The themes of intergenerational support and the power of community rang loud and clear throughout the celebration of the 2018 class of NEA Jazz Masters, held at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., on April 16. The recipients—pianist Joanne Brackeen, guitarist Pat Metheny, vocalist Dianne Reeves and impresario Todd Barkan—basked in the glow of a series of stirring tribute performances, most of which featured emerging artists rather than the usual roundup of all-stars and fellow jazz masters so common at gala events.
To salute each honoree, the event’s producers curated a segment featuring a brief introduction from a person of influence in the performing-arts world; a short video profile; a composition or medley of material associated with the honoree, performed by a select group; and a short acceptance speech. The videos, which can be seen along with the entire show on the NEA website, were all first-person interviews that effectively and engagingly captured the honorees’ background and essence. Hearing Barkan explain how he literally stumbled into owning the Bay Area jazz club Keystone Korner, or Brackeen tell how she impulsively sat in with Art Blakey’s band at Slugs’, allowed the audience to marvel at the fortuitous, almost magical aspects of these lives in jazz.