Jazz News

There comes a moment in almost any performance by vibraphonist Joel Ross when he seems to slip free of standard cognitive functions and into a bodacious flow state. Invariably, he's in the midst of a heated improvisation. Maybe he's bouncing on his heels, or bobbing like a marionette. His mallets form a blur, in contrast to the clarity of the notes they produce. The deft precision of his hammering inspires a visual comparison to some tournament-level version of Whac-A-Mole.

If you're even a casually observant jazz fan, you might think you know a thing or two about Joe Lovano. A tenor saxophonist with dozens of albums to his name, most of them made during a roughly 25-year tenure on Blue Note Records, Lovano is one of the most instantly identifiable musicians on the jazz landscape and on the New York scene. But he didn't come from nowhere.

Snarky Puppy is an incredible ensemble of musicians, a loosely-knit collective of funk, jazz and rock players founded in Denton, Tx. by bandleader Michael League. They've been at it since 2003, with a rotating group of touring musicians. How many? As many as 25 will cycle in and out over the course of the tour.

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.

Nashville may be the country music capital, but the industry for which its famous began in Atlanta. Now, a grassroots drive to preserve a historic downtown building is highlighting Atlanta's somewhat forgotten role in early roots music.

At 152 Nassau Street in Downtown Atlanta, an unmarked two-story rose brick storefront houses a piece of Atlanta's music history. This was the site of a pop-up recording studio in 1923.

Festival season is upon us. In the past week, Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival hosted its 19th year of memorable performances, which also resulted in memorable releases.

During World War II, with thousands of men shipping off to war, half a dozen all-female, instrumental big bands toured around America. It was a rarity in a musical world dominated by men and, for the most part, their stories have been erased or minimized in jazz history.

A fire is coming from Flying Lotus. And David Lynch is fanning the flames. The Brainfeeder boss has shared "Fire is Coming" to fuel the announcement of the his upcoming album, Flamagra, due out May 24 via Warp Records.

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Every year since 1982, the National Endowment for the Arts has presented its Jazz Masters award — a pinnacle of achievement in the form. The honor is presented to musicians and advocates who have made exceptional contributions to the advancement of jazz, and the 2019 class is no exception, as we'll see during tonight's live stream of this year's tribute concert, taking place at the John F. Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts in Washington D.C.

Mark Guiliana is a drummer renowned for his chameleon-like ways with pulse — whether he's leading his acoustic jazz quartet, playing in a duo with Brad Mehldau or providing the back beat behind David Bowie's final album, Blackstar. Now, Guiliana is in another mutation mode, shifting his focus from acoustic jazz sounds to explore an exciting realm of electro-jazz.

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.

Karl Denson has one of the coolest side gigs in the world. In 2015, he took over for Bobby Keys as the saxophonist for The Rolling Stones. In his day job however, he's the leader of Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, a fusion of funk, jazz, soul, and rock.

The West Coast music scene has a new group to champion. The music of Oakland's SOL Development has been described as jazz, hip-hop, and, of course, soulful. The four-person collective's style may sound familiar but the member's backgrounds are not. They're teachers and classically trained musicians who use music in the classrooms to promote learning.

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

At 2 a.m. Monday morning, Solange Knowles and a handful of friends were at a strip club in her native Houston, celebrating. The artist/auteur wore a leopard print cowboy hat, matching tube top and cut-out black pants, loose enough to twerk along with the dancers in their section.

The rules of musical gravity don't apply for the spirited saxophonist, composer and producer Kamasi Washington. Washington's roots are in jazz, but he can turn his saxophone into a soaring bird or a spaceship, a howling wolf or a karate kick.

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.

Bill Frisell has made no secret of his fondness for the music of James Bond films. An elite jazz guitarist with a gift for shadowy lyricism, he recorded the title theme to You Only Live Twice a few years ago for an album of movie music. Frisell then included the main Goldfinger theme on Small Town, his painterly duo effort with bassist Thomas Morgan.

There are three pianists involved in making the music of the Oscar-nominated film Green Book. The first is Don Shirley, who was popular in the 1950s and 60s, both in person and on vinyl. The second is actor Mahershala Ali, who portrays Shirley in the film but does not play piano. And so, the third pianist is Kris Bowers, who does all the playing for Ali in the film.

Terence Blanchard wrote his first piece of music for a Spike Lee joint nearly 30 years ago. The movie was Mo' Better Blues, which revolves around a brooding jazz trumpeter played by Denzel Washington. Blanchard was on set to ghost those trumpet parts, but at one point, Spike heard him playing a theme at the piano, and asked him to write an accompanying string arrangement.

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Ezra Collective is breathing new life into one of music's greatest institutions.

Month after month, member stations partake in Heavy Rotation and share with us songs that they cannot stop listening to. Out of the many talents and submissions, we condensed the list into ten songs, all of which scale the possibilities that this year has to offer in music.

This month's playlist is packed with new favorites, including French producer FKJ and a fresh bop from Future's The WIZRD, marking this start in 2019 as a hopeful one.

Betty Carter, the adroit and unsurpassable jazz singer, was 61 when she took the stage at Aaron Davis Hall in New York for The Music Never Stops on March 29, 1992. Presented by Jazz at Lincoln Center, a newly formed organization at the time, it was a concert of grand, unabashed ambition, celebrating Carter's magnificent prowess in the context of a specially assembled big band with strings, as well as three all-star rhythm sections.

There are probably better uses for a time machine — but if you could drop in on the band room at Philadelphia's High School for Creative and Performing Arts, sometime in the late 1980s, you'd encounter some historic jazz talent in the making. I'm referring in particular to the untouchable organ virtuoso Joey DeFrancesco and the irreproachable bassist Christian McBride.

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.

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