WBGO Blog
  • Wilco Guitarist Nels Cline Reclaims Mood Music In The City Of Brotherly Love

    September 13, 2018

    image
    Nels Cline (Image Credit: NPR)

    Nels Cline has earned his place as a guitar hero for our times, with a track record stretching back four decades and a marquee gig with Wilco. But if you mainly associate him with squalls of feedback, you're missing a big part of the picture. "The Avant Romantic" is how Rolling Stone pegged him about a decade ago, in its list of Top 20 New Guitar Gods. And lately, Cline has been focusing his efforts, without pause or irony, on the romantic part of that equation.

    Lovers, released on Blue Note in 2016, was Cline's fond reclamation of "mood music" albums from midcentury, with his guitar in an earnest melodic role. It's a suave collaboration with trumpeter Michael Leonhart, who wrote the orchestrations for a handful of versatile players like cellist Erik Friedlander and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck. As Cline put it at the time in a conversation with NPR's Fresh Air, Lovers was a project he'd been dreaming about for more than 25 years.

    Lovers (for Philadelphia) didn't require such a long gestation. Commissioned by the nonprofit Ars Nova Workshop, it was a sequel of sorts to Lovers intended to reflect a clear sense of place — the City of Brotherly Love, which of course has a great musical legacy not only as a jazz town but also an epicenter of soul. Cline made several trips to Philly for intensive research, visiting local institutions like the Curtis Institute of Music and the Germantown headquarters of the Sun Ra Arkestra. (He even helped create a Lovers saison at Tired Hands Brewing Company.)

    The first and only performance of Lovers (for Philadelphia) took place at Union Transfer on June 2, and Jazz Night in America was there. See the video above for an up-close-and-personal view of the concert, and listen to our radio show for more insights on just how Cline and Leonhart made new tapestries of sound out of classic tunes like Benny Golson's "Whisper Not," McCoy Tyner's "Aisha," and The Delfonics' "La-La (Means I Love You)."

    "I wanted it to be sweet but I didn't want it to be sugary," Cline says of the Lovers project at large. He strikes that balance on this love letter to a musical city — which has now enfolded Cline in a reciprocal embrace.

    Copyright 2018 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • Nashville: Not Just A Country Scene But A Place To Go For Jazz

    August 23, 2018. Posted by Alex Ariff.

    image
    Christian McBride performs with The Time Jumpers. (Image Credit: Colin Marshall/NPR)

    "It used to be: 'Nashville — that's where you come to play country music.'"

    Joe Spivey is voicing a prevailing view of his adopted hometown, one that has endured for the better part of a century. But Spivey — a fiddler in The Time Jumpers, the swingingest band in Music City — knows better. He definitely plays his share of country music, but he's also one of a burgeoning number of musicians who make up the robust and soulful Nashville jazz scene.

    Jazz Night in America had been hearing great things about that scene, which largely flies under the national radar. A couple of years ago I did some recon at ground level, meeting with players like Spivey, guitarist Andy Reiss and saxophonists Jeff Coffin and Evan Cobb. Everybody told me the same thing: that Nashville has always nurtured a small but serious jazz culture, and that its constituency, like so much else in this booming city, is growing at a prodigious rate.

    Our host, bassist-composer-bandleader Christian McBride, who's performed in Nashville several times, had also flagged it as a place for further exploration. So the Jazz Night team hit the road to scope out the scene and meet up with some of its enterprising artists.

    In this episode of our radio show, we'll spend time with the musicians mentioned above, as well as trumpeter Jennifer Hartswick; bassist John Estes and saxophonist Doug Mosher; and the twin brothers Rahsaan and Roland Barber, who respectively play tenor saxophone and trombone. We'll hear music from Rudy's Jazz Room, the happening new club in town, featuring bands on Coffin's label, Ear Up Records. We'll get a crash course in Nashville's hidden jazz history, at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

    Oh, and we'll hear what happens with McBride sat in with The Time Jumpers on their legendary Monday-night gig at 3rd & Lindsley. Nashville — that's where you come to play jazz. It may not be the case for everyone, but it was true for Jazz Night, and it's getting truer all the time. — Nate Chinen

    Copyright 2018 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • More Than Keeping Time: A Melodic Drumming Demo

    August 17, 2018

    image
    Drummer, Allison Miller (Image Credit: Colin Marshall/NPR)

    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.

    Jazz Night in America recently caught up with Miller, who skillfully demonstrates the concept of "melodic drumming" — using her drums and cymbals, a Duke Ellington tune, and a new piece of technology — in our video short. We also dropped in at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola for portions of an engaging set by Boom Tic Boom, featuring Miller alongside violinist Jenny Scheinman, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, clarinetist Jeff Lederer, pianist Carmen Staaf and bassist Tony Scherr.

    In our radio show, we'll also hear from Miller about how playing in high-profile folk-rock settings (with Natalie Merchant, among others) informs her playing. We'll learn how female empowerment is thriving in the jazz community plus Miller's firsthand experiences with sexism and gender inequality in our institutions and on the scene.

    And we'll consider how it all connects: melody and harmony, the individual and the whole. "There's something about the platform of jazz," Miller says, "that it lays this palette of having such deep communication with your other bandmates. And for me that's why I play this music."

    Copyright 2018 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • How Benny Green Saw His Jazz Horizon

    July 19, 2018

    image
    (Image Credit: Frank Stewart/JALC)

    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.

    Green is now 55, and has come a long way since the days when he was featured in a group called Jazz Futures, with fellow up-and-comers like bassist Christian McBride. He inhabits a midpoint in the music, not yet as an elder but certainly a mature artist, and an influence on more than a few players himself. In this episode of Jazz Night in America, we'll catch a recent set of his at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, featuring his spit-and-polish trio with drummer Kenny Washington and bassist David Wong.

    We'll also be a fly on the wall as Green catches up with McBride — one of his oldest friends, and our show's multifaceted host. They'll reminisce about Green's youth in Berkeley, Calif., where his father, saxophonist Bert Green, instilled a reverence for jazz. They'll talk about what the younger Green learned from Betty Carter, and how he tactfully left her band to join Blakey's Jazz Messengers, turning heads right away. And they'll talk shop about Green's experience working with Ray Brown, who happens to be McBride's foundational bass hero, and another bridge from one jazz era to the next.

    Copyright 2018 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • The GroundUP Music Festival Brings Even More Heat to Miami

    July 12, 2018. Posted by Alex Ariff.

    image
    (Image Credit: Stella K. /WBGO)

    The first "destination" jazz festival took place in Newport, R.I., in 1954 — multiple days, one stage and gorgeous scenery. These days, Newport is going strong, as is Monterey in California, and the festival model has expanded to multiple stages and far beyond big-brimmed hats and lawn chairs.

    Still, Snarky Puppy leader Michael League saw a void and an opportunity. After years of performing at festivals around the world, the 34-year-old bassist founded the GroundUP Music Festival in order to bring musicians and fans together in an intimate setting: the beach. Miami Beach, to be exact.

    At GroundUP, "the line between stage and audiences doesn't really exist," says musician Magda Giannikou, who led a massive drum and vocal session on the sand. "It's a very interactive and creative festival. It feels like spending three days with your family."

    Jazz Night in America takes you to the GroundUP Music Festival, practically plopping you on South Beach for an hour of exploration. We'll get a taste of League's vision for music festivals: healthy local food, a cap of 2,000 tickets sold per day, and no overlapping sets. Our show is a sampler of sorts, featuring banjo adventurist Bela Fleck; a new quartet led by Snarky Puppy trumpeter Jay Jennings and saxophonist Bob Reynolds; some solo work by Snarky keyboardist Bill Laurance; and a funky, one-time meeting of League, saxophonist Joshua Redman, guitarist Lionel Loueke and drummer Larnell Lewis.

    Copyright 2018 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.