• Why Everyone Wants To Record 'Live At The Village Vanguard'

    October 22, 2015

    Outside the Village Vanguard in New York. (Image Credit: John Rogers for NPR)

    When it comes to live jazz, there are sacred places: Preservation Hall in New Orleans, Baker's Keyboard Lounge in Detroit, Ronnie Scott's in London. These are legendary venues for artists and fans. But nothing is quite like a certain triangular basement in New York City: The Village Vanguard.

    Bassist Christian McBride, host of NPR's Jazz Night In America, recorded there for his latest album. He's added his name to more than 100 albums recorded Live At The Village Vanguard.

    "It's not a very glamorous place," McBride tells All Things Considered host Audie Cornish. "I'll put it this way: The drapes in that club haven't been changed in probably 40 years. I say that in the most loving way."

    Decor aside, the club — with its capacity of 123 — has seen recordings led by Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Keith Jarrett, Joe Henderson and Cannonball Adderley, among many other greats.

    "As a jazz musician, it hits you. [John] Coltrane walked down these steps. Miles Davis walked down these steps. Dexter Gordon, Bill Evans, all of these legends walked down these stairs. I think any musician, when they record a live record there at the Vanguard — it really is all about the legacy."

    When Coltrane recorded at the Vanguard in 1961, he was starting a new chapter in his career with a new lineup to his working band. McBride says it's hard not to think about "Chasin' The Trane" — or any number of fantastic live recordings — when walking down those stairs.

    "You get a true sense of what that artist was feeling at that particular moment — mistakes, warts and all," McBride says. "I love hearing those things."

    McBride also highlighted the Bill Evans Trio's performance, as heard on Sunday At The Village Vanguard, as one of his favorites ever made at the club. Among the many storylines was that it was the final recording session for the influential bassist Scott LaFaro, who died 10 days after the performance.

    "Bill Evans brought a certain sense of quietude and crystalline beauty to jazz at a certain time where combos were really — they still sort of had a big-band feel to them, like a compact big band," McBride says. "Whereas the way that Bill Evans played the piano, it was fragile."

    That history makes it a rite of passage to play the Village Vanguard, especially as a bandleader. McBride says it's akin to being welcomed to a family, or being "sanctioned." That has to do in part with the club's booking policy.

    "The Vanguard still handpicks what talent plays there because they like you," he says. "So when you play there, you certainly get a sense of validation."

    McBride has been playing that room in various capacities since 1990. But even he admits that, for his first time recording there as a bandleader, he felt the pressure.

    "All of a sudden, when those microphones went up, I had this sense of, 'We'd better bring it harder than we've brought it anywhere else before,'" he says. "'This is going down as a document at the world's most legendary jazz club. We gotta come with it, and come with it hard.'"

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  • Arturo O'Farrill Presents 'Cuba: The Conversation Continues'

    October 22, 2015

    Arturo O'Farrill leads the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra in concert. (Image Credit: David Garten/Courtesy of Afro Latin Jazz Alliance)

    The pianist and composer Arturo O'Farrill knows better than almost anyone that more than 50 years of a trade embargo between the U.S. and Cuba hasn't fully prevented the exchange of jazz between the two countries. He's known it since he first visited Cuba in 2002.

    "The first thing that I encountered was great 'goo-gobs' of young jazz musicians who worked really hard to master this craft that we thought was our own," O'Farrill says.

    Not that he's happy about the blockade. Years' worth of fruitful dialogue between musicians has been hampered, and as the leader of a big band known as the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, that's a problem he wants to address.

    "I think that the more that the Cuban musicians and American musicians interact, the less of this unnatural balance will be in place," he says. "We need a new era — we desperately need a new era."

    O'Farrill was raised and lives in New York City, though his roots are certainly Cuban. His father was the late Chico O'Farrill, a composer/bandleader and Cuban emigre who was instrumental in the development of Afro-Cuban jazz in the first place.

    Chico O'Farrill was there when the virtuoso Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo was working with American trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie — a thought that continues to inspire Arturo O'Farrill today. Though neither spoke the other's language, they communicated through their roots in Afro-Western music.

    "Discovering that in each other is the roots of each other's music was a moment of incredible clarity for both of them," O'Farrill says. "That conversation began the discovery of something that's far deeper than anything either one of them realized, and it's a conversation that was not stopped by revolution, by death, by ideology, by poverty, by commerce. It was not stopped."

    Arturo O'Farrill's latest record with the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra is titled Cuba: The Conversation Continues. He got six composers to envision, in their own ways, the continuation of a musical conversation that Gillespie and Pozo started. And he recorded it in Havana — just days after President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. was seeking to normalize relations with Cuba.

    Jazz Night In America took in a live performance of music from Cuba: The Conversation Continues at Symphony Space in New York City — with footage of the making of the record in Cuba, as well as interviews with some of the band's special guests.


    Arturo O'Farrill, piano and conductor, with the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra: Seneca Black, trumpet; Jim Seeley, trumpet; John Bailey, trumpet; Jonathan Powell, trumpet; Kajiwara Tokunori, trombone; Rafi Malkiel, trombone; Frank Cohen, trombone; Earl McIntyre, bass trombone; Bobby Percelli, alto saxophone; David DeJesus, alto saxophone; Ivan Renta, tenor saxophone; Peter Brainin, tenor saxophone; Jason Marshall, baritone saxophone; Carly Maldonado, bongos; Tony Rosa, congas; Gregg August, bass; Vince Cherico, drums. Featuring Rudresh Mahanthappa, alto saxophone; Kalí Peña-Rodriguez, trumpet; Adam O'Farrill, trumpet; Alexis Bosch, piano; Cotó (Juan de la Cruz Antomarchi Padilla), tres and vocals.

    Copyright 2015 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit .

  • Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: Tiny Desk Concert

    October 9, 2015

    Tiny Desk Concert with Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah. (Image Credit: Julia Reihs/NPR)

    Artists don't usually tell long, rambling stories at the Tiny Desk, and if they do, those stories don't usually make the final cut. But this one felt different. It was about the time Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, a young black man, says he was stopped by New Orleans police late at night for no reason other than to harass and intimidate him. And how his pride almost made him do something ill-advised about it. And how he finally channeled that pent-up frustration into a piece of music whose long-form title is "Ku Klux Police Department."

    "K.K.P.D." was the emotional peak of the septet's performance, though it wasn't a new tune. That's notable, because Scott stopped by the Tiny Desk on the very day his new album came out. It was played by something of a new band, though: Flutist Elena Pinderhughes, saxophonist Braxton Cook and guitarist Dominic Minix are new, younger additions to the group. It had new textures, too: Drummer Corey Fonville (another new member) used a djembe as a bass drum, and also brought a MIDI pad so he could emulate the sound of a drum machine. The effect was something like an evocation of African roots, juxtaposed with a trap beat.

    The first two numbers were, in fact, from Scott's new album Stretch Music. That's his name for the particular type of jazz fusion he's up to: something more seamless than a simple collision of genre signifiers; something whose DNA is already hybridized and freely admits sonic elements which potentially "stretch" jazz's purported boundaries. (You may note that he showed up in a Joy Division sleeveless T-shirt and gold chain.) It's sleek and clearly modern, awash in guitar riffs, but also bold and emotionally naked. Scott is particularly good at getting you to feel the energy he sends pulsing through his horn, and he never shies away from going all-in on a solo. The least we could offer was to let him explain himself in doing so.

    Stretch Music is available now. (iTunes) (Amazon)

    Set List

    • "TWIN"
    • "West Of The West"
    • "K.K.P.D."


    Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, trumpet; Elena Pinderhughes, flute; Braxton Cook, alto saxophone; Lawrence Fields, piano; Dominic Minix, guitar; Kris Funn, bass; Corey Fonville, percussion


    Producers: Patrick Jarenwattananon, Morgan Walker; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographer: Morgan Walker, Nick Michael, Cameron Robert; Production Assistant: Julia Reihs; photo by Julia Reihs

    For more Tiny Desk Concerts, subscribe to our podcast.

    Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

  • Jason Moran Plays Thelonious Monk's Town Hall Concert

    October 8, 2015

    Jason Moran leads an expanded version of his band at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. (Image Credit: NPR)

    "Thelonious Monk is the most important musician, period," Jason Moran says. He laughs out loud. "In all the world. Period!"

    Moran is in a dressing room deep within the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., where he's the artistic director for jazz. He's not really wearing that hat at the moment, though. He's talking as a musician himself — and very personally, at that.

    "OK, in my world, he is the most important musician," Moran says. He clarifies: Thelonious Monk was his chief inspiration as a 13-year-old in Houston; Monk was the musician who made him want to be a pianist. "I heard Thelonious Monk in that time when everything about me was transitioning, and it was the thing I could grab on to and focus on through my teenage years that pulled me through that time of wondering about everything that a teenager wonders about."

    He's still obsessed with the pianist and composer, as well he ought to be. Monk left such a strikingly distinct body of work and personal style that one could dig deep yet hardly scratch the surface.

    A few years ago, Jason Moran developed a tribute concert to Monk. Moran being who he is, it was more than a simple tribute. First, he started at a particular concert held at New York City's Town Hall in 1959 — notable because it featured Thelonious Monk backed by a large ensemble which had rehearsed intently for the date. Then he kept digging. He found audio tapes and photographs from the rehearsals. ("It's how to learn Monk from Monk," Moran says.) He looked into Monk's personal history. And he assembled a new band to do much more than re-create the music from that evening: He wanted players to perform his original arrangements of those tunes, along with a video projection by David Dempewolf.

    Jazz Night In America took in a recent performance of Jason Moran's In My Mind: Monk At Town Hall, 1959 at the Kennedy Center. Watch highlights from the concert in our video feature — and on the radio program, hear more music and learn more about Monk's original presentation.

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  • Wein's World: George Wein At 90

    October 1, 2015

    George Wein greets an artist at the 2015 Newport Jazz Festival. (Image Credit: NPR)

    There's no one person responsible for creating music festivals — or for making them such a huge part of how we witness live performances today. But starting in 1954, one person developed a recipe for their secret sauce.

    George Wein still goes to his signature event every year, checking out performances and greeting the artists. These days, he does it on a golf cart which drives him between stages — he's about to turn 90, after all — but he says he takes his job as producer very seriously.

    "If I don't hear the music, I don't know what my festival is all about," Wein says. "So I have to hear the music."

    Wein was already running a jazz club in Boston — and playing some piano himself — when he met a wealthy tobacco heiress named Elaine Lorillard. She spent her summers with New England's rich and famous in the seaside town of Newport, R.I. She thought jazz could entertain where the New York Philharmonic couldn't. So she and her husband laid out a line of credit, Wein booked some big names (Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday), and the Newport Jazz Festival was born.

    Its success led to its return the next year, and the year after that. To Paul Gonsalves' 27 ecstatic choruses in "Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue." To the Newport Folk Festival and Bob Dylan "going electric." To crowd riots which threatened and caused cancellations. To the Newport Jazz Festival's relocation to New York City. To its return to Rhode Island in the 1980s. And, in all that dedication, to the spread of outdoor music festivals worldwide.

    George Wein could have shifted his focus and cashed in on larger, more lucrative rock-oriented festivals. But he's now operating his Newport Jazz Festival as a non-profit so it can continue long after he's gone — and so he can still run it the way he wants to.

    "Look, I'm going to be 90 years old and I'm still doing what I love," Wein says. "I guess my survival philosophy is working."

    In this radio episode of Jazz Night In America, hear more from the 2015 Newport Jazz Festival, including performances from Bria Skonberg, Scott Robinson and Tom Harrell. And, in this video short, watch a portrait of George Wein's career through the years.

    Copyright 2015 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit .