The National Endowment for the Arts has inducted a new class of NEA Jazz Masters every year since 1982, honoring more than 160 artists and advocates during their lifetimes. This year's class embodies a dazzling breadth of expression — with the beats of two different drummers, Albert "Tootie" Heath and Terri Lyne Carrington; a saxophonist and composer who's always marched to his own rhythm, Henry Threadgill; and a jazz broadcaster and historian known for chasing down any promising digression, Phil Schaap.
Typically, the NEA Jazz Masters ceremony and concert takes place in a grand hall, with an audience. Pandemic realities altered that calculus in 2020, and informed the decision to stick to an all-virtual presentation again this year. But the NEA and presenting partner SFJAZZ have made the most out of a virtual format, carving out space for pre-taped performances, high-profile cameos and other serendipitous surprises.
The event's co-hosts are singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, the 2017 NEA Jazz Master and former NPR JazzSet broadcaster, and Delroy Lindo, the British-American actor hailed most recently for his role in Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods. Opening remarks will be delivered by Douglas Emhoff, a noted jazz fan whose official designation is the Second Gentleman of the United States.
"It is an honor to again partner with the NEA to celebrate these Jazz Masters," SFJAZZ Founder and Executive Artistic Director Randall Kline says. "We are looking forward to all of these artists and our global communities coming together to honor these legendary jazz masters for their profound contributions to our world."
The event's musical director is alto saxophonist, MacArthur fellow and longtime SFJAZZ Collective member Miguel Zenón. He has lined up performances by past NEA Jazz Masters Dianne Reeves and Wynton and Jason Marsalis, among many others — including saxophonist Joe Lovano, pianists Danilo Pérez and David Virelles, and singer Lizz Wright. After the webcast, SFJAZZ will host a virtual "Meet the Jazz Masters" reception, featuring the inductees and Kline in a lively Q&A. Tune in at 8 p.m. ET.