Jazz News

Very Very Henry Threadgill

Apr 15, 2021

We celebrate Threadgill's induction to the 2021 class of NEA Jazz Masters, with a rare retrospective from 2014 that celebrates the genius of Henry Threadgill.

Henry Threadgill's music has always pushed boundaries. Two tubas with two guitars, a "sextett" with seven members, a free-improvising trio with an instrument made of hubcaps, a dance orchestra: Nothing is off the table.

When Duke Ellington famously coined the phrase "beyond category," he was talking about freedom — of choice, of expression, of belonging. He meant following your heart and your instincts into an artistic territory without borders. And that's the place where violinist Regina Carter makes her home. She plays everything — jazz, classical, R&B, Latin, blues, country, pop, you name it.

Every year, NPR Music participates in the SXSW music festival, whether it's curating a stage or simply attending hundreds of shows at the annual event in Austin, Texas. Last year, the festival was canceled due to the pandemic, but it returned this March as an online festival. We programmed a 'stage' of Tiny Desk (home) concerts and presented them on the final day of the festival. Now, we present to you Tiny Desk Meets SXSW: four videos filmed in various locations, all of them full of surprises.

On the last edition of Play It Forward, All Things Considered's chain of musical gratitude, Devonté Hynes – the English singer-songwriter, producer, director and genre-spanning creative force behind Blood Orange – spoke about experimental jazz artist Angel Bat Dawid's atmospheric track "London."

Precious few have earned – just one, really – the honor to be proclaimed "the Grace Jones of jazz," but Lady Blackbird is not your average interpreter. Blackbird released a bold debut last year with her slow-burning version of Nina Simone's "Blackbird," while her second single, "Beware the Stranger," was a similarly intense reworking of "Wanted Dead or Alive," the rare groove classic popularized by the Voices of East Harlem. Last October, she released a gorgeously melancholy take on the James Gang's "Collage."

What does a line from a James Joyce novel sound like on the piano? Or a scribble from the visual artist Cy Twombly? Can you translate the organic architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright into music? For pianist and composer Myra Melford, there is inspiration in all of the above, "a kind of dialogue for me – a thing to bounce my ideas off of."

Paul Jackson, who as bassist for Herbie Hancock's Headhunters helped secure the first million-selling jazz album, died on March 18 in Japan, where he had lived since 1985.

He was 73. His death was confirmed on social media by his longtime musical associate, drummer Mike Clark.

With a resume that ranges from Talib Kweli to Paul McCartney, L.A.-based drummer Karriem Riggins has assembled his kit in a borderless zone that encompasses modern jazz, hip-hop, classic singer-songwriters and whatever else tickles his fancy. Riggins studied with bassist Ray Brown and quickly became the go-to rhythmatist for Ron Carter, Donald Byrd, Oscar Peterson and other jazz icons.

Chick Corea was the recipient of 23 Grammy awards, the most of any jazz artist ever, when he died shockingly last month, at 79. He could add two more to his tally at the 63rd Grammys this Sunday: Best Improvised Jazz Solo, for his crisp piano excursion on "All Blues," and Best Jazz Instrumental Album, for Trilogy 2, on which that performance appears.

Guitarists Mike and Leni Stern are one of those awe-inspiring couples. More than 40 years together, they've had a front row seat in witnessing music history from their flat in Manhattan. Mike's credits include performing with Miles Davis and Jaco Pastorius. Leni was named Gibson's "Female Jazz Guitarist of the Year" five times. They have another guitar hero, Bill Frisell, to thank for making the introduction back in 1977, when Frisell took Leni on as a private student at the Berklee College of Music.

It's been one year since we first "locked down" together, and yet here we are: back with another Alone Together Duets video.

There's a composition by pianist Helen Sung titled "Into the Unknown," from her 2018 album, Sung With Words. A bright, bustling tune with a melody full of rhythmic feints, it captures the radiant spirit that Sung brings to any bandstand. And the song's title says something about her unconventional path to a life in modern jazz.

Ralph Peterson Jr., a drummer, bandleader, composer and educator whose lunging propulsion and volatile combustion were hallmarks of a jazz career spanning more than 40 years, died on Monday in North Dartmouth, Mass. The cause was complications from cancer, his manager, Laura Martinez, tells NPR Music; Peterson had been living with the disease for the last six years. He was 58.

Vijay Iyer recorded Uneasy, his forthcoming ECM album, at the close of 2019, in the waning light of what's sometimes wryly hailed as "the before-times."

"It was really on the cusp of, well, the rest of everything," Iyer, a pianist and composer of exceptional renown, tells NPR Music. "I'm really glad to have this document of what we used to be, and what we will be again. This is a reminder of what's possible: how we can be together, how we can move together, how we can build something together."

This story was updated at 9:28 p.m. ET on Thursday, Feb. 11.

The keyboardist, composer and bandleader Chick Corea — one of the most revered figures in contemporary jazz, but an artist whose work spanned fusion to classical — died on Feb. 9 at age 79.

"The stars fill the sky / So in love with you am I," wrote Cole Porter in "So In Love," one of countless adored songs within the Great American Songbook, and performed with stirring reverence by vocalist Brianna Thomas in this week's concert.

Black History Month, founded as Negro History Week by historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926, is an annual recognition of the centrality of African-American history and culture in the United States. While Black History Month provides an opportunity to celebrate, it is also a reminder that true equality and the rights of full citizenship is not yet a reality.

NPR Music's Tiny Desk series will celebrate Black History Month by featuring four weeks of Tiny Desk (home) concerts and playlists by Black artists spanning different genres and generations each week. The lineup includes both emerging and established artists who will be performing a Tiny Desk concert for the first time. This celebration highlights the beautiful cornucopia of Black music and our special way of presenting it. We hope you enjoy.

NPR Music's Tiny Desk series will celebrate Black History Month by featuring four weeks of Tiny Desk (home) concerts and playlists by Black artists spanning different genres and generations each week. The lineup includes both emerging and established artists who will be performing a Tiny Desk concert for the first time. This celebration highlights the beautiful cornucopia of Black music and our special way of presenting it. We hope you enjoy.

John Coltrane composed these words in December 1964, as part of a poem he called A Love Supreme.

I have seen God – I have seen ungodly – none can be greater – none can compare to God.

NPR Music's Tiny Desk series will celebrate Black History Month by featuring four weeks of Tiny Desk (home) concerts and playlists by Black artists spanning different genres and generations each week. The lineup includes both emerging and established artists who will be performing a Tiny Desk concert for the first time. This celebration highlights the beautiful cornucopia of Black music and our special way of presenting it. We hope you enjoy.

Public acknowledgment took its time finding Billy Lester. A pianist devoted to searching for a new form of modern jazz, he spent more than half a century on the outskirts of New York City, quietly honing his craft. "I just figured I'd go to my grave without any kind of recognition," he says plainly, "and I was at the point in my life where I totally accepted that."

The great South African trombonist and composer Jonas Gwangwa, who was an ambassador for his country's music around the globe and an advocate against apartheid at home, died today. Gwangwa's death was announced in a statement published on the web site of the presidency of the Republic of South Africa. He was 83 years old.

Every January, I attend globalFEST at a New York City nightclub and see some of the most fantastic music I'll experience all year. Now, given the pandemic's challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST moved the 2021 edition from the nightclub to your screen of choice and shared the festival with the world. We called it Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST.

Every January, I attend globalFEST at a New York City nightclub and see some of the most fantastic music I'll experience all year. Now, given the pandemic's challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST moved the 2021 edition from the nightclub to your screen of choice and shared the festival with the world. We called it Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST.

I can think of no better summation of our shared experience over the last year than "A World Lost," the title of the piece that opens Maria Schneider's Data Lords. A slow, foreboding dirge in an oblong time signature, it instantly sets a tone of somber contemplation.

If you're old enough, you might recall the comic Godfrey Cambridge from late-night television in the 1960s, when he was one of a new wave of black stand-ups (others included Bill Cosby and Dick Gregory) who, though addressing racial issues in their monologues, came up through jazz clubs and beatnik coffee houses rather than the chitlin circuit, and positioned themselves more kin to George Carlin than integration-ready offspring of Red Foxx and Moms Mabley.

The 2020 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll

Jan 14, 2021

Below are the results of NPR Music's 8th Annual Jazz Critics Poll (my 15th, going back to the poll's beginnings in the Village Voice). These are the jazz albums that lit up a dark, unsettling year. Maria Schneider's Data Lords was the critics choice — no surprise, though relative unknown Sara Serpa's victory in the Vocal category in a year when both Kurt Elling and Gregory Porter released new albums was.

In the 2019 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll, five of the top 10 new releases were recordings led or co-led by women artists — a startling 50%. In fact, it is the largest number of projects led by women in the top 10 since the annual poll began 14 years ago, surpassing 2018, when women comprised a third of those rankings.

Pages