NPR Jazz

Orquesta Akokán takes its name from the Yoruba word meaning "from the heart." The group's self-titled debut album, released in March, draws deep from the soul and history of Cuba, reviving the spirit of the big-band orquestas of decades past like Buena Vista Social Club and Orquesta Aragón.

Cleo Brown On Piano Jazz

Apr 13, 2018

Pianist and vocalist Cleo Brown (1909 – 1995) was one of the early innovators of the boogie-woogie style and the first female instrumentalist to be named an NEA Jazz Master. She retired from performing in the 1950s and focused her attention on religious music, bringing her gifted voice and strong left hand to gospel tunes.

Nicholas Payton On Piano Jazz

Apr 6, 2018

Trumpeter Nicholas Payton has been hailed as one of the greatest musicians of his generation. A native of New Orleans, Payton learned the art of improvisation from Wynton Marsalis and as a teen performed with the late trumpet master Clark Terry.

Cecil Taylor, whose stunning and bravely unorthodox piano language made him one of the most important postwar American avant-gardists in any artistic medium, leaves more than a legacy of musical provocation after his death yesterday evening.

Cecil Taylor encompasses a never-ending range of sound and emotion. On his way to the Piano Jazz studio in 1994, the avant-garde jazz pianist and his cab driver discovered that they went to the same high school, opening up a whirlwind of small worlds, and inspiring the improvised piece that opens this episode.

There is no one universe for Ben LaMar Gay, he just sonic booms from one sound to another. His solo debut, Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun, is really a patch-work of seven albums, recorded over seven years but never released. It moves from fuzz-caked weirdo-psych to mutant synth-funk to giddy electronics to progressive jazz at a seamless, whiplash-free warp speed.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Gil Goldstein On Piano Jazz

Mar 30, 2018

Composer and arranger Gil Goldstein came to the piano by way of the accordion, which he has rediscovered and added to the jazz lexicon. Collaborations with Jaco Pastorius and Bill Evans fostered his career and led to work with David Sanborn, Michael Franks and Al Jarreau.

Maybe you became aware of Jazzmeia Horn five years ago, when she took first prize at the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition. Maybe you got hip when her debut album, A Social Call, was released last year. Maybe you caught her turn on the most recent Grammy Premiere Ceremony, when she knocked a scat chorus into the stratosphere.

When Johann Sebastian Bach compiled the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier in 1722, he wrote that the 24 preludes and fugues were "for the profit and use of musical youth desirous of learning, and especially for the pastime of those already skilled in this study."

Milford Graves and Jason Moran were listening hard at the Big Ears Festival on Friday evening, and in this they were far from alone. Their spontaneous musical dialogue, onstage at the elegant Bijou Theater in Knoxville, Tenn., suggested a merging of the ancient and the ultramodern, aglow with an ephemeral sort of grace. At one point, Moran's deep, mournful sonorities at the piano led Graves toward a murmuring hush at the drums, as if anything else would break the spell.

Earma Thompson On Piano Jazz

Mar 23, 2018

For more than 50 years, Earma Thompson (1923 – 2009) was a constant on the Chicago jazz scene. She was recognized as the reigning queen of Windy City jazz but spent most of her career as a dependable and accomplished side person. At 81, Thompson released her first album as a leader, 2004's Just in Time. The album debuted shortly before her 2005 appearance on Piano Jazz. In this session, Thompson showcases her elegant, bluesy style on "Back at the Chicken Shack" before joining McPartland for "Lullaby of the Leaves."

Since Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo birthed "Manteca" in the '40s just as Cuban musicians like Machito were shaking up New York's jazz scene, Afro-Cuban jazz has continued to entice and fascinate North American musicians into new collaborations and explorations.

Terence Blanchard has always been drawn to a form of lyricism that runs burnished and bittersweet. You can track this mood throughout his career as a post-bop trumpeter, and no less in his dozens of film scores, in and beyond a long affiliation with Spike Lee.

Soul singer Jordan Rakei moved to London a few years ago and the creative community there has played a big role in his flourishing music career. His sophomore album, Wallflowers, is a collection of emotive, accomplished songs committed to a bolder exploration of his sonic craft. The jazz elements come through even stronger in his live performances. Wacth Rakei perform his track "Eye To Eye."

Photos By Brian Feinzimer

I am not ashamed to admit it: I was overcome with emotion a few moments after entering Areito Estudio Ciento Uno (Areito Studio 101) inside the EGREM recording complex in the center of Havana, Cuba.

Poet Philip Levine discovered jazz on the radio when he was a teenager.

Jimmy McPartland On Piano Jazz

Mar 16, 2018

This year marks the centennial of Marian McPartland (1918 – 2013). In honor of the occasion, Piano Jazz revisits a session with Marian and her husband, Jimmy McPartland.

No jazz musician has ever been heard more on public radio than the late Marian McPartland, the host of NPR's Piano Jazz for more than 40 years. But for all her ubiquity, how well did we really know her?

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released.


"As we go into the well of the black pool of genius," Common intones during the opening bars of August Greene. It's a fitting incantation for a time in which black culture increasingly defines America's pop consciousness, even as black people are defiled by the sociopolitical will of a restless nation.

Carol Sloane On Piano Jazz

Mar 2, 2018

Carol Sloane is a sublime singer of great songs. She is natural and unaffected with a voice that embraces the melody and the listener with equal parts maturity and conviction. Combining spirit with character and elegance with style, Sloane has enchanted audiences all over the world. Her command of The Great American Songbook is unmatched.

Hometown: London, England

Genre: Jazz

Why We're Excited: Ezra Collective keeps one foot planted in traditional jazz but lets the other wander far and wide, bringing back rhythmic traces of hip-hop and Afrobeat. On the new Juan Pablo: The Philosopher EP, Ezra Collective sounds alternately taut and spacey in tunes that don't stay in one place long, let alone recede into the background.

SXSW Schedule:

Hometown: London, England

Genre: Jazz

Why We're Excited: Tenor saxophonist Nubya Garcia exudes a kind of breezy, sultry, downtown cool — no surprise, given her history as a club DJ. On her debut, Nubya's 5ive, she and her band strike an engrossing balance between long stretches of dreamy exploration and surges of vital, virtuosic intensity.

SXSW Schedule:

Roy Ayers: Tiny Desk Concert

Mar 1, 2018

Roy Ayers arrived at his Tiny Desk performance beaming with positivity. The 77-year-old jazz-funk icon and vibraphonist sauntered through the office with a Cheshire grin on his face, sharing jokes with anyone within earshot. Accompanying him was a trio of brilliantly seasoned musicians — keyboardist Mark Adams, bassist Trevor Allen and drummer Christopher De Carmine. Later during the performance, pride washed across Ayers' face as his bandmates took the spotlight. (Be sure to watch as Adams woos not just the room but brightens Ayers' face during his solo.)

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

You'd think that people would have had enough of silly love songs? Not a chance. For Valentine's Day this year, we've modeled our love songs playlist after The Magnetic Fields' classic 69 Love Songs, a collection of, well, 69 songs about love songs written by Stephin Merritt.

The U.K.'s jazz scene is flourishing these days thanks, in part, to the young artists pumping it with new life. We Out Here, the latest compilation project from DJ and producer Gilles Peterson's indie label Brownswood Recordings, is a fitting proclamation of ownership from the contemporaries who are adding color to the landscape.

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