The Checkout

Kiel Scott

This year supplied no shortage of notable and often inspiring music — sounds that flirt in and outside jazz. Here are a few you should listen to.


Cem Kurosman

What defined the conversation around jazz this year? There’s no simple answer to that question, but trying is always a worthwhile struggle ­— especially in the company of my fellow jazz critics, who devote most of their waking hours to the subject.

Just two and half years ago, Stephen Bruner — the artist otherwise known as Thundercat — said he never thought his voice would ever overshadow his virtuoso six-string bass guitar playing. Then came Drunk, the standout album he released this year, which put his vocals and songwriting at the center of the frame. 


Kevin Millet

Leyla McCalla has traveled a winding path as a musician, from the European classical canon to the folkways of her Caribbean heritage. Born into a Haitian-American family in Queens, she was raised in Maplewood, and brought up in the New Jersey public school system. 


Alex Jonas

Is she a crooner from from the bygone era of Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf? Or is she an artist from the cyborg future? ALA.NI tells us she's neither, firmly living in the present.


Sarah Geledi

He calls himself one of Mississippi’s last true original bluesmen. And this true American original has the sound and story to back it up.

John Rogers / For NPR

Before Mary Halvorson became the critic's choice for jazz guitar, she was excelling as a biology student at Wesleyan University, until she met one formidable professor.


John Abercrombie, a trailblazing and deeply lyrical guitarist, died on Tuesday at 72.

Here are two wonderful recent conversations with John at WBGO. Five years ago he sat down with Michael Bourne to talk about his ECM album Within a Song, featuring saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Joey Baron. 

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.

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." 

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.


Sri Hari Moss

For those who know harpist and keyboardist Alice Coltrane as a recording artist, notably in a series of albums on the Impulse! label, there's a stretch from the late-1970s to the mid-2000s that might reasonably be described as a hiatus. But this period was joyously full of music — a fact known to her followers but only recently shared with the public in sanctioned form. 

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. 


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.