Nate Chinen

Director of Editorial Content

Nate Chinen has been writing about jazz for more than 20 years.

He spent a dozen of them working as a critic for The New York Times, and helmed a long-running column for JazzTimes. As Director of Editorial Content at WBGO, Chinen works with the multiplatform program Jazz Night in America and contributes a range of coverage to NPR Music.

He is author of Playing Changes: Jazz For the New Centurypublished in hardcover by Pantheon in 2018, and on paperback by Vintage in 2019. Hailed as one of the Best Books of the Year by NPR, GQ, Billboard, and JazzTimes, it's a chronicle of jazz in our time, and an argument for the music's continuing relevance. It has also been published internationally, in Italian and Spanish editions. 

A thirteen-time winner of the Helen Dance–Robert Palmer Award for Excellence in Writing, presented by the Jazz Journalists Association, Chinen is also coauthor of Myself Among Others: A Life in Music, the 2003 autobiography of festival impresario and producer George Wein, which earned the JJA’s award for Best Book About Jazz.

Chinen was born in Honolulu, to a musical family: his parents were popular nightclub entertainers, and he grew up around the local Musicians Union. He went to college on the east coast and began writing about jazz in 1996, at the Philadelphia City Paper. His byline has also appeared in a range of national music publications, including DownBeat, Blender and Vibe. For several years he was the jazz critic for Weekend America, a radio program syndicated by American Public Media. And from 2003 to 2005 he covered jazz for the Village Voice.

His work appears in Best Music Writing 2011 (Da Capo); Pop When the World Falls Apart: Music in the Shadow of Doubt (Duke University Press, 2012), and Miles Davis: The Complete Illustrated History (Voyageur Press, 2012).

Ways to Connect

In this installment of Take Five, our weekly playlist, you'll find fathers and sons, a couple of farewells, and more than one refurbished jazz standard. We'll start with one of those, featuring a singer you may know, giving a performance you'll want to see.

Marilyn Maye could easily be nominated as the voice of experience: At 88, she's one of our greatest living songbook singers, as well as a jazz-cabaret star of singular achievement. A vocal stylist both sensitive and swinging, with a deep understanding of her chosen tradition, she's had a storied career, and doesn't seem the slightest bit inclined to slow it down.

Brad Mehldau and Chris Thile at the Bowery Ballroom
Alex Chaloff / Nonesuch

 

Among the qualities that make Brad Mehldau and Chris Thile a not-quite-unlikely pairing — virtuosity, curiosity, a natural drive to bridge divisions of style — the one that may run deepest is a sense of resonant, articulate melancholy.

Among the qualities that make Brad Mehldau and Chris Thile a not-quite-unlikely pairing — virtuosity, curiosity, a natural drive to bridge divisions of style — the one that may run deepest is a sense of resonant, articulate melancholy.

Nellie McKay in 'A Girl Named Bill: The Life and Times of Billy Tipton'
Walter McBride

Playing the part is never a simple or straightforward process for Nellie McKay. A singer-songwriter and pianist with a gift for wily provocation, she knows how to disappear into character with a song. And she pushes that impulse further with A Girl Named Bill: The Life and Times of Billy Tipton, the cabaret show she’s presenting Thursday through Saturday at 54 Below.

 

Any posthumous album is on some level a haunting, but that feels especially true of Jimmy Scott’s I Go Back Home: A Story About Hoping and Dreaming. A labor of love and heartbreak, it features lush accompaniment and a starry array of guests, like Dee Dee Bridgewater, Monica Mancini and Joe Pesci. But of course the album’s shining centerpiece is Scott, who died in 2014 at 88, and whose otherworldly voice rings as vulnerable, piercing and present as ever.

Chuck Stewart
Chester Higgins, Jr. / Courtesy of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

Chuck Stewart, one of the most prolific and admired photographers in jazz — an intimate chronicler of many of its icons and milestones, including the historic recording session for John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme — died on Jan. 20 in Teaneck, N.J. He was 89.

His death was confirmed by his daughter-in-law Kim Stewart, who has handled the licensing of his images in recent years.

Dave Douglas performs with High Risk, featuring Shigeto, at the 2017 NYC Winter Jazzfest.
John Rogers / for NPR

Trumpeter-composer Dave Douglas found inspiration for his latest project, Metamorphosis, in the sky: specifically, from star formations and the mythologies that took hold around them.

“Halcyon Days,” which premieres here, is a potent, exploratory track from the session, featuring serious improvisers like Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet, Oliver Lake on saxophone and Andrew Cyrille on drums.

John Rogers / WBGO/NPR

Jimmy Cobb, the incomparable hard-bop drummer, died on Sunday at 91.

"Our best musicians in the jazz tradition were radical imaginers," Samora Pinderhughes says. A pianist and composer in his mid-20s, he has asserted his connection to that lineage with The Transformations Suite, an earnest and ambitious new work combining music, words and visuals. The piece, which took five years to chisel into shape, was inspired by African-American resistance and protest movements, as well as the oppression that many still endure.

David Garten

Political expression isn’t a new impulse for pianist and composer Arturo O’Farrill, who leads the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. But he’s taking his most direct action yet with “Musicians Against Fascism,” a concert he has organized at Symphony Space. Scheduled for this Thursday, the eve of the presidential inauguration, it’s an act of protest involving more than a dozen notable jazz artists. 

Nat Hentoff during the annual "A Great Night in Harlem" Benefit Concert at The Apollo Theater in New York City.
STEPHEN LOVEKIN / FILMMAGIC VIA GETTY IMAGES

 

The first and most famous book by Nat Hentoff — Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya, co-credited to Nat Shapiro and originally published in 1955 — is an oral history that rings with the authority of scripture. “This is the story of jazz,” it begins, “as told by the musicians whose lives are that story.” 

 

Donny McCaslin
Jimmy King

 

“No plan,” David Bowie muses in the first verse of a haunting new song by that title. “Wherever I may go / Just where, just there / I am.” These existential lyrics are inextricable from their real-world context: “No Plan” was conceived just as Bowie was confronting his own mortality, with a quiet determination to forge the experience into art.

Welcome to the New WBGO.org!

Jan 16, 2017

Welcome to the new WBGO.org! Our site is now more flexible than ever, so you can enjoy listening to the music you love and reading our coverage on any device.

We’re excited to introduce a strong new editorial focus, with in-depth features, news, artist interviews and more. There’ll be something new here every day.

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