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Making the Best of a Bonkers Year, with Béla Fleck, Thana Alexa, Brad Mehldau and More

Nduduzo Makhathini, Thana Alexa, Brad Mehldau, and Dan Tepfer
Courtesy of Artist
Nduduzo Makhathini, Thana Alexa, Brad Mehldau, and Dan Tepfer

Last March, the jazz capital of the world became a ghost town. The Checkout attempts to bring some joy as we look back on a certifiably frightening year.

Our beloved jazz scene was crushed by COVID-19 in more ways to remember. But we tried to infuse some bright moments during these dark times. We spotlighted musicians quick to adapt with astonishing innovation: pianist Dan Tepfer beaming-in others with his telematic performances. Singer Thana Alexa immediately pivoted to present the livestream series Live From Our Living Rooms.

We also sent a healing message from pianist Nduduzo Makhathini, who is also known as a Sangoma, a traditional healer in South Africa. The pianist Brad Mehldau persevered by writing a gorgeous suite mostly inspired by being at home with his family.

I suppose that was one silver lining for many of us: we had a chance to reconnect deeply with our closest family, a detail lovingly portrayed in Alone Together Duets, a series co-produced with my wife, Sarah Geledi, from Jazz Night in America. We bring you two recent heartwarming additions by Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn from Nashville and Mike and Leni Stern from Manhattan.

WBGO’s Special Projects Producer Trevor Smith and I pause to reflect on these strange yet beautiful occurrences, which will hopefully bring a smile to your face too. We kick it off with a radiant single which just dropped: “Get Sun” by Hiatus Kiayote featuring Authur Verocai.

Get excited everyone. A country is healing. Summer is coming. And, this incredible band is dropping a new recording Mood Valiant in June.

For more than 15 years, Simon Rentner has worked as a host, producer, broadcaster, web journalist, and music presenter in New York City. His career gives him the opportunity to cover a wide spectrum of topics including, history, culture, and, most importantly, his true passion of music from faraway places such as Europe, South America, and Africa.