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In Memoriam: Jazz Night Remembers 10 Musicians Who Altered the Shape Of Jazz

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NPR

If you’ve been a jazz fan for any length of time, you know farewells are an essential part of the deal.

But this was a harder year than most, as the ravages of a pandemic compounded and quickened the scope of our losses, especially during a heartbreaking stretch last spring.

All told, more than 40 notable figures from the realm of jazz and improvised music died in 2020. What they took with them was an incalculable reserve of wisdom and experience. What they left behind is a monumental body of work, spanning all conceivable corners of sound and style. The state of the art would be different today without their examples.

In this special episode of Jazz Night in America, we map a segment of that terrain — hailing 10 musicians whose lives and contributions altered the shape of jazz, in one fashion or another. Going by seniority, they are percussionist Cándido Camero; saxophonists Jimmy Heath and Lee Konitz; singers Annie Ross and Freddy Cole; bassists Gary Peacock and Henry Grimes; pianist McCoy Tyner; drummer Tony Allen; and trumpeter Wallace Roney.

We did our best to tell their stories, and share their music, in the time allotted — leaving out many other deserving souls, from Andy González to Ellis Marsalis to Jimmy Cobb. That's no judgment on their excellence or the depth of their experience. And Jazz Night took care to acknowledge a wider circle of artists and advocates in a video short that we've published alongside this hourlong radio program. The music plays on, and the memories endure.

Set List:

  • Jimmy Heath, "Picture Of Heath"
  • Lee Konitz, "All Of Me"
  • Gary Peacock (with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette), "My Foolish Heart"
  • Henry Grimes (Profound Sound Trio), "Futurity"
  • Annie Ross (Hendricks, Lambert & Ross), "Twisted"
  • Freddy Cole, "The Joke Is On Me"
  • Càndido Camero, "Candido's Camera"
  • Tony Allen (with Hugh Masekela), "We've Landed"
  • Wallace Roney, "Bookendz"
  • McCoy Tyner, "Reaching Fourth," "Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit"

Credits: 

Writers and Producers: Nate Chinen and Sarah Geledi; Contributing Producer: Alex Ariff; Host: Christian McBride; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Technical Director: David Tallacksen; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand; Senior Director of NPR Music: Lauren Onkey.

Special thanks to Simon Rentner, Murray Street Productions, and the Jazz At Lincoln Center archives.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, Nate Chinen is editorial director at WBGO and a regular contributor to NPR Music.
Sarah Geledi left her job in advertising in Montreal to pursue a career in music in New York City. She fulfilled that mission, producing content for the JAM Festival at WBGO, segments for The Checkout, and programs for WWOZ and PRI's Afropop Worldwide. She also served as a producer for NYC Winter Jazzfest before landing the "job of her dreams," producing radio for Jazz Night in America.