Nate Chinen

Wayne Shorter likes to tell a story about going to see Charlie Parker, the mercurial titan of bebop, sometime around 1951. Shorter was 18 at the time — a saxophonist, like Parker, and a bop obsessive already gigging around his hometown of Newark, N.J. He headed across the river into Manhattan, where Parker, colloquially known as Bird, was headlining at Birdland, the club named in Parker's honor.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

More Than Keeping Time: A Melodic Drumming Demo

Aug 17, 2018

What would you say if I told you that drums can sing? The best jazz drummers have always understood this as fact. Allison Miller has even made it a core part of her artistic mission — as drummer, a composer and a bandleader, notably with her ensemble Boom Tic Boom.

Wayne Shorter was 15 when he first wrote and illustrated his own comic book, in blue ballpoint pen. That was in 1949, and Shorter has traveled great distances since, becoming an influential saxophonist, a 10-time Grammy winner and one of the most highly regarded composers in modern jazz.

Jazz has always been a music of continuum, its secrets passed down across generations. Benny Green is a shining embodiment of this process: A pianist originally inspired (and eventually endorsed) by mid-century modernists like Oscar Peterson; An apprentice to two of the music's greatest mentors, Betty Carter and Art Blakey; A conservationist of the bebop idiom, and a joyful guardian of its lexicon.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Masters award, bestowed every year since 1982, is often characterized as the United States' highest honor reserved for jazz. This morning the NEA announced four new recipients of the prize: pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim, composer-arranger-bandleader Maria Schneider, critic and novelist Stanley Crouch, and singer-songwriter and pianist Bob Dorough.

Virtuosity — of a dazzling, ebullient, yet altogether generous sort — might be the most obvious bridge between David Holland and Zakir Hussain. But there's also a deep cultural foundation behind their musical dialogue, which forms the beating heart of a project called Crosscurrents.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

The Branford Marsalis Quartet had been rampaging at the Village Vanguard for over an hour — in full burnout mode, practically rattling the pictures on the walls — when its leader swerved unexpectedly into a softer mode. Channeling his best Ben Webster warble on the tenor saxophone, Branford closed the set with a songbook ballad, "Sweet Lorraine." For those in the room who recognized its gladsome melody, the implicit dedication rang clear.

Harold Mabern has never had any hang-ups about not being the center of attention. "I get joy out of being an accompanist," the pianist affirms, likening himself to an offensive lineman on a football team. "When you can do something to make the soloist happy and proud," he says plainly, "you've done your job."

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.


There's a tension in Joshua Redman's new album, Still Dreaming, and it may not be the one that you expect.

It isn't typically news when a jazz group makes a change in personnel. But The Bad Plus isn't a typical jazz group, and its announcement, this time last year, landed like a bombshell. In short: Ethan Iverson, the band's pianist, would be leaving to pursue his own projects. Orrin Evans, an esteemed peer, would be stepping in. For a group that has always stood for musical collectivism — and never accepted any substitutions — this was a shakeup of existential proportions.

The following text was originally published alongside the live web stream of the 2018 NEA Jazz Masters, which took place on April 16. A recording of the event can now be viewed by clicking on the video above.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Milford Graves and Jason Moran were listening hard at the Big Ears Festival on Friday evening, and in this they were far from alone. Their spontaneous musical dialogue, onstage at the elegant Bijou Theater in Knoxville, Tenn., suggested a merging of the ancient and the ultramodern, aglow with an ephemeral sort of grace. At one point, Moran's deep, mournful sonorities at the piano led Graves toward a murmuring hush at the drums, as if anything else would break the spell.

Terence Blanchard has always been drawn to a form of lyricism that runs burnished and bittersweet. You can track this mood throughout his career as a post-bop trumpeter, and no less in his dozens of film scores, in and beyond a long affiliation with Spike Lee.

No jazz musician has ever been heard more on public radio than the late Marian McPartland, the host of NPR's Piano Jazz for more than 40 years. But for all her ubiquity, how well did we really know her?

Lizz Wright is well acquainted with the storytelling power of a journey. Her music, rooted in the gospel truths and rustic byways of this country, could be seen as a sustained meditation on movement: not just the flow of bodies in rapturous rhythm, but also the trajectories that mark a life story.

Some experiences stick with you. They cry out for reflection, for the transfigurative potential of an artistic response. That was the case for Mike Reed, the intrepid Chicago drummer and bandleader, after his harrowing encounter with white supremacists in 2009.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Fred Hersch is no stranger to the art of introspection. As a pianist, a composer, a bandleader and a sideman, he has always combined clarity of projection with a willingness to go deep. His latest expression of interiority is a graceful and revealing memoir, Good Things Happen Slowly, which takes shape as a gradual declaration of selfhood, in personal as well as artistic terms.

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