We celebrated National Women’s History Month in March! We’ve shared daily stories about some of the most accomplished women in jazz, both nationally and locally, and hope you have enjoyed our tribute to the women of jazz. 


This jazz pianist is one of the few virtuosos who can claim to be completely self-taught. From the beginning, she was determined to do it her way. In fact, she received a scholarship to the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music but, after a short time there, dropped out to pursue her own musical path. Nicknamed “the Picasso of Jazz Piano,” JoAnne Brackeen was breaking through the glass ceiling before people even knew what that meant.

Born in a quiet coastal town in California in 1938, jazz did not permeate the airwaves. But at age 11, Brackeen caught wind of Frankie Carle’s albums and began to imitate them. By age 12 she had landed her first jazz gig. Brackeen moved to LA as a teenager and played with such jazz notables as Bobby Hutcherson, Billy Higgins, Scott LaFaro and Al Farmer through the 1950s. A big break came in 1969 when she became the first woman to join Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. After that came stints with Joe Henderson and Stan Getz before forming her own trio and quartet.

Through the decades, Brackeen’s one-woman machine never slowed down. She had four children, moved to New York City, traveled the world as both soloist and sideperson, served on a grant panel for the National Endowment for the Arts, and toured the Middle East and Europe with the U.S. State Department. She put out 25 albums as lead musician, composed more than 300 original works, participated in the Ken Burns documentary, “Jazz,”  gave solo concerts at Carnegie Hall, and became a professor at both the Berklee School of Music in Boston and the New School in New York City. She received countless honors along the way, including Educator of the Year and the Living Legend Award.  

But, awards aside, perhaps Brackeen’s most treasured accomplishment is that she bucked the odds during a time of great social upheaval and triumphed. The Picasso of jazz piano prevailed. As her website proudly states, “Throughout her career, JoAnne has operated at full capacity in a male-dominated field, breaking through the glass ceiling and becoming an icon for women in jazz.” Her inspiring legacy is a beacon for today’s young women of jazz.

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