• Preservation Hall Jazz Band: Tiny Desk Concert

    December 21, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.

    Our goal for this special holiday Tiny Desk Concert is simple: to bring you joy. Preservation Hall Jazz Band is a hot and historic outfit from New Orleans, and its members brought us a tuba-wielding Santa and some original holiday cheer and praise — what they call a Cajun Christmas from the French Quarter.

    We lit some lights and decorated my desk and shelves as best we could, but it's this amazing band — complete with saxophone, trombone, trumpet, drums and a couple of tubas — that lit this place up. We've never had so much dancing from the NPR crew at a Tiny Desk Concert. So enjoy the show, and happy holidays to all from NPR Music.

    Set List

    • "Sugar Plum"
    • "I Think I Love You"
    • "Happy Holiday"
    • "Dear Lord"


    Producers: Bob Boilen, Denise DeBelius; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; Videographers: Denise DeBelius, Gabriella Garcia-Pardo, Becky Harlan, Abbey Oldham; photo by John Poole/NPR

    Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

  • Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O: Tiny Desk Concert

    December 20, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.

    For all the heartwarming feelings it encourages, Christmas clearly has a campy side. Your aunt's purpose-built sweater, sappy televised Christmas specials, the house on your block which outdid itself decorating yet again: Anything with such tradition breeds tacky offshoots. Of course, Christmas music often treads this territory, too. Where would we be without malls piping delightfully schlocky retreads of seasonal anthems? (Here's looking at you, Mariah Carey's Christmas album.)

    The extraordinary jazz drummer Matt Wilson seems to know that camp is part of the holiday's appeal. He recently recorded a new album of Christmas favorites new and old with two other musicians; the band and the record are both thusly called — what else? — Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O. (Dig that bargain-bin cover art, too.) And the Tree-O showed up for its Tiny Desk Concert with both a pink tinsel tree and an animatronic singing Santa hat.

    The band's artifice may be a bit hokey, but its musicianship isn't. With only a snare drum and ride cymbal, Wilson kept an impressively varied but deep swinging pocket, along with "wonder boy" Paul Sikivie on bass. Meanwhile, Wilson's longtime associate, reedman Jeff Lederer, stole the show on three different horns. There was gonzo tenor sax expressionism in "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing," playful clarinet staccato in "O Come All Ye Faithful" (also featuring "the NPR tabernacle choir" singing along), and a crazed, squawking reading of the most famous part of Handel's Messiah leading into a shrill "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" on piccolo.

    There's a deep grounding in jazz for this — for taking threadbare or overplayed melodies and transforming them into creative art of the highest order — as well as long-standing precedents of outgoing, personable showmen.

    So there have been Matt Wilsons before: obviously talented individuals, genuinely committed to their art, naturally inclined to elfin mischief. But to date, none of them have ever played Christmas-themed Tiny Desk Concerts. And we're happy to pass along the Christmas Tree-O's gift to you.

    Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

  • The Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra Performs Holiday Favorites

    December 14, 2016

    Wynton Marsalis leads the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra. (Image Credit: Frank Stewart /Jazz At Lincoln Center)

    In this festive annual tradition, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis offer swinging and soulful performances of classic holiday music.

    In addition to the selections heard on their Big Band Holidays album, the ensemble will perform new arrangements of songs both sacred and secular, from "Silver Bells" to favorites like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

    The occasion features Sherman Irby, an extraordinary saxophonist, arranger and composer whose most recent commissioned work was met with a standing ovation in Rose Theater.

    This year's holiday festivities are made complete with a very special guest, singer Catherine Russell. The next generation in a family of jazz royalty, Russell possesses a transcendent voice and uplifting spirit that have secured her spot as a Jazz at Lincoln Center audience favorite.

    NPR Music will stream a live performance of the JLCO's Big Band Holidays concert Wednesday, Dec. 14. This concert has now concluded.

    Copyright 2016 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • A Very Jon Batiste Christmas

    December 13, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.

    Jon Batiste carries his melodica with him pretty much all the time. "I always have it," he says. "It's kind of like my murse — a man purse." (Image Credit: Courtesy of the artist)

    Jon Batiste has two big gigs –- he's the band director for The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, and he's an artistic director at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. And now, he also has his very own holiday album: Christmas With Jon Batiste.

    There are so many iconic Christmas albums — from artists like Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby and Elvis. Batiste knew he had to differentiate himself somehow, and he says he was up to the challenge, eager to rearrange classic songs in unexpected ways. "I love remixing things and making them fit into a different context than what you imagined," he says. "Like taking 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' and putting it in the context of Rosetta Tharpe church with a bluegrass banjo and a soul singer like Judith Hill."

    Batiste says this kind of reimagining is central to his creative process. "I oftentimes choose songs ... that you would not imagine could be funkified or taken into a new sphere –- and do exactly that," he says.

    The pianist's connection to this project extends beyond the creative opportunities it presented. He comes from a deeply religious family, and he says he feels a spiritual connection to Christmas music. "These songs, to me, are sacred, because they're basically in line with my faith and everything that I believe in," he says.

    Batiste's family is legendary in the Louisiana jazz world. He was just 8 years old when he played his first show with the Batiste Brothers Band. "It wasn't as if we were pressured to be musicians," he says. "It's just kind of a part of the culture — so much so that when you're born in New Orleans, you're either gonna get a trumpet or a piano or a drum."

    Batiste's family actually did give him a drum to play in one of his earliest performances. He was the youngest musician on stage, and he says there could have been as many as 30 family members in the performance. In his eyes, the conga drum was a natural choice. "At that point, I may not know how to play any of the other instruments –- but more importantly, all the other instruments are taken," he says. "So give him the conga drum!"

    Christmas With Jon Batiste is available now through Amazon Music. Hear more from Batiste, who joined NPR's David Greene in conversation, at the audio link.

    Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

  • The Life Of Danny Barker, Who Saw Jazz As 'A Ride On A Royal Camel'

    December 10, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.

    Sporting a plastic cigar in his mouth, Danny Barker leads the Onward Brass Band in a parade at the 1974 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. (Image Credit: Michael P. Smith/The Historic New Orleans Collection)

    Danny Barker died in 1994, but he's having a bang-up December. The New Yorker is running a story online about the long and eventful life of the New Orleans banjo player and guitarist — and the Historic New Orleans Collection has just re-issued his memoir, A Life in Jazz.

    Danny Barker came up in New Orleans at a time when jazz was just getting started. Over the course of a more than 70-year career, he played with Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, Wynton Marsalis and Dr. John. In his later years, Barker started a youth band in New Orleans that would help bring the brass band tradition into the 21st century.

    Gwen Thompkins hosts the public radio show Music Inside Out. She wrote the New Yorker story, as well as the introduction to the new edition of Barker's memoir. She joined NPR's Scott Simon to talk about the man and his music; hear their conversation at the audio link, and read an edited version below.

    Scott Simon: So, Danny Barker was born in 1909. How did he find a life in jazz?

    Gwen Thompkins: He came from one of the great musical clans of New Orleans, the Barbarin family. His grandfather played in a brass band with some of the early greats of jazz: King Oliver, Louis Armstrong. And then also, Danny Barker's uncle, Paul Barbarin, he played with Armstrong as well as Henry "Red" Allen.

    So, Danny Barker tells this really terrific story: His family went up to see Paul Barbarin in Chicago when Danny Barker was about 10 years old — that's around 1919, right? He and his little relative, a 12-year-old, they're walking around one morning on the South Side of Chicago. They're peering into clubs, and they see a bunch of men and women kissing and canoodling on the dance floor of this club. And so once this 10-year-old Danny sees this sight — lovers on the dance floor — and he sees this band, he's like, "I want to be a musician. I want to do this full time." [laughs]

    Barker brought his banjo up from New Orleans, and then within just a few weeks that banjo was stolen. And that was kind of the best thing that ever happened to Danny Barker, because at that time, at the beginning of the 1930s, banjo was out in the big bands. And so guitar came in. He learned to play the guitar lickety split. And then he was able to compete with some of the great rhythm guitarists of that era.

    Danny Barker was also a songwriter. Tell me about the song "Save the Bones for Henry Jones."

    "Save the Bones for Henry Jones" was probably his best known, because it was recorded by Nat King Cole and Johnny Mercer. But you know, Danny Barker was the king of the double entendre, if not the triple entendre, in music. And he wrote a lot of novelty songs, particularly for his wife, who was a blues singer called Blue Lu Barker. She wasn't big star, but she was very good at what she did, which were sort of very naughty blues songs.

    Why did it take so long for Danny Barker's memoir, A Life in Jazz, to get published?

    When he began peddling this memoir — this is back in the '40s — there weren't an awful lot of African-American jazz musicians who were getting book deals. Even though Barker had more than just his life to talk about — he had done all kinds of research on the early days of jazz, looking up and interviewing older musicians, people who predated Louis Armstrong, for instance. As far as Barker was concerned, jazz was sort of a noble calling. And he wanted people to understand that. He wanted people in New Orleans to understand that this was our birthright; he wanted people around the world to understand that this is a marvelous gift of music from the United States.

    One of the fellas I interviewed is a trumpet player called Greg Stafford. And he told me that Barker once told him, "Playing this music is like taking a ride on a royal camel. That's a great ride, to be riding on a royal camel with the kings and queens. That's what it's like when you learn this music."

    Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.