Music

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. 

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.

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.

David Garten

Political expression isn’t a new impulse for pianist and composer Arturo O’Farrill, who leads the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. But he’s taking his most direct action yet with “Musicians Against Fascism,” a concert he has organized at Symphony Space. Scheduled for this Thursday, the eve of the presidential inauguration, it’s an act of protest involving more than a dozen notable jazz artists. 

Nat Hentoff during the annual "A Great Night in Harlem" Benefit Concert at The Apollo Theater in New York City.
STEPHEN LOVEKIN / FILMMAGIC VIA GETTY IMAGES

 

The first and most famous book by Nat Hentoff — Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya, co-credited to Nat Shapiro and originally published in 1955 — is an oral history that rings with the authority of scripture. “This is the story of jazz,” it begins, “as told by the musicians whose lives are that story.” 

 

Donny McCaslin
Jimmy King

 

“No plan,” David Bowie muses in the first verse of a haunting new song by that title. “Wherever I may go / Just where, just there / I am.” These existential lyrics are inextricable from their real-world context: “No Plan” was conceived just as Bowie was confronting his own mortality, with a quiet determination to forge the experience into art.

Welcome to the new WBGO.org! Our site is now more flexible than ever, so you can enjoy listening to the music you love and reading our coverage on any device.

We’re excited to introduce a strong new editorial focus, with in-depth features, news, artist interviews and more. There’ll be something new here every day.

Bobby Rush is one of the last living blues legends of his generation. He toured the South and the chitlin' circuit in the '50s and was often forced to perform music behind a curtain for white audiences. Shortly before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Rush heard through fellow Chicago bluesman J.B.

Danilo Perez is more than a pianist. He’s an educator, urban developer, the proprietor of his own jazz club – Danilo’s Club – in the heart of old Panama City, Casco Viejo. He’s also the Cultural Ambassador of Panama, where he presents his annual Panama Jazz Festival, which just wrapped up for the year.

Victor Provost started his  musical life in the Virgin Islands, steel drumming along with the horn players he heard on his father's Cannonball Adderley, Chick Corea and Joao Gilberto  records. He studied hard, toured with Paquito D'Rivera, came to the U.S. intent on blending his Island Roots with jazz.

His success  is "Bright Eyes", a new recording, alongside pianist Alex Brown, brother Zach on bass, drummer Billy Williams, Jr. There's a most impressive guest list too, including Paquito D'Rivera, vibist Joe Locke, trumpeter Etiennne Charles and saxophonist Ron Blake.

Pianist Art Hirahara has a diverse resume, spending time  with Charlie Haden, Vincent Herring, Stacey Kent, Dave Douglas and Jenny Scheinman, in addition to recordings of his own dating back to 2000. Art has also studied West African drumming , influences that are part of the palette. His sound is clean, techniquely astute but exploring.

This year's Winter Jazzfest, which took place last week in New York City, presented an explicit theme of "Celebrating Social Justice." Conceptually and musically, Winter Jazzfest pushes the genre forward; after taking in as many of the 130-plus acts across many stages in Manhattan and Brooklyn as they could, our team reported back with some of the festival's highlights.


"Stories like forests are subject to seasons."

Tessa Souter at the microphone
Joseph Boggess

The singer joins Sheila Anderson for a Salon Session, taking us from the Wayne Shorter album that first introduced her to jazz to the story of how an attempt to rekindle a romance pushed her to pursue singing.

Brazilian Singer Kenia and "On We Go"

Jan 9, 2017
Kenia and Awilda Rivera
Awilda Rivera

Brazilian singer Kenia joins Awilda Rivera to talk about her latest release, On We Go.

The genre known as Soul Jazz was responsible for bringing legions of fans to jazz, and keeping them satisfied too! Author Bob Porter, in his recently published book, "Soul Jazz" says it's probably the reason many had a radio around in the first place.  One of the powerhouse trio groups was The Three Sounds. Featuring pianist Gene Harris, bassist Andy Simpkins and drummer Bill Dowdy, standards stood up and moved. Originals guaranteed you'd be back for another listen.

The New Year holiday tradition continues with the Toast of the Nation jazz party. Spirited, improvised and swinging, each hour was recorded live at Blue Note venues throughout the country and the world.

Donny McCaslin remembers his former mentor and old boss David Bowie one year after the rockstar's death with his recording Beyond Now (Motema).  The tenor saxophonist joins Mark Guiliana (drums), Nate Wood (bass), and Jason Lindner (keys) in performance of new arrangements of classic Bowie material at the 2016 Charlie Parker Jazz Festival at Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan.

The Donny McCaslin Group performs at the 2017 Winter Jazzfest on January 6th.

Music mix by David Tallacksen.

Sometimes out of inexplicable loss, new beginnings are miraculously born. The will to survive sparks a deeper understanding of one’s own strength and spiritual drive. Alto saxophonist Bruce Williams’ Private Thoughts is a testament to this notion.

The Westerlies

Dec 29, 2016
The Westerlies
Sasha Arutyunova

The Westerlies -- two trumpeters and two trombonists from Seattle -- breeze into our performance studio. This chamber jazz setting features a "blues fugue" and an arrangement from a 17th-century English and Scottish folk ballad discovered by Sam Amidon and Nico Muhly.

The band features Riley Mulherkar & Zubin Hensler (trumpets), and Andy Clausen & Willem De Koch (trombones).

They play Day 1 of The 2017 NYC Winter Jazzfest Marathon on January 6th.

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