Music

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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.


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.

You know it’s coming, you’ve stocked your provisions. But what is your soundtrack for the eclipse? We’ve got a few ideas.

Who exactly was Whitney Houston?

Was she the radiantly beautiful pop princess who earned the love of mainstream America with enduring hits like I Will Always Love You?

Was she the down-to-Earth onetime gospel singer from the 'hood in Newark who couldn't believe when the crowd at the 1989 Soul Train Awards booed her as a sellout to black music?

Saxophonist Eric Alexander wrote the tune "Iron Man"as a salute to Harold Mabern. It's one of 10 tracks on that Memphis-born pianist's new recording, To Love And Be Loved.

The album features Mabern with Alexander, trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, bassist Nat Reeves and percussionist Cyro Baptista. It also reunites the pianist with legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb; these two giants played together briefly in Miles Davis' band in 1963.

MGM

Today marks the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death, at 42. There are countless ways to commemorate the occasion, and you should go with the one that speaks to you.

Riccardo Scwammenthal / CTS Images

Woody Shaw and Louis Hayes, “What’s New?”

A little over 40 years ago, trumpeter Woody Shaw and drummer Louis Hayes formed a band with the stated intention of demonstrating that jazz, as they knew it, was very much alive. Recordings from the group’s European travels have already yielded a fine album on HighNote, The Tour Volume 1, and now we have a sequel.

Dennis Manuel/Courtesy of the artist

For those who haven't had the good fortune to attend a jazz festival this summer, Jazz Night has a ticket just for you — section A, row 1 for The Robert Glasper Experiment.

Isaiah McClain / WBGO

In jazz, where so much of the artistry rests on virtuosity and tradition, immense talent is sometimes hidden in plain sight. Such is the case of Sullivan Fortner, a New Orleans piano phenom who just recently decided to showcase his rare vocal ability on The Checkout.


Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

So many of us can point to a moment when we heard something that changed our lives. In January of 1975, I was a high school student who had saved my money to buy a ticket and sit alone in the balcony of Carnegie Hall. Barbara Cook had returned to the stage after virtually disappearing from public view. Seeing her then, after hearing her on countless recordings, I knew I had to be a part of the theater.

The Bill Charlap Trio, a fixture of the New York jazz firmament, began making music together 20 years ago.

Shervin Lainez

Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet, “inter-are”

Would it be fair to say Mark Guiliana has been typecast? He’s a drummer best known for his advances along the axis of groove, most visibly with the surging Donny McCaslin Quartet, which served as David Bowie’s valedictory band. But Guiliana cut his teeth in the acoustic postbop tradition, and in addition to the project he calls Beat Music, he leads the Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet — an astute, flowing combo with saxophonist Jason Rigby, pianist Fabian Almazan and bassist Chris Morrissey.

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