October 8, 2015Jason Moran leads an expanded version of his band at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. (Image Credit: NPR)
Moran is in a dressing room deep within the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., where he's the artistic director for jazz. He's not really wearing that hat at the moment, though. He's talking as a musician himself — and very personally, at that.
"OK, in my world, he is the most important musician," Moran says. He clarifies: Thelonious Monk was his chief inspiration as a 13-year-old in Houston; Monk was the musician who made him want to be a pianist. "I heard Thelonious Monk in that time when everything about me was transitioning, and it was the thing I could grab on to and focus on through my teenage years that pulled me through that time of wondering about everything that a teenager wonders about."
He's still obsessed with the pianist and composer, as well he ought to be. Monk left such a strikingly distinct body of work and personal style that one could dig deep yet hardly scratch the surface.
A few years ago, Jason Moran developed a tribute concert to Monk. Moran being who he is, it was more than a simple tribute. First, he started at a particular concert held at New York City's Town Hall in 1959 — notable because it featured Thelonious Monk backed by a large ensemble which had rehearsed intently for the date. Then he kept digging. He found audio tapes and photographs from the rehearsals. ("It's how to learn Monk from Monk," Moran says.) He looked into Monk's personal history. And he assembled a new band to do much more than re-create the music from that evening: He wanted players to perform his original arrangements of those tunes, along with a video projection by David Dempewolf.
Jazz Night In America took in a recent performance of Jason Moran's In My Mind: Monk At Town Hall, 1959 at the Kennedy Center. Watch highlights from the concert in our video feature — and on the radio program, hear more music and learn more about Monk's original presentation.
© 2015 WBGO
October 1, 2015
There's no one person responsible for creating music festivals — or for making them such a huge part of how we witness live performances today. But starting in 1954, one person developed a recipe for their secret sauce.
George Wein still goes to his signature event every year, checking out performances and greeting the artists. These days, he does it on a golf cart which drives him between stages — he's about to turn 90, after all — but he says he takes his job as producer very seriously.
"If I don't hear the music, I don't know what my festival is all about," Wein says. "So I have to hear the music."
Wein was already running a jazz club in Boston — and playing some piano himself — when he met a wealthy tobacco heiress named Elaine Lorillard. She spent her summers with New England's rich and famous in the seaside town of Newport, R.I. She thought jazz could entertain where the New York Philharmonic couldn't. So she and her husband laid out a line of credit, Wein booked some big names (Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday), and the Newport Jazz Festival was born.
Its success led to its return the next year, and the year after that. To Paul Gonsalves' 27 ecstatic choruses in "Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue." To the Newport Folk Festival and Bob Dylan "going electric." To crowd riots which threatened and caused cancellations. To the Newport Jazz Festival's relocation to New York City. To its return to Rhode Island in the 1980s. And, in all that dedication, to the spread of outdoor music festivals worldwide.
George Wein could have shifted his focus and cashed in on larger, more lucrative rock-oriented festivals. But he's now operating his Newport Jazz Festival as a non-profit so it can continue long after he's gone — and so he can still run it the way he wants to.
"Look, I'm going to be 90 years old and I'm still doing what I love," Wein says. "I guess my survival philosophy is working."
In this radio episode of Jazz Night In America, hear more from the 2015 Newport Jazz Festival, including performances from Bria Skonberg, Scott Robinson and Tom Harrell. And, in this video short, watch a portrait of George Wein's career through the years.
© 2015 WBGO
September 24, 2015
Hi! We're back.
Today, we launch a new season of Jazz Night In America. We've spent our summer making a better version of the show, and we're excited to share it with you. In fact, our first episode, featuring Wayne Shorter with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, is now live.
We haven't changed much about why we're here. Jazz Night is still a partnership between WBGO, Jazz at Lincoln Center and NPR Music. It's still an hour-long public radio program, hosted by Christian McBride, that tells the stories behind original concert recordings. It's still a series of complementary and parallel video episodes that give backstage passes to those great performances. It's still a moving snapshot of the jazz scene today. It's still aimed at both the jazz-curious and dyed-in-the-wool aficionados. It still lives at npr.org/jazznight.
We're quite proud of what we did in Jazz Night Season 1. We made 36 radio programs and 29 concert films involving more than 350 musicians. But we saw Jazz Night Season 2 as an opportunity to make a Jazz Night version 2.0. We basically started from scratch when we launched this thing a year ago, and we learned a lot along the way. Here's what's different.
- We're Fully On-Demand. Though we enjoyed some successes with our Wednesday night webcasts, drawing an appointment crowd has always been hard online. Web video has become an on-demand streaming world. So apart from special live events, we'll be publishing video episodes on Thursday mornings and you can watch them on your own time. (By the end of Season One, we were already archiving most episodes in full, but now it's the main focus.) You'll also notice that the video episodes now appear next to archives of their corresponding radio episodes.
- We're Focusing On Documentary. Our audiences tell us they want to hear more of the stories behind the performances. On the radio side, we're working with new narrative styles, and host Christian McBride is doing more interviews himself. In our videos, we're taking a cue from the radio program and dedicating more time to context — about the musicians, the venues, the tunes, the fans, the larger dynamics at play — while still preserving full-song glimpses into amazing performances.
- We're Shorter And Less Frequent (Visually). We found that concert videos of an hour or more were a lot to ask of audiences — especially on-demand. So our new model for Jazz Night video episodes acknowledges that sometimes less is more. Each will run about around 30 minutes. Our focus on getting better also means budgeting more time for production, so we'll be presenting new episodes every two weeks — about 15 in all between late September 2015 and early May 2016. In between full episodes, we'll also be presenting more documentary shorts, like when Miguel Zenón explained polyrhythms to us, or when Steven Bernstein and Henry Butler showed us how they worked together. And do note this applies to video only: We're still creating 32 new hour-long radio episodes between October of this year and next.
- We're Traveling More. For Season 2, we've visited or planned trips to Panama City, New Orleans, Seattle (again), Dallas, Chicago (two episodes!), and a program featuring Christian McBride himself from his hometown of Philadelphia. More location shoots are in the works. In our search for jazz throughout the country, we've made it a point to go farther afield.
- We're On YouTube. In addition to npr.org/jazznight, we've created a new YouTube channel. We hope to create a more easily searchable video index — in fact, we've already posted many full episodes and excerpts from our Season 1 archives. YouTube also lets us create more shareable segments within full-episode playlists. And it's where eyeballs are already: Before we said anything about this in public, some of our uploads had more than 10,000 views. You can subscribe to see them all at youtube.com/JazzNightinAmerica.
To recap: Jazz Night In America is going to be better, richer, shorter, on-demand, on YouTube and less confusing. We hope it's a more rewarding experience for everyone.
So what's all this going to look and sound like? Well, in addition to our first episode, check out our Season 2 schedule, including Jason Moran, Marquis Hill and Arturo O'Farrill leading the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. And that's with more than half of the video lineup yet to be announced. Again, we'll be releasing on Thursdays, but you can check them out whenever you have time.
We still believe this music is profound — that its strength comes from experience, study and creative genius. This year, we've made it a point to illuminate its strengths better. Enjoy.
© 2015 WBGO