WBGO Blog
  • Crosscurrents: Converging Jazz And Indian Classical Music

    June 22, 2018

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    Bassist Dave Holland and tabla player Zakir Hussain perform as part of Crosscurrents at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. (Image Credit: Lawrence Sumulong/Jazz at Lincoln Center)

    Virtuosity — of a dazzling, ebullient, yet altogether generous sort — might be the most obvious bridge between David Holland and Zakir Hussain. But there's also a deep cultural foundation behind their musical dialogue, which forms the beating heart of a project called Crosscurrents.

    Hussain, a peerless master of the Indian tabla, and Holland, an English-born bassist of sterling jazz renown, were both shaped in some way by the 1960s, a decade of awakening and convergence. In this episode of Jazz Night in America, we'll explore the influence of Indian music on the jazz and rock scenes of that era — as well as the less familiar story of jazz's influence on the subcontinent, embodied by musicians like pianist and composer Louiz Banks.

    We'll hear music from a recent Jazz at Lincoln Center concert led by Hussain and Holland. Crosscurrents also features Banks, his son, drummer Gino Banks, along with acclaimed American saxophonist and flutist Chris Potter, Bollywood vocal star Shankar Mahadevan and Mumbai-based jazz guitarist Sanjay Divecha. We'll also get some valuable outside perspective from percussionist Sameer Gupta and other musicians in Brooklyn Raga Massive, which pursues a similar form of thrumming exchange.

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

  • At The Helm: Harold Mabern, Stalwart Accompanist, At 82

    May 29, 2018

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    Harold Mabern (Image Credit: Alan Nahigian/Courtesy of the artist)

    Harold Mabern has never had any hang-ups about not being the center of attention. "I get joy out of being an accompanist," the pianist affirms, likening himself to an offensive lineman on a football team. "When you can do something to make the soloist happy and proud," he says plainly, "you've done your job."

    Small wonder that Mabern, who recently turned 82, has been one of jazz's stalwart accompanists over the last 60 years, a valuable yet unflashy asset for everyone from Wes Montgomery to Sarah Vaughan. In this episode of Jazz Night, we'll explore some of that history, including Mabern's early years in Memphis and his deep connection with Lee Morgan — which ended with the trumpeter's shocking death at 33.

    But we'll also point the spotlight squarely on Mabern as a composer and bandleader — focusing on a recent hit at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, where he led a trio with bassist Nat Reeves on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums.

    Among the tunes in the set are "Edward Lee" and "Bobby, Benny, Jymie, Lee, Bu," both bearing dedications to Morgan. We'll also have some fun with a digression about the art of the musical quote — another of Mabern's many talents, which have a way of hiding in plain sight.

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

  • 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/.

  • The Bad Plus: The Band That Never Stops

    May 10, 2018

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    The Bad Plus (Image Credit: Colin Marshall/NPR)

    It isn't typically news when a jazz group makes a change in personnel. But The Bad Plus isn't a typical jazz group, and its announcement, this time last year, landed like a bombshell. In short: Ethan Iverson, the band's pianist, would be leaving to pursue his own projects. Orrin Evans, an esteemed peer, would be stepping in. For a group that has always stood for musical collectivism — and never accepted any substitutions — this was a shakeup of existential proportions.

    Jazz Night in America kept up with The Bad Plus as it made this momentous transition: at Orrin Evans' home in Philadelphia, where he raced to get up to speed; in a Brooklyn studio, during sessions for its album Never Stop II; and at Jazz at the Bistro in St. Louis, Mo., where Evans made his public debut with the band.

    In this show we'll hear music from that explosive set, and reflections from Evans as well as the remaining founders of The Bad Plus, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King.

    All three members of the band, as it now stands, open up about the challenges of preserving a group identity while reinventing the dimensions of the group. "I'm not adjusting to a new Bad Plus; I'm just adjusting," is how King puts it. "This is The Bad Plus now." Join us in making their acquaintance.

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

  • 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.