• Radical Imagination: Jazz And Social Justice

    January 19, 2017

    "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.

    Pinderhughes now lives in Harlem, but he grew up in the Bay Area, in a family of academics and social activists. Shortly after releasing The Transformations Suite last fall, he brought the project to the Way Christian Center in Berkeley for a performance that was several things at once: a homecoming, an album-release concert, a rousing community gathering.

    Along with a group of smart young jazz musicians, the ensemble features spoken-word poetry by the accomplished actor Jeremie Harris and passages of soulful singing by Jehbreal Jackson. The site of convergence for these artists was Juilliard, the elite conservatory — and that unlikely setting for grassroots activism is a sign of how pressing and pervasive these issues have become.

    Social justice and political outrage have been front and center in a wide array of music over the last few years, from Common's hip-hop exhortation Black America Again to the Drive-By Truckers' Southern-rock manifesto American Band. But jazz artists have often been the leaders in this regard: Pinderhughes joins a growing number of his elders and peers in creating music that indicts, confronts and critiques, without pretending to provide easy answers. (It should come as no surprise that the pianist considers James Baldwin's writing a touchstone.)

    One movement in The Transformations Suite, "Momentum, Pt. 2," grapples with income inequality and the criminal justice system: "Who owns the prisons," Harris cries, "and who are its occupants? Why do some have billions / While most struggle to survive?" Elsewhere, there are references to police violence and the legacies of slavery and state-sanctioned discrimination. In the concert performance, it's not hard to hear the urgency in the music itself — look no further than Riley Mulherkar's evocative trumpet solo in "History," over a vamp in hypnotic 5/4 time.

    The call to change is central to the suite, as is the awareness of historical progress, however halting or tenuous it may seem. In the end, Pinderhughes voices a literal call to action: "Fight back!" goes the stirring refrain in a video montage that concludes the concert, amidst a ritual recitation of all-too-familiar names like Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray.

    "We are searching for transformation," Pinderhughes says, adding that the word connotes more than any mere gesture of reform. "That's actual transformation of this society: how we think, how we act towards one another, and also the rules and policies that we put in place in our institutions and practices." The music, meanwhile, is here to stir as well as soothe, carrying its unambiguous sense of mission.


    Samora Pinderhughes (bandleader, piano, vocals), Jehbreal Jackson (vocals), Jeremie Harris (spoken word), Riley Mulherkar (trumpet), Lucas Pino (tenor sax), Joshua Crumbly (bass), Jimmy Macbride (drums).


    Producers: Alex Ariff, Josie Holtzman, Colin Marshall, Nick Michael; Editors: Nikki Boliaux, Colin Marshall; Concert Audio Engineer: Zach Miley; Doc Audio: Alex Ariff, Josie Holtzman; Supervising Sound Editor: Suraya Mohamed; Concert Videographers: Alex Ariff, Danger Charles, Josie Holtzman, Colin Marshall, Nick Michael, Matt Radick; Doc Videographers: Colin Marshall, Nick Michael; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Executive Producers: Gabrielle Armand, Anya Grundmann, Amy Niles; Special Thanks: The Way; Funded In Part By: The Argus Fund, Doris Duke Foundation, The National Endowment For The Arts, The Wyncote Foundation.

    Copyright 2017 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • Winter JazzFest 2017

    January 11, 2017. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    Add new comment | Filed under: Jazz Alive

    New York City Winter JazzFest isn’t an ordinary music gathering. Because it coincides with APAP – Association of Performing Arts Presenters – as one industry insider told me, what occurs this week in Manhattan is “the biggest music happening in the world that the world isn’t aware of.” NYCWJF is the place where deals get done, new bands showcased, but, perhaps, most importantly, inspiration spawns. Every year, there’s usually a few musicians that shines above rest. They get consideration for honorary designation bestowed by The Checkout --The Jason Lindner Award. This goes to the musician with the most activity during the two day madness. And, naturally, it isn’t a coincidence that his year’s honoree was also one of the hottest artists to emerge in 2016 – as reflected to our recent NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll. It’s the guitarist Mary Halvorson. Her festival appearances include Chicago’s cellist Tomeka Reid and her Quartet, the Brooklyn-based trombonist Jacob Garchik and his fascination for Fantasia with his three guitar ensemble Ye Olde, New York downtown mainstay Marc Ribot and the Young Philadelphians, and Halvorson’s own unruly Octet, as represented on her critically acclaimed recording. As with many of the “buzzed about” happenings at the fest, Halvorson’s humble 7pm hit in a New School classroom was a scene onto itself – the room was uncomfortably packed – with long, asymmetrical lines of anxious, agitated fans winding to the elevator, patiently waiting only to get a peep of some adventurous, cerebral, and unclassifiable music.

    Go to The Checkout from WBGO and WBGO 88.3FM Facebook pages to see all of our coverage from the festival by using the hashtag. #WBGOWinterJazz

  • Singer Tessa Souter Sits in for a Salon Session

    January 10, 2017. Posted by Corey Goldberg.

    Singer Tessa Souter joins Sheila Anderson for this Salon Session, taking us from the Wayne Shorter album that first introduced her to jazz to the story of how an attempt to rekindle a romance pushed her to pursue singing.


  • Kenia Talks to Awilda Rivera

    January 9, 2017. Posted by Corey Goldberg.

    Brazilian singer Kenia joins Awilda Rivera to talk about her latest release, On We Go.


  • Prolific Author And Jazz Writer Nat Hentoff Dies At 91

    January 8, 2017. Posted by David Tallacksen.

    Nat Hentoff during the annual "A Great Night in Harlem" Benefit Concert at The Apollo Theater in New York City. (Image Credit: Stephen Lovekin/FilmMagic via Getty Images)

    Nat Hentoff, the author of dozens of books and decades of columns, has died at 91.

    His son Nick Hentoff confirmed his father's death on Twitter Saturday night.

    Hentoff was a writer for the Village Voice for 50 years. He also wrote for many publications over his lengthy career, including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, United Media syndicate and Down Beat magazine.

    He frequently wrote about issues surrounding civil liberties — the Voice describes him as a "civil libertarian." His 1982 novel The Day They Came to Arrest the Book tells the story of a high school that seeks to remove the book Huckleberry Finn from the school curriculum and library over racism and other issues. A student from the school newspaper fights the effort — an allegory on censorship.

    He also was a lover and frequent writer on jazz music. From age 11, he was hooked on the genre after hearing the song "Nightmare" by Artie Shaw coming through an open door at a record store.

    "It just reached inside me," Hentoff told NPR's Guy Raz in 2010. "I rushed into the store, 'What was that?' "

    Over the six decades he spent covering jazz, he attended plenty of performances and met many musicians.

    He "got to be very good friends" with jazz great Dizzy Gillespie. At one point, he sat in on a recording session featuring Abbey Lincoln, Coleman Hawkins and Max Roach. "The music just became part of you as you heard it," Hentoff said of the experience.

    His most memorable show he attended was Duke Ellington "with his full orchestra" at Symphony Hall in Boston, playing the jazz work "Black, Brown and Beige."

    "It was the history of black people in the United States from slavery to the present," Hentoff told NPR in 2010. "And it was so extraordinary. At the end ... people were so moved they could barely applaud until they gave a standing ovation."

    Hentoff started writing for the Village Voice in 1958 until he was "excessed" in 2008 by new managers. A few days after his firing, he told NPR that condolences he received from readers afterward were "like reading one's obituary while you're still alive." But he vowed to keep writing.

    In his final column for the Voice in 2009, he recalled advice he received from one of his mentors in journalism, the muckraker I.F. Stone:

    "If you're in this business because you want to change the world, get another day job. If you are able to make a difference, it will come incrementally, and you might not even know about it. You have to get the story and keep on it because it has to be told."

    Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.