Music

Detroit native Aretha Franklin sings the national anthem prior to the start of the Detroit Lions and the Minnesota Vikings game at Ford Field on Nov, 24, 2016.
GREGORY SHAMUS / Getty Images

 

Al Jarreau and Aretha Franklin announced their plans to slow down or stop their public performances.

Ang Santos / WBGO

When the city of Newark announced the Mulberry Commons Project last month, transforming lot and warehouse space on Prudential Centers Mulberry St. side into a 22-acre park, was it possible for something to outshine the ambitious project.  I guess that depends on if you like music more than shops and recreational activity.  The Grammy Museum Experience will use 8,000 square feet of Prudential Center space to bring its history to New Jersey.  Daniel Cherry is the Chief Marketing Innovation Officer for the New Jersey Devils.  He says they’re a perfect match.

Miguel Zenón
Jimmy Katz / Courtesy of the Artist

 

Miguel Zenón, the ever-insightful Puerto Rican alto saxophonist and composer, has garnered enviable credentials over the last 15 years, since first stepping out as a leader: a MacArthur “genius grant,” a Guggenheim, a handful of Grammy nominations, widespread critical acclaim. But the achievement that’s most meaningful to him, and ultimately the most consequential, is his longtime stewardship of a working band. 

Radar: Carmen Lundy

Feb 10, 2017

 

Carmen Lundy never disappoints.  She's a vocalist who seems to have a full understanding of her vocal range and ability and knows how to use it.  Whether on her own albums or as a guest on her brother Curtis Lundy's, Carmen makes every song a personal story that you can relate to. Code Noir talks about love, family, life, and the current affairs of the world, topics we all find ourselves having in our day to day.  

You probably don't know the pianist by name, but you may heard of the band he co-founded. Bill Laurance is the keyboard wiz for Snarky Puppy, the band known for its indefatigable work ethic, communal spirit, and almost cult-like following. Now, Laurance brews up some projects of his own that imbibe that "Snarky" vibe.  In this podcast, the artist talks about that -- his fetish for the clavinet, rarefied synth, and anything 88-key related; his affinity for Afrobeat; and the Miles Davis recording that made him not cancel his studio session, Aftersun. We'll also hear Laurance, in a special acoustic setting, as part of a new 360 video shoot with his London band, featuring Joshua Blackmore (drums), Chris Hyson (bass), and Felix Higginbottom (percussion).

Banda Magda
artist

Founded by Greek-born singer, film scorer, and composer Magda Giannikou, Banda Magda moves from samba to French chanson, from Greek folk tunes to Colombian cumbia and Afro-Peruvian lando. Watch a live performance from Berklee's Red Room at Cafe 939.

Lee Konitz with Kenny Barron
John Abbott

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust couldn’t have been thinking about the chord changes to “Cherokee” when he first articulated this idea, writing in France a century ago. But his point feels perfectly suited to the example of alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, who at 89 is still extracting fresh insight from familiar places, as he proves on an effervescent new album, Frescalalto.

Diana Krall has announced a new studio album and world tour, with  dates beginning in June. The album — Turn Up the Quiet, due out on May 5 — will reunite her with Tommy LiPuma, who has had a hand in producing most of her previous releases, going back to 1995. Turn Up the Quiet also signals Krall’s return to the Great American Songbook in a jazz context, after a few seasons of branching out.

Jeremy Pelt
Sally Pritchard

One track in this week’s Take Five column is a call to make some noise; another is a contemplative ode to silence. There’s also an early Valentine, a long-lost face-off, and a freeform depth charge. We’re going to cover some serious ground here, so let’s dive in.

In this episode of The Checkout, WBGO's Simon Rentner speaks with pianist Kenny Barron on the occasion of his induction as an NEA Jazz Master.

First published January 13, 2010.

Nate Smith
Johnalynn Holland

Nate Smith is a drummer in high demand, and he could have gone in almost any direction on his debut album as a leader. What he explores on Kinfolk: Postcards from Everywhere is his family history — from his grandfather, who worked a blue collar job in the Jim Crow South, to his parents, who earned enough to send him to college.

Elvin Bishop called his first Alligator album Big Fun.  Aptly-titled. He’s always having fun. And his newest Alligator album continues in the same spirit, Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio. He was having so much fun jamming with a couple of friends, guitarist/pianist Bob Welch and percussionist/singer Willy Jordan, that they became a band.

What they sing is harder than it sounds. Much harder. And always swinging. When the three singers of Duchess — Amy Cervini, Melissa Stylianou, Hilary Gardner — sing in the style and spirit of the Boswell Sisters, the harmonizing trio from New Orleans, popular especially on the radio in the 30’s, they articulate each note of the melody, each word of the lyric, often almost supersonically. Really, really, really fast! And in perfect harmony! And having a helluva lotta fun!

John Boutté
Jazz Night in America

Jazz vocalist John Boutté feels he can no longer afford to live in his hometown of New Orleans. He's not alone. Rising housing costs are pushing many musicians and service workers — the backbone of New Orleans' tourism economy — further and further outside the city limits. This suburbanization of the working class poses more than an inconvenience: It's fraying the culture of New Orleans and splintering the very neighborhoods that have nurtured the city's music for decades.

It's become a January tradition for NPR to look ahead to some of the most anticipated jazz albums of the year. Bassist Christian McBride, who hosts NPR's Jazz Night In America, and jazz critic Nate Chinen of NPR Member station WBGO join NPR's Audie Cornish to preview three albums coming out in 2017.

Read some of McBride's and Chinen's thoughts below, and hear more of their discussion — including a reflection on the relationship between musicians and critics — at the audio link.

Ambrose Akinmusire
Autumn de Wilde / Courtesy of the artist

Ambrose Akinmusire has accrued many achievements in the last decade, since his first-place finish at the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition. But he hasn’t yet made a live album at the Village Vanguard, a rite of passage for so many of his precursors. That all changes this week — and judging by his quartet’s superb hourlong set on Sunday night, the results will be worth pursuing.

Matthew Stevens
Matthew Perrin / matthewperrin.photos

Over the last decade, few musicians have made the term “utility player” feel more like a compliment than guitarist Matthew Stevens. A trusted sideman to some of the leading lights of his generation, notably Esperanza Spalding and Christian Scott, he has been judicious about the pace and positioning of his solo career. 

In this installment of Take Five, our weekly playlist, you'll find fathers and sons, a couple of farewells, and more than one refurbished jazz standard. We'll start with one of those, featuring a singer you may know, giving a performance you'll want to see.

It’s an album I have been waiting for since seeing drummer Nate Smith a decade back with Stefon Harris  & Blackout.  He comes from  the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program,  has recorded & played with saxophonists Chris Potter, Ravi Coltrane, bassist Dave Holland and singer Jose James ,  toured with singer Joe Jackson and co-wrote  & produced “Heaven Can Wait” for Michael Jackson’s 2001 Invincible album.

Brad Mehldau and Chris Thile at the Bowery Ballroom
Alex Chaloff / Nonesuch

 

Among the qualities that make Brad Mehldau and Chris Thile a not-quite-unlikely pairing — virtuosity, curiosity, a natural drive to bridge divisions of style — the one that may run deepest is a sense of resonant, articulate melancholy.

Nellie McKay in 'A Girl Named Bill: The Life and Times of Billy Tipton'
Walter McBride

Playing the part is never a simple or straightforward process for Nellie McKay. A singer-songwriter and pianist with a gift for wily provocation, she knows how to disappear into character with a song. And she pushes that impulse further with A Girl Named Bill: The Life and Times of Billy Tipton, the cabaret show she’s presenting Thursday through Saturday at 54 Below.

 

Over the years, music fans have slowly filled in details about a hard-working, mostly anonymous collective of Detroit studio musicians known as The Funk Brothers, who were the backing band for many of Motown's hit songs. Less documented is what these musicians did when they were not in the studio.

Susan Brecker with Gary Walker
Steve Williams

It was 10 years ago this month we lost saxophonist Michael Brecker to a rare form of bone cancer. His widow, Susan Brecker, has organized an all-star benefit concert in his honor on Wednesday night, featuring artists including Wynton Marsalis and Diana Krall. She recently spoke about the concert and her husband's legacy, and you can listen to our conversation here.

Any posthumous album is on some level a haunting, but that feels especially true of Jimmy Scott’s I Go Back Home: A Story About Hoping and Dreaming. A labor of love and heartbreak, it features lush accompaniment and a starry array of guests, like Dee Dee Bridgewater, Monica Mancini and Joe Pesci. But of course the album’s shining centerpiece is Scott, who died in 2014 at 88, and whose otherworldly voice rings as vulnerable, piercing and present as ever.

Chuck Stewart
Chester Higgins, Jr. / Courtesy of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

Chuck Stewart, one of the most prolific and admired photographers in jazz — an intimate chronicler of many of its icons and milestones, including the historic recording session for John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme — died on Jan. 20 in Teaneck, N.J. He was 89.

His death was confirmed by his daughter-in-law Kim Stewart, who has handled the licensing of his images in recent years.

Dave Douglas performs with High Risk, featuring Shigeto, at the 2017 NYC Winter Jazzfest.
John Rogers / for NPR

Trumpeter-composer Dave Douglas found inspiration for his latest project, Metamorphosis, in the sky: specifically, from star formations and the mythologies that took hold around them.

“Halcyon Days,” which premieres here, is a potent, exploratory track from the session, featuring serious improvisers like Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet, Oliver Lake on saxophone and Andrew Cyrille on drums.

Take Five: Jimmy Cobb

Jan 20, 2017
Jimmy Cobb in the kitchen of the Village Vanguard, 2013
John Rogers / WBGO/NPR

Jimmy Cobb, who turned 88 on Jan. 20, will probably always be hailed first in the popular conversation as the drummer on the Miles Davis album Kind of Blue. That’s how a cultural touchstone works, and Cobb, a 2009 NEA Jazz Master, hasn’t shied away from the distinction. But of course there’s an entire career full of other highlights to celebrate, moments that underscore Cobb’s strong glide with the beat and agile attunement to a band. Here are five tracks to savor. 

In the liner notes for "Infinitude", the new recording from sisters Ingrid and Christine Jensen, it's called "Nordicity", an organic description of the trumpeter and saxophonist.  I don't know about all that, but our own beloved and well lived Michael Bourne admires the absolute musical creativity which emerges from a seemingly casual environment. "Infinitude" - the state or quality of being infinite or having no limit. What a gift for the jazz musician, and here, they achieve fliight.

The first time I saw guitarist Yotam Silberstein perform he was part of the Jimmy Heath Big Band, and he was just Yotam. Before that, however, the legendary  James Moody had returned from a jazz workshop, telling anyone who would listen about "this young Israeli kid who plays like an old man!" The Moody compliment has depth as listeners have discovered on 4 previous releases comfort with the works of John Lewis, Clifford Brown and Joe Henderson, and a love for Brazil and Latin music, resulting in attention getting performances with Paquito D'Rivera and Monty Alexander.

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