• Throwback Thursday: Five Great Jazz Tiny Desk Concerts

    April 28, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.

    This Saturday, April 30, marks the fifth anniversary of International Jazz Day, a celebration organized by UNESCO to celebrate jazz across the globe. To do our part, we're highlighting some of our favorite jazz musicians to play behind Bob Boilen's desk. Rising stars, young virtuosos, NEA Jazz Masters and veteran ensembles alike have played in NPR's D.C. offices. Here are five standout jazz performances at the Tiny Desk.

    Preservation Hall Jazz Band

    What better place to start this list than with the birthplace of jazz? New Orleans' Preservation Hall Jazz Band plays in the traditional style of its city, a gumbo of gospel, street marching, blaring brass and so much more.

    Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah

    Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah was born in New Orleans and grew up playing with his uncle, saxophonist and Mardi Gras Indian Donald Harrison, Jr. His aesthetic vision, which he calls "Stretch Music," borrows across musical styles and blurs the elements into a unified whole. His music is also dedicated to protest, as in the ferocious number "K.K.P.D." You can hear the intensity of his purpose in every note he blows.

    Sun Ra Arkestra

    One of the greatest holidays in recent memory came after inviting the jazz astronauts of the Sun Ra Arkestra to play the Tiny Desk on Halloween 2014. Led by then-91 year old alto sax player Marshall Allen, the costumed cosmic explorers played a set that pushed the boundaries of tone and color. It's pretty out of this world.

    Edmar Castañeda

    When you think of jazz, the last instrument you might think of is the harp. But Colombian harpist Edmar Castañeda finds seamless ways of blending jazz melodies with Colombian folk rhythms.

    Gary Burton & Julian Lage

    Gary Burton is one of those undisputed masters on his instrument. He popularized the four mallet technique and brought an unheard harmonic approach to the vibraphone. He played with a tiny desk alumnus, guitar prodigy Julian Lage. The two spin tunes of pure beauty and dedicated an impromptu blues for Bob's Tiny Desk.

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

  • First Listen: Gregory Porter, 'Take Me To The Alley'

    April 28, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.

    Gregory Porter's new album, Take Me To The Alley, comes out May 6. (Image Credit: Shawn Peters/Courtesy of the artist)

    Last summer, the massively popular British electronic duo Disclosure released a new album, and chose a song called "Holding On" as its lead single. It performed well on the U.S. and U.K. dance charts and spawned no fewer than five official remixes. It also featured the vocals of Gregory Porter, which means it brought someone theretofore known as a jazz singer onto, for instance, the beaches of Ibiza.

    Full Disclosure: You won't get it here on Porter's new album. You will get a slower, acoustic, reharmonized version of "Holding On," arranged in the way Porter usually makes records. Other than a few supplemental musicians, Take Me To The Alley is driven by his working band of many years and the producer (Kamau Kenyatta) with whom he's worked since the 1990s. This is good, for that crew has developed a winning and popular formula, a pleasing summation of groove traditions where Porter's voice can overpower, manhandle, envelop and soothe, all at once.

    You'd have to mention Porter's songwriting in that equation, and that's featured a bit more than usual here. He's got a clever way with parable and metaphor, often to incite some kind of social comment, as with the compassion of the visiting dignitary in the title track or the pan-African call in "French African Queen." There's a song for Porter's young son ("Don't Lose Your Steam") and one about his young son ("Day Dream"). Porter has roots in the black church — his mother (the inspiration for "More Than A Woman") was a minister of the COGIC denomination — and "In Heaven" is a song his family sings to departed kin. Naturally, those gospel roots often transmutate into songs about various romances, and there's more than a handful of those songs here, too.

    Sonically, the band concocts a variety of pockets, both barnstorming and languid; there's little concern about fashion or complexity, just execution. And, of course, there's Porter's voice, which — what's left to say when the brawn/warmth dualism is so self-evident? Take Me To The Alley doesn't break new frontiers for Porter, nor for the genre delimiter he's said to represent, but those aren't the aesthetic ideals it seeks to reach. If forced, you'd call it pop-jazz, except it's the rare kind, with a simplicity unblemished by artistic compromise. Or maybe it's just that the now-familiar sound of his own design has become genuinely popular, even before Disclosure entered the picture, and it's a pleasure to see that sort of talent find its own way.

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

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  • Ralph Peterson Keeps The Beat On WBGO

    April 27, 2016. Posted by Josh Landes.

    Descended from a long line of drummers, Ralph Peterson has kept the family business alive and well over a career that's included Art Blakey's mentorship, and worked with Terence Blanchard, and both Branford and Wynton Marsalis. Ralph talked with Gary Walker about his new record, his life in jazz, and more here on WBGO.


  • Papo Vazquez Talks Four Decades Of Latin Jazz

    April 27, 2016. Posted by Josh Landes.

    Papo Vazquez has written and performed music of all stripes, but his love of Latin Jazz has burned the brightest over the last forty years. He came to WBGO sit down with Gary Walker and unpack his inspirations, compositions, and motivations.


  • Billy Childs live from the Yamaha Piano Salon

    April 27, 2016. Posted by Corey Goldberg.

    childs 2(Photo credit: Rob Davidson)

    Kicking off our series of exclusive live performances from the Yamaha Piano Salon is multi Grammy award winning pianist and composer Billy Childs. Childs's career includes tenures performing with Freddie Hubbard, arranging for Dianne Reeves, and composing for the Classical concert stage. This concert features his arrangements of the songs of Laura Nyro performed by a band including saxophonist Steve Wilson, bassist Ben Williams, drummer Billy Kilson, and singers Becca Stevens and Alicia Olatuja.

    childs 3
    (Photo credit: Rob Davidson)

    Michael Bourne hosts this evening of music from an oft-underrated songwriter re-imagined by master performers.

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    (Photo credit: Rob Davidson)