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NEA Jazz Masters—Dianne Reeves, Joanne Brackeen, Pat Metheny, Todd Barkan—Take Over Take Five

Bertrand Guay
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Dianne Reeves, a member of the 2018 class of NEA Jazz Masters

The 2018 class of NEA Jazz Masters — pianist Joanne Brackeen, promoter Todd Barkan, singer Dianne Reeves and guitarist Pat Metheny — will be inducted in an all-star tribute concert at the Kennedy Center next Monday, April 16. Check back here for a free live stream of the event, which will feature performances by Angelique Kidjo, Eddie Palmieri, Cécile McLorin Salvant and many others. For now, we dedicate this installment of Take Five to the four honorees. 

Joanne Brackeen, “Six Ate”


Pianist Joanne Brackeen, at 79, is the senior member of this NEA Jazz Masters class. She’s a musician of deep erudition and broad experience, but in some respects she has often been overlooked. Her most recent release, an excellent solo piano album called Popsicle Illusion, was released way back in 2000. “Six Ate” dates from early in her solo career: it’s the opening track from Invitation, an album released in 1976 on the Freedom label. (It was reissued on Black Lion in ’95.) Listen for how much bristling energy Brackeen brings to the piano — and note, too, her pugnacious hookup with bassist Clint Houston and drummer Billy Hart.

Freddie Hubbard, “Red Clay”


The New York jazz citizenry knows Todd Barkan partly for his longtime affiliation with Jazz at Lincoln Center. But of course, Barkan first made his mark as the proprietor of Keystone Korner, a legendary jazz club in San Francisco. One of the many memorable engagements at the club took place in late November of 1981. The explosive trumpeter Freddie Hubbard brought in a band featuring Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone and Bobby Hutcherson on vibraphone. The incendiary version of “Red Clay” from the session was released on Prestige just over 20 years ago, on an album titled Keystone Bop Vol. 2: Friday/Saturday.

Pat Metheny, “The Way Up: Opening”


How do you choose a single representative track by Pat Metheny? There’s really no way to go about it, but this live clip, from the global tour behind his excellent 2005 album The Way Up, hits a lot of the right notes. It’s among the final statements by the Pat Metheny Group, his longtime flagship with keyboardist Lyle Mays, and it features insightful younger partners like drummer Antonio Sánchez and trumpeter Cuong Vu. It also gives Metheny an opportunity to express himself on both electric and acoustic guitars — and showcases his expansive compositional voice.

Dianne Reeves, “Summertime”


Absolute authority — that’s probably the best way to describe the artistry of Dianne Reeves, easily one of the finest jazz singers of our time. Last year, Reeves was riveting at the NEA Jazz Masters ceremony, honoring her dear friend Dee Dee Bridgewater. There are countless good options for a recent offering from Reeves, but I wanted to take this opportunity to spotlight a gem from the archives: her set-closing, boundary-stretching version of “Summertime,” from the 1989 Newport Jazz Festival. Settle in and absorb the full glory of this performance, which begins with an ad lib about her tour schedule, and gets stronger and more uplifting as it goes. (Dig that brief hailstorm of a drum solo by the young Billy Kilson.)

Pat Metheny Featuring Dianne Reeves, “Minuando (Six Eight)”

We conclude with a clip from the White House Jazz Festival, held on April 29, 2016 as a prelude to International Jazz Day. It features two of our inductees, Reeves and Metheny. They’re performing “Minuano,” a track from Still Life (Talking), a touchstone album by the Pat Metheny Group. Reeves, singing wordlessly, brings an earthy gravity to the song, finding instant communion with Metheny, pianist Danilo Pérez, keyboardist John Beasley, bassist Christian McBride, tabla player Zakir Hussain and drummer Kendrick Scott.

For more information about the NEA Jazz Masters, visit the program website.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.