Location, Space, and Women In Jazz

Joanne Brackeen

A Pioneer and Revolutionary in the World of Jazz​

Joanne Brackeen was first was introduced to the genre of Jazz when she was 11 years old. She was infatuated with albums from Frankie Clare. She was completely self taught. Using her exceptional auditory skills she was able to translate what she heard into playing, without any previous knowledge or lessons about music. By 12 years old she actively performing and making a name for herself.  At the age of 16 her two focal points of influence were Charlie Parker and Bud Powell.(Joanne, Brackeen, Biography). Brackeen comments on on how she made her choice of instrument,  “ The sound of the piano. Simple as that. I love the sound of the piano.I also hear a sound of an orchestra inside the sound of the piano.” (Hamilton College Jazz Archive, Interview with Joanne Brackeen) The capacity for her to be self taught, with no prior musical instructions or lessons is that in itself  genius. Her intellectual and auditory skills are unparalleled. Music was a different world for her, allowing her to carry out this innate ability and talent.

Joanne Brackeen

Brackeen was more influenced by Frankie Clare, than anyone else in her family. Her parents were supportive and proud of her career; however, the were not musical forces themselves. Brackeen took on a passion all on her own. After six months learning the notes for notes from listening to Clare's albums, she knew how to play the piano. Brackeen comments on her exposure to a more structured learning environment, “They didn’t really have school that much. There was one school called the Westlake college of Music, and when she was 14 her parents took her there to study, there she studied with a piano player named Dave Robertson and Gene Garff.”(Joanne, Brackeen, Biography) There she really learned the art of improve. She learned to hear a tune and replicate the foundation of the piece and add her own originality to it.  Joanne matured into a very talented and intellectual individual. She was awarded a scholarship to study at the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music. ( Joanne Brackeen, Jazz Biography ) Ironically, she seemed to excel beyond the bounds of a classroom, and ultimately made the decision to pursue music on her own. From there on out she was a self taught, determined, and independent young woman.
Joanne Brackeen Interview

Joanne Brackeen was born in Ventura California in 1938. Ventura used to be a good atmosphere before she was born, however, there was still reminiscences of the culture. Her primitive career stated to excel when she moved to L.A, still in her young adolescents. The late 1930 and 1940’s were a time of change in Los Angeles((Joanne, Brackeen Biography). The boom of Hollywood was eminent. Women were breaking gender roles, seeking a more reckless and vivacious way of life. The notion of seeking interests was more encouraged and the opportunities to do so were more available. While still in her teens in L.A. Brackeen had already met and played with Scott LaFaro, Charlie Haden, Don Cherry, Billy Higgins, Charles Lloyd, Bobby Hutcherson, Dexter Gordon, and Art Farmer.( Monk Roe, Hamilton College Jazz Archive)  L.A. was were Brackeen initially made her mark, but she had an innate sense that L.A. was not were she would remain. She is quoted as saying, “ I always had a feeling that I wanted to be in New York, since I was six years old.” ( Monk Roe, Hamilton College, Jazz archive)  Her career really began to solidify when she moved to New York in 1965, there she was exposed and had multiple chances to play with well known Jazz musicians at the time. In New York she,” met and played with such well-known musicians as Paul Chambers, Sonny Stitt, Woody Shaw, Lee Konitz and George Benson. She has gone on to perform and/or record with many more greats over the years, including Pharoah Sanders, Dave Liebman, Freddie Hubbard and Dave Holland.” (Joanne Brackeen, Jazz Biography) New York was her true opening. She began to find herself in her own style and her desires and goals for her career.

She had an innate ability to compose and write her own music. A key to this success is greatly due to her minimal amount of a strict education in music. She says,“ The funny thing about not knowing anything too much and not having many teachers was that I didn’t know what was hard, or I didn’t think too much, it was just something I really liked to do. It was the feeling of music that was incredible.”( Monk Roe, Hamilton College, Jazz archive) She was like a painter with a blank canvas, no rules or guidelines, just the opportunity to construct whatever piece of art her fingers decided to design.  

Joanne Brackeen - Piano

Brackeen is a Pioneer. Her independence and confidence has enabled her to be a leader of her own musical groups as well as construct “ a library of more than three hundred of her original works.” (Joanne Brackeen, Jazz Biography) Not enough words can elude to the talent of this extraordinary woman. Currently serving as a professor a Berklee college of music, se is sharing and teaching her talent. ( Joanne Brackeen, Jazz Biography) Her talent has been greatly honored, as she has received almost every major award available for Jazz Musicians:” she received two grants from the National Endowment of the Arts, as well as State Department sponsorship for a mid-80s tour of the Middle East and Europe. She was included in the Ken Burns TV documentary "Jazz," as well as Robert L. Doerschuk's "88 Giants of Jazz Piano" (Huiksi, 2001). She has received a Berklee Award for "Outstanding Achievement in Education," an IAJE "Outstanding Educator" Award, the "Living Legend Award" from IWJ (International Women In Jazz), and the ABI award for "Woman of the Year 2001." She twice served on the NEA Grant panel and has adjudicated for Chamber Music America, as well as the Jacksonville and Dewars' Piano Competitions.” (Joanne Brackeen, Jazz Biography)

In a largely male dominated field, where woman's coverage of success is nearly neglected, she has made a name for herself, performed, and been honored more than many of the men in the field. This speaks volumes to Brackeen natural ability to make sound that tells a narrative. She can construct a piece of music that moves people and sparks and emotional response She is truly an artist.

For additional information, here is the full transcript of Joanne Brackeen that can also be found in the Hamilton College Jazz Archives:

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