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Meet the NEA Jazz Masters, Class of 2020, on Jazz Night in America

Every year since 1982, the National Endowment for the Arts selects a new class of NEA Jazz Masters, a formal recognition reserved for seasoned musicians and jazz advocates.

On this episode of Jazz Night in America, we throw the spotlight on the class of 2020, beginning with a storied bassist whose career parallels the history of jazz from the early 1960s onward. Reggie Workman grew up in Philadelphia with Lee Morgan and Archie Shepp, and played in the John Coltrane Quartet and Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, before collaborating with almost every big name in the book for half a century.

Then we'll profile another jazz lifer, although avant-garde saxophonist and composer Roscoe Mitchell would take issue with that limiting definition. While most jazz fans know of his work in The Art Ensemble of Chicago, his career also veered into the realm of performance art and classical music.

We also celebrate one of the most beloved people in the jazz community: Dorthaan Kirk, the First Lady of Jazz in Newark, N.J. She's been a behind-the-scenes force of nature for over 40 years, and this year she received the A.B. Spellman Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy.

Last but certainly not least, we salute Bobby McFerrin, an undefinable vocal improviser who not only changed the paradigm of what singing could be, but also pushed the boundary of the human voice. His daughter, singer-songwriter Madison McFerrin, helps us pay tribute.

Set List

  • John Coltrane, "Greensleeves" (traditional, arranged by McCoy Tyner)
  • Rahsaan Roland Kirk, "Dorthaan's Walk" (Kirk)
  • Art Ensemble of Chicago, "Odwalla Theme" (Roscoe Mitchell)
  • Bobby McFerrin and Chick Corea, "Even For Me" (McFerrin / Corea)
  • Bobby McFerrin and Chick Corea, "Autumn Leaves" (Bernie Hanighen / Thelonious Monk / Cootie Williams)


Special thanks to the NEA and Josephine Reed for the Masters interviews. Watch The 2020 NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert From SFJAZZ here.

Writer and Producer: Sarah Geledi; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Host: Christian McBride; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Technical Director: David Tallacksen; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand; Senior Director of NPR Music: Lauren Onkey.

Sarah Geledi left her job in advertising in Montreal to pursue a career in music in New York City. She fulfilled that mission, producing content for the JAM Festival at WBGO, segments for The Checkout, and programs for WWOZ and PRI's Afropop Worldwide. She also served as a producer for NYC Winter Jazzfest before landing the "job of her dreams," producing radio for Jazz Night in America.