Simon Rentner

Host and Producer, The Checkout

For more than 15 years, Simon Rentner has worked as a host, producer, broadcaster, web journalist, and music presenter in New York City. His career gives him the opportunity to cover a wide spectrum of topics including, history, culture, and, most importantly, his true passion of music from faraway places such as Europe, South America, and Africa.

He is the host and producer for The Checkout, which showcases new music “on the other side of jazz” by some of the best artists on this planet including Herbie Hancock, Robert Glasper, Hiatus Kiayote, Hermeto Pascoal, Kamasi Washington, Flying Lotus, Henry Threadgill, Cassandra Wilson, and many others.

Aside from working in media, he is a curator and producer of concerts in New York City at spaces such as The Beacon Theatre, Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Town Hall, Merkin Concert Hall, The (old) Knitting Factory, Le Poisson Rouge, and Bryant Park. Some of the artists he’s presented include Hugh Masekela with Abdullah Ibrahim, The Punch Brothers, Cecil Taylor, Rosanne Cash, and the late Andrew Hill.

In addition to The Checkout, Rentner has hosted and produced content for NPR, PRI, WGBH, and WNYC. He’s won PRINDI awards for his news stories on The WBGO Journal. He’s produced long and short content for Jazz Night in America, Jazz at Lincoln Center Radio (hosted by both Ed Bradley and Wynton Marsalis), Toast of the Nation, Afropop Worldwide, Marketplace, and The Leonard Lopate Show.

His radio shows also feature celebrated voices and minds, not limited to music, such as, Jessica Lange, Ellsworth Kelly, Lee Friedlander, Mark Morris to name a few. He’s also covered the music cultural histories from Colombia, France, Sierra Leone, Mali, Argentina, Madagascar, Venezuela, Peru, Canada, and, naturally, the United States.

Ways to Connect

Isaiah McClain / WBGO

In jazz, where so much of the artistry rests on virtuosity and tradition, immense talent is sometimes hidden in plain sight. Such is the case of Sullivan Fortner, a New Orleans piano phenom who just recently decided to showcase his rare vocal ability on The Checkout.


In the 1990s, two seemingly limitless creative minds forged an important relationship. Now, almost three decades later, that bond is reaching its cosmic potential.


Before he became one of the most sought-after drummers of his generation, Antonio Sanchez was in Mexico City, training to be a top gymnast.  While mastering his floor routine – and destroying his young body in the process – he picked up drum sticks and his focus shifted to music.

Sandrine Lee

One of the legends of this music, drummer Jack DeJohnette, recently formed a new superband called Hudson, with John Scofield (guitar), John Medeski (keys), and Larry Grenadier (bass). The band's self-titled new album is mostly indebted to the music from the Woodstock rock revolution of the 1960s. But in this Checkout podcast, we get into the deeper cuts, where DeJohnette summons his Native American ancestors with "Great Spirit Peace Chant" and another original composition he calls "Song For World Forgiveness."


Petru Ivu Photography

Did you know there was a vibrant jazz scene in Romania? We certainly didn't — until witnessing it firsthand, on the ground at the Bucharest Jazz Festival. Let us introduce you to A-C Leonte, a jazz-trained singer and violinist now veering into the realm of electronica.


Cristi Mitrea - corporate, PR and event photography

 

Ari Hoenig burns bright in New York's underground jazz scene, regularly getting shine almost every Monday at Smalls Jazz Club. There you can witness firsthand what many hardcore jazz fans revere: his deft use of polyrhythms, metric modulations, and displacements.

It's always exciting when a new composition is unearthed from a behemoth in American art.  In this case, it's a composition by Ornette Coleman, the pioneering saxophonist and iconoclast, who continues to be studied, celebrated and misunderstood. In this Checkout podcast, David Murray debuts the original Ornette Coleman tune called "Perfection," with drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and the late pianist Geri Allen.


Francois Bisi

The Festival International de Jazz de Montreal kicks off with a major debut featuring one of its local artists. Rising star and Montrealer Malika Tirolien, formerly from the French Caribbean, is the frontwoman for Michael League's new project Bokanté, which is attracting a lot of buzz as of late. In this Checkout podcast, Tirolien talks about Strange Circles, the band's recording debut, and how League discovered her while he was on tour with his primary band Snarky Puppy.


Metin Oner

The Microscopic Septet, a mid-size jazz combo with orchestral ambitions, has lived through many eras of jazz, beginning in New York City in the early 1980s. Back then, the band became a centerpiece in the city's downtown scene with John Zorn (an original member), Wayne Horwitz, and The Jazz Passengers. 

Its co-leader, Phillip Johnston, said he wanted to create music "too smooth for the avant-garde yet too knotty for the masses." In this Checkout studio session, they play the blues — as on their latest album, Been Up So Long, It Looks Like Down To Me.

As jazz becomes more cerebral and gnarly by day, trumpeter and singer Wayne Tucker chases a sound closer to the heart. This instinctive, emotive approach to music has caught the attention of many — including some artists outside the genre, like Taylor Swift and Elvis Costello, with whom Tucker has toured. 

The Wayne Tucker Group recently came into our studio, giving a performance that featured his bright sound, feel-good melodies and a rhythm that, in his words, grooves "Harder Than Robots." 

Banda Magda
artist

Banda Magda creates a worldly music with unrelenting energy. Led by Magda Giannikou, a singer-songwriter and accordionist from Greece, this ambitious, rhythm-minded band came together at the Berklee College of Music, among an international coalition of players. In this podcast, Banda Magda returns to their alma mater in Boston for a special concert.


Marie Incontrera is the pianist, composer and leader behind the Eco-Music Big Band, a multigenerational, socially conscious ensemble determined to leave a positive stamp on society. She's a student and protégé of Fred Ho, the baritone saxophonist who founded the Afro-Asian Music Ensemble, and who succumbed to cancer in 2014. 

In this Checkout podcast, Incontrera talks about learning the ways of the Ho — the underground, self-proclaimed revolutionary artist — and why it's important to nurture a new ecology for the avant garde.

The Philly-based collective Killiam Shakespeare is a little hard to categorize, and they're happy about that. Drummer Steve McKie and keyboardist Corey Bernhard say their sound is a seamless blend of jazz, rock, hip-hop and other modern vibrations — styles they picked up while backing genre-blurring artists like Bilal, Talib Kweli, and Questlove, among others. 

Hear them describe their unique sound on another edition of The Checkout series My Music.

Peter Gannushkin

A bundle of discarded wood on a New York City sidewalk, and a piece of advice from a close friend, inspired the artist Cooper-Moore to become an inventor of instruments. In the 1970s, he was an integral part of the loft-jazz scene, along with his old college buddy, saxophonist David S. Ware. As Cooper-Moore explains in this Checkout podcast, he played the piano more than proficiently, but wanted to set himself apart further.


Josh Goleman

Dan Tepfer is a unique combination of things — a jazz pianist, a scientist with a degree in astrophysics, a computer programmer, even an occasional book reviewer for The New York Times. You'd never think a man of his talent and determination would also be prone to being locked up — figuratively, or, as he reveals in this Checkout podcast, literally.


John Rogers

For more than a few musicians based in New York City, the path to Cuba has been facilitated by one extraordinary human, saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman. Trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, who appears with Coleman's Five Elements at the Village Vanguard through Sunday, is among the artists to partake in such a pilgrimage. 

Let us introduce you to Bokanté, a modern-day blues band dreamed up by Snarky Puppy’s Michael League. The group’s name means “exchange” in Creole, the native language of Guadeloupe. This French colony in the Caribbean is home to Malika Tirolien, the singer and co-songwriter in the band, who currently resides in Montreal. Hear her on a new Bokanté single, “O La,” which has its premiere here. 

John Rogers

Tyshawn Sorey is more than one of the most highly-recruited drummers among the jazz intelligentsia (like pianist Vijay Iyer, with whom he plays through Sunday at the Village Vanguard). On this podcast episode of The Checkout, the multi-instrumentalist, composer and Newark native opens up about his unusual past, his early influences and his most ambitious recording to date, The Inner Spectrum of Variables.


The Checkout Live wraps up its season in Boston with an electro-jazz battle (hopefully for the ages) featuring two rising star artists, each attracting copious amounts of buzz from their respective regions.  The jazz-trained, multi-instrumentalist from Los Angeles, Louis Cole, meets his European rival, keyboardist Domi Degalle, who currently studies at Berklee College of Music. Cole is known for his impressive analog web videos. And, Domi from Paris, who is only 17 years old, seems to have all the faculty talking in Boston.

MM Music Agency

Hugh Masekela was an up-and-coming trumpeter, all of 20, when he took an overnight train from Johannesburg to Cape Town to meet a pianist everyone was talking about in South Africa: Abdullah Ibrahim, then known as Dollar Brand. Ibrahim, 25 at the time, was the forward-thinking figure needed to complete South Africa’s greatest bebop band of all time, The Jazz Epistles. 

Nathalie Botbol

Layth Sidiq, a musician born in Baghdad and raised in Jordan, has a story to tell. He's a "Son of Tigris," as he tells it, yet he was schooled in the United Kingdom and United States. Through his travels he has soaked up an abundance of sounds, from Egyptian singer Oum Kalthoum to Johannes Sebastian Bach to American jazz, his newfound love. 


Tim Conley, who goes by MAST, was reluctant to chronicle a painful story from his personal life and translate it into an expansive suite of music, Love and War. But as this multi-instrumentalist tells us in this podcast, sometimes the best art comes from suffering, and out of the darkness can come light, redemption and growth. 


French singer Camille Bertault's life changed almost overnight after she posted a video of her singing John Coltrane's "Giant Steps." After the video was shared by thousands, she became an internet darling for her whimsical sing-a-longs with artists across the musical spectrum: Hermeto Pascoal, Cory Henry, even Glenn Gould's Goldberg Variations (performed as she prepares dinner). In this podcast, she tells us about her viral moment, her debut album, and her major-label deal with Sony.


You've probably heard John Hébert's bass behind a jazz heavyweight or two — late legends like pianists Andrew Hill and Paul Bley, as well as present-day figures like guitarist Mary Halvorson and pianist Fred Hersch. In this brief podcast, Hébert shares the story behind "70's and 80's Remix," an original tune from from his album Rambling Confessions.


Thomas Dorn

Vinicius Cantuária, the singer and guitarist from Brazil, has gone through many musical phases during his lifetime. He was a loud prog-rocker in his teens and early 20s, then a pop star in his 30s — writing songs for Caetano Veloso. These days, he's a Brooklynite who whispers the soft, sophisticated melodies of the genius composer Antonio Carlos Jobim. 


In the jazz world, the name O'Farrill is synonymous with Afro-Latin jazz royalty. Trumpeter Adam O'Farrill is the third generation of that royal family. He is the grandson of Chico O'Farrill — the legendary composer and arranger, one of the primary creators of Afro-Cuban jazz. His father, pianist Arturo O’Farrill, is a Grammy-winning artist, and founder of the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance. But our focus here is on Adam, who recently released an acclaimed debut album, Stranger Days.


Sofia Rei's pan-American ambitions are inspiring.  A singer born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she was exposed to the African and Andean musical inventions native to her continent: folklore from Peru, Colombia, and Uruguay. Then she settled in New York City to surround herself with artists sculpting the downtown jazz scene, like composer John Zorn and guitarist Marc Ribot. In our studio session, Rei weaves all of these influences into one compelling tapestry not beholden to any tradition, and tastefully renders them all modernistic.


Justin Lane

It was a trip to West Africa that set the career trajectory for Daniel Freedman. A drummer-bandleader born and raised in New York City, Freedman has a deep affinity for all things Afrobeat. But even though he's studied with djembe musicians and Gnawa masters, those traditions don't explicitly inform the music he makes. His African influences, Freedman suggests, are much more ambiguous and subtle.

The French gypsy guitarist Stephane Wrembel celebrates the 10th anniversary of his Django a Gogo Festival  on Friday night at Carnegie Hall, and he has lined up some six-stringers that you wouldn't normally associate with Django Reinhardt, the hot-jazz pioneer. Among them is the great Al Di Meola, who recently joined Wrembel in a unique studio session at WBGO.

Zoran Jelenic

George Burton has been a pianist to watch in Philadelphia, his hometown, for almost 20 years now — since the late 1990s, when I was a close observer of the scene, and he was a jazz performance major at Temple University. Burton has since put in countless sideman hours with artists both local (saxophonists Odean Pope and Bootsie Barnes) and international (singer-songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello), not to mention intergalactic (the Sun Ra Arkestra). But he hadn’t released his own album as a leader until last year. 

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