Music

Courtesy of Patty Farmer

Hugh Hefner, who created Playboy magazine and turned it into a media and entertainment giant, has died at the age of 91.


It was a Thelonious Monk composition — the elegant and wistful ballad "'Round Midnight" — that first made Joey Alexander a topic of conversation.

Robert Birnbach / 2017 San Jose Jazz Summer Fest

Jazz singing has always been a tree with firm roots, but a wild entanglement of branches. Its sound and shape are mutable, prone to outside influence and local inflection.

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.

Anna Webber

Christian McBride doesn’t need a big band to make a big impression, as he’s shown us countless times — on the bass, on the bandstand and in the booth. But when he finally did assemble a big band of his own, he saw  results: The Good Feeling, on Mack Avenue, won the 2011 Grammy for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album.

John Coltrane
EVENING STANDARD/GETTY IMAGES

John Coltrane, the revered saxophonist and composer, would be turning 91 this week. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of his death, at the age of 40.

Had he lived, he might have been astonished to witness how the power and impact of his musical legacy continues to grow. This year, a documentary film by John Scheinfeld, Chasing Trane, has been screening worldwide to considerable acclaim. (Full disclosure: I appear in the film several times.) And just this month, a beautiful mural of Coltrane was unveiled in North Philadelphia, near his childhood home.

Rich Doran

Some jazz welcomes you in. Other jazz seems to announce, "Now this is happening, with or without you."

Pianist Matt Mitchell's work as a sideman — with trumpeter Dave Douglas, saxophonists Tim Berne and Rudresh Mahanthappa, and many others — spans this spectrum, but when he's the one in charge, there's a good chance you're in for the latter. His music is, simply put, a handful.

Pete Turner / Courtesy of Pete Turner Studio

Pete Turner, a master photographer whose striking use of color and composition defined the visual aesthetic for some of the most iconic jazz albums of the 1960s and ‘70s, died on Sept. 18 at his home on Long Island, N.Y. He was 83.

Isaiah McClain / WBGO

Michael Shannon is an actor known for the intensity of his performances, whether in films like 99 Homes, prestige cable series like Boardwalk Empire or Broadway plays like Long Day’s Journey Into Night. He’s also an intense jazz fan, as he discussed with WBGO’s Gary Walker on Morning Jazz.

This essay is one in a series celebrating deserving artists or albums not included on NPR Music's list of 150 Greatest Albums By Women.

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. 

If you’ve been around the music for any amount of time, you’ve surely heard jazz described as a language. And here at WBGO, both on the air and online, We Speak Jazz — an idea worth taking to heart during our Fall Fund Drive.

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 On, 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.


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