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WBGO's Top 20 Stories of 2020: Diving Into the Music, and Honoring Legends Here and Gone

Jonathan Chimene
Roy Haynes, who turned 95 in 2020, pictured onstage with Pat Metheny.

To state the obvious, this was a year like no other.

For many of us, 2020 was a heartbreaker, a marathon slog, a stress engine — or all of the above. At the same time, we witnessed a lot of resilience, and drew closer to our loved ones.

WBGO has been devoted to supporting and chronicling the musical community throughout 2020, as we are every year. And in looking back, based purely on the numbers, the Top 20 posts here at wbgo.org tell a story of both heavy losses and enduring spirit. We hope you have been uplifted and informed by these and other pieces we’ve published, and look forward to more vital connection in the new year.

1. Lee Konitz The alto saxophonist and NEA Jazz Master was among the giants claimed by COVID-19; this perceptive and thorough obituary, by David Adler, captures the man we lost.

2. Lyle Mays  Best known as the longtime right-hand man to Pat Metheny, Mays was a keyboardist and composer of expansive imagination, as this obit strives to convey.

3. Jorge Santana  He was Carlos Santana’s younger brother, and coleader of the Latin rock band Malo — but Jorge was even more than that, as Bobby Sanabria reminds us in this insightful obit.

Credit Peter Gannushkin / downtownmusic.net

  4. Henry Grimes  A bassist and violinist who famously made a prodigal return, after years in the wilderness, and died during the height of the COVID-19 wave in New York.

5. Life Time Athletic  As #BlackLivesMatter protests spread across the country, a chain of fitness clubs made news for an offensive post by one of its senior managers.

6. Giuseppi Logan  News of this free-jazz saxophonist’s death landed the same day as that of Henry Grimes, above. His was another lost-and-found story, and another coronavirus tragedy.

7. Mike Longo  The first known jazz musician to fall to COVID-19, Longo was a pianist best known for his tenure with Dizzy Gillespie, and a prominent member of the Baha’i faith.

8. Richie Cole  An alto saxophonist who came up as a wunderkind in the 1970s, and never forsook his devotion to the bebop idiom.

9. Jymie Merritt  A bassist of cult reputation in his hometown of Philadelphia, Merritt was best known in the wider world for his time with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.  

10. Where Did ‘Jazz,’ the Word, Come From?  Originally published in 2018, this thought-provoking installment of Deep Dive with Lewis Porter has continued to connect with readers, for its careful exploration of a loaded word.

11. Deep Dive: A Love Supreme (Part 1)  Another Deep Dive, showcasing Dr. Porter’s best-known area of expertise: the music of John Coltrane. This first installment in a three-part series sheds new light on a landmark.

Credit Jonathan Chimene / WBGO

12. Sonny Rollins at 90  On the occasion of Sonny Rollins’ entry to jazz’s elite nonagenarian club, we shared a special edition of Take Five — with one standout track for each decade of his career.

13. Professor Joe Torres  Though never a household name, pianist Professor Joe Torres was a crucial figure behind the scenes in Latin music — as Bobby Sanabria explains in this in-depth obituary.

14. Keith Jarrett  In the wake of a bombshell announcement by Keith Jarrett, the Jazz United podcast devoted an episode to his trailblazing solo piano career, with a focus on Budapest Concert, one of his final recordings.

15. Onaje Allan Gumbs  In an unusually broad career, this pianist-composer distinguished himself in hard-bop as well as smooth jazz and pop-R&B.

16. Manfred Eicher  When corporate synergy meets a genuine editorial instinct, you get something like this piece, wherein ECM founder Manfred Eicher picks his Top 5 albums on Blue Note (and Blue Note president Don Was repays the favor).

17. Jimmy Heath  The saxophonist, composer and NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Heath was among our dearly departed elders this year. David Adler’s obit maps the expanse of his legacy, with choice musical examples.

18. Mwandishi at 50  Among the underrecognized milestones of 2020: the 50th anniversary of Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi. Jazz United devoted an episode to that occasion, along with the 80th birthdays of Hancock and other members of the band.

19. Dave Brubeck’s Piano Legacy  An early entry in the Brubeck centennial celebration, this Deep Dive took a closer look at his piano playing — persuasively making the case that he has long been underestimated, and even unfairly maligned.

20. Roy Haynes at 95  WBGO never needs an excuse to celebrate the majesty that is Roy Haynes. But for his 95th birthday, we had to do something special. This edition of Take Five features picks by several of our announcers (and a personal favorite of my own).

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.