April 28, 2016
This Saturday is International Jazz Day. And this year, NPR has a man on the inside.
Bassist Christian McBride, host of Jazz Night In America, is in town for the all-star show at the White House. So he took the opportunity to swing by NPR headquarters and speak with host Audie Cornish about some of his favorite artists from around the globe.
Vocalist Cyrille Aimée is proficient in the jazz manouche style popularized by Django Reinhardt. But there's much more to her work, and her background. Her mother is from the Dominican Republic, her father is French; she's lived in New York City for many years now.
"She actually grew up in the same town as Django Reinhardt," McBride says. "So you talk about 'gypsy jazz' — I can't really think of anyone who is carrying on that tradition with more authenticity than Cyrille. What I love about her singing is that not only is she very true to her roots, but she seems to have grasped the sound of American jazz with great strength."
Cécile McLorin Salvant
On the topic of Francophone jazz, Cécile McLorin Salvant is from Miami, but she also sings in both French and English, and spent her formative years living and studying in France. (Her parents are French and Haitian.) Her last album For One To Love won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album. "She's another incredible, incredible vocalist," McBride says.
According to McBride, France has often been welcoming to jazz artists of all stripes.
"Just artists in general — I believe that the French culture really understands the power and importance of being able to create art. It's not necessarily about selling the art. It's about the power of touching the soul."
The Mexican drummer Antonio Sánchez is probably best known to the general public for his improvised drum score to the Academy Award-winning movie Birdman. But McBride knows him as "Rooney," after many years spent together on the road in guitarist Pat Metheny's band.
"He's just such a brilliant, brilliant musician," McBride says.
Sanchez has a degree in classical piano performance, and at first intended to become a rock drummer. Then he came to the U.S. and became a first-call drummer for many jazz musicians.
"I just love everything about Antonio's personality, his musicianship, and I love playing with him," McBride says. "I've very happy for him that he had this success with Birdman."
One of the performers at this year's International Jazz Day main event is the South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela. Throughout his career, he's melded folkloric and popular music with a jazz aesthetic — sometimes to great success, as with his 1968 hit "Grazing In The Grass."
"I was very honored to play ['Grazing In The Grass'] with Hugh Masekela and Stevie Wonder at the first International Day of Jazz," McBride says. "What an honor to be around Mr. Masekela. He's a very wonderful, wonderful spirit. He and Abdullah Ibrahim were part of the first wave of South African jazz musicians that put South African jazz musicians on the map."Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
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April 28, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.
This Saturday, April 30, marks the fifth anniversary of International Jazz Day, a celebration organized by UNESCO to celebrate jazz across the globe. To do our part, we're highlighting some of our favorite jazz musicians to play behind Bob Boilen's desk. Rising stars, young virtuosos, NEA Jazz Masters and veteran ensembles alike have played in NPR's D.C. offices. Here are five standout jazz performances at the Tiny Desk.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band
What better place to start this list than with the birthplace of jazz? New Orleans' Preservation Hall Jazz Band plays in the traditional style of its city, a gumbo of gospel, street marching, blaring brass and so much more.
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah was born in New Orleans and grew up playing with his uncle, saxophonist and Mardi Gras Indian Donald Harrison, Jr. His aesthetic vision, which he calls "Stretch Music," borrows across musical styles and blurs the elements into a unified whole. His music is also dedicated to protest, as in the ferocious number "K.K.P.D." You can hear the intensity of his purpose in every note he blows.
Sun Ra Arkestra
One of the greatest holidays in recent memory came after inviting the jazz astronauts of the Sun Ra Arkestra to play the Tiny Desk on Halloween 2014. Led by then-91 year old alto sax player Marshall Allen, the costumed cosmic explorers played a set that pushed the boundaries of tone and color. It's pretty out of this world.
When you think of jazz, the last instrument you might think of is the harp. But Colombian harpist Edmar Castañeda finds seamless ways of blending jazz melodies with Colombian folk rhythms.
Gary Burton & Julian Lage
Gary Burton is one of those undisputed masters on his instrument. He popularized the four mallet technique and brought an unheard harmonic approach to the vibraphone. He played with a tiny desk alumnus, guitar prodigy Julian Lage. The two spin tunes of pure beauty and dedicated an impromptu blues for Bob's Tiny Desk.Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
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April 28, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.Gregory Porter's new album, Take Me To The Alley, comes out May 6. (Image Credit: Shawn Peters/Courtesy of the artist)
Last summer, the massively popular British electronic duo Disclosure released a new album, and chose a song called "Holding On" as its lead single. It performed well on the U.S. and U.K. dance charts and spawned no fewer than five official remixes. It also featured the vocals of Gregory Porter, which means it brought someone theretofore known as a jazz singer onto, for instance, the beaches of Ibiza.
Full Disclosure: You won't get it here on Porter's new album. You will get a slower, acoustic, reharmonized version of "Holding On," arranged in the way Porter usually makes records. Other than a few supplemental musicians, Take Me To The Alley is driven by his working band of many years and the producer (Kamau Kenyatta) with whom he's worked since the 1990s. This is good, for that crew has developed a winning and popular formula, a pleasing summation of groove traditions where Porter's voice can overpower, manhandle, envelop and soothe, all at once.
You'd have to mention Porter's songwriting in that equation, and that's featured a bit more than usual here. He's got a clever way with parable and metaphor, often to incite some kind of social comment, as with the compassion of the visiting dignitary in the title track or the pan-African call in "French African Queen." There's a song for Porter's young son ("Don't Lose Your Steam") and one about his young son ("Day Dream"). Porter has roots in the black church — his mother (the inspiration for "More Than A Woman") was a minister of the COGIC denomination — and "In Heaven" is a song his family sings to departed kin. Naturally, those gospel roots often transmutate into songs about various romances, and there's more than a handful of those songs here, too.
Sonically, the band concocts a variety of pockets, both barnstorming and languid; there's little concern about fashion or complexity, just execution. And, of course, there's Porter's voice, which — what's left to say when the brawn/warmth dualism is so self-evident? Take Me To The Alley doesn't break new frontiers for Porter, nor for the genre delimiter he's said to represent, but those aren't the aesthetic ideals it seeks to reach. If forced, you'd call it pop-jazz, except it's the rare kind, with a simplicity unblemished by artistic compromise. Or maybe it's just that the now-familiar sound of his own design has become genuinely popular, even before Disclosure entered the picture, and it's a pleasure to see that sort of talent find its own way.Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.Read more
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April 25, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.Billy Paul, the singer of "Me and Mrs. Jones" and other soul ballads, has died. He's seen here in 2006. (Image Credit: John M. Heller/Getty Images)
Billy Paul, the soul singer whose smooth voice and impeccable phrasing made "Me and Mrs. Jones" into a classic, has died at age 80. A Philadelphia native whose name at birth was Paul Williams, the singer had reportedly suffered from cancer.
Paul's manager, Beverly Gay, tells NBC10 in Philadelphia that the singer died Sunday morning. He had recently been diagnosed with cancer and was hospitalized last week, Gay says. She says Paul died at his home in Blackwood, N.J., southeast of Philadelphia.
A message on Paul's website confirmed his death:
"We would like to extend our most sincere condolences to his wife Blanche and family for their loss, as they and the world grieves the loss of another musical icon that helped pioneered today's R&B music. Billy will be truly missed."
In 1972, Paul won a Grammy Award and topped the charts with "Me and Mrs. Jones," a plaintive ballad about an affair. Thanks in large part to his vocal range and silky delivery, the confessional song became a hit for the ages.
Two things help explain Paul's unique vocal style: his early dreams of playing saxophone ("I took my uniqueness and treated it like a horn," he once said), and his emulation of female jazz singers such as Billie Holiday.
"I think the reason behind that is because of my high range," he said on his website. "The male singers who had the same range I did, when I was growing up, didn't do much for me. But put on Nina Simone, Carmen McRae or Nancy Wilson, and I'd be in seventh heaven. Female vocalists just did more with their voices, and that's why I paid more attention to them."
While he's most famous for singing about love, Paul made music that focused on many topics and drew on wide influences. Fellow Philadelphia native Questlove of The Roots has called Paul "one of the criminally unmentioned proprietors of socially conscious post-revolution '60s civil rights music."
That quote comes from Paul's website, which posted a video clip in which Questlove compares Paul to Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder.
"Nothing against those brothers," the drummer says, "but Billy Paul, in every aspect of his presentation, is really the first person to bring reality."
Paul recorded more than a dozen albums; a list of highlight songs from those records could start with "Am I Black Enough For You" from 1972, when he sang:
"We're gonna move on up
Six by six; I gotta use my mind
Instead of my fists"
In 1976, Paul created a kind of mashup version of Paul McCartney's "Let Em In" that recast the song as a civil rights anthem, complete with samples from speeches by Malcolm X and other leaders.
As part of the Philadelphia International All Stars, Paul sang alongside other soul legends — Lou Rawls and the O'Jays, among them — to record "Let's Clean Up the Ghetto."
In 1979, he styled a plea for social harmony and stability into an upbeat disco number, with "Bring The Family Back."
As a young talent, Paul studied at the West Philadelphia Music School and the Granoff School of Music. He was just 16 when he shared a bill with jazz legend Charlie Parker at a club in Philadelphia.
"He died later that year," Paul said on his website. "I was there with him for a week and I learned what it would normally take two years to pick up. Bird told me if I kept struggling I'd go a long way, and I've never forgotten his words."
In the 1950s, while serving in the Army in post-World War II Germany, Paul shared a post with Elvis Presley. But he said Presley wasn't interested in joining the jazz band he formed with Gary Crosby (Bing's son).
"We were in Germany and we said we're going to start a band, so we didn't have to do any hard work in the service," he said on his website. "We tried to get Elvis to join but he wanted to be a jeep driver."Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
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April 21, 2016
In the late 1930s, a bespectacled white man who played the clarinet was a teen idol. That was Benny Goodman, and he got to be that way from leading a quartet with Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa — one of jazz's first racially integrated bands. In a special stage show written by Geoffrey Ward and narrated by Wendell Pierce, a young band (Christian Sands, piano; Joel Ross, vibraphone; Sammy Miller, drums) with a rotating cast of clarinetists (Will Anderson, Peter Anderson, Patrick Bartley and Janelle Reichman) tells the whole story at Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Jazz Night In America learns about the history of the Benny Goodman Quartet onstage from The Appel Room.Copyright 2016 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.
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