Music

Benedict Smith / Courtesy of the artist

The NEA Jazz Masters program, now in its 35th year, has been an engine of prestige in our culture: It's still the nation's highest honor reserved for living jazz musicians. In advance of this year's ceremony and concert, which will be live-streamed from the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., we're devoting this edition of Take Five to the incoming class of NEA Jazz Masters, who represent a healthy range of styles.

Celebrating Jazz Appreciation Month with WBGO !

Pianist and head of Jazz Studies at Purchase College’s Conservatory of Music, Peter Malinverni handpicked the university's Ahmad Jamal Tribute Septet for a performance in our studio. The ensemble features freshmen and grad students interpreting music recorded by pianist Ahmad Jamal.

Many jazz purists may not see the genre of hip-hop music as a viable artform, but one female lyricist may change all that. Grammy nominated platinum selling rapstress Rah Digga says if it wasn’t for her roots in hip hop she may have never discovered jazz.

Guitarist Kevin Eubanks' creative power can guide his guitar into the center of any attention: home-cooked Philly funk, a jam at Bradley's, a beautiful duet recording and tour with Stanley Jordan, a power fusion encounter with Dave Holland. And of course a 15-year bandleader on The Tonight Show

His new album, East West Time Line, demonstrates how music can feel when it's not only intelligent and engaging but also steeped in what Lester Bowie called "serious fun."

Dayna Stephens' saxophone playing is vigorous, edge-walking and full of soulful imaginative expressions — a place where a listener gets to journey and Stephens finds answers. Gratitude is a beautiful follow up to his 2014 album, Peace. Returning are pianist Brad Mehldau, guitarist Julian Lage, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Eric Harland. There's one Stephens composition, "The Timbre of Gratitude," along with interpretations of Billy Strayhorn (where Stephens shares a beautiful baritone), Pat Metheny and others.

Robert Lewis

Matt Mitchell has a rare depth of insight on the music of saxophonist Tim Berne — not only as the pianist in Snakeoil, one of the most accomplished bands of Berne’s career, but also as an aficionado, and maybe even an obsessive. All of which is glowingly apparent on førage, a deep-focus, often astonishing album that features Mitchell’s solo piano readings of Berne’s compositions.

Hear Judy Niemack and pianist Dan Tepfer as they stop by Singers Unlimited to chat with Michael Bourne about their new album, Listening to You. They'll also share a few tunes live in our studio — including an impromptu take on a standard.  

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.


Arthur Blythe, whose bracing, gusty sound on alto saxophone was an essential feature of the New York loft scene in the 1970s, and a proud fixture of the post-bop vanguard in subsequent decades, died on Monday in Lancaster, California. He was 76.

Deneka Peniston

Hard bop isn’t a limiting factor for David Weiss. As a trumpeter, bandleader and composer, he has moved broadly within the style, notably with the Cookers, the all-star unit he founded almost a decade ago. But Weiss has also branched well beyond hard-bop — most recently on Wake Up Call, the fourth album by Point of Departure. 

Jacob Blickenstaff

What’s in a name? You could pose that question to Jazzmeia Horn, whose grandmother envisioned a destiny for her, or the Jazz Passengers, whose founders had designs both tongue-in-cheek and sincere. Or ask Supersilent, which is often anything but silent. Or Sexmob, which... actually, never mind. Here are five great tracks from all of the above, plus Roxy Coss, whose name you should know by now.

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.


There's no shortage of poignant moments in I Called Him Morgan, Kasper Collin's mesmerizing new documentary about the life and death of jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan. One moment, about half an hour into the film, has stuck with me since I first saw it, lingering like an afterimage or the hook from a song.

Jazz Night in America: Muldrow Meets Mingus

Mar 23, 2017
Jason Moran (left) and Georgia Anne Muldrow celebrate Charles Mingus during a program at the Kennedy Center.
Jati Lindsay/Courtesy of the Kennedy Center

At a glance, Georgia Anne Muldrow isn't the obvious pick to create an interpretive tribute to the bassist and composer Charles Mingus. She was born in 1983, four years after Mingus died at 56. Her music stands well outside the jazz perimeter, aligning more with the Afrocentric current that flows through underground hip-hop, avant-R&B and psychedelic soul. She isn't a bassist like Mingus, but rather a singer, rapper and beat-making producer. Her village elders include the rapper Mos Def, the producer Madlib and the vocalist Erykah Badu.

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. 


Shakespeare, Robert Johnson, Freddie Mercury, and David Crosby are just a few of the names that pop up in this lively conversation with Becca Stevens, as she shares songs from her latest album, Regina, live in our studio on Singers Unlimited.


Courtesy of Arnaud Boubet / Private collection

Thelonious Monk’s soundtrack to Les liaisons dangereuses, the provocative French film directed by Roger Vadim, will be released as a double album this spring. Arriving in a year of centennial tribute to Monk, the genius pianist and jazz modernist, it registers as a fresh discovery: while this music was recorded in 1959, it has never been available outside the context of the film, which is out of print.

Dimitri Louis

A basket. A box. A notebook. A bumper. Every track in this week's Take Five has a title that evokes some material object, for reasons both comic and constructive. Beyond that commonality, there's a staggering range here, with one recording that's almost 80 years old and one or two others that sound like the near future. 

Chuck Berry, who died on Saturday at 90, was nothing short of a pioneer in American music: a guitar slinger who created the very template for rock 'n' roll; a singer who embodied the youthful, rambunctious desires of the age; a songwriter capable of compressing an epic tale into a few tight verses. He was also a runaway highlight of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, which made for more than a little controversy at the time. 

Shervin Lainez

Anat Cohen is a clarinetist and saxophonist with an irrepressibly buoyant sense of rhythm, and throughout her career she has had a special bond with the music of Brazil. That affinity takes center stage on two new albums: Outra Coisa, a duo effort with the guitarist Marcello Gonçalves, and Rosa Dos Ventos, with the choro ensemble Trio Brasileiro. She’ll release both on Anzic Records on April 28.

Pianist Billy Childs has demonstrated a range of creative skills — as a pianist with Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson and Dianne Reeves; as the composer of masterly chamber jazz experiences; as a bandleader and arranger paying tribute to singer-songwriter Laura Nyro.

Gulnara Khamatova

Louis Hayes has logged his share of session hours for Blue Note Records, as the impeccably swinging drummer for label stalwarts like Grant Green, Curtis Fuller and, indelibly, Horace Silver. Now comes his turn in the driver’s seat: Hayes will make his Blue Note debut as a leader with Serenade for Horace, due out in May.

As that title suggests, the album is a tribute to Silver, the pianist and composer with whom Hayes first made his name during the mid-to-late 1950s.

Chart Room Media

Tommy LiPuma, who died on Monday at 80, was a record producer with a golden touch, and a track record virtually unmatched in his field. LiPuma was honored alongside his fellow NEA Jazz Master, saxophonist Jimmy Heath, at WBGO’s 2011 Champions of Jazz Benefit. That evening included performances by Natalie Cole, pianist Danilo Pérez and singer Lizz Wright, who hailed LiPuma on Facebook earlier today as “one of the first friends I made in this wild business.”

Other tributes have begun to pour in from some of the artists LiPuma produced, and from listeners that his albums reached. But there’s a special sort of insight that can be found only among those who worked alongside him day after day, behind the scenes in the record business. Below, find a sampling of those voices.

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.


For tens of millions in the Northeast, the name of the hour is “Stella” — as in Winter Storm Stella, the Weather Channel-branded nor'easter now bringing heavy snowfall to a number of cities along the I-95 corridor. I’m among those presently hunkering down (and later, shoveling out), but my first involuntary response was to start humming a familiar melody.

Jazz musicians are forever adept at taking the old and making it new. That skill is on brilliant display in Take Five this week, notably on a remake of a tune first heard on a Miles Davis album in 1963. You'll also hear a spin on a rustic old fiddle tune, and an emulation of Ornette Coleman's melodic language — a reminder that "new" can be as much a state of mind as a place in time.

New Orleans has a long lineage of great piano players. Jelly Roll Morton, Allen Toussaint, Fats Domino, and many more. Such a rich history of culture and music in the Crescent City is bound to leave a prominent imprint on the impressionable youth who hope to follow in their foot steps. Composer, pianist, and vocalist Davell Crawford was one of those kids. 

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.


Jane Kratochvil

The cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, born on this day in 1903, came to his jazz career in a burst of youthful impertinence. For a white musician of his background — born into a striving German-American community in Davenport, Iowa — jazz was strictly disreputable stuff, and not just for its African-American ownership.

The music went hand-in-hand with a spirit of illicit associations — as well as an association with illicit spirits, which is what ultimately ended Beiderbecke’s life at the tragic age of 28.  

Mike Davis is 25, and plays Beiderbecke’s instrument with reverential flair. But he had a different path in most respects.

With Four in One, its sophomore effort, Heads Of State puts its money where its mouth is. As the album’s title suggests, this is a band that presents a unified front even as it showcases the individual talents of pianist Larry Willis, bassist David Williams, saxophonist Gary Bartz and drummer Al Foster.

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