WBGO Blog
  • Paul Bley, Influential Jazz Pianist, Has Died

    January 5, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.

    image
    Paul Bley. (Image Credit: Hans Kumpf/Courtesy of ECM Records)

    Paul Bley, a jazz pianist whose thoughtful but intuitive commitment to advanced improvisation became widely influential, died of natural causes Sunday. He was 83.

    Bley was surrounded by family at his winter residence in Stuart, Fla., according to his daughter Vanessa Bley.

    A career spent with musicians like Charlie Parker and Lennie Tristano, Charles Mingus and Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman, Carla Bley and Annette Peacock — that's just the first 20 or so years — began in Paul Bley's hometown of Montreal. When the virtuoso performer Oscar Peterson was summoned away on tour, a teenage Bley was asked to replace him in Peterson's trio.

    Bley soon enrolled at the Juilliard School, which placed him in New York City amid the bebop wave which had landed upon the city's jazz community. In 1953, he made his debut recording, a trio date for the small record label started by Charles Mingus, with the big-name backing of Mingus on bass and Art Blakey on drums.

    It would take a while longer for Bley to develop a musical identity he was proud to call his own, but he said he was already thinking about it when he moved to Los Angeles in the late 1950s. While working a regular engagement at the Hillcrest Club, in a black neighborhood of L.A., Bley welcomed two young performers with an original concept into his group. The new band was highly polarizing, especially when it eventually moved to the jazz hub of New York City. By that point, the stir was about the alto saxophonist and trumpeter: Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry.

    Bley did not travel with the group to New York, but his head was turned by its possibilities. He would eventually feel compelled to return to New York, where he found himself in different improvising contexts: in an innovative trio with clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre, recording with jazz theoretician George Russell, performing again with Mingus, touring with saxophone giant Sonny Rollins, playing with free improvisers Sunny Murray and Albert Ayler, joining a musicians' collective called the Jazz Composers Guild with his wife at the time, composer Carla Bley. His own recordings at the time, often using bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian, began to reflect his evolving ideas, as they bridged song structure with improvisatory freedom.

    The open-ended promise of free jazz exerted a great influence on Bley for the rest of his career. "It's free only in the sense that you're not bringing written music to the table," he said in an episode of Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz. "In place of the written music, you're bringing the acoustics of the room that you're playing in, the nationality of the audience, the weather of the evening and you-name-it."

    Bley also was an early adopter of electronic synthesizers, recording often with composer/vocalist Annette Peacock — his second wife. Bley also married music with video recording and video art, founding a record label called Improvising Artists with videographer Carol Goss — his third wife. Notably, the label featured the recording debuts of Jaco Pastorius and Pat Metheny. In 2005, Metheny praised Bley on NPR's Talk Of The Nation, particularly his solo on a 1963 recording of "All The Things You Are" (from the album Sonny Meets Hawk!).

    "His solo really did kind of open up a whole new universe of harmonic possibilities and is really, in my opinion, one of the greatest solos in jazz," Metheny said.

    Bley continued to tour, record and eventually teach throughout the remainder of his life. "[H]e blueprinted a concept of the avant-garde that looked to romantic rumination over visceral, atonal tinkering," Evan Haga wrote in an NPR Music feature. In 2000, Bley spoke with fellow pianist Marian McPartland for Piano Jazz.

    "There's a responsibility to being Paul Bley and having 120 records out," he said. "The responsibility is not to repeat yourself. There's 120 things I can no longer play, having already recorded them. ... What you're not going to play becomes the real decision, and what's left is what you do play."

    McPartland asked him whether he perceived a clear direction he wanted to explore presently.

    "I think the music contains all the information already," Bley said. "Just by tuning into the playing, it informs all those questions."

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

  • The 2015 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll

    December 21, 2015

    image
    Maria Schneider and Rudresh Mahanthappa share top honors in the 2015 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll. (Image Credit: Briene Lermitte/Jimmy Katz/Courtesy of the artists)

    NPR Music is pleased to present the results of a poll where 147 jazz critics selected their favorite recordings of 2015.

    For 10 consecutive years, this poll has been a labor of love by eminent critic Francis Davis. It's grown tremendously since he initially submitted the consensus of 30 writers to The Village Voice in 2006. Over the last month, print journalists, bloggers and broadcasters nominated more than 700 different albums. We're thrilled to host his exhaustive project on our site.

    Below are full results of the 2015 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll, led by a playlist of the Top 10 overall picks. You'll find a list of the entire Top 60 in the voting for Jazz Album of the Year, with the top finishers in Latin Jazz, Vocal, Debut and Reissue/Historical ("Rara Avis") categories as well. (You can find all the raw data, including individual ballots, at the website of Tom Hull, who annually collates all the information from the poll.)

    Davis shares his thoughts on each of 2015's Top 10 Jazz Albums below. You'll also want to read his take on the poll results — and by extension, the year in jazz — including his personal picks for the year's 10 best. We invite you to browse and have a listen. —Patrick Jarenwattananon, NPR Music

    50 MORE ALBUMS

    11. Fred Hersch, Solo (Palmetto). 105.5 points (on 19 ballots).

    12. The Bad Plus Joshua Redman, The Bad Plus Joshua Redman (Nonesuch). 103.5 (19)

    13. Cecile McLorin Salvant, For One To Love (Mack Avenue). 99.5 (16)

    14. Tim Berne's Snakeoil, You've Been Watching Me (ECM). 98.5 (14)

    15. Myra Melford, Snowy Egret (ENJA/Yellowbird). 94.5 (15)

    16. Ryan Truesdell's Gil Evans Project, Live at Jazz Standard: Lines of Color (ArtistShare). 88 (15)

    17. John Scofield, Past Present (Impulse). 84 (15)

    18. Arturo O'Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, Cuba: The Conversation Continues (Motéma). 83.5 (13)

    19. Jose James, Yesterday I Had the Blues (Blue Note). 81.5 (16)

    20 (tie). Chris Potter, Imaginary Cities (ECM). 72 (12)

    20 (tie). Matt Mitchell, Vista Accumulation (Pi). 72 (12)

    22. JD Allen Trio, Graffiti (Savant). 71 (11)

    23. Mike Reed's People Places & Things, A New Kind of Dance (482 Music). 66.5 (11)

    24. Matthew Shipp Trio, The Conduct of Jazz (Thirsty Ear). 66 (16)

    25. Amir ElSaffar, Crisis (Pi). 63 (14)

    26. Liberty Ellman, Radiate (Pi). 62 (11)

    27. Ran Blake, Ghost Tones: Portraits of George Russell (A-Side). 61 (9)

    28. Nicole Mitchell/Tomeka Reid/Mike Reed, Artifacts (482 Music). 57.5 (13)

    29. Dave Douglas Quintet, Brazen Heart (Greenleaf). 56 (10)

    30. Charlie Haden & Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Tokyo Adagio (Impulse). 51 (8)**

    31. Roscoe Mitchell Quartet, Celebrating Fred Anderson (Nessa). 49 (7)

    32. Chris Dingman, The Subliminal and the Sublime (Inner Arts Initiative) 46 (9)

    33. Irene Schweizer & Han Bennink Welcome Back (Intakt). 46 (8)

    34. Tony Bennett & Bill Charlap The Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern (Columbia). 45 (8)

    35. Brad Mehldau, 10 Years Solo Live (Nonesuch). 43 (7)

    36. Terell Stafford, Brotherly Love: Celebrating Lee Morgan (Capri). 42 (5)

    37 (tie). Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Mauch Chunk (Hot Cup). 41 (7)

    37 (tie). Danilo Perez/John Patitucci/Brian Blade, Children of The Night (Mack Avenue). 41 (7)

    37 (tie). Dave Stryker, Messin' With Mister T (Strikezone). 41 (7)

    40. Barry Altschul's 3Dom Factor, Tales of the Unforeseen (TUM). 41 (6)

    41. Wadada Leo Smith & John Lindberg, Celestial Weather (TUM). 39.5 (9)

    42. Anat Cohen, Luminosa (Anzic). 39 (7)

    43. Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Live in Cuba (Blue Engine). 38.5 (6)

    44. Tom Harrell, First Impressions: Debussy and Ravel Project (HighNote). 38 (7)

    45. Noah Preminger, Pivot: Live at the 55 Bar (self-released). 37 (8)

    46. Kris Davis Infrasound, Save Your Breath (Clean Feed). 37 (7)

    47. Julian Lage, World's Fair (Modern Lore). 36 (6)

    48. Christian McBride Trio, Live at the Village Vanguard (Mack Avenue). 35.5 (6)

    49. Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet, Intents and Purposes (Enja). 35 (8)

    50. Tomeka Reid, Quartet (Thirsty Ear). 34.5 (6)

    51. Erik Friedlander, Oscalypso (Skipstone). 34 (8)

    52 (tie). Jon Irabagon, Behind the Sky (Irrabagast). 33 (8)

    52 (tie). Jacob Garchik, Ye Olde (Yestereve). 33 (8)

    54. James Brandon Lewis, Days of FreeMan (OKeh). 32 (6)

    55. Harold Mabern, Afro Blue (Smoke Sessions). 31 (6)

    56 (tie). Chick Corea & Bela Fleck, Two (Concord Jazz). 31 (5)

    56 (tie). Ingrid Laubrock, Roulette of the Cradle (Intakt). 31 (5)

    58. Makaya McCraven, In the Moment (International Anthem). 30 (5)

    59. Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble, Circulation: The Music of Gary McFarland (Planet Arts). 30 (4)

    60. Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas, Sound Prints: Live at Monterey Jazz Festival (Blue Note). 29 (5)

    **Includes 2 (1) transferred from the Reissue category.

    Read more

  • Jazz At Lincoln Center Celebrates 'Big Band Holidays'

    December 18, 2015

    image
    Gregory Porter and René Marie perform with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. (Image Credit: Frank Stewart/Jazz at Lincoln Center)

    To ring in the holiday season, Jazz Night in America spends the hour with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as it performs highlights from its extensive holiday songbook. Recorded between 2012 and 2014, the music heard on this episode features appearances by guest vocalists Cécile McLorin Salvant, Gregory Porter and René Marie, and comes from the concerts that produced the new album Big Band Holidays.

    Jazz Night In America chats with members of the band about their original arrangements and favorite holiday moments. As a bonus, host Christian McBride talks with All Things Considered host Audie Cornish about some of his favorite Christmas music, and we look back at some early blues Christmas tunes.

    Copyright 2015 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • Christian McBride's Christmas Jazz Playlist

    December 17, 2015

    image
    Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis' version of "We Three Kings" goes on Christian McBride's holiday playlist. (Image Credit: Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Brooks Brothers)

    Maybe you are one of those people who could listen to the umpteenth version of "Baby, It's Cold Outside." A jazz bassist and host of Jazz Night In America, Christian McBride has a soft spot for the holiday music time forgot.

    "I'm at a point where I like to find the most obscure Christmas music I can find," McBride says. "I mean, I was hoping that Sun Ra had done a Christmas album, because I would play that in the house. I probably would get kicked out of the house, but I would play that."

    McBride recently spoke with All Things Considered host Audie Cornish about some of his favorite picks, jazz and otherwise.

    Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

    Read more
  • Jazz At Lincoln Center's Big Band Holidays Concert

    December 14, 2015

    image
    Vocalist Audrey Shakir will join the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for this year's holiday show. Her son, saxophonist Walter Blanding, is a long-time Orchestra member. (Image Credit: Frank Stewart/Jazz at Lincoln Center)

    When the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra returns to the newly renovated Rose Theater, it'll bring one of its most popular traditions: its annual concerts of holiday music. The Orchestra, led by Wynton Marsalis, will present new arrangements of favorite seasonal songs with guest vocalists Denzal Sinclaire and Audrey Shakir.

    NPR Music will stream a live performance of the JLCO's Big Band Holidays concert on Thursday, Dec. 17 at 8 p.m. ET.

    Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.