WBGO Blog
  • Abdullah Ibrahim: How Improvisation Saved My Life

    October 13, 2017

    The music of pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim conveys an extraordinary depth in stillness. More than perhaps any other improvising artist, he knows how to turn the solitary act of introspection into a communal experience that's both transporting and immersive.

    There's a history behind that sorcery, which you could say was hard-won. Ibrahim grew up in apartheid-era South Africa under the name Dollar Brand, one of the most prominent members of that country's first generation of jazz musicians. With a band called The Jazz Epistles (which featured trumpeter Hugh Masekela and trombonist Jonas Gwangwa), he made an album called Verse +1 that had an enormous impact on South African jazz, even though it was printed in a small edition and quickly censored and buried.

    Jazz Night caught up with Ibrahim during his visit to New York this spring, when he headlined Town Hall in a concert for South Africa Freedom Day. In this episode, we'll hear his band, Ekaya, playing music from that concert — songs from The Jazz Epistles repertoire, as well as more recent Ibrahim compositions like "Dream Time." We'll also hear insight from some scholars on the development of South African jazz, and wisdom from the maestro himself, on the path that led him here and what freedom means to him today.

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

  • Cyrille Aimée And Daymé Arocena Make Jazz Their Own

    September 27, 2017

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    (Image Credit: Robert Birnbach/2017 San Jose Jazz Summer Fest)

    Jazz singing has always been a tree with firm roots, but a wild entanglement of branches. Its sound and shape are mutable, prone to outside influence and local inflection. Take the two artists featured in this week's episode of Jazz Night in America, recorded at the 2017 San Jose Jazz Summer Fest — each a cultural ambassador as well as a cosmopolitan, with the elusive ability to bring any audience along for the ride.

    For many jazz fans, Cyrille Aimée is the more familiar of the two. Born in France to French-Dominican parentage, she made her name as a specialist in "gypsy swing," the style epitomized in the '30s by guitarist Django Reinhardt. Her band features two virtuoso guitarists, Michael Valeanu and Adrien Moignard, and she favors the lissome bounce prized by the hot-jazz revivalist crowd. But Aimée looks well beyond Django for her repertoire: In the episode, you'll hear her delighting the San Jose audience with a medley of Michael Jackson's hits.

    You'll also hear Daymé Arocena, a powerhouse vocalist from Cuba, and one of the standout new voices of the last several years in any genre. (If you've seen Arocena's gripping Tiny Desk Concert from last year, you won't need much more convincing.) Drawing mainly from her fine recent album Cubafonía, she brought Afro-Cuban fire to the San Jose stage — performing not only traditionalist fare like "Eleggua" but also playful hybrids like "Mambo Na' Mà," which blends Cuban clave with New Orleans parade rhythm.

    There are plenty of clear differences between Arocena and Aimée, whose vocal styles can, respectively, make you think of molten earth or a summer breeze. But each artist is exploring jazz from a personal vantage, at an extremely high level of achievement. Both went over well in San Jose, and the smart money says they'll do the same in this episode of Jazz Night.

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

  • Wadada Leo Smith's Defiant And Fearless Elegy For Emmett Till (In 360˚ VR)

    August 28, 2017. Posted by Josie Holtzman.

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    (Image Credit: NPR)

    62 years ago today, Emmett Till was killed in a lynching that became a spark in the civil rights movement. In April of this year, Jazz Night in America recorded Wadada Leo Smith performing a portion of his original composition "Emmett Till: Defiant, Fearless" while canoeing down the Little Tallahatchie River in Glendora, Miss. You can see that 360˚ VR video above.

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  • Aww Yeah, Summertime — With The Robert Glasper Experiment

    August 11, 2017

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    (Image Credit: Dennis Manuel/Courtesy of the artist)

    For those who haven't had the good fortune to attend a jazz festival this summer, Jazz Night has a ticket just for you — section A, row 1 for The Robert Glasper Experiment.

    Glasper is a multi-Grammy winning pianist, composer and producer who has worked with everyone from Herbie Hancock to Kendrick Lamar. He plays across the worlds of jazz and R&B, innovating new boundaries across and between both. And his star-stacked ensemble, performing since 2012, is always evolving their neo-soul, hip-hop infused sound.

    Glasper played a couple of summer shows in New York City, for Brooklyn Information and Culture — one of the largest free cultural programming centers in the city — at the Celebrate Brooklyn Festival in August 2016 and another in June, at the iconic SummerStage Mainstage in Central Park. This set features Glasper's usual genre-blending virtuosity and culminates with vocalist Bilal on the last tune, All Matter, which deviates into a mind-blowing REM, Mobb Deep jam.

    SET LIST:

    • Let It Ride
    • No Church In The Wild
    • Cherish The Day
    • Find You
    • No One Like You
    • All Matter (Smells Like Teen Spirit/Shook Ones)
    Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
  • John Scofield Performs 'Quiet And Loud Jazz'

    July 28, 2017

    Almost exactly 30 years ago, guitarist John Scofield recorded an album he evocatively titled Loud Jazz. Not quite a decade later, he made one called Quiet. Both albums were statements of intent, widely embraced and justly acclaimed. And despite the obvious differences between the two, both were genuine expressions of Scofield's musical personality, which has always been more flexible than those extreme dynamic markings would seem to suggest.

    Scofield, of course, is one of the most prolific and admired jazz musicians of his generation, an ace with boppish phraseology as well as bluesy inflection. He's 65 now, and by some measures you could even say he's at the height of his career.

    He won two Grammy awards this year for his most recent solo album, Country For Old Men. He also won one in 2016, for his previous release, Past Present. He's currently on the road with Hudson, an all-star collective whose other members — drummer Jack DeJohnette, keyboardist John Medeski and bassist Larry Grenadier — share his willingness to split the difference between lyrical grace and circuitous groove. (The group just released a self-titled debut, so don't be shocked if there's yet another nomination in the works.)

    Jazz Night In America caught up with Scofield this past spring, just before he played a concert called "Quiet And Loud Jazz" in Jazz at Lincoln Center's Appel Room. One portion of the night featured a reunion of the Loud Jazz crew, with partners like bassist Gary Grainger and drummer Dennis Chambers. Another portion recreated the chamber arrangements from Quiet, with Scofield's longtime foil Joe Lovano standing in for Wayne Shorter on saxophones.

    The idea was to both acknowledge and bridge the distance between the two disparate albums, which might have been more difficult were it not for Scofield's sly consistency. "It's not like other famous jazz musicians, where their style changes, you know, decade to decade," says Jim Beard, the veteran keyboardist on hand for the Loud Jazz half of the concert. "He sounds very similar to what he sounded like, you know, 30 years ago. I don't think he sounds that different. And it's just such a strong personal style that that's amazing."

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