Music

David Virelles, “Fitití Ñongo”

Mystery is a great abiding constant in the music of the Cuban pianist David Virelles. Gnosis, his new album on ECM, literalizes that idea: its title alludes to spiritual knowledge of the sort that belongs to the ancients.

Delia Dobrescu

Is there such a thing as a good melody, in absolute terms? Branford Marsalis thinks so. The saxophonist joins singer Kurt Elling to share some of those from their recent album, Upward Spiral.


Philippe Callant for NPR

Stevie Wonder needs little introduction. His awards and achievements — 25 Grammy Awards, a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, more than 100 million records sold worldwide — only speak partially to his legend. His career began when he signed to Motown Records at the age of 11, becoming a teenage soul sensation billed as "Little Stevie." In the 1970s, he created a string of classic records: Talking Book, Innervisions, Songs in the Key of Life, to name a few. Stevie Wonder is unquestionably one of the most influential and important musicians alive today.

MATTHEW PANDOLFE / Courtesy of the Artist

Sarah Elizabeth Charles is a teaching artist. That means she's an artist who happens to teach — at Carnegie Hall's Musical Connections program within the Sing Sing Correctional Facility, and at Rise2shine, an early childhood education nonprofit in Haiti. But it also means that her work as a teacher has become more and more inextricable from her work as a composer and artist. That connection, she says, is now the strongest it's ever been. 

Motema

Arturo O’Farrill makes music steeped in the pantheon of Afro-Latin culture. He can’t help it. It’s in his DNA.

Esperanza Spalding — the multiple Grammy-winning bassist, singer-songwriter, bandleader and composer — maintains a fierce commitment to the unfolding moment.

Martin Ziman

Fred Hersch, “Eronel”

Introspection has never been a hurdle for Fred Hersch, but the pianist is reaching new depths in that area lately. His glowing and revelatory memoir, Good Things Happen Slowly, publishes this week. And his gorgeous companion album, a solo effort bearing the perfect title {open book}, is just out on Palmetto.

NPR

Almost every era of jazz has its resident Blue Note crew: artists who embody the beating heart of that label’s sound.

Adriana Mateo

Adrianna Mateo grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, surrounded by an early love of photography: her mentor was her father, Roberto, an internationally known Director of Photography.

She came to New York in the early 1990s, focusing her lens on emerging musicians including Roy Hargrove, Antonio Hart, Benny Green and others. Many exhibitions later, Adriana’s new coffee table book AM Jazz has arrived, featuring stories and candid photographs, culled from her travels around the world. 

Chris Tobin / WBGO

This Labor Day, WBGO presented four hours of music, recorded live at this year’s Charlie Parker Jazz Festival. We have highlights from the broadcast right here.

Columbia Pictures/Handout/Getty Images

Few figures in jazz loom as large as Art Tatum. Plug his name into any search engine and you’ll find page after page calling him “one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time,” or “one of the greatest technical virtuosos in jazz,” or something to that effect.

Don't look for Walter Becker on those endless (ridiculous) listicles ranking the "Guitar Gods of the 1970s." He's rarely mentioned in the same breath as major dudes like Eric Clapton, or Jimmy Page, or Duane Allman, or Carlos Santana, or Billy Gibbons, or Frank Zappa.

Gary Peacock Trio, “Rumblin’”

Bassist Gary Peacock has been a model of inuitive equipoise since the 1960s, when he was working in trios led by pianists Clare Fischer, Bill Evans and Paul Bley. Over the last few years — since the dissolution of a marquee unit with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette — Peacock has led a fine piano trio of his own, which releases its second album, Tangents, Friday on ECM.

Walter Becker, co-founder of Steely Dan, died Sunday at the age of 67, according to his website.

Kendrick Scott opened his first set on Tuesday night, at the Jazz Standard in New York City, with a pensive new composition titled "Home." It had a bittersweet melody, a waft of dark harmony, and a beat defined both by chop and flow. "I'm just going to send this out as a meditation for everybody in Houston, Texas right now," said Scott, a drummer, as he introduced the tune.

With roots firmly in jazz and blues, tinged with a pop sensibility,  guitarist Larry Carlton has appeared on hundreds of recordings. In addition to his own, he has added just the right touch to the recorded works of Steely Dan, Bobby Bland, The Crusaders and Quincy Jones, in addition to the multi-platinum jazz group Fourplay. On Lights Out, Carlton's six strings meet up with Europe's SWR Big Band for a live date full of originals, some Miles, Steely Dan and more.

Sandrine Lee

The commonplace exercise of hailing a New York City cab became a career-threatening situation for guitarist Mike Stern last year. Tripping over some construction debris, he broke both arms, also sustaining significant nerve damage in a freak accident that halted his world-class career.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.


It's impossible to overstate the importance of both Bébo Valdés and Chico O'Farrill to 20th century Afro-Cuban music and jazz.

Their rich and multi layered influence is evident in iconic compositions, big band arrangements written 60 years ago that still sound cutting edge, and piano playing that echo Cuban classical music and jazz pianist Bill Evans.

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.


Deneka Peniston

Keyon Harrold, “Wayfaring Traveler” (ft. Jermaine Holmes, Georgia Anne Muldrow and Robert Glasper)

If you saw the movie Miles Ahead, you may recall that Keyon Harrold was tasked with ghosting the trumpet playing — which meant not just persuasively invoking Miles Davis, but doing so in perfect sync with Don Cheadle’s embouchure and fingerings. This was an impressive feat, but no more so than The Mugician, Harrold’s forthcoming album, which finds him accountable to no one but himself.

Vijay Iyer is an acclaimed jazz pianist, MacArthur winner and Harvard professor of music. His new album, recorded with a six-person band, is called Far From Over. With the band, he says, he wanted to write with "different dance rhythms and dance impulses" in mind; the record also reflects Iyer's belief that jazz is "a category that keeps shifting."

One of The Checkout's surprise favorite recordings from last year was Channel The Spirits, by the British electro-jazz trio known as The Comet Is Coming.


Chris Drukker

Dave Stryker's recent efforts have been jazz hits. His two Eight Track albums, and a salute to former employer Stanley Turrentine, have earned this guitarist new fans while giving him plenty of room to move. Strykin' Ahead is Dave's new date, and it puts him in the studio with organist Jared Gold, vibraphonist Steve Nelson and drummer McClenty Hunter, who proved to be such a hip combination on Eight Track II.

David Garten

For nearly two decades, the Cuban drummer and composer Dafnis Prieto has been a creative force best measured by the scale of his ambition.

John Rogers / ECM Records

John Abercrombie, an intrepid and deeply lyrical guitarist who made a formative contribution to jazz-rock before refining a judicious, poetic iteration of post-bop, died on Tuesday at Hudson Valley Hospital, in Cortlandt Manor, N.Y. 

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. 

Vijay Iyer Sextet, “Good on the Ground”

Vijay Iyer’s kinetic, convergent musical vision has found expression in almost every conceivable ensemble format, from solo piano to chamber orchestra. But there’s something special, even singular, about the dynamism of his sextet, which releases its debut album, Far From Over, on ECM this Friday. 

At 46, Ben Jaffe is almost exactly the same age as Jazz Fest. Like a lot of New Orleans natives, he has memories of the annual event stretching back to childhood, though his experience is a little more rarefied than most. "That's where I got to sit on Fats Domino's lap and then hear him play," he says. It's where I heard Allen Toussaint play for the first time as a child.

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