Lifestyle2024 NEA Jazz Masters: Gary Bartz, Terence Blanchard, Amina Myers

2024 NEA Jazz Masters: Gary Bartz, Terence Blanchard, Amina Myers

Each year, honoring the new class of National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Masters is a big deal, as it celebrates the musicians and educators who are keepers of jazz, a specifically American-created art form. The 2024 NEA Jazz Masters class honorees are Gary Bartz, Terence Blanchard, Amina Claudine Myers, and Rockville, Maryland resident Willard Jenkins, recipient of the 2024 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy.

The 2024 Jazz Masters, Amina Claudine Myers, Terence Blanchard, Willard Jenkins and Gary Bartz, after an all-star concert on April 13, at the Kennedy Center. (Courtesy of Jati Lindsay)
At a Kennedy Center concert honoring the Jazz Masters, NEA Chair Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, remembered her childhood approach to jazz

“My father introduced my brother and me to the sounds and importance of jazz and jazz musicians,” Jackson said. “He did this as a way of connecting us to our family’s African American groups and culture.”

Embracing jazz by listening, learning, and educating us builds on Jackson’s sentiments, which were heard through free events sessions with this year’s Jazz Masters. 

Jazz Masters In Conversation 

Jenkins, artistic director for DC Jazz Festival and editor of the book “Ain’t But a Few of Us: Black Music Writers Tell Their Story,” led a discussion with music performance students at Howard University. “Music Careers, Beyond the Bandstand” offered ideas for students to pursue other skills in their profession beyond performing. For example, Jenkins talked about working as a jazz writer, a researcher, and in radio, which he still does today at WPFW-FM in D.C.

“I started writing record reviews. As I started writing reviews, promotional copies of records started coming to our address for review,” Jenkins told The Informer on WIN-TV, recalling his time with the “Black Watch” student newspaper. “Opportunities to attend performances as media writers became available, where students could write performance reviews.”

In addition to Jenkins’ discussion, a National Public Radio (NPR) listening session allowed attendees to hear about the career paths of the Jazz Masters. Freedom was a key connecting thread with musicians Bartz, Blanchard, and Myers. Jazz has no restrictions. You can compose and say anything.

Sunny Sumter, president and CEO of the DC Jazz Festival, led an audience at NPR through enjoyable conversations preceded by recorded music by honorees. The chat with saxophonist and composer Bartz started with his recording “Celestial Blues” (2015), a collaboration with his group NTU Troop and vocalist Andy Bey. 

Bartz spoke about social justice, advocacy, and spirituality in his music.

“At this point in my life, I have come to realize that music is nature’s gift to humans as a religion,” said Bartz. “It’s not a man-made religion, it’s nature’s religion. 

The Art of Composing 

Jazz Master Myers is a pianist, organist, and vocal and instrumental music composer. She brings in her roots from blues, gospel, and jazz. Her supportive upbringing in rural Blackwell, Arkansas, plays heavily in her compositions. Myers talked about providing space in music by improvising, which she advocated with opera singers who perform in a stringent musical form.

“When you start improvising, you find out what you can do,” Myers said. “Don’t be afraid to play, and don’t be afraid to try something that’s right.”

Trumpeter, composer, and band leader Blanchard began his career at 19 with drummer and NEA Jazz Master Art Blakey. He has gone beyond jazz to compose hip hop, gospel, and opera and to score over 40 film and television productions, with one of his most recent scores for the movie “The Woman King.”

“Woman King was special. It was the most beautiful thing I had seen done on African culture,” said Blanchard, who applied his opera composition to the score. “We brought in six African American opera singers, then we brought in NEA Jazz Master Dianne Reeves. She looked on the screen and began improvising, and the opera singers lost their minds.”

Listen to more comments and view the 2024 NEA Jazz Masters all-star Kennedy Center concert for free and on-demand at

Source: Washington Informer

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