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Makaya McCraven: The Brain Behind The Mind-Bending Beats, on Jazz Night in America

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Carolina Sanchez
/
Red Bull Content Pool

Makaya McCraven — a drummer-producer-bandleader-composer who sums up his MO with the evocative term "beat scientist" — has lately been on the hottest of hot streaks. His album Universal Beings was hailed as one of the best albums of 2018, by outlets ranging from The New York Times to Rolling Stone. (In the NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll, it came in at No. 4.) For McCraven, who lives in Chicago, this vaulting acclaim is just the latest evidence that he's onto something vital and new.

Jazz Night in America devotes this episode to McCraven, his innovative process, and the creative background that continues to inform his work. We'll look at the precedent of record producers splicing tape in the studio, and how it applies to McCraven's constructive methods. We'll meet his earliest influences — his parents, African-American drummer Stephen McCraven and Hungarian folk artist Agnes McCraven. We'll join McCraven in a thrilling recent performance at the Red Bull Music Festival Chicago, on the South Side, with partners including Nubya Garcia on tenor saxophone, Brandee Younger on harp, Jeff Parker on guitar and Joel Ross on vibraphone.

"I don't think what I'm doing is necessarily that far off of the legacy of jazz that I grew up in," McCraven observes, before acknowledging the persistence of debates about what jazz is, or should be. "I think one of the things that gives it strength is that people want to argue over it. That's a good sign. That means there's life here."

SET LIST

  • "Atlantic Black" (McCraven)
  • "Wise Man, Wiser Woman" (McCraven)
  • "Hungarian Lullaby" (Peter Dabasi)
  • "Song of the Forest Boogaraboo" (Stephen McCraven)
  • "Suite Haus" (McCraven)

MUSICIANS

Makaya McCraven: drums;Nubya Garcia, tenor saxophone; Joshua Johnson, alto saxophone; Miguel Atwood Ferguson on electric violin; Brandee Younger, harp; Jeff Parker, guitar; Junius Paul, Dezron Douglas; bass, Carlos Niño, percussion; Joel Ross, vibraphone

CREDITS

Producer: Alex Ariff and Sarah Kerson; Senior Producer: Katie Simon, Senior Director of NPR Music, Lauren Onkey; Executive Producers: Amy Niles, Gabrielle Armand, Anya Grundman; Recording engineer: Dave Vettraino; Concert producer: Red Bull Music Festival Chicago

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, Nate Chinen is editorial director at WBGO and a regular contributor to NPR Music.
Alex Ariff has big ears. A musician first, he straddles the worlds between performance/songwriting, media production and storytelling. Alex earned his B.A in Music from Florida State University where he fell for all facets of jazz music, history, and culture. He went onto earn his M.A. in Jazz History and Research from Rutgers University-Newark. It was during this time that Alex began working at WBGO, where he currently works as a producer on Jazz Night in America. Outside of WBGO, Alex enjoys lapsang souchong, bike rides, and playing with his band The Wali Sanga.