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NEA announces 2024 Jazz Masters including Terence Blanchard and Gary Bartz

Terence Blanchard performs at the International Jazz Day Concert, New Orleans Tricentennial at the Orpheum Theater in 2018.
Tyler Kaufman
Getty Images for Thelonioius Mon
Terence Blanchard performs at the International Jazz Day Concert, New Orleans Tricentennial at the Orpheum Theater in 2018.

Terence Blanchard, Willard Jenkins, Amina Claudine Myers and Gary Bartz have been selected as the 2024 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters.

For more than 40 years, the NEA has annually selected a select group of Jazz Masters. The program, which started in 1982, is one of the most prestigious honors in jazz. Abbey Lincoln, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Sonny Rollins are among the 173 fellows recognized by the NEA as great figures of jazz.

"Jazz is one of our nation's most significant artistic contributions to the world, and the NEA is proud to recognize individuals whose creativity and dedication ensure that the art form continues to evolve and inspire new audiences and practitioners," said NEA Chair Maria Rosario Jackson in a statement.

Terence Blanchard

It's almost amazing that Terence Blanchard was not already a Jazz Master. Few more formidable musicians are working today — in any genre. Blanchard is only 61. That's relatively young for the recognition.

Born in New Orleans to an opera-loving father, Blanchard started playing the trumpet as a child. Summer camp friends included two princes of jazz: Wynton and Branford Marsalis. Wynton would eventually recommend Blanchard, then a recent Rutgers University graduate, to Art Blakey, then seeking a replacement in the Jazz Messengers. In the 1980s, Blanchard started playing with Lionel Hampton. Since then, he's written Academy Award-nominated film scores for director Spike Lee as well as for movies such as The Woman King.

Over the years, Blanchard has won multiple Grammys and a Peabody Medal. He made history in 2021 when his opera Fire Shut Up in My Bones became the first by a Black composer to be staged by the Metropolitan Opera. The following year, his opera Champion, based on the life of boxer Emile Griffith, became another hit for the Met. Recently, SFJAZZ named him the artistic director.

Willard Jenkins

Other jazz masters this year include broadcaster, educator and advocate Willard Jenkins, whose voice is familiar to jazz fans in New Orleans and the Washington, D.C., area, where he's hosted radio programs on stations such as WWOZ and WPFW.

"This award is utterly and completely gratifying!" he wrote in a statement. It's not the only one he's recently received. Jenkins also was honored with the 2024 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy. The Pittsburgh native first started writing about jazz for the Black student newspaper as an undergraduate at Kent State. A tireless advocate for jazz for many years in northeast Ohio, he taught at numerous universities and contributed to leading jazz publications. Jenkins ran the National Jazz Service Organization and served as artistic director of Tri-C JazzFest, BeanTown Jazz Festival, the Tribeca Performing Arts Center and the DC Jazz Festival, among others. He created a podcast about Billie Holiday, called No Regrets, and blogs about jazz on his website.

Amina Claudine Myers

Composer, musician and educator Amina Claudine Myers grew up in Arkansas and Dallas, Texas. She moved to New York City in the 1970s. The former elementary school teacher drew on her gospel background for compositions for choirs, organs and percussion. She's also worked in theater and collaborated with musicians around the world.

"Being selected as a 2024 NEA Jazz Master is a wonderful surprise and a great honor in my career as a musician," Myers wrote in a statement. "I am thoroughly surprised and ever grateful to be included amongst great artists that have come before me. This award has shown me that my music has touched people in a positive, spiritual, and loving way. I am inspired much more, and for that I am thankful."

Gary Bartz

Finally, the venerable saxophonist Gary Bartzhas played with generations of jazz stars. In the 1960s, after graduating from Juilliard, he joined the Max Roach/Abbey Lincoln Group and the Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop. In the 1970s, he played with Miles Davis and founded the Ntu Troop, which united avante-garde jazz with African folk, funk, soul and other genres. (Those recordings are often mined for samples by contemporary hip hop artists.) Bartz, who's been a professor of jazz saxophone at Oberlin College for nearly a quarter century, has released more than 40 solo albums, and he's appeared on more than 200 as a guest artist.

The new class of NEA Jazz Masters will be recognized at a ceremony on April 13, 2024 at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

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Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.