Since 1982, the National Endowment for the Arts has awarded Jazz Masters fellowships, the nation’s highest honor in jazz, to individuals who have made significant contributions to America’s classical music. The 2021 NEA Jazz Masters include Philadelphia native Albert “Tootie” Heath.
Drummer Tootie Heath is the youngest of the three Heath Brothers. Back in the day, the family home was a welcoming space for jazz musicians. The legendary jam sessions in their parents’ basement attracted the likes of John Coltrane, Benny Golson, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.
The NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert will be co-hosted by 2017 NEA Jazz Master Dee Dee Bridgewater and actor Delroy Lindo.
NEA Acting Chairman Ann Eilers said:
As part of our efforts to give all Americans access to the arts we are proud to partner with SFJAZZ on this virtual concert. It is an opportunity for audiences around the world to tune in and explore the honorees’ many contributions to jazz while also experiencing an evening of performances by an incredible line-up of jazz musicians.
SFJAZZ Founder and Executive Artistic Director Randall Kline added:
It is an honor to again partner with the NEA to celebrate these Jazz Masters. 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 free concert will be livestreamed on Thursday, April 22, 2021 at 8:00 p.m. ET/5:00 p.m. PT. on arts.gov and sfjazz.org, among other platforms. For more information, go here.
The 2016 NEA Jazz Masters were honored at a tribute concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
This year’s class includes Archie Shepp who grew up in West Philadelphia. During an NEA interview, Shepp talked about jazz and Philadelphia:
The music that we call jazz has always been important in the African American community, especially in the poorer neighborhoods.
There was a lot of racism and prejudice, but a lot of music, a lot of blues and some good times. Music was all over Philadelphia. You could go down to North Philadelphia and hear young John Coltrane or Johnny Coles, Jimmy Oliver, Jimmy Heath. I suppose that’s what jazz is all about, suffering and good times, and somehow making the best of all of that.
At the tribute concert for Benny Carter, I got a chance to spend some time with Shepp during the break. He reminisced about the jam sessions at the Heath Brothers’ Family Home. He shared that he learned how to play chords from Coltrane and Lee Morgan.
Truth be told, Philadelphia’s contribution to jazz is mostly an untold story. We must capture stories about Philly’s jazz scene while those who know the history are still here.
Irvine Auditorium is a performance venue at 3401 Spruce Street on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was designed by the firm of prominent architect Horace Trumbauer and built 1926–1932. Irvine Auditorium is notable for its nearly 11,000-pipe Curtis Organ, the world’s 22nd-largest pipe organ (by ranks), originally built for the Sesquicentennial Exposition of 1926 and donated to the university in 1928. The building was opened in May, 1929.
The 1987 Mellon Jazz Festival was dedicated to the Heath Brothers who performed in the auditorium on June 25, 1987.