Joanne Brackeen – the Lady of Jazz Piano

Joanne Brackeen

March is Women’s History Month, and we’re celebrating it by paying tribute to talented women in Jazz. We’re starting with NEA Jazz Master Joanne Brackeen, a brilliant artist who has been described as “one of the most distinctive, exciting jazz pianists in the world.” 


Joanne Brackeen was born in Ventura, California, and started studying music at a young age. She reminisces about her early years and first discovery of music: “I remember—and my sister does, too, that when we – I was six, so she was eight, there was a grand piano in our house for maybe a month or two. We don’t know where it came from or where it went. Anyway, I remember sitting at this piano and, you know, playing—just playing the notes and saying, “Oh, wow. This is the easiest thing in the world. These notes all go up. These go down. I could do anything on the piano.”

These early trials eventually led Joanne Brackeen to play in school performances, and then venture out to local jazz clubs. After performing in Los Angeles with jazz heavyweights like Dexter Gordon and Harold Land, Joanne moved to New York City. Brackeen’s career took off in the Big Apple when she was spotted by Art Blakey in a night club in Greenwich Village. 

Joanne Brackeen went on to performed and/or record with Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, Joe Henderson, Stan Getz, Pharaoh Sanders, Freddie Hubbard, Dave Liebman, Toots Thielmans, Jon Faddis, Eddie Gomez, and Jack DeJohnette. Leading her own groups, she has performed in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Venues have included the Kennedy Center, the Smithsonian Institute, Carnegie Hall, and Avery Fisher Hall, as well as the JVC, Monterey, Montreal, North Sea, and Montreux Jazz Festivals. Brackeen recorded over 20 albums as a leader.

Read fully biography of Joanne Brackeen HERE

“A lot of times, I could get on the piano and play it, and then I have to record. Put it on an iPhone or some recorder or something. And then if I would listen to it an hour later I can’t play it, maybe I could remember the sound of it but I can’t physically play it, but when it comes – it just comes through my body.”
-Joanne Brackeen


Joanne Brackeen started her career at a time when women were rarely involved in the music scene. She was the first and only female member of Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers. “I was a performer and composer, having worked with and recorded with Joe Henderson and Stan Getz and Art Blakey, long before they ever decided there was such a thing as women in jazz.” Brackeen embraced her role with ease and grace: “I never thought in terms of you’re a woman or you’re a man, I only thought in terms of you’re a musician and you’re doing the same together because you like the same type of sounds and feelings of the music that was termed jazz.” Joanne Brackeen’s life and music serve as a great example to women in music – she is an inspiration to established musicians as well as upcoming artists. 


Joanne Brackeen is an innovative and dynamic performer who’s equally well-known and appreciated for her intricate and rhythmically bold compositions as well as for her captivating and complex improvisations. She is often referred to as “the Picasso of Jazz Piano”.  True to that nickname, Joanne reinvented herself and her art many times over. Her playing is virtuosic and wholly unpredictable, dense and richly detailed, rhythmically advanced and consistently, effortlessly swinging. 

“I love all musical settings equally, whether it is solo, trio, quartet, etc. If I play too much of one combination, I start wanting to do another. I like the intricacy and intimacy of a small group more than a big band because there is more room for spontaneous creativity. Right now, that’s my preference, but who knows? It might change.”
-Joanne Brackeen

Here’s Joanne Brackeen, in concert in 1998, performing “I Hear A Rhapsody” by George Gershwin with Steve Kirby on base and Horacio ‘El Negro’ Hernandez on drums. 

Hear an interview with NEA Jazz Master Joanne Brackeen HERE


JOANNE BRACKEEN: Pink Elephant Magic
Joanne Brackeen recorded “Pink Elephant Magic” with Arkadia Records. In this Grammy nominated Album, Brackeen displays an unbridled artistic creativity and passion through her distinctive compositional skills and her piano virtuosity in this recording with all-star guests Nicholas Payton, Kurt Elling, label mate David Liebman and Chris Potter and her world-class rhythm section of John Patitucci and Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez.
“Pink Elephant Magic” shows off not only Brackeen’s talents as a leader and improviser, but also as a composer. The range of material she covers and the players she attracts… are testament to the depth of her music.” – Bob Young, Boston Herald
Learn more about “Pink Elephant Magic” on the Album’s page
Happy March and happy listening to Joanne Brackeen’s music!


Arkadia Records Logo popup

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest releases, playlists, and exclusive Jazz video content.  No spam, just Jazz exclusives from our catalog.

You have Successfully Subscribed!