WBGO Blog
  • What Makes A Jazz Standard?

    May 21, 2018

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    Saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie in concert with the Cannonball Adderley Quintet in November 1960. (Image Credit: Express/Getty Images)

    When does a pop song become canon — so influential, so durable, that it can be counted among the classics that make up the Great American Songbook?Christian McBride, bassist, record producer and host of NPR's Jazz Night In America, joined Audie Cornish on All Things Considered to discuss just how a jazz standard comes to be — as well the role those songs play in a young musician's development and the criteria for crowning new classics. Hear their conversation at the audio link.

    Interview Highlights

    On the ground rules for standards

    The way a song becomes a standard in the first place is because many people record it. Coleman Hawkins recorded his version of "Body and Soul." It became a huge jazz hit and it became pretty much the standard for tenor saxophone playing. [But] I think a song has to be covered by a vocalist to become a standard, because people always connect with vocalist. So when people like Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan, when a vocalist gives their interpretation of one of these great modern standards, there's more of a chance of that song becoming a standard.

    On interpreting the American Songbook

    I think at some point inside of the last half century, there's been more focus, particularly in the jazz world, on original composition. There was a bridge between the Great American Songbook and modern jazz where you had the bebop era — where people like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were covering standards in a very, very clever way. To get around paying royalties to these composers, they would take the harmonic progression of a particular standard and write a new melody on top of it. So you take a song like Charlie Parker's "Quasimodo" — that was actually "Embraceable You."

    There used to be [an] unspoken law in the jazz world is that you had to know a significant amount of standards. Anytime any of these older jazz legends went out to hear some younger musicians and they would hear them play their music, they would say, "You know, that's great, but do you know 'Polka Dots and Moonbeams'? 'I'll Remember April'? 'Ill Wind'?" They would call these old standards, and if you didn't know them? "Hey kid, get back in the bullpen and practice." That was the way you earned your right to be a jazz musician.

    On the case for a more recent standard

    The last great standard, maybe, would have been "Birdland," which was composed by Joe Zawinul [for the band Weather Report in 1977]. I think I can guarantee that from the time that album was released through the 1980s, every single high school and college band played that song. And then Manhattan Transfer recorded it and it became an even bigger hit than it was when Weather Report recorded it. So yes, that song is definitely a standard.

    Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

  • Jazz Giants Take The Stage At The NEA Jazz Masters Listening Party

    May 4, 2018

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    Joanne Brackeen and Jason Moran at NPR's Studio One in Washington, D.C. (Image Credit: Eric Lee/NPR)

    Last month, the National Endowment for the Arts crowned four new NEA Jazz Masters, including Todd Barkan, a jazz advocate whose early interest in Latin jazz piano turned into a successful five-decade career as a prominent impresario, club owner and record producer. Guitarist Pat Metheny continues to redefine the parameters of his instrument through innovative technique and signature sound. Pianist Joanne Brackeen's unique style commands attention, and Dianne Reeves has become one of the world's preeminent jazz vocalists, whose genius in retrospect seems ceaseless.

    The celebration of the nation's highest honor in jazz included a tribute concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and a listening party hosted by Jason Moran, pianist and artistic director for jazz at the Kennedy Center. Moran took the stage at NPR's Studio One with Barkan, Metheny and Brackeen. (Drummer, composer and producer Terri Lynne Carrington sat in for Dianne Reeves, whose schedule would not allow her to make it.)

    The musicians talked freely about their careers, and listened to the music that had made formative impacts in their lives. Rather than a concert, this week we're sharing these intimate conversations. Listen in the player above.

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

  • Jazzmeia Horn Enters The Jazz-Vocal Pantheon

    March 30, 2018. Posted by Alex Ariff.

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    (Image Credit: Niki Walker/Niki Walker)

    Maybe you became aware of Jazzmeia Horn five years ago, when she took first prize at the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition. Maybe you got hip when her debut album, A Social Call, was released last year. Maybe you caught her turn on the most recent Grammy Premiere Ceremony, when she knocked a scat chorus into the stratosphere. Or maybe this is the first you're hearing of Jazzmeia, which means you have something to look forward to.

    A singer of ironclad capability, creative drive and irrepressible panache, she has emerged as the breakout new talent in a formidable jazz-vocal tradition. This is her moment, and Jazz Night in America has her story.

    In this radio episode we'll delve into Ms. Horn's upbringing in Dallas where her grandfather is the legendary pastor of a Baptist church. We'll also cover her experience in New York, first as a fish out of water, then as a jam-session fixture, and then as an unstoppable force. We'll discuss her relationship to the jazz-vocal pantheon: incomparable artists we can conjure just by a first name, like Sarah or Betty or Billie.

    More to the point, we'll hear Jazzmeia marking her own terrain, both in conversation and onstage at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola during the recent album-release show that marked another milestone in a young career that's sure to see more.

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

  • Jane Bunnett And Maqueque: The New Queens of Afro-Cuban Jazz

    March 23, 2018. Posted by Alex Ariff.

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    This week's episode of Jazz Night In America features music by Maqueque (Image Credit: Emma Lee Photography/Courtesy of the artist)

    Since Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo birthed "Manteca" in the '40s just as Cuban musicians like Machito were shaking up New York's jazz scene, Afro-Cuban jazz has continued to entice and fascinate North American musicians into new collaborations and explorations.

    Canadian saxophonist and flutist Jane Bunnett took her first trip to Cuba in 1982 and subsequently dedicated her life to the country's music, traveling to the island more than 100 times. Bunnett says that being able to travel and establish a rapport with other cultures is the best part about being a musician. "It's more than music, it's friendship."

    In 2013 Bunnett noticed a longstanding disparity: She'd mostly collaborated with men, especially instrumentalists. In response, she helped establish Maqueque, an all-female band of young Cuban artists blending folkloric Cuban music and jazz.

    In this episode of Jazz Night in America, we'll hear Maqueque's exhilarating performance from Jazz at Lincoln Center, spend some time with Bunnett, learn of a devotion to an ever-growing Cuban musical family and hear from some of the women of Maqueque on their decisions to leave Cuba to pursue a music career. We'll even take a stop in Miami, Florida to introduce the band to the Little Havana neighborhood.

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

  • Marian McPartland: A Centennial Celebration

    March 16, 2018

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    (Image Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

    No jazz musician has ever been heard more on public radio than the late Marian McPartland, the host of NPR's Piano Jazz for more than 40 years. But for all her ubiquity, how well did we really know her?

    This special episode of Jazz Night in America — a celebration of McPartland's centenary as well as a timely offering for Women in Jazz month — features personal insights from her longtime producer, Shari Hutchinson, and her granddaughter, Donna Gourdol. We'll also hear outtakes from Piano Jazz, featuring guests like singer Sarah Vaughan and pianists Mary Lou Williams and Geri Allen. And of course, we'll hear the voice and piano of McPartland herself, a grande dame and NEA Jazz Master who was never anything but herself.

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