA Fellowship and a Doris Duke Artist Award. He’s been inducted into the ASCAP Wall of Fame and honoured by the Vietnam Veterans of America with their Excellence in the Arts Award.

Phil Schaap

Phil Schaap is a historian, educator and broadcaster who’s known for his encyclopedic knowledge of jazz. He has won six Grammy Awards for his liner notes, audio engineering and production. As the curator at Jazz at Lincoln Center, he created the Swing University educational program with the goal of increasing and cultivating audiences for jazz. Schaap has taught jazz at Columbia University, Princeton University and Rutgers University, and he currently teaches in the graduate school at Juilliard.