Music

Allan Harris and I go back a ways — 30 years, maybe more. I first heard him in an upstairs lounge on Greene Street (I've never forgotten the joint's comfy chairs), and Allan has come in for interviews and performances on Singers Unlimited ever since. Last year, he brought a band to play songs from Cross That River, his musical about black cowboys on the cattle drives of the American west after the Civil War.  


Orquesta Akokán takes its name from the Yoruba word meaning "from the heart." The group's self-titled debut album, released in March, draws deep from the soul and history of Cuba, reviving the spirit of the big-band orquestas of decades past like Buena Vista Social Club and Orquesta Aragón.

Nathan West

The Nels Cline 4, led by its namesake guitarist and composer, occupies a thoughtful present tense. All but one song on the band’s excellent album Currents, Constellations, out today on Blue Note, bears Cline’s credit as a composer. The lone exception is “Temporarily,” a tune by Carla Bley.

In an exclusive video premiere below, find footage of the band — Cline, guitarist Julian Lage, bassist Scott Colley, drummer Tom Rainey — performing that song in the recording studio.

Under the direction of trombone masters Ed Neumeister and Conrad Herwig, the Rutgers University Scarlet Knights Trombone Ensemble was named winner of the 2018 Winding Awards at the Kai Winding Jazz Trombone Ensemble Competition, organized by the International Trombone Association.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe's electric gospel sound was crucial in paving the way for rock and roll, and the late singer and guitarist is finally getting her day at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. She joins this a class of inductees that includes big-name rock bands like Bon Jovi, Dire Straits and The Cars.

Jacob Hand

 

Rising musician Caroline Davis may have a Ph.D. in matters of brain function (the cognitive science of music, to be precise) but her new album, Heart Tonic, focuses on another crucial part of the human anatomy.

Davis is an alto saxophonist with a cosmopolitan upbringing: born in Singapore to a Swedish mother and a British father; raised in the American south, mainly Texas; schooled in Chicago, where she earned her advanced degrees and connected with a thriving scene; and based for the last five years in New York City.

The Plummer Jazz Combos, named in honor of Indiana saxophonist Paul Plummer, features students from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. Led by the renowned saxophonist and IU Jazz faculty member Walter Smith III, the groups perform original music composed by each member of the band, and fresh interpretations of standards and songs by modern composers.

Peter Gannushkin / downtownmusic.net

It’s taken decades for Jason Moran to understand the artistry of Cecil Taylor, the brilliant American pianist who left us last Thursday, on April 5. A few years ago, The Checkout visited Moran’s New York studio to celebrate the visionary iconoclastic artist, just before paying homage at Harlem Stage.

 

On this very special Checkout podcast, Moran reflects on his hero in conversation, then honors him in performance. 

The Juilliard Jazz Max Roach Ensemble

The Juilliard Jazz Max Roach Ensemble is one of four student groups at the Juilliard School, and excels under the direction of drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr.

Owens, an alumnus of Juilliard's inaugural jazz program, is also known for his stellar work with Christian McBride and Kurt Elling, among others. 

Bertrand Guay / Getty Images

The 2018 class of NEA Jazz Masters — pianist Joanne Brackeen, promoter Todd Barkan, singer Dianne Reeves and guitarist Pat Metheny — will be inducted in an all-star tribute concert at the Kennedy Center next Monday, April 16. Check back here for a free live stream of the event, which will feature performances by Angelique Kidjo, Eddie Palmieri, Cécile McLorin Salvant and many others. For now, we dedicate this installment of Take Five to the four honorees. 

Courtesy of the artist

Helmed by  Neal Smith, a drummer, professor and ensemble coach at the Berklee College of Music, The Neal Smith Jazz Ensemble is a handpicked ensemble featuring some of the top players from the school, all of whom separately play around the Boston area.

Cecil Taylor, whose stunning and bravely unorthodox piano language made him one of the most important postwar American avant-gardists in any artistic medium, leaves more than a legacy of musical provocation after his death yesterday evening.

Cecil Taylor encompasses a never-ending range of sound and emotion. On his way to the Piano Jazz studio in 1994, the avant-garde jazz pianist and his cab driver discovered that they went to the same high school, opening up a whirlwind of small worlds, and inspiring the improvised piece that opens this episode.

Mary Bruton

Marcia Ball is the Auntie Mame of the blues. Worldly. Wise. Loving. And unapologetic. "Life is a banquet," said Auntie Mame, "and most poor suckers are starving to death!"

Shine Bright, Ball's new album, celebrates the banquet of life. "Be the life of the party," she sings about a party that's all the livelier with the sizzle of calypso. 

Courtesy of the artist

The Checkout from WBGO is proud to present the world premiere of VENUS, featuring Samora Pinderhughes with J. Period, this Thursday at (Le) Poisson Rouge.

When most people think of Walter Page, they think of a steady, driving rhythm. Yes, absolutely — but there was a lot more to his art.

Isaiah McClain

In 2001, The National Museum of American History designated April "Jazz Appreciation Month" (JAM).

Of course, jazz appreciation is a year-round pursuit for WBGO and our listeners — but we'll acknowledge the nationwide JAM celebration this month with a focus on the emerging generation of jazz artists. Tune in each weekday to hear an array of student musicians from across America and around the world. 

NYU WAYNE SHORTER JAZZ ENSEMBLE

Courtesy of the artist

Take Five has several premieres this week, from artists smartly pushing forward.

John Abbott

With her new album, Beloved of the Sky, pianist Renee Rosnes is once again inspired by her natural environment.

That's a subject with multiple implications: the natural world, her home life, an array of sense memories. They're all transformed by Renee’s depth of pianism, and through amazing exchanges with saxophonist and flutist Chris Potter, vibraphonist Steve Nelson, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lenny White.

Niki Walker / NPR

Maybe you became aware of Jazzmeia Horn five years ago, when she took first prize at the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition.

Maybe you got hip when her debut album, A Social Call, was released last year. Maybe you caught her turn on the most recent Grammy Premiere Ceremony, when she knocked a scat chorus into the stratosphere. Or maybe this is the first you're hearing of Jazzmeia, which means you have something to look forward to.

Guitarist Andreas Varady first impressed his bass-playing father by learning Kenny Dorham's "Blue Bossa" when he was 4. His mentor, producer Quincy Jones, became a fan when Andreas appeared at the Montreux Jazz Festival at 15.

Courtesy of the artist

What should jazz sound like in 2018? Keith Witty has some ideas. He's the bassist and co-leader of Thiefs, a band that blends hip-hop, electronic music and politically pointed spoken word.


When Johann Sebastian Bach compiled the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier in 1722, he wrote that the 24 preludes and fugues were "for the profit and use of musical youth desirous of learning, and especially for the pastime of those already skilled in this study."

Milford Graves and Jason Moran were listening hard at the Big Ears Festival on Friday evening, and in this they were far from alone. Their spontaneous musical dialogue, onstage at the elegant Bijou Theater in Knoxville, Tenn., suggested a merging of the ancient and the ultramodern, aglow with an ephemeral sort of grace. At one point, Moran's deep, mournful sonorities at the piano led Graves toward a murmuring hush at the drums, as if anything else would break the spell.

Emma Lee Photography/Courtesy of the artist

Since Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo birthed "Manteca" in the '40s just as Cuban musicians like Machito were shaking up New York's jazz scene, Afro-Cuban jazz has continued to entice and fascinate North American musicians into new collaborations and explorations.

Kahmeela Adams

What is it that gets any musical organization to the 25 year mark?

Luck, for sure, but that's eclipsed by the creation of great charts, articulate and soulful playing, and a sound unification that goes way beyond theory.

WBGO

Growing up in Chicago, pianist Greg Spero knew by the fifth grade that he wanted to make music his life. Encouraged by his piano-playing father, he would eventually team up with Miles Davis keyboardist Robert Irving III; work with the Buddy Rich Big Band; morph the music of Miles with Radiohead; and tour the world with electro-pop artist Halsey.


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