Joanne Brackeen

2014 Living Legacy Awardee

Color photo of Joanne Brackeen.

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Image: Joanne Brackeen. Credit: Lafiya Watson.

Known as the “Picasso of the Jazz Piano”, Joanne Brackeen, b. 1938, is among the notable pianist-composers who’ve broken the glass ceiling for women in jazz performance.  She became the first (and only) female member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1969, having already played, studied and worked in jazz for a decade. She has since gone on to influence scores of players and move audiences the world over.

Born Joanne Grogan, Brackeen found her way to her parents’ grand piano at an early age, although actual lessons were short-lived. Her free-spirit and frustrations with formal piano instruction led her to teach herself, transcribing jazz solos from recordings at the age of eleven and memorizing Charlie Parker and Bud Powell tunes.  She went on to attend the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music, but her student days were brief and soon moved herself and her family to New York in 1965 to advance her career.  There she met and played with Paul Chambers, Sonny Stitt, Woody Shaw, Lee Konitz and George Benson.

In addition to her tenure with the Jazz Messengers (1969-1972), she performed extensively with Joe Henderson (1972–75) and Stan Getz (1975-1977) before leading her own trio and quartet. Brackeen established herself as a cutting edge pianist and composer through her appearances around the world, and her solo performances also cemented her reputation as one of the most innovative and dynamic of pianists. Her trios featured such noted players as Clint Houston, Eddie Gomez, John Patitucci, Jack DeJohnette, Cecil McBee, and Billy Hart. She has written over 300 compositions.

Although almost entirely self-schooled, she is committed to sharing her musical knowledge and passion the tradition to others.  Currently, she is a Professor at Berklee College of Music and has led clinics and residencies worldwide.

Brackeen has not slowed down and continues to tour nationally and international. As another giant of the jazz piano, Marian McPartland, said of her, “Brackeen, like Picasso, broke convention, and she always likely will.”

*Bio from Award presentation.