Jazz News

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.

British musician Matthew Herbert is best known as an electronic artist, who goes by various aliases, including Dr. Rockit and Radio Boy. Right now though, he's in the midst of a two-year "apology tour" across Europe with his Brexit Big Band, Herbert's musical response to the British government's plan to leave the European Union.

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

The Charles Mingus Quintet opened a six-night stand at the Strata Concert Gallery, a former photography studio at 46 Selden St., on a gritty street in the shadow of then-abandoned Orchestra Hall. The venue — an offshoot of the musician-run Strata Corporation — attracted aficionados and musicians. WDET-FM, the public radio station affiliated with nearby Wayne State University, broadcast the music live.

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.

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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.

Jenn Nkiru / YouTube

Saxophonist Kamasi Washington's latest album, Heaven and Earth, is a whirlpool of the celes

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.

Mark de Clive-Lowe turns his mistakes into art by sampling his bandmates live in the moment.
NPR / YouTube

For more than four decades, Hamiet Bluiett found a way to combine the avant-garde with traditional jazz. Along the way, he redefined the role of the baritone saxophone, and co-founded one of the most successful groups in modern jazz: The World Saxophone Quartet.

Bluiett died Thursday due to complications from a series of strokes he suffered over the past several years, his sister Karen Ratliff told NPR. He was 78 years old.

His granddaughter, Anaya Bluiett, announced on social media that his funeral will be held next Friday in Brooklyn, Ill.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

It's not enough to make list after list. The Turning the Tables project seeks to suggest alternatives to the traditional popular music canon, and to do more than that, too: to stimulate conversation about how hierarchies emerge and endure. This year, Turning the Tables considers how women and non-binary artists are shaping music in our moment, from the pop mainstream to the sinecures of jazz and contemporary classical music. Our list of the 200 Greatest Songs By Women+ offers a soundtrack to a new century. This series of essays takes on another task.

In the world of jazz, most musicians choose one single thing and get as good as humanly possible at it, but not Camille Thurman. She's known as a double threat: The rare jazz musician who has mastered both a highly technical instrument — in her case, the saxophone — and sings. Thurman's vocals have been compared to Ella Fitzgerald. Her latest album, Waiting for the Sunrise, is out now.

Stefon Harris On Piano Jazz

Aug 17, 2018

Vibraphonist Stefon Harris is one of the most innovative and impressive artists in jazz, blazing new trails on vibraphone and marimba. While much of his music is on the cutting edge, he has a strong sense of tradition and his technical facility knows no bounds.

Aretha Franklin was about a month shy of her 20th birthday when she appeared for a week at The Village Gate in late February of 1962. She shared a bill there with pianist and composer Thelonious Monk, who like her was an indescribable talent — a genius, in the fullest sense of the word — recently signed to the roster of Columbia Records.

What would you say if I told you that drums can sing? The best jazz drummers have always understood this as fact. Allison Miller has even made it a core part of her artistic mission — as drummer, a composer and a bandleader, notably with her ensemble Boom Tic Boom.

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