Music

David Tallacksen / WBGO

Saxophonist Chico Freeman started his jazz life as a kid on the front porch of his Chicago home, peering in the open window as his father Von, and his guitarist uncle George held jam sessions that started by day and lit up the night.

Chico would go on to tour with McCoy Tyner, Sam Rivers, Dizzy Gillespie and Bobby Hutcherson — and work with blues giants Buddy Guy and Memphis Slim. It’s all there, which is the reason so many listeners readily go where Chico steers the ship; it’s guaranteed to be an engaging musical journey.

Courtesy of the artist

I first met Grady Tate in the fall of 1968 at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

John Rogers / Courtesy of the artist

This morning, the latest crop of MacArthur Fellows was announced — the so-called "genius" awards. Sometimes, a MacArthur fellowship is given as a capstone to honor a long, glorious career. But one of this year's winners, Tyshawn Sorey, is just 37 years old.

Greg Allen

Thelonious Monk changed the way musicians approach jazz. It's not a legacy to be viewed in a museum, but a living body of work for artists to challenge themselves today, finding new arrangements and expressions, surprising themselves at every Monk call and response.

Frans Schellekens / Redferns

Grady Tate, a crisp, swinging drummer who also enjoyed crossover success as a vocalist in a prolific recording career spanning more than 50 years, died on Sunday night at his home in the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan.

He was 85. His death was confirmed to NPR by Wendy Oxenhorn, executive director of the Jazz Foundation of America, which provides a range of assistance to musicians. No cause was given.

Cristina Gaudalupe

Reid Anderson from The Bad Plus says he didn't always have a knack for writing elegant, catchy tunes. As the bassist reveals on The Checkout, the composer says he discovered his voice by doing the opposite: writing overly complicated melodies.


Steve Mundinger / Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz

Thelonious Monk, the incomparably influential jazz composer and pianist, would have turned 100 today, and across the country, a healthy range of commemorative tributes is already underway. But the flagship event that bears his name has quietly been put on hold: the next Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, which at one point had been scheduled for this week at the Kennedy Center in Washington, will not happen in 2017.

William P. Gottlieb / Library of Congress via flickr.com

Take Five celebrates Monk at 100 with new tracks by Johnny O'Neal, Wadada Leo Smith, Barry Altschul and The 3Dom Factor, John McNeil & Mike Fahie, and Sam Newsome with Jean-Michel Pilc.

Roger Thomas

Famoudou Don Moye was in his early 20s, an expatriate jazz drummer working in Paris, when he got the invitation to join the Art Ensemble of Chicago. With it came a friendly admonition, from the group's trumpeter and most inveterate trickster, Lester Bowie.

"Lester told me: 'Don't even mess with this if you don't want to be part of history,'" Moye recalls, laughing. "This was early 1970, when I was just coming into the band. Of course I said, 'Hell, yeah!'"

Shahar Azran / Getty Images

It's hard to overstate the importance of both Bebo Valdes and Chico O'Farrill to Afro-Cuban jazz and Cuban music in general.

Valdes, who died in 2013 at age 94, was winning Grammys and Latin Grammys for his music right up near the end of his life. One contemporary Cuban pianist called him "the entire history of Cuban piano."

Justin Bettman

Antonio Sánchez, the virtuoso drummer and composer, can often be found on tour — tending rhythmic fires for guitarist Pat Metheny; leading Migration, his own dynamic post-bop band; or performing his solo drum score at screenings of Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), the 2014 Alejandro G. Iñárritu film. 

Jimmy Katz

The Checkout Live at Berklee kicks off its new season with guitarist Lage Lund. Watch him showcase all new compositions during this intimate performance — working with drummer Johnathan Blake, with whom he has played with for over a decade, and bassist Jared Henderson, a new member of his trio.

Performing a tribute to a great artist is always a tricky business. You don’t want to imitate, but you do want to show how much you’ve been inspired by the artist you’re celebrating. You're thanking the artist for all the echoes of the artist in your own voice. And that’s what so lovingly resounds in the voice of Lauren Kinhan on A Sleepin’ Bee, her tribute to Nancy Wilson. 

Courtesy of Mainstream Records

Mainstream Records, an independent label active in the 1960s and ‘70s, has been revived by a celebrity benefactor.

Adama Jalloh / Brownswood Recordings

Zara McFarlane, “Pride”

Zara McFarlane enjoys a sterling reputation as a soul-jazz vocalist in the UK, where she self-produced her first EP in 2010, and has won an array of prestigious awards since. So far she’s more of a blank in the States, but that could change on the strength of Arise, her searching, audacious and authoritative third album, just out on Brownswood Recordings.

Courtesy of Patty Farmer

Hugh Hefner, who created Playboy magazine and turned it into a media and entertainment giant, has died at the age of 91.


It was a Thelonious Monk composition — the elegant and wistful ballad "'Round Midnight" — that first made Joey Alexander a topic of conversation.

Robert Birnbach / 2017 San Jose Jazz Summer Fest

Jazz singing has always been a tree with firm roots, but a wild entanglement of branches. Its sound and shape are mutable, prone to outside influence and local inflection.

Sarah Geledi

He calls himself one of Mississippi’s last true original bluesmen. And this true American original has the sound and story to back it up.

Anna Webber

Christian McBride doesn’t need a big band to make a big impression, as he’s shown us countless times — on the bass, on the bandstand and in the booth. But when he finally did assemble a big band of his own, he saw  results: The Good Feeling, on Mack Avenue, won the 2011 Grammy for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album.

John Coltrane
EVENING STANDARD/GETTY IMAGES

John Coltrane, the revered saxophonist and composer, would be turning 91 this week. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of his death, at the age of 40.

Had he lived, he might have been astonished to witness how the power and impact of his musical legacy continues to grow. This year, a documentary film by John Scheinfeld, Chasing Trane, has been screening worldwide to considerable acclaim. (Full disclosure: I appear in the film several times.) And just this month, a beautiful mural of Coltrane was unveiled in North Philadelphia, near his childhood home.

Rich Doran

Some jazz welcomes you in. Other jazz seems to announce, "Now this is happening, with or without you."

Pianist Matt Mitchell's work as a sideman — with trumpeter Dave Douglas, saxophonists Tim Berne and Rudresh Mahanthappa, and many others — spans this spectrum, but when he's the one in charge, there's a good chance you're in for the latter. His music is, simply put, a handful.

Pete Turner / Courtesy of Pete Turner Studio

Pete Turner, a master photographer whose striking use of color and composition defined the visual aesthetic for some of the most iconic jazz albums of the 1960s and ‘70s, died on Sept. 18 at his home on Long Island, N.Y. He was 83.

Isaiah McClain / WBGO

Michael Shannon is an actor known for the intensity of his performances, whether in films like 99 Homes, prestige cable series like Boardwalk Empire or Broadway plays like Long Day’s Journey Into Night. He’s also an intense jazz fan, as he discussed with WBGO’s Gary Walker on Morning Jazz.

This essay is one in a series celebrating deserving artists or albums not included on NPR Music's list of 150 Greatest Albums By Women.

David Virelles, “Fitití Ñongo”

Mystery is a great abiding constant in the music of the Cuban pianist David Virelles. Gnosis, his new album on ECM, literalizes that idea: its title alludes to spiritual knowledge of the sort that belongs to the ancients.

Delia Dobrescu

Is there such a thing as a good melody, in absolute terms? Branford Marsalis thinks so. The saxophonist joins singer Kurt Elling to share some of those from their recent album, Upward Spiral.

  

Philippe Callant for NPR

Stevie Wonder needs little introduction. His awards and achievements — 25 Grammy Awards, a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, more than 100 million records sold worldwide — only speak partially to his legend. His career began when he signed to Motown Records at the age of 11, becoming a teenage soul sensation billed as "Little Stevie." In the 1970s, he created a string of classic records: Talking Book, Innervisions, Songs in the Key of Life, to name a few. Stevie Wonder is unquestionably one of the most influential and important musicians alive today.

MATTHEW PANDOLFE / Courtesy of the Artist

Sarah Elizabeth Charles is a teaching artist. That means she's an artist who happens to teach — at Carnegie Hall's Musical Connections program within the Sing Sing Correctional Facility, and at Rise2shine, an early childhood education nonprofit in Haiti. But it also means that her work as a teacher has become more and more inextricable from her work as a composer and artist. That connection, she says, is now the strongest it's ever been. 

If you’ve been around the music for any amount of time, you’ve surely heard jazz described as a language. And here at WBGO, both on the air and online, We Speak Jazz — an idea worth taking to heart during our Fall Fund Drive.

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