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"It can be maddening to deal with a political environment where it seems like the truth has no purchase anymore," says Darcy James Argue, the hyper-literate composer who leads the Secret Society, a postmodern big band. Argue has spent a lot of time recently thinking about that maddening environment — not just as a matter of civic engagement during a chaotic election season, but also because it forms the crux of Real Enemies, his most recent work.

Jazz vocalist John Boutté feels he can no longer afford to live in his hometown of New Orleans. He's not alone. Rising housing costs are pushing many musicians and service workers — the backbone of New Orleans' tourism economy — further and further outside the city limits.

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 covers for Miguel Zenón's recent albums are almost worth buying on their own: evocative, full of personality, compelling as storytelling.

It's become a January tradition for NPR to look ahead to some of the most anticipated jazz albums of the year. Bassist Christian McBride, who hosts NPR's Jazz Night In America, and jazz critic Nate Chinen of NPR Member station WBGO join NPR's Audie Cornish to preview three albums coming out in 2017.

Read some of McBride's and Chinen's thoughts below, and hear more of their discussion — including a reflection on the relationship between musicians and critics — at the audio link.

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.

"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.

Jeannie Cheatham On Piano Jazz

Jan 13, 2017

Pianist and vocalist Jeannie Cheatham began piano lessons at the tender age of 5. At 13, she became intoxicated by the sounds of jazz. Cheatham toured with such blues artists as Jimmy Witherspoon, T-Bone Walker, Odetta and Big Mama Thornton. In the 1950s she met her husband, bass trombonist Jimmy Cheatham, and the pair formed the Sweet Baby Blues Band.

This year's Winter Jazzfest, which took place last week in New York City, presented an explicit theme of "Celebrating Social Justice." Conceptually and musically, Winter Jazzfest pushes the genre forward; after taking in as many of the 130-plus acts across many stages in Manhattan and Brooklyn as they could, our team reported back with some of the festival's highlights.


"Stories like forests are subject to seasons."

The New Year holiday tradition continues with the Toast of the Nation jazz party. Spirited, improvised and swinging, each hour was recorded live at Blue Note venues throughout the country and the world.

2016 brought a lot of loss to the music community: Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones, David Bowie and Prince, just to name a few. Jazz also lost great players from Paul Bley to Gato Barbieri to the three we're profiling this hour on Jazz Night in America — vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, harmonica player Toots Thielemans and bassist Victor Bailey.

Ring in the holidays with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. This week, Jazz Night in America breaks format: no stories or interviews, just a show full of good music. With guest vocalists Audrey Shakir and Denzal Sinclaire, Wynton Marsalis leads the orchestra through new arrangements of holiday classics. The set begins with an energetically swinging version of "Jingle Bells" — the perfect complement for cooking in the kitchen, wrapping gifts or decorating the tree.

In this festive annual tradition, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis offer swinging and soulful performances of classic holiday music.

In addition to the selections heard on their Big Band Holidays album, the ensemble will perform new arrangements of songs both sacred and secular, from "Silver Bells" to favorites like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

The occasion features Sherman Irby, an extraordinary saxophonist, arranger and composer whose most recent commissioned work was met with a standing ovation in Rose Theater.

In 1971, pianist, composer and bandleader Eddie Palmieri put out a formative album called Harlem River Drive. Written in the heat of racial turbulence, its lyrics addressed the inequality Puerto Ricans faced in New York City. The album served as a form of protest, as well as commentary on social-justice issues for the people of El Barrio, East Harlem.

Though the Latin funk classic didn't take off in the early '70s, it later became an underground classic. Its enduring songs remain relevant today.

2016 has been a time of great loss for music: Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Sharon Jones all passed away this year, just to name a few. The jazz world was no exception.

When you see Mary Halvorson on stage, she doesn't look like much of a trailblazer. She plays sitting down. She's small, and mostly hidden behind her hollow-body guitar and glasses. But then she starts to play. And the sounds coming out of her amp are anything but conventional.

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