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Watch Live: The 2024 NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert

"We were always looking for our own sound," alto saxophonist Gary Bartz recently affirmed. "We did not want to sound like anybody else." Speaking with The Late Set, a WRTI podcast, Bartz was referring to his musical generation, which carried the lessons of swing and bebop into new vistas of funk, free-improv and fusion, laying the foundation for hip-hop.

That intrepid multiplicity of style is a proud hallmark of this year's class of NEA Jazz Masters. That group will be honored at the Kennedy Center on April 13, with a Tribute Concert that will be shared as a free webcast at and elsewhere, including NPR Music.

The NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship, established in 1982 by the National Endowment for the Arts, is often described as this country's highest honor reserved for jazz. Along with Bartz, this year's honorees include other seekers of sound: keyboardist and vocalist Amina Claudine Myers, trumpeter Terence Blanchard and journalist Willard Jenkins.

All have explored an unrestricted range of musical terrain — Myers as a longtime member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, working with compositional settings ranging from solo organ to chamber orchestra, and Blanchard as both the longtime scorer of Spike Lee's films and a history-making composer at The Metropolitan Opera. Jenkins, recipient of the A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy, is artistic director of the DC Jazz Festival, a host on WPFW and editor of the oral history Ain't But a Few of Us: Black Music Writers Tell Their Story.

The NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert will be hosted by Felix Contreras, co-creator and co-host of NPR's Alt.Latino. Bartz, Blanchard and Myers are all scheduled to perform with their working groups, while Jenkins, who co-authored the autobiography of pianist-composer and 2001 NEA Jazz Master Randy Weston, will be honored with a performance by Weston's African Rhythms Alumni Quintet. The concert will close with a tribute to Duke Ellington, the towering composer and pianist born 125 years ago in Washington, D.C.; among the performers in that finale are alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin and singer Charenée Wade.

For more information about the NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert, visit

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