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Jazz Night in America NEA Work Samples

Inspired By Injustice, Wynton Marsalis Reflects (9:53)

Inspired By Injustice, Wynton Marsalis Reflects

Wynton Marsalis has always been deeply engaged in the subject of American race relations.

The issue was a crucial part of his education as a young musician in New Orleans, and it has been a core preoccupation of his own work going as far back as Black Codes (From the Underground), a trailblazing album from 1985.

"Our racial problems have been so documented that we have a tendency to not realize that we're all on this same boat," Marsalis told Good Morning America in 1997 after he became the first jazz artist to win a Pulitzer Prize for his oratorio Blood on the Fields. "When I write the music, it's not just the history of Blacks, it's an American story."

In this episode of Jazz Night, Marsalis expands on that idea and more in a conversation with our host, Christian McBride. Reflecting on our current wave of protests and the removal of public monuments, they connect this moment with a historical struggle. We'll also hear some of the music Marsalis has made to this end, from Black Codes to Blood on the Fields to a small-group work, From the Plantation to the Penitentiary.

The Raconteur Raised on Jazz: Phil Schaap (11:03)

The Raconteur Raised on Jazz: Phil Schaap

It's not hard to imagine a world where a search for the phrase "jazz connoisseur" turns up a photo of the grinning mug of Phil Schaap. As a historian and educator, a Grammy-winning reissue producer, a curator and a pontificator, Schaap has more than earned his prestigious stature as the 2021 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellow for Jazz Advocacy.

For jazz fans the world over — but especially on Schaap's home turf, New York City — his name and professorial baritone are synonymous with Bird Flight, the Charlie Parker-focused radio show he began broadcasting on WKCR in the 1980s. The deepest of dives into Parker's musical life, it has long been legendary for the tangential obsessions of its host, whom the New Yorker once characterized as "a mad Talmudic scholar who has decided that the laws of humankind reside not in the ancient Babylonian tractates but in alternate takes of 'Moose the Mooche' and 'Swedish Schnapps.'"

In this episode of Jazz Night in America, we catch up with Schaap, considering not only his singular career on the air, but also the jazz series he ran for nearly two decades at the West End Café on Manhattan's Upper West Side. We'll also hear glowing testimonials from former students and fellow travelers, notably Wynton Marsalis, who as artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center has sought Schaap's counsel in both educational and concert programming. "All music is present tense, if it's being played or listened to," Schaap tells us, voicing a truth that underscores his life's work. "That's one of its charms — it's a present-tense joy."

In this excerpt, we hear about Schaap's most recent Covid era endeavor, and an intimate conversation he has with a student.

Lost and Found in Yonkers: The Billy Lester Story (9:26)

Lost and Found in Yonkers: The Billy Lester Story

Public acknowledgment took its time finding Billy Lester. A pianist devoted to searching for a new form of modern jazz, he spent more than half a century on the outskirts of New York City, quietly honing his craft. "I just figured I'd go to my grave without any kind of recognition," he says plainly, "and I was at the point in my life where I totally accepted that."The situation changed only a few years ago when Lester was in his early 70s. A chance encounter led to an acclaimed album on the boutique Newvelle record label, which he made with the impeccable rhythm team of Rufus Reid on bass and Matt Wilson on drums. And in the fall of 2019, this trio played two sets to a packed house at the Jazz Standard — Lester's long-overdue debut in a New York City jazz club, and an absolute triumph at that.This show features highlights from that special evening, which also poses a question: how did the spotlight elude this fine pianist for so long, and why? We'll get to know Lester as a person, and we'll see how his ascetic profile and purist instinct extend a tradition modeled by his mentor, the late Sal Mosca, who in turn learned from the groundbreaking jazz modernist Lennie Tristano. The spirit of discovery so prized by Tristano's disciples is ever-present in the music of Billy Lester — and we're proud to let you in on the secret.

Phil Schaap, Iconic Jazz DJ And NEA Jazz Master, Dies At 70 | September 8, 2021