• The Making Of Marquis Hill

    November 5, 2015. Posted by WBGO.

    About a year ago, trumpeter Marquis Hill, now 28, traveled to Los Angeles, played five tunes for a panel of judges, and won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. You can think of it as a sort of Heisman Trophy for young jazz artists, meaning that a lot more people discovered his talent in a hurry.

    Hill's profile may have risen suddenly, but talent like that doesn't spontaneously emerge from nowhere. It takes a village of mentors, peers, opportunities and other educational infrastructure to enable a musician to grow. That's especially true with jazz, an inherently social music historically conveyed through the oral tradition. Besides, in his hometown of Chicago, folks had already known about Hill for some time: That's the "village" that raised him, after all.

    Marquis Hill now splits his time between the Windy City and New York City, but still maintains a snappy working band full of catchy melodic ideas — a five-piece outfit he calls the Marquis Hill Blacktet. On one of his trips back home this summer, we asked him to show us "his" Chicago, culminating in a Blacktet performance downtown at one of the city's premier clubs: the Jazz Showcase.

    Jazz Night In America travels to one of the great jazz cities to meet some of the people and places which transformed a young trumpeter from the South Side of Chicago into Marquis Hill.


    Marquis Hill, trumpet; Christopher McBride, alto saxophone; Justefan (Justin Thomas), vibraphone; Joshua Ramos, bass; Makaya McCraven, drums

    Copyright 2015 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/series/347139849/jazz-night-in-america.

  • Shirley Scott, 'Queen Of The Organ'

    October 29, 2015

    Shirley Scott. (Image Credit: Francis Wolff/Mosaic Images)

    Jazz is taught at universities now, and artists like saxophonist Tim Warfield and trumpeter Terell Stafford teach at them. But they know that jazz is taught more through listening than reading; more on the bandstand than the classroom. And they learned those lessons from the organ giant Shirley Scott, who died in 2002.

    Known as the "queen of the organ," Scott was one of several Philadelphians who developed the electric Hammond B-3 into a viable instrument for a soulful, bluesy style of jazz. With dozens of recordings to her name, she was already a major voice when she became the leader of the house band at Ortlieb's Jazzhaus. Among the young players who timidly found their way onto the stage at Ortlieb's were Warfield and Stafford — and, in doing so, they got a lot more than they bargained for.

    In this documentary short, Jazz Night In America remembers Shirley Scott through the tales of two of her final proteges and bandmates.

    Copyright 2015 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/series/347139849/jazz-night-in-america.

  • Why Everyone Wants To Record 'Live At The Village Vanguard'

    October 22, 2015

    Outside the Village Vanguard in New York. (Image Credit: John Rogers for NPR)

    When it comes to live jazz, there are sacred places: Preservation Hall in New Orleans, Baker's Keyboard Lounge in Detroit, Ronnie Scott's in London. These are legendary venues for artists and fans. But nothing is quite like a certain triangular basement in New York City: The Village Vanguard.

    Bassist Christian McBride, host of NPR's Jazz Night In America, recorded there for his latest album. He's added his name to more than 100 albums recorded Live At The Village Vanguard.

    "It's not a very glamorous place," McBride tells All Things Considered host Audie Cornish. "I'll put it this way: The drapes in that club haven't been changed in probably 40 years. I say that in the most loving way."

    Decor aside, the club — with its capacity of 123 — has seen recordings led by Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Keith Jarrett, Joe Henderson and Cannonball Adderley, among many other greats.

    "As a jazz musician, it hits you. [John] Coltrane walked down these steps. Miles Davis walked down these steps. Dexter Gordon, Bill Evans, all of these legends walked down these stairs. I think any musician, when they record a live record there at the Vanguard — it really is all about the legacy."

    When Coltrane recorded at the Vanguard in 1961, he was starting a new chapter in his career with a new lineup to his working band. McBride says it's hard not to think about "Chasin' The Trane" — or any number of fantastic live recordings — when walking down those stairs.

    "You get a true sense of what that artist was feeling at that particular moment — mistakes, warts and all," McBride says. "I love hearing those things."

    McBride also highlighted the Bill Evans Trio's performance, as heard on Sunday At The Village Vanguard, as one of his favorites ever made at the club. Among the many storylines was that it was the final recording session for the influential bassist Scott LaFaro, who died 10 days after the performance.

    "Bill Evans brought a certain sense of quietude and crystalline beauty to jazz at a certain time where combos were really — they still sort of had a big-band feel to them, like a compact big band," McBride says. "Whereas the way that Bill Evans played the piano, it was fragile."

    That history makes it a rite of passage to play the Village Vanguard, especially as a bandleader. McBride says it's akin to being welcomed to a family, or being "sanctioned." That has to do in part with the club's booking policy.

    "The Vanguard still handpicks what talent plays there because they like you," he says. "So when you play there, you certainly get a sense of validation."

    McBride has been playing that room in various capacities since 1990. But even he admits that, for his first time recording there as a bandleader, he felt the pressure.

    "All of a sudden, when those microphones went up, I had this sense of, 'We'd better bring it harder than we've brought it anywhere else before,'" he says. "'This is going down as a document at the world's most legendary jazz club. We gotta come with it, and come with it hard.'"

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