• Randy Weston At 90

    July 1, 2016

    Randy Weston. (Image Credit: NPR)

    The eminent pianist Randy Weston turned 90 this year, and he enjoyed an early celebration at the 2016 Panama Jazz Festival, where he was the guest of honor. Weston, whose father was born in Panama, has long celebrated his African roots in his life and music. His career spans the better part of 70 years.

    Jazz Night in America listens to the Randy Weston quintet at the 2016 Panama Jazz Festival. Host Christian McBride also traveled to Weston's home to talk about the set in Panama, meeting Thelonious Monk and growing up in Brooklyn.

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

  • The Ray Charles Songbook

    July 1, 2016

    Ray Charles and Marian McPartland. (Image Credit: Courtesy of Vanguard)

    At age 21, trumpeter Kenny Rampton (now of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra) launched his touring career with a nine-month stint in Ray Charles' band. Earlier this year, Rampton honored his former bandleader by presenting the most authentic Ray Charles experience possible. The band was full of Ray Charles alumni (including backing vocalists The Raelettes), the set lists were faithful recreations of actual Ray Charles sets, and the charts were transcribed from the original tour music.

    Jazz Night In America checks out Rampton and the band as they present The Ray Charles Songbook, live in concert from Jazz at Lincoln Center.

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

  • Bernie Worrell, 'Wizard Of Woo,' Dies At 72

    June 24, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.

    Bernie Worrell performs at the Black Rock Coalition Presents: All The Woo In The World — An All-Star Celebration benefit concert on April 4 in New York City. The concert was raising money for Worrell's medical costs. (Image Credit: Al Pereira/WireImage)

    Keyboardist and composer Bernie Worrell, who helped shape the sound of the band Parliament-Funkadelic and influenced countless artists across a wide range of genres, died Friday at 72.

    Worrell announced earlier this year that he had been diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer.

    His musical life began early — according to his official biography, he started studying piano at age 3, wrote his first concerto at age 8 and performed with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., at 10.

    The classically trained keyboardist (he studied at Juilliard and the New England Conservatory of Music) made his name — and an indelible mark on music — in the world of P-Funk.

    Worrell, aka "The Wizard of Woo," was an early member of Parliament-Funkadelic, George Clinton's sprawling, theatrical and wildly influential funk collective.

    The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame notes that Parliament and Funkadelic "prefigured everything from rap and hip-hop to techno and alternative," with latter-day disciples including Prince and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Worrell was one of the key collaborators shaping the sounds of the collective.

    He was particularly famous for his innovative embrace of the sounds of synthesizers.

    In the 1980s, Worrell helped reshape the sound of the Talking Heads and became a regular member of their expanded lineup.

    Even if you don't know Worrell, you've probably heard his work. As a studio musician he contributed to scores of albums, and P-Funk songs are frequently sampled on hip-hop tracks.

    In 1991, when his second solo album came out, Worrell spoke to reporter Andy Lyman for Morning Edition. Worrell said his mastery of musical fundamentals was central to his genre-mashing work.

    "The art of creating is not just pushing a button," he said. "We're going to lose
    the art of creating — composing — because they won't even know how to make a chord. The chords are already just on a button. What is the root? What's the third? What's the fifth of the chord?

    "I feel that a lot of artists and parents who are interested in music should get music back into the mainstream in school systems," he said. "That's being lost also."

    You can hear that whole piece, which also explores the social awareness of Parliament/Funkadelic as well as Worrell's lasting influence on the Talking Heads, here:

    In January, Worrell announced that he had been diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer. An online fundraiser and star-studded benefit concert helped cover his medical expenses — and gave many in the music community a chance to honor his life while he was still there to hear it.

    George Clinton and Bootsy Collins of P-Funk, David Byrne and Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads, Fred Schneider of the B-52s, Buckethead, Living Colour and Questlove, among others, performed at the "All The WOO In The World" benefit concert in April. And Worrell played too, of course.

    The crowd shouted "We love you, Bernie!" as he struggled for words, holding a proclamation from the mayor of Newark, N.J., in his honor. "I don't know what to --" Worrell said.

    "Thank you," he finally said. "I love you, too."

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

  • Beyond Country And Blues: The Jazz Legacy Of Houston, Texas

    June 23, 2016

    Though not well known for its jazz scene, Houston, Texas has produced some of America's best jazz musicians, including Jason Moran. (Image Credit: Courtesy of the artist)

    When you think of the sound of Houston, Texas, you might think of country and western music. Maybe you've heard of bluesmen like Johnny Copeland and Albert Collins or gospel stars like Yolanda Adams. Or, you know, Beyoncé?

    But Houston has also produced some of the biggest jazz musicians of today, according to the host of Jazz Night in America, composer and bassist Christian McBride.

    "It seems to me that over the last 15 to 20 years, there has been an onslaught of these great musicians from Houston on the jazz scene," McBride says, pointing to the rise of artists like Jason Moran, Robert Glasper and Eric Harland. "All of a sudden you're thinking, where did all these cats from Houston come from all of a sudden? Especially considering Houston is not always a usual stop on most guys' tour schedules, how are all these bad cats coming from out there?"

    With a little help from Jason Moran himself, McBride joined NPR's Audie Cornish to consider some of the brightest jazz stars in Houston's history, including saxophonist Billy Harper, pianist Helen Sung and more. Hear their full conversation at the audio link.

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

  • Return Of The Jazz Harp

    June 17, 2016

    Brandee Younger and Edmar Castañeda. (Image Credit: Courtesy of the artists)

    The harp may be one of the most ancient musical instruments, but it isn't particularly prominent in jazz. Despite the mid-century emergence of innovators Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane, the harp has remained on the fringe. But two contemporary performers are changing that: Brandee Younger, who explores the textual modes defined by Ashby and Coltrane, and Edmar Castañeda, a Colombian-born folkloric virtuoso.

    Jazz Night In America splits the hour with two concerts from Jazz at Lincoln Center, featuring Younger and Castañeda, respectively.

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