• Pianist Helen Sung: From Classical Outsider To The Jazz Inner Circle

    March 4, 2021. Posted by Alex Ariff.

    Helen Sung (Image Credit: Ayano Hisa/Jazz at Lincoln Center)

    There's a composition by pianist Helen Sung titled "Into the Unknown," from her 2018 album, Sung With Words. A bright, bustling tune with a melody full of rhythmic feints, it captures the radiant spirit that Sung brings to any bandstand. And the song's title says something about her unconventional path to a life in modern jazz.

    Raised by immigrant parents in Houston, Sung showed early promise on piano — but seemed destined for classical music until her mid 20s. Pursuing improvised music took a leap of faith, but she was soon admitted to the Thelonious Monk Institute for Jazz, where she received affirmation from the masters, and began to lay the groundwork for her own career.

    On this episode of Jazz Night, we'll hear Sung play "Into the Unknown" with her quartet: John Ellis on tenor saxophone, Rueben Rogers on bass and McClenty Hunter on drums. Their set, recorded at Dizzy's Club, also features tunes by (and for) Thelonious Monk, and a note of social conscience. "Jazz is such an honest art form," she says. "And so as an artist, I want to be on the side of truth."


    Helen Sung, piano; John Ellis, tenor saxophone; Reuben Rogers, bass; McClenty Hunter, drums

    Set List

    Songs by Helen Sung unless otherwise noted

    • "Carolina Shout" (James P. Johnson)
    • "Into the Unknown" 
    • "Bye-Ya" (Thelonious Monk)
    • "Brother Thelonious" 
    • "Lament for Kalief Browder" 
    • "Hope Springs Eternally"


    Writer and Producer: Alex Ariff; Host: Christian McBride; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Music Engineer; Rob Macomber; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand; Senior Director of NPR Music: Lauren Onkey.

    Copyright 2021 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • Alone Together: Jazz Couples (Stuck) at Home

    February 12, 2021. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    Taali and José James (Image Credit: /Courtesy of the artist)

    Our greatest ally in life can also be a royal pain in our butt. One moment your partner may be a bundle of joy; the next they are driving you up a wall. This is particularly magnified during a year when there is no place to go, or be, other than right in front of your loved one's face. All of our idiosyncrasies are on display. There is nowhere to hide.

    This seems pronounced for musician couples, who often have separate touring schedules and aren't used to spending so much time together. As a result, they are learning to live with each other like never before.

    In the spring of 2020, we brought you an inner window into some of these creative partnerships with Alone Together Duets. During that time, we also asked some of the dynamic duos to give us a behind-the-curtain look at love life during quarantine — alone together.

    Featured Couples:

    Thana Alexa and Antonio Sanchez; Taali and José James; Brandee Younger and Dezron Douglas; Regina Carter and Alvester Garnett; Linda May Han Oh and Fabian Almazan; Jean and Marcus Baylor; La Tanya Hall and Andy Milne; Melissa Walker and Christian McBride.


    Producers: Sarah Geledi, Simon Rentner, Colin Marshall, Nikki Birch. Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand; Senior Director of NPR Music: Lauren Onkey.

    Copyright 2021 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • A Fine Romance: Jazz & Valentine's Day

    February 11, 2021

    (Image Credit: Ayano Hisa/Jazz at Lincoln Center)

    "The stars fill the sky / So in love with you am I," wrote Cole Porter in "So In Love," one of countless adored songs within the Great American Songbook, and performed with stirring reverence by vocalist Brianna Thomas in this week's concert.

    The holiday setlist from Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2018 reads like a love letter to the tradition, with numbers that highlight the many different matters of the heart, specifically frustration, longing and joy. And singer Vuyo Sotashe, alongside Thomas and the appropriately named Valentine's Day Big Band, navigate these emotions expertly.

    We'll also toast the musical relationship known as the duet with some tracks from our host Christian McBride's favorite pairings, as well as scorching takes of "Miss Brown To You" and "I Cried For You" from our concert.

    If you're in the mood for the "roses and teddy bears" kind of love, fear not. There's also plenty of swoon-worthy sweetness in the assortment for you to enjoy.


    Riley Mulherkar, music director/trumpet; Vuyo Sotashe, vocals; Brianna Thomas, vocals; Tatum Greenblatt, trumpet; Mariel Bildsten, trombone; Julian Lee, reeds; Lucas Pino, reeds; Immanuel Wilkins, alto saxophone; Gabe Schnider, guitar; Chris Pattishall, piano; Barry Stephenson, bass; Sammy Miller, drums

    Set List:

    • "Sing Me A Swing Song" (Hoagy Carmichael / Stanley Adams)
    • "So In Love" (Cole Porter)
    • "While We're Young" (Alex Wilder / Morty Palitz)
    • "Miss Brown To You" (Richard A. Whiting / Ralph Rainger / Leo Robin)
    • "I Cried For You" (Gus Arnheim / Abe Lyman / Arthur Freed)
    • "I Loves You, Porgy" (George Gershwin / Ira Gershwin)
    • "God Bless The Child" (Billie Holiday / Arthur Herzog Jr.)


    Writer and Producer: Trevor Smith; Host: Christian McBride; Music Engineer: Rob Macomber; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand; Senior Director of NPR Music: Lauren Onkey.

    Copyright 2021 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • Lost (And Found) In Yonkers: The Billy Lester Story

    January 28, 2021. Posted by Alex Ariff.

    (Image Credit: Anna Yatskevich /Courtesy of Newvelle Records)

    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.


    Billy Lester, piano; Rufus Reid, bass; Matt Wilson, drums.

    Set List

    • "What is This Thing Called Love?" (Cole Porter)
    • "All The Things You Are" (Jerome Kern / Oscar Hammerstein II)
    • "These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)" (Jack Strachey / Eric Maschwitz)
    • "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To" (Cole Porter)
    • "(Back Home Again in) Indiana" (Ballard MacDonald / James F. Hanley)


    Writer and Producer: Alex Ariff; Contributing Producer: Nate Chinen; Host: Christian McBride; Music Engineer: Rocky Russo; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Technical Director: David Tallacksen; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand; Senior Director of NPR Music: Lauren Onkey.

    Read more

  • The Evolution Of Jon Batiste, Music Consultant Of Pixar's 'Soul'

    December 31, 2020. Posted by Alex Ariff.

    Jon Batiste performs an intimate set in New York City. (Image Credit: Becky Harlan/WBGO )

    Jon Batiste has earned a good deal of praise for his behind-the-scenes contribution to the new Pixar movie, SOUL. Last fall, he spent his 33rd birthday playing an intimate, private concert with his band in the round while Jazz Night in America captured the show. He kept it classy, donning a suede jacket and playing selections from his two latest Verve releases, Chronology of A Dream and Anatomy of Angels.

    You probably know Jon Batiste as bandleader and musical director on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. But his credentials are deep as the roots of the Batiste family tree. He's the co-artistic director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, and has been a collaborator with everyone from pop singer Tori Kelly to the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. He's graduate of both the New Orleans Center of the Creative Arts and the Juilliard School, and an alumni of both Wynton Marsalis' and Roy Hargrove's bands.

    For the past decade, he's developed his version of "jazz 2.0," which includes what he calls "social music." Its lineage stems from Batiste's native New Orleans but also runs through his adopted hometown of New York City, thanks to elders like Lionel Hampton and Dr. Billy Taylor, who brought jazz from the concert halls to the streets. But Batiste is also a part of yet another lineage: jazz musicians in late-night television. On our radio show — with help from Batiste's Late Show predecessor Paul Shaffer, its current Executive Producer, Chris Licht, and NPR television critic Eric Deggans — we'll trace some of that history, learning how Jon Batiste developed his role.

    Video Set List:

    • "If You're Happy And You Know It" (Joe Raposo, arr. Jon Batiste)
    • "PRINCE"
    • "HIGHER"
    • "Round Midnight" (Thelonious Monk, Bernard D. Hanighen, Charles Cootie Williams)
    • "PWWR"
    • "BLACCK"
    • "SOULFUL" (Roy Hargrove)
    • "ORDR"


    Jonathan Batiste: piano, vocals, bandleader; Giveton Gelin: trumpet; Jon Lampley: trumpet, tuba; Eddie Barbash: alto saxophone; Tivon Pennicott: tenor saxophone; Endea Owens: bass; Joe Saylor: drums; Negah Santos: percussion.


    Producers: Alex Ariff, Colin Marshall, Katie Simon; Concert Recording Engineer: David Tallacksen; House Audio Engineers: Greg Hanson, Meghan England; Concert Video Director: Colin Marshall; Director of Photography: Nickolai Hammar; Videographers: Tsering Bista, Jack Corbett, Annabel Edwards, Nickolai Hammar, Niki Walker; Editor: Annabel Edwards; Lighting Designer: Igor Yachmenov; Lighting Board Operation: Zack Lobel; Lighting Deck Electrician: Tricia Swietek; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Senior Producers: Colin Marshall, Katie Simon; Supervising Editor: Keith Jenkins; Executive Producers: Gabrielle Armand, Anya Grundman; Senior Director of NPR Music: Lauren Onkey.

    Copyright 2021 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.