Jazz News

It's not too late to make a musical resolution for 2020, right?

No, I'm not planning to spend any diaper money on rare 7-inches, or develop an unhealthy effects pedal habit. But I do need to get outside my musical comfort zone — and I want to get into calypso music.

Updated at 11:17 p.m. ET

Rafiq Bhatia started the new year by taking a fresh look at jazz standards in a four-song EP called Standards Vol. 1. The record subverts our expectations — for both a guitarist best-known as a member of the band Son Lux and for songs we know well, half of which were written by the great Duke Ellington.

This is not a drill: Heat Check is back! After a short hiatus and some stellar, late-breaking 2019 releases, Heat Check has returned to recap you on the world of experimental R&B, hip-hop and everything in between.

Here's a first: Steelpans at the Tiny Desk. It's true. Nearly a thousand performances into the series and the instrument has never been featured, until now. While the two bowls look shiny and new in this Jonathan Scales Fourchestra set, they were once authentic oil barrels, pounded, finished and tuned for bandleader, Jonathan Scales. But instrumentation and singularity aside, Scales' virtuosity, energy and connection to his bandmates wowed the NPR crowd, many of whom had never heard this music before.

Sooner or later, every child prodigy hits a fork in the road: Keep doing the crowd-pleasing, trained-seal tricks that brought fame? Or set out to develop a more individual sound?

From the moment 11-year-old Indonesian pianist Joey Alexander gained international attention in 2015, it was clear that he wasn't your average young phenom. He had seemingly limitless technique and a deep understanding of tunes written decades before he was born. Already a fixture in the jazz world with five albums under his belt at only the age of 16, Alexander is clearly charting his own path.

Jazz Saxophone Legend Jimmy Heath Has Died

Jan 19, 2020

Jimmy Heath, a prolific saxophonist, composer and bandleader who played alongside some of the biggest names of jazz, including Miles Davis and John Coltrane, has died.

Heath died Sunday morning in Loganville, Georgia of natural causes, his grandson told NPR. He was 93 years old. His family was at his side, including his wife of 60 years, Mona Heath, his children Mtume and Rozie, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and his brother, drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath.

The 2019 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll

Jan 14, 2020

Below are the results of NPR Music's 7th Annual Jazz Critics Poll (my 14th, going back to the poll's beginnings in the Village Voice). 2019's results provided surprise after surprise. The only predictable winner was in Latin Jazz: Miguel Zenon's Sonero, the alto saxophonist's fifth victory in this category. But Eric Dolphy's Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions upset a "new" John Coltrane album in Reissue/Discovery. Relative newcomer Jazzmeia Horn's Love and Liberation won in Vocal.

The road to jazz stardom once ran straight through Miles Davis. You introduced yourself to audiences as a member of Miles's band, and they knew who you were and what you could do when you formed your own. The lone alternative route was via John Coltrane or Art Blakey. No more — and not just because those patriarchs are gone and no one who's come along since has achieved similar name recognition among the general public.

Editor's note: Jon Batiste's Tiny Desk Concert was published prematurely. The new publication date is March 2020.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

When the crew that is Spanglish Fly pulled in behind the Tiny Desk, the group's vibrant version of boogaloo raised the temperature in the NPR Music offices quite a bit. Whether displaying their party spirit or even the slow burn of social consciousness on the song "Los Niños En La Frontera," this band plays from the heart and engages both the mind and body.



Copyright 2019 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

Just over 40 years ago, Joseph Jarman published a book of poetry that opens with a chant: "we pray o God / for the ego / death." Jarman, a visionary saxophonist and composer, was writing mainly about transcendence of the self. But he keenly understood the power of a collective, which presses each individual into the service of a greater whole.

Twenty-five years have passed since South Africa ended the cruel social experiment of apartheid, which divided its citizens, locked up its people of color and brought decades of havoc and pain.

Many bands make considerable adjustments to their playing style in order for their sound to properly fill the Tiny Desk space. LA-based trio Moonchild, along with three background singers and a drummer, arrived promptly for their load-in time, unpacked their gear and were ready to go within minutes. Aside from being especially efficient, their natural musical instincts made for a custom fit in our corner.

The Comet is Coming is a force of nature. The British trio's approach to the Tiny Desk was ferocious. Shabaka Hutchings, aka King Shabaka, blew his sax hard while his effects pedal added reverb, expanding not only his sound but altering the office and making it a little eerier.

It has been 30 years since Harry Connick, Jr. became an improbable pop star, on the basis of a movie soundtrack that just happened to put many of his best features on display. If you know Connick at all, you might remember that album, When Harry Met Sally..., as some kind of watershed: a burnished vision of New York sophistication that renewed the American songbook for a dashing new cohort.

Jazz musicians have always spoken their mind in the face of injustice: think of Louis Armstrong and Charles Mingus voicing two different, equally courageous responses to the fight over Little Rock school integration, or the searing power Billie Holiday brought to "Strange Fruit" (and the price she paid).

To ring in the season, Jazz Night in America brings you Big Band Holidays, a concert featuring the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. Together, they perform holiday classics from band's past five seasons, featuring fresh arrangements and entertaining storytelling, recorded live from Rose Theater in New York.

There may East Coast/West Coast beefs in other forms of music, but jazz is all-embracing. This year's edition of A Jazz Piano Christmas features artists from both coasts, and the audience shows no signs of preferring one over the other.

Evgeny Pobozhiy, a virtuoso guitarist with a busy profile on the Moscow jazz scene, has won the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz International Guitar Competition. As winner of the prize, one of the most prestigious of its kind, he'll receive $30,000 in scholarship funds and a recording contract with the Concord Music Group.

He also joins an honor roll of past winners including pianist Jacky Terrasson, saxophonists Joshua Redman and Melissa Aldana, and singers Jazzmeia Horn and Cécile McLorin Salvant.

Seconds before we hit record, Snarky Puppy's bandleader, Michael League leaned in to ask if he could "do a little crowd work." I suspect he waited until the last second on purpose, but it's been easy to trust this band when they have an idea, judging by the three Grammy Awards they get to dust off at home after every tour run.

For more than 30 years, Harry Connick Jr. has been putting out music that evokes the legacy of Frank Sinatra and other jazz icons. Now, he's back with a new album, True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter, and an accompanying Broadway show. NPR's David Greene visited the singer in Hollywood's Capitol Studios, where Connick demonstrated a few Cole Porter classics on the piano and talked about the musician's enduring influence.

Leslie Odom Jr. walked through the door with unassuming confidence and a big smile that brightened the room. Later, during his Tiny Desk performance, he recalled advice he'd received from a friend: "You have to get used to it — you are part of a cultural phenomenon in New York City," Odom said, before quipping, "I feel so blessed to be a part of Law & Order: SVU for three magnificent seasons."

An anthology devoted to early Nat King Cole recordings was recently released, and it offers a new window into his artistic development. The collection is called Hittin' the Ramp: The Early Years (1936-1943), and this massive 7-CD, 10-LP package is clearly aimed at obsessives. It's a deep dive that traces Nat King Cole's evolution — from smooth, unflappable piano player into a singing star with an endearingly smooth style all his own.

Last month, trumpeter and composer Nicholas Payton had the U.S. premiere of his Black American Symphony with the Colorado Springs Philharmonic.

There are charismatic people, and then there's Michael Mwenso. The leader of Mwenso & the Shakes is full of energy, charm and most importantly, joy. That joy is ever-present when he's telling stories about growing up in Ghana and Nigeria and spending four years trying to impress James Brown.

Motherless Brooklyn is a new film about a private detective trying to solve a murder in 1950s New York.

No jazz instrument is more personal — or relatable — than the human voice. Jazz singers come in every conceivable style, each with their own expressive signature. This episode of Jazz Night in America offers a chance to spend time with some of the brightest newer voices in the genre.

Here are a few indisputable truths about Andy Bey. First things first: as he approaches 80, Bey occupies the first rank of living jazz singers. He has led a circuitous career — starting out as a prodigy, slipping into obscurity, experiencing a late renaissance. And he's an original: nobody else has ever sounded quite like him and it's almost certain nobody else ever will.

Béla Fleck, the world's preeminent banjo player, and Edmar Castañeda, a peerless master of the Colombian harp, share more than a penchant to pluck magic out of strings. Both musicians are keen listeners with lightning reflexes and the ability to pounce on any digression. They're both alchemists of style, unbound by the rules of genre.

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