October 8, 2015Jason Moran leads an expanded version of his band at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. (Image Credit: NPR)
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.
© 2015 WBGO
October 1, 2015
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.
© 2015 WBGO
September 24, 2015
Hi! We're back.
Today, we launch a new season of Jazz Night In America. We've spent our summer making a better version of the show, and we're excited to share it with you. In fact, our first episode, featuring Wayne Shorter with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, is now live.
We haven't changed much about why we're here. Jazz Night is still a partnership between WBGO, Jazz at Lincoln Center and NPR Music. It's still an hour-long public radio program, hosted by Christian McBride, that tells the stories behind original concert recordings. It's still a series of complementary and parallel video episodes that give backstage passes to those great performances. It's still a moving snapshot of the jazz scene today. It's still aimed at both the jazz-curious and dyed-in-the-wool aficionados. It still lives at npr.org/jazznight.
We're quite proud of what we did in Jazz Night Season 1. We made 36 radio programs and 29 concert films involving more than 350 musicians. But we saw Jazz Night Season 2 as an opportunity to make a Jazz Night version 2.0. We basically started from scratch when we launched this thing a year ago, and we learned a lot along the way. Here's what's different.
- We're Fully On-Demand. Though we enjoyed some successes with our Wednesday night webcasts, drawing an appointment crowd has always been hard online. Web video has become an on-demand streaming world. So apart from special live events, we'll be publishing video episodes on Thursday mornings and you can watch them on your own time. (By the end of Season One, we were already archiving most episodes in full, but now it's the main focus.) You'll also notice that the video episodes now appear next to archives of their corresponding radio episodes.
- We're Focusing On Documentary. Our audiences tell us they want to hear more of the stories behind the performances. On the radio side, we're working with new narrative styles, and host Christian McBride is doing more interviews himself. In our videos, we're taking a cue from the radio program and dedicating more time to context — about the musicians, the venues, the tunes, the fans, the larger dynamics at play — while still preserving full-song glimpses into amazing performances.
- We're Shorter And Less Frequent (Visually). We found that concert videos of an hour or more were a lot to ask of audiences — especially on-demand. So our new model for Jazz Night video episodes acknowledges that sometimes less is more. Each will run about around 30 minutes. Our focus on getting better also means budgeting more time for production, so we'll be presenting new episodes every two weeks — about 15 in all between late September 2015 and early May 2016. In between full episodes, we'll also be presenting more documentary shorts, like when Miguel Zenón explained polyrhythms to us, or when Steven Bernstein and Henry Butler showed us how they worked together. And do note this applies to video only: We're still creating 32 new hour-long radio episodes between October of this year and next.
- We're Traveling More. For Season 2, we've visited or planned trips to Panama City, New Orleans, Seattle (again), Dallas, Chicago (two episodes!), and a program featuring Christian McBride himself from his hometown of Philadelphia. More location shoots are in the works. In our search for jazz throughout the country, we've made it a point to go farther afield.
- We're On YouTube. In addition to npr.org/jazznight, we've created a new YouTube channel. We hope to create a more easily searchable video index — in fact, we've already posted many full episodes and excerpts from our Season 1 archives. YouTube also lets us create more shareable segments within full-episode playlists. And it's where eyeballs are already: Before we said anything about this in public, some of our uploads had more than 10,000 views. You can subscribe to see them all at youtube.com/JazzNightinAmerica.
To recap: Jazz Night In America is going to be better, richer, shorter, on-demand, on YouTube and less confusing. We hope it's a more rewarding experience for everyone.
So what's all this going to look and sound like? Well, in addition to our first episode, check out our Season 2 schedule, including Jason Moran, Marquis Hill and Arturo O'Farrill leading the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. And that's with more than half of the video lineup yet to be announced. Again, we'll be releasing on Thursdays, but you can check them out whenever you have time.
We still believe this music is profound — that its strength comes from experience, study and creative genius. This year, we've made it a point to illuminate its strengths better. Enjoy.
© 2015 WBGO
September 24, 2015
New episodes of Jazz Night In America are released on Thursday mornings. Every week, a one-hour program is sent to public radio stations throughout the U.S. (and archived online). Every other week, a concert documentary video, a companion to that week's radio program, is released online. Check your local listings to hear the radio program, and visit npr.org/jazznight to watch the video episodes.
Here is a list of upcoming programs.
- Sept. 24: Wayne's World (radio + video). Wayne Shorter, 82, is widely acknowledged as of jazz's most important composers, as well as one of its premier saxophonists. He's also one of its most original thinkers, whose inspirations can be short as one sentence or as broad as a musing about the nature of the universe. Jazz Night catches him as a featured soloist with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, where band members devised special arrangements from his extensive catalog. And we travel to his home to hear more about his musical inspirations.
- Oct. 1: Wein's World (radio + video short). Impresario, producer, musician, jazz fanatic: Such are the many titles of George Wein. The man who started the Newport Jazz Festival — and changed concertgoing forever — turns 90 this month, and Jazz Night visited him for a career-spanning interview. On air, we hear his handpicked selections from the 2015 Newport Jazz Festival, featuring Tom Harrell, Bria Skonberg and Scott Robinson. And online, see a short documentary about his legacy.
- Oct. 8: Jason Moran's 'In My Mind: Monk At Town Hall, 1959' (radio + video). "Thelonious Monk is the most important musician. Period!" That's pianist Jason Moran on "the first pianist who made me want to be a pianist." So Moran decided to present a personal reflection on Monk's music, reconfiguring the 1959 large ensemble concert that Monk presented at Town Hall in New York City. Ever the interdisciplinary thinker, Moran also gathered photographs and archival audio recordings to present a visual companion piece to his new arrangements. In time for Monk's birthday anniversary, Jazz Night takes in the full multimedia presentation that is 'In My Mind' from the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
- Oct. 15: To Be Announced (radio).
- Oct. 22: Cuba: The Conversation Continued (radio + video). In the last 12 months, composer and bandleader Arturo O'Farrill has been to Havana twice: once to witness the reopening of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, and once to record a new album. Cuba: The Conversation Continued, continues his Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra's mission to expand what it means to be "Latin jazz" with bold new ideas. It also continues the work of his father, the composer-arranger Chico O'Farrill, who left Havana for New York City and helped to pioneer Afro-Cuban jazz in the first place. Jazz Night speaks with Arturo after he presented music from The Conversation Continued live at Symphony Space in New York.
- Oct. 29: Repeat (radio). Kamasi Washington performs at the release party of The Epic in Los Angeles.
- Nov. 5: The Marquis Hill Blacktet In Chicago (radio + video). Trumpeter Marquis Hill has shot to international renown recently, especially after winning the Thelonious Monk Competition — a sort of international Heisman Trophy for young jazz artists. But it takes a village to raise a musician. Jazz Night caught up with Hill when he returned to his native Chicago for a string of shows, touring his old South Side haunts, interviewing his old teachers and catching a rehearsal. Then we got to see it all come together at the Jazz Showcase downtown in a performance by Hill's tight working band, the Blacktet.
- Nov. 12: To Be Announced (radio)(video coming in December).
- Nov. 19: Sabertooth Saturday Night (radio + video). Every year for about 23 years, one group has held down a midnight to 5 a.m. gig on Saturday nights (or Sunday mornings). It's a quirky band, co-led by saxophonist Pat Mallinger and Cameron Pfiffner, which swings hard (and a little off-kilter) for hardcore fans, the rowdy drunks and the musicians coming off their own gigs. And it happens in the jazz haven of Chicago, in a club called the Green Mill which doesn't look to have changed much since its days as a Prohibition-era speakeasy. Jazz Night follows Pat and Cameron to the gig, then stays up all night with the Sabertooth organ quartet.
- Nov. 26: Repeat (radio).
- Dec. 3: Wayne Horvitz And The Seattle Scene (radio + video). The keyboardist and composer Wayne Horvitz first made his name in New York, but for over 20 years, he's been synonymous with his adopted hometown of Seattle. He's one of the key players of the city's improvised music community — as a performer, a bandleader, a venue operator, and a teacher at several levels. Jazz Night returns to Seattle to track his influence on the city's jazz ecosystem through his students, his collaborators, and a concert he leads during the annual Earshot Jazz Festival of music inspired by late local poet Richard Hugo.
Check back here for more listings.
© 2015 WBGO
September 24, 2015Jazz legend Wayne Shorter accepts the applause of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra during a retrospective of his music in May. (Image Credit: Frank Stewart/Jazz at Lincoln Center)
Wayne Shorter is a living legend — a saxophonist, composer and lifelong original thinker. He's never been afraid to be different, which is perhaps why he's accomplished so much. Among his accomplishments:
- Music director for Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers
- Member of the Miles Davis Quintet in the mid-1960s
- Co-founder of the band Weather Report
- Bandleader and recording artist for more than 50 years
- Winner of 10 Grammy Awards, including one for lifetime achievement
He's revered by many generations of jazz lovers, including the members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. They created new arrangements of tunes from throughout his career. Then they performed those arrangements with him in May.
"He didn't have any requests for changes of anything, amazingly, as I reflect upon it," says reedman Victor Goines. "He was able to take what we had — even though he hasn't played some of those tunes in decades, I'm sure — and interpret them and make them as fresh as anything that is being written today."
Shorter frequently revisits some of his earlier compositions. But his objective isn't retrospective, or to recreate his older style. He always makes it a point to try to make his music new again.
"It's almost like as an adult to go outside and play with some other adults like they used to do when they were kids," Shorter says.
The man who called himself "Mr. Weird" as a kid is a huge film buff and loves science fiction. He's also a practicing Nichiren Buddhist, and that pushes him forward too.
"Hon Nim Myo," Shorter says. "It means from this moment, from this moment forward is the first day of my life. And don't, we don't lie and sit on accolades and rewards and awards and what-do-you-call-it, trophies, Grammys and this and that and bank accounts and fame and all that. That's the worst kind of fuel that you can rely on. The best kind of fuel that you can rely on is Hon Nim Myo. You start from now."
In this episode of Jazz Night In America, we hear selections from the concerts he performed with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in New York. And we visit Shorter at his house in Southern California to find out more about his many sources of inspiration.
"I always tell the kids when they ask, 'What do you think about when you play?'" Shorter says. "I say, 'All right, let's try to play what you wish for.' Play what you wish for. Play what you wish for the world to be."
© 2015 WBGO