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The Checkout x Jazz Night in America: Top 5 Collabs

Herbie Hancock, Randy Weston, Abdullah Ibrahim, Mark Guiliana, and Kamasi Washington
Herbie Hancock, Randy Weston, Abdullah Ibrahim, Mark Guiliana, and Kamasi Washington

In the Disney+ series The Book of Boba Fett, the stoic bounty hunter at its center says: “You can only get so far without a Tribe.” When it comes to The Checkout, our most ambitious shows were the byproduct of a “We’re In This Together” spirit, which usually required a talented crew of creatives working in tandem behind the scenes.

The Checkout x Jazz Night in America: Top 5 Collaborations

So in this episode, we rank the Top 5 collaborations between Jazz Night in America and The Checkout, with a little help from Jazz Night producer Alex Ariff.

Before you enjoy this dopamine-laced retrospective, though, please consider taking a moment to support WBGO Studios with a monetary donation. We are public media, and we couldn’t do it without all the music lovers out there.

No. 5: Mark Guiliana’s Beat Music! in Brooklyn

I knew it was a radical pitch to Alex and senior producer Katie Simon at the time, especially for a nationally syndicated jazz radio program that puts a premium on history and tradition. But my admiration for drummer and composer Mark Guiliana simply ran too deep. The perfect time came when he finally decided to jumpstart his underground electronic unit, Beat Music. Who knows what kind of music this is? To my ears it rocks, thumps, distorts, and swings all at the same time. It’s also a formidable timestamp in the lineage of jazz fusion's evolution. We made multiple audio pieces out of the affair, including a Jazz Night In America episode which leans into Guiliana’s acoustic sensibilities at the famous Bimhuis in Amsterdam.

No. 4: Randy Weston's Panamanian Roots 

When Randy Weston was still with us, the giant of the piano spoke of music as an essential truth of life, a Motherland blend of religion and science, birthed by African people, that gave beauty to all humankind. He was an original Pan-Africanist, before the term was in vogue. And according to Weston, his Pan-African musical philosophy — and the reason he played the piano in the first place — can be traced to his father’s early days in Panama. Back in 2016, we had the opportunity to celebrate Weston’s 90th birthday at the Panama Jazz Festival, where he was being honored with a lifetime achievement award. He was still at the top of his game. We can only dream to attempt to age so gracefully, as you’ll see in his performance of "African Cookbook" at the 35 minute mark of this video.

No. 3: Robert Glasper, Bilal, and Common salute Herbie Hancock and J Dilla

Talk about a surreal continuum of music. In October of 2016, Herbie Hancock took over the Celebrate Brooklyn! stage to present a new electric band that featured alto saxophonist and vocoderist Terrace Martin. At the time, Hancock was workshopping music for a forthcoming studio recording (an album that he appears to still be working on).  Before the concert, I got the opportunity to interview him. I don’t think I was ever more amped and nervous for an interview; it was a bucket list moment for me. Not only did we get a beautiful concert film in Prospect Park, but Robert Glasper opened the show, inviting some special guests for a J Dilla tribute and freestyle, but you can only hear that in this special podcast.

No. 2: The Deeper Story of South African Jazz

The Checkout and Jazz Night In America are music-focused programs, but sometimes the story behind the art is just as big as the music itself. This may be even more so when it comes to The Jazz Epistles — arguably the most important jazz band in South Africa’s history. The dream was to reunite trumpeter Hugh Masekela and pianist Abdullah Ibrahim for the first time in five decades for a special concert at The Town Hall. A week before the show, while I was producing another Checkout/Jazz Night collaboration about the blues in Clarksdale, Mississippi, I got a call that made me profoundly blue. Masekela had to cancel due to health reasons. (We later found out it was cancer; he died nine months after the scheduled concert.) The show went on regardless, and some fabulous radio was made out of it, including an animated short featuring Ibrahim. Shortly thereafter, Ibrahim became an NEA Jazz Master.  

No. 1: An Epic Debut by Kamasi Washington

In the summer of 2015, midway through Kamasi Washington’s album release party for The Epic, alto saxophonist Terrace Martin shouts from the stage: “This s—t has never been done before!” At the time, I thought his statement was a bit of hyperbole. But in retrospect, that music — performed by a big band, a string section, a choir, and multiple DJs and special guests — was perfect for its time. It would dominate the jazz narrative for years thereafter, helping to define L.A.'s modern jazz sound with the help of Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label. Many Checkout episodes would be spawned from this moment, including features with Brandon Coleman, Cameron Graves, Genevieve Artadi, Louis Cole, Jameszoo, Thundercat, and even Flying Lotus himself. The 20 minutes of concert material here is as wild as it gets, which includes one of the most subdued Thundercat solos I ever heard at the end of "Miss Understanding." It's a fitting way to end this podcast, as Thundercat posed in the final scene of the last episode of The Book of Boba Fett, a proud reminder that many of these musicians have come a long way since we first started working with them.

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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.