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The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Masters award, which comes with a $25,000 prize, is widely described as United States' highest honor for jazz. Today, the NEA announced its four newest recipients of the prize: pianist Joanne Brackeen, guitarist Pat Metheny, singer Dianne Reeves and producer Todd Barkan.

For a long stretch of his early performing career, vibraphonist Gary Burton was always the youngest man on the bandstand. A child prodigy from Indiana, and then an onrushing force on the scene, he apprenticed with the great Nashville guitarist Hank Garland before going on tour with pianist George Shearing, followed by tenor saxophonist Stan Getz.

William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress
William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress

At the time of this interview Lionel Hampton (1908 – 2002), vibraphonist, band leader and composer, had been a working musician for 62 years when he spoke with Ross Reynolds.

Hampton introduced the vibraphone as a jazz instrument, wrote jazz standards (“Flying Home”), performed with jazz greats Louie Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa , Duke Ellington, Dizzie Gillespie, and discovered Dinah Washington and Joe Williams.  He also recruited Seattleites Quincy Jones and Ernestine Anderson for his bands. 

Sonny Rollins wasn't really thinking about the formation of an archive as he went about his life and career over the last 60 years — as a tenor saxophonist of unsurpassed stature, an artist of active spiritual and social engagement, and an embodiment of jazz's improvisational ideal.

The low end has always been terra firma for Buster Williams, one of the all-time great bassists in modern jazz.

A newly released, not-quite-reissue album has shed some very eagerly awaited light on rarely heard music music made by one of the most fascinating — and even arguably misunderstood — musicians in jazz: the late pianist, organist, harpist, keyboard player, composer and spiritual leader Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda.

Moses Boyd Exodus ended its performance at the 2017 South by Southwest music festival with a rampaging take on its trademark tune, "Rye Lane Shuffle." Drummer Moses Boyd, the band's young founder and namesake, rumbled freely on his toms, joined by a fervent-sounding Binker Golding on tenor saxophone. The groove that emerged was Nigerian Afrobeat by way of a modern jazz metropolis — one with every resource at hand.

When Dee Dee Bridgewater learned that she would become a 2017 NEA Jazz Master, a succession of thoughts and feelings flooded her mind. The news came as a total shock, as she tells it: "It was so far out of my orbit and just my whole sphere of thinking," she said in a conversation at NPR this spring, hours before she formally received her award.

Hugh Masekela was an up-and-coming trumpeter, all of 20, when he took an overnight train from Johannesburg to Cape Town to meet a pianist everyone was talking about in South Africa: Abdullah Ibrahim, then known as Dollar Brand.

The Ella Fitzgerald Centennial: Our 'First Lady Of Song'

Apr 26, 2017

Her voice is instantly recognizable. Her youthful exuberance, pure sound and positive energy just make you feel good. Her incredible technical abilities were self-evident, but when she sang, she radiated a joy consistent with her own character both on and off the bandstand.

David Amram On Piano Jazz

Apr 22, 2017

Ralph Towner first came to the attention of a wide audience nearly 50 years ago as a member of the Paul Winter Consort, for whom he composed the group's most famous tune, "Icarus." The piece was so beloved, the Apollo 15 astronauts took the record to the moon — and named a crater after it.

Record Store Day, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, is a consumer ploy in the guise of a cultural event. Or, depending on your vantage, maybe it's the other way around. Whatever the case, record stores across the country and around the world are happily (or gamely) bracing for impact: Record Store Day 2017 falls this Saturday, April 22, with a wave of exclusive releases, in-store appearances and other retail enticements.

This Saturday is Record Store Day, and one of its many offerings is an unreleased film soundtrack by Thelonious Monk. We celebrate that release and Monk's centennial with one of his ballads.

This year's class of NEA Jazz Masters is as accomplished as they come, with Dee Dee Bridgewater on vocals, Dr.

Why do hip-hop producers gravitate toward jazz samples? For a mood, for sonic timbre, for a unique rhythmic component. Swing is a precursor to the boom-bap. "If you're a hip-hop producer that wants a lot of melodic stuff happening," pianist Robert Glasper says, "you're probably going to go to jazz first."

Nnenna Freelon On Piano Jazz

Apr 14, 2017

Internationally hailed as one of the greatest vocalists to come along in decades, Nnenna Freelon exudes both class and sophistication. Her soulful style consists of fresh interpretations of classic standards. A six-time Grammy nominee, she also starred in the critically acclaimed 2014 show Georgia On My Mind: Celebrating The Music Of Ray Charles in Las Vegas.

Dorothy Donegan On Piano Jazz

Apr 7, 2017

This week's episode of Piano Jazz remembers NEA Jazz Master Dorothy Donegan (1922—1998) with a session from 1983. Donegan's technical command of the piano was nothing short of breathtaking, and she was known for her onstage antics and flamboyance. In the house with Marian McPartland, she attacks the piano, hammering away with her elbows and knuckles on "Darn That Dream" and "Stormy Weather." McPartland and Donegan play two pianos on "Lullaby of Birdland" and "Rosetta."

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The NEA Jazz Masters Award is often described as the nation's highest honor for a living jazz musician. From the first its program has celebrated a broad aesthetic range — its inaugural class of honorees, in 1982, consisted of bebop icon Dizzy Gillespie, his trumpet precursor Roy Eldridge and the interstellar visionary Sun Ra. As those initial inductees show, the roll call of NEA Jazz Masters have represented striking diversity within the uppermost echelon of achievement in this music.

There's no shortage of poignant moments in I Called Him Morgan, Kasper Collin's mesmerizing new documentary about the life and death of jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan. One moment, about half an hour into the film, has stuck with me since I first saw it, lingering like an afterimage or the hook from a song.

Muldrow Meets Mingus

Mar 23, 2017

At a glance, Georgia Anne Muldrow isn't the obvious pick to create an interpretive tribute to the bassist and composer Charles Mingus. She was born in 1983, four years after Mingus died at 56. Her music stands well outside the jazz perimeter, aligning more with the Afrocentric current that flows through underground hip-hop, avant-R&B and psychedelic soul.

Judy Roberts On Piano Jazz

Mar 21, 2017

Pianist and vocalist Judy Roberts is one of Chicago's best-loved musicians. She's an imaginative and insightful pianist with an articulate touch, and her voice readily conveys many different moods. Since beginning her professional music career at age 15, Roberts has traveled the world, gaining fans and garnering critical acclaim. She always keeps her audience enthralled, as she did on this 2003 episode of Piano Jazz, recorded in front of a live audience at NPR Member station WAMC in Albany, N.Y.

For a musician, Israel's compulsory military service has its challenges and opportunities. Yotam Silberstein used every moment of his military downtime to practice the jazz guitar. When he got out of the army, he became one of Israel's most renowned young players — but he still had a big move ahead of him.

Joey DeFrancesco On Piano Jazz

Mar 10, 2017

Joey DeFrancesco was only 20 years old when he was Marian McPartland's guest on Piano Jazz. Hailed as the new hero of the organ, his stint with Miles Davis brought the classically trained keyboardist national attention. He has since gone on to release more than 30 albums and has earned multiple Grammy nominations.

Ahmad Jamal On Piano Jazz

Mar 3, 2017

One of the most popular stylists in contemporary jazz, pianist Ahmad Jamal has been a major force on the jazz recording scene ever since his 1958 live album, made at Chicago's Pershing Lounge. On this 1985 episode of Piano Jazz, Jamal reprises two classics from that session — "Poinciana" and "But Not For Me" — in duets with Marian McPartland.

At the height of the Cold War, the United States was also fighting a culture war. To counter Soviet propaganda, the U.S. State Department launched a public relations campaign called the Jazz Ambassadors program, sending Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Dave Brubeck and other leading jazz musicians on tours around the world.

Bill Evans was a genius: The jazz world, which can be roiled by factions and jealousies, usually agrees on that. He was a composer and pianist with a light, lyrical touch that was once described as what you might hear at the gates of heaven. But like many geniuses, Evans died too young — in 1980, at the age of just 51, after years of cocaine and heroin addiction.

A new documentary by filmmaker Bruce Spiegel helps capture that genius with interviews of musicians, family members, and archival footage of Bill Evans himself.

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