Jazz News

Two deaths in early January, of percussionist Alvin Fielder and multi-instrumentalist/poet/dramaturge Joseph Jarman, help remind us that artists' lives shouldn't be summarized by their documented works alone. Both men made signature contributions to the freedoms and complications that have enriched what we know as jazz, starting more than 50 years ago as founding members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).

Wayne Shorter Travels The Spaceways

Jan 5, 2019

Eighty-five now and in a wheelchair for his recent Kennedy Center Honors, not to mention notoriously self-critical, Wayne Shorter releases albums so infrequently these days that a new one is automatically a BIG EVENT. Whether or not Emanon — the winner of this year's NPR Jazz Critics Poll and Shorter's first album since Without a Net in 2013, which topped that year's poll — is an event, it's surely big, literally.

The 2018 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll

Jan 5, 2019

This time each year, amidst the warmth of year-end highlights and holiday wishes, we pause to remember those we have lost. But while it's an occasion for sadness, it's also an opportunity to celebrate their legacies in full. That's the spirit with which Jazz Night in America offers this In Memoriam episode, featuring testimonials by some of those who knew the artists best.

Every December, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis brings this Grammy Award–winning holiday extravaganza to Rose Theater for a series of sold-out shows. With soulful big band arrangements of songs both sacred and secular, Big Band Holidays is an uplifting tradition enjoyed by audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

Famed singer Nancy Wilson died this past Thursday at the age of 81. In addition to her accomplished artistic career, Wilson was the host of Jazz Profiles, a long-running NPR series which dove deeply into the history of that singular art form. In remembrance of Nancy, Jazz Profiles lead producer Tim Owens recalls the show's founding, and shares some of its most memorable episodes.

Nancy Wilson died Thursday after a long illness at her home in Pioneertown, Calif., her manager Devra Hall Levy told NPR. She was 81.

Born in Chillicothe, Ohio, in 1937, Wilson has recounted in interviews that she started singing around age 3 or 4.

"I have always just sung. I have never questioned what it is. I thank God for it and I just do it," she told Marian McPartland, host of NPR's Piano Jazz in 1994.

"I've been drunk with music all my life," Charles Lloyd muses, "and it's been my spiritual path. And the times that I was knocked off my mooring, I just found a way to get back up."

When a baby grand piano rolls into the office for a Tiny Desk concert, you expect something special. But none of us could have imagined what it's like to see 15-year old Joey Alexander play that piano with such mastery. The thing is, when you see him play live, you quickly forget his age and get lost in the intense focus of his performance. Alexander and his stellar supporting cast — Reuben Rogers on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums — form a tight trio, locking eyes as Alexander's compositions unfold.

Detroit. Feb. 13, 1973. A Tuesday night.

He should have been exhausted, but instead played the Tiny Desk with incredible stamina, holding a single trumpet note that lasted longer than most people can hold their breath. In the days just before this performance, Nicholas Payton played at the Joy of Jazz Festival in Johannesburg, South Africa, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, then Santiago, Chile and, finally, New York City. A member of his team drove them the four hours from NYC so he could nap in the car and be ready to play.

Thank you for voting! This competition is now closed. Stay tuned for our Top Ten artists announcement and for the winner's interview on NPR's All Things Considered.


Slingshot, VuHaus public radio stations and NPR Music's emerging artist series, spotlighted 40 artists over the course of the past 10 months. Now it's time for you to tell us your favorite.

We all knew vocalist Rubén Blades knew his way around the clave, the rhythmic pattern that propels the Afro-Cuban dance music he's known for.

But I bet you didn't know he could swing a big band jazz tune with an easy flair that recalls past masters like Mel Tormé, Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra.

Our list of the best new albums out this week includes the comical and moving synth pop of John Grant, enchanting harmonies from The Watson Twins, an audacious jazz album from trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, the first new music from Elvis Costello & The Imposers in a decade and more. Host Robin Hilton returns to breakdown this week's essential releases with NPR Music's Ann Powers and Stephen Thompson, and Nate Chinen from WBGO.

Featured Albums

  1. Elvis Costello & The Imposters: Look Now
    Featured Song: "Under Lime"

What makes a first-tier jazz legacy? A signature instrumental style, recognizable within a phrase or two. A body of exceptional recordings, in the studio and in concert. A legion of imitators, great and small. A sense of broad cultural relevance. Maybe even a hit song or two.

Earlier this week, an array of news outlets in New York City reported a macabre discovery: The body of a 53-year-old man was found floating in a Queens marina, fully clothed, with chains wrapped around his legs. The body was noticed by a passerby along the shoreline of the World's Fair Marina in Flushing Harbor, near Citi Field, around 9:15 a.m. Tuesday.

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

Magos Herrera is a jazz singer from Mexico, but she has also sung pop songs with Brazilian beats and crooned Mexican classics with a touch of rock. Herrera takes another adventuresome step on her new album, Dreamers, where she partners with a classical string quartet for an album steeped in Latin American culture. The potent mix of themes and the sound of the string quartet, plus a little percussion, are compelling.

Standing behind the Tiny Desk with only pianist Sullivan Fortner by her side, jazz singer Cécile McLorin Salvant remarked that she hadn't been this nervous in a while. But it was hard to tell: She embraced the discomfort with ease, taking command of the space with a calm demeanor and spiritual presence that felt both humble and persuasive.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Pat Metheny On Piano Jazz

Sep 21, 2018

Guitarist Pat Metheny is one of the brightest stars in the jazz firmament. As the only person to win a Grammy in ten different categories, the ever-evolving artist is constantly experimenting with new technology and honing his improvisational skills and unique style. On this 2006 Piano Jazz, The Pat Metheny Trio, which includes bassist Christian McBride and drummer Antonio Sanchez, performs the exclusive version of "Go Get It" and "Bright Size Life."

Originally broadcast Spring of 2006.

Michel Camilo On Piano Jazz

Sep 14, 2018

Grammy-winning pianist, composer and bandleader Michel Camilo is one of the most fascinating jazz artists working today. A prodigy from the Dominican Republic, he began his professional career at the age of 16 as the youngest member of the National Symphony Orchestra. In his twenties, Camilo moved to New York City, where he took the jazz scene by storm with his whirlwind approach to music, technical brilliance and post-bop Latin rhythms. In this 1989 Piano Jazz session, Camilo plays his own composition "Nostalgia."

GoGo Penguin: Tiny Desk Concert

Sep 14, 2018

During his setup, GoGo Penguin's pianist Chris Illingworth asked if he could remove our piano cover to "access the inside" and, after a few rotations of a screwdriver, he soon handed me a long plank of black painted maple, which has no convenient place to rest in the NPR Music office. If you look closely at the piano innards during "Bardo," you can see a strip of black tape stretched over a few strings, opposite Illingworth's bobbing head. It mutes a group of strings, turning them into percussive jabs and dividing the instrument into more explicit rhythmic and melodic sections.

Wayne Shorter likes to tell a story about going to see Charlie Parker, the mercurial titan of bebop, sometime around 1951. Shorter was 18 at the time — a saxophonist, like Parker, and a bop obsessive already gigging around his hometown of Newark, N.J. He headed across the river into Manhattan, where Parker, colloquially known as Bird, was headlining at Birdland, the club named in Parker's honor.

Gene Harris On Piano Jazz

Aug 30, 2018

Pianist Gene Harris (1933 – 2000) was an integral part of the well-known group The Three Sounds trio, with bassist Andy Simpkins and drummer Bill Dowdy. After a brief hiatus in the 1970s, Harris teamed up with bassist Ray Brown to form a new group and also made his way as a solo act. An accomplished leader and sideman, Harris played with such greats as Aretha Franklin, Lou Rawls and B.B. King.

On this 1988 Piano Jazz episode, Harris opens with a slow and easy "Black and Blue," then Marian McPartland joins him on "Bag's Groove."

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