Updated: May 16
On the 70th episode of Artimacy, I'm celebrating by shining a spotlight on the next generation of jazz! New Music USA has a mission of ensuring that the future creators in the genre and properly supported. In an effort to foster the true evolution of this music, they recognize that this should include women and non-binary musicians in a way that hasn't been prioritized previously.
I sat down with President and CEO Vanessa Reed who explained the thinking behind the creation of the Next Jazz Legacy program, and the work that the organization is tasked with. New Music USA has awarded 7 women and non-binary musicians in their inaugural Next Jazz Legacy program who are most definitely carrying the torch into the future. Awardees are paired with mentors and given once in a lifetime apprenticeships with major players and living legends in the genre such as Wayne Shorter, Esperanza Spalding, Bobby McFerrin, Tia Fuller, Lizz Wright, Brandon Ross, Kris Davis, Chris Potter, Marcus Miller, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Linda May Han Oh, Bill Stewart, Mary Halvorson, and Jen Shyu.
The three-year, national program launched by New Music USA and the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice – with major funding from the Mellon Foundation – will invest in each of these seven awardees through personalized apprenticeships, financial support, and a mission to inspire waves of lasting change.
I caught up with a few of the awardees at the Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival at The Kennedy Center during their weekend of performances on Millennium Stage. On Friday, May 6th and Saturday, May 7th, these musicians wowed a very well-attended audience with their showmanship and command of the music. You could hear that they all have a firm grasp of the jazz tradition, while taking that foundation and building upon it with their individual sound print. This was their very first time performing together as a unit. They were so locked in with one another that you would think they had been working as a band for quite some time!
I even had the pleasure of taking over New Music USA's Instagram stories for the weekend and had an unforgettable experience!
Next Jazz Legacy’s Artistic Director, NEA Jazz Master Terri Lyne Carrington and Social Science also performed in the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theatre with special guests Malcolm Jamal Warner, Mark Kibble and Chelsey Green.
The weekend concluded with a panel discussion with drummer and bandleader Allison Miller and Next Jazz Legacy awardee Alexis Lombre, moderated by managing director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, ethnomusicologist, curator, and violinist Aja Burrell Wood.
To say that this program is necessary and long overdue would be an understatement. Women and non-binary musicians have been discriminated against, and oftentimes counted out on the bandstand. The Next Jazz Legacy program exists to close this gap by creating opportunities, offering guidance and, therefore, broadening the playing field for this overlooked demographic.