Nate Chinen

Director of Editorial Content

Nate Chinen joined WBGO as the Director of Editorial Content at the start of 2017. In addition to overseeing a range of coverage at WBGO.org, he works closely with programs including Jazz Night in America and The Checkout, and contributes to a range of jazz programming on NPR.

Before joining the WBGO team. Chinen spent nearly a dozen years as a jazz and pop critic for the New York Times. He also wrote a long-running monthly column and assorted features for JazzTimes. He is a ten-time winner of the Helen Dance-Robert Palmer Award for Excellence in Writing, presented by the Jazz Journalists Association. The same organization presented him with its award for Best Book About Jazz, for his work on Myself Among Others, the autobiography of impresario George Wein.

Chinen was born in Honolulu, to a musical family: his parents were popular nightclub entertainers, and he grew up around the local Musicians Union. He went to college on the east coast and began writing about jazz in 1996, at the Philadelphia City Paper. His byline has also appeared in a range of national music publications, including DownBeat, Blender and Vibe. For several years he was the jazz critic for Weekend America, a radio program syndicated by American Public Media. And from 2003 to 2005 he covered jazz for the Village Voice.

Ways to Connect

"It can be maddening to deal with a political environment where it seems like the truth has no purchase anymore," says Darcy James Argue, the hyper-literate composer who leads the Secret Society, a postmodern big band. Argue has spent a lot of time recently thinking about that maddening environment — not just as a matter of civic engagement during a chaotic election season, but also because it forms the crux of Real Enemies, his most recent work.

The Fred Hersch Trio brings a seductive and crafty intelligence to its version of "We See," the Thelonious Monk tune. Articulating its melody at the piano, Hersch slips in a few leisurely pauses, which slow down and stretch out the form. Then, in the bridge, he ratchets up to twice the speed, evoking the frenetic whir of the factory machinery in Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times.

Miguel Zenón
Jimmy Katz / Courtesy of the Artist

 

Miguel Zenón, the ever-insightful Puerto Rican alto saxophonist and composer, has garnered enviable credentials over the last 15 years, since first stepping out as a leader: a MacArthur “genius grant,” a Guggenheim, a handful of Grammy nominations, widespread critical acclaim. But the achievement that’s most meaningful to him, and ultimately the most consequential, is his longtime stewardship of a working band. 

Lee Konitz with Kenny Barron
John Abbott

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust couldn’t have been thinking about the chord changes to “Cherokee” when he first articulated this idea, writing in France a century ago. But his point feels perfectly suited to the example of alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, who at 89 is still extracting fresh insight from familiar places, as he proves on an effervescent new album, Frescalalto.

Diana Krall has announced a new studio album and world tour, with  dates beginning in June. The album — Turn Up the Quiet, due out on May 5 — will reunite her with Tommy LiPuma, who has had a hand in producing most of her previous releases, going back to 1995. Turn Up the Quiet also signals Krall’s return to the Great American Songbook in a jazz context, after a few seasons of branching out.

Jeremy Pelt
Sally Pritchard

One track in this week’s Take Five column is a call to make some noise; another is a contemplative ode to silence. There’s also an early Valentine, a long-lost face-off, and a freeform depth charge. We’re going to cover some serious ground here, so let’s dive in.

Ambrose Akinmusire
Autumn de Wilde / Courtesy of the artist

Ambrose Akinmusire has accrued many achievements in the last decade, since his first-place finish at the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition. But he hasn’t yet made a live album at the Village Vanguard, a rite of passage for so many of his precursors. That all changes this week — and judging by his quartet’s superb hourlong set on Sunday night, the results will be worth pursuing.

Matthew Stevens
Matthew Perrin / matthewperrin.photos

Over the last decade, few musicians have made the term “utility player” feel more like a compliment than guitarist Matthew Stevens. A trusted sideman to some of the leading lights of his generation, notably Esperanza Spalding and Christian Scott, he has been judicious about the pace and positioning of his solo career. 

In this installment of Take Five, our weekly playlist, you'll find fathers and sons, a couple of farewells, and more than one refurbished jazz standard. We'll start with one of those, featuring a singer you may know, giving a performance you'll want to see.

Marilyn Maye could easily be nominated as the voice of experience: At 88, she's one of our greatest living songbook singers, as well as a jazz-cabaret star of singular achievement. A vocal stylist both sensitive and swinging, with a deep understanding of her chosen tradition, she's had a storied career, and doesn't seem the slightest bit inclined to slow it down.

Brad Mehldau and Chris Thile at the Bowery Ballroom
Alex Chaloff / Nonesuch

 

Among the qualities that make Brad Mehldau and Chris Thile a not-quite-unlikely pairing — virtuosity, curiosity, a natural drive to bridge divisions of style — the one that may run deepest is a sense of resonant, articulate melancholy.

Among the qualities that make Brad Mehldau and Chris Thile a not-quite-unlikely pairing — virtuosity, curiosity, a natural drive to bridge divisions of style — the one that may run deepest is a sense of resonant, articulate melancholy.

Nellie McKay in 'A Girl Named Bill: The Life and Times of Billy Tipton'
Walter McBride

Playing the part is never a simple or straightforward process for Nellie McKay. A singer-songwriter and pianist with a gift for wily provocation, she knows how to disappear into character with a song. And she pushes that impulse further with A Girl Named Bill: The Life and Times of Billy Tipton, the cabaret show she’s presenting Thursday through Saturday at 54 Below.

 

Any posthumous album is on some level a haunting, but that feels especially true of Jimmy Scott’s I Go Back Home: A Story About Hoping and Dreaming. A labor of love and heartbreak, it features lush accompaniment and a starry array of guests, like Dee Dee Bridgewater, Monica Mancini and Joe Pesci. But of course the album’s shining centerpiece is Scott, who died in 2014 at 88, and whose otherworldly voice rings as vulnerable, piercing and present as ever.

Chuck Stewart
Chester Higgins, Jr. / Courtesy of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

Chuck Stewart, one of the most prolific and admired photographers in jazz — an intimate chronicler of many of its icons and milestones, including the historic recording session for John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme — died on Jan. 20 in Teaneck, N.J. He was 89.

His death was confirmed by his daughter-in-law Kim Stewart, who has handled the licensing of his images in recent years.

Dave Douglas performs with High Risk, featuring Shigeto, at the 2017 NYC Winter Jazzfest.
John Rogers / for NPR

Trumpeter-composer Dave Douglas found inspiration for his latest project, Metamorphosis, in the sky: specifically, from star formations and the mythologies that took hold around them.

“Halcyon Days,” which premieres here, is a potent, exploratory track from the session, featuring serious improvisers like Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet, Oliver Lake on saxophone and Andrew Cyrille on drums.

Take Five: Jimmy Cobb

Jan 20, 2017
Jimmy Cobb in the kitchen of the Village Vanguard, 2013
John Rogers / WBGO/NPR

Jimmy Cobb, who turned 88 on Jan. 20, will probably always be hailed first in the popular conversation as the drummer on the Miles Davis album Kind of Blue. That’s how a cultural touchstone works, and Cobb, a 2009 NEA Jazz Master, hasn’t shied away from the distinction. But of course there’s an entire career full of other highlights to celebrate, moments that underscore Cobb’s strong glide with the beat and agile attunement to a band. Here are five tracks to savor. 

"Our best musicians in the jazz tradition were radical imaginers," Samora Pinderhughes says. A pianist and composer in his mid-20s, he has asserted his connection to that lineage with The Transformations Suite, an earnest and ambitious new work combining music, words and visuals. The piece, which took five years to chisel into shape, was inspired by African-American resistance and protest movements, as well as the oppression that many still endure.

David Garten

Political expression isn’t a new impulse for pianist and composer Arturo O’Farrill, who leads the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. But he’s taking his most direct action yet with “Musicians Against Fascism,” a concert he has organized at Symphony Space. Scheduled for this Thursday, the eve of the presidential inauguration, it’s an act of protest involving more than a dozen notable jazz artists. 

Nat Hentoff during the annual "A Great Night in Harlem" Benefit Concert at The Apollo Theater in New York City.
STEPHEN LOVEKIN / FILMMAGIC VIA GETTY IMAGES

 

The first and most famous book by Nat Hentoff — Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya, co-credited to Nat Shapiro and originally published in 1955 — is an oral history that rings with the authority of scripture. “This is the story of jazz,” it begins, “as told by the musicians whose lives are that story.” 

 

Donny McCaslin
Jimmy King

 

“No plan,” David Bowie muses in the first verse of a haunting new song by that title. “Wherever I may go / Just where, just there / I am.” These existential lyrics are inextricable from their real-world context: “No Plan” was conceived just as Bowie was confronting his own mortality, with a quiet determination to forge the experience into art.

Welcome to the new WBGO.org! Our site is now more flexible than ever, so you can enjoy listening to the music you love and reading our coverage on any device.

We’re excited to introduce a strong new editorial focus, with in-depth features, news, artist interviews and more. There’ll be something new here every day.

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