WBGO Blog
  • 'Jazz Is The Mother Of Hip-Hop': How Sampling Connects Genres

    April 19, 2017. Posted by Alex Ariff.

    Why do hip-hop producers gravitate toward jazz samples? For a mood, for sonic timbre, for a unique rhythmic component. Swing is a precursor to the boom-bap. "If you're a hip-hop producer that wants a lot of melodic stuff happening," pianist Robert Glasper says, "you're probably going to go to jazz first."

    Glasper has lived in an area of overlap between jazz and hip-hop for more than two decades — and you can hear it in his piano playing, which often drifts into cyclical rhythms akin to a beat-maker's loops. It's all one and the same to Glasper: recasting the music of Miles Davis for an R&B audience or rocking live shows with Q-Tip; playing acoustic jazz with his trio or streamlined soul with his Grammy-winning Robert Glasper Experiment.

    In this short doc, Glasper identifies three jazz samples, from tracks by Ahmad Jamal and Herbie Hancock, that have served as source material for famed hip-hop producers J Dilla and Pete Rock.

    CREDITS:

    Producers: Alex Ariff, Colin Marshall, Nick Michael, Cameron Robert; Editors: Nick Michael, Morgan Noelle Smith; Animator: CJ Riculan; Sound Editor/Audio Engineer: Suraya Mohamed; Videographers: Nick Michael, Cameron Robert; Interviewer: Alex Ariff; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Senior Producer, Radio: Katie Simon; Executive Producers: Gabrielle Armand, Anya Grundmann, Amy Niles; Special Thanks: Robert Glasper, Michael Gonik, Steinway Hall; Funded in part by: The Argus Fund, The Wyncote Foundation, The National Endowment for the Arts, Doris Duke Foundation

    MUSIC:

    • Ahmad Jamal Trio, "I Love Music," The Awakening (1970)
    • Nas, "The World Is Yours," Illmatic (1994)
    • Herbie Hancock, "Come Running To Me," Sunlight (1978)
    • Slum Village, "Get This Money," Fantastic, Vol. 2 (2000)
    • Ahmad Jamal, "Swahililand," Jamal Plays Jamal (1974)
    • De La Soul "Stakes Is High," Stakes Is High (1996)
    Copyright 2017 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.
  • The 2017 NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert

    April 3, 2017

    The livestream has concluded.

    The NEA Jazz Masters Award is often described as the nation's highest honor for a living jazz musician. From the first its program has celebrated a broad aesthetic range — its inaugural class of honorees, in 1982, consisted of bebop icon Dizzy Gillespie, his trumpet precursor Roy Eldridge and the interstellar visionary Sun Ra. As those initial inductees show, the roll call of NEA Jazz Masters have represented striking diversity within the uppermost echelon of achievement in this music.

    And every year, the NEA Jazz Masters Concert and Ceremony gathers this stylistically far-flung constituency — current and past masters, younger artists, fans of every disposition — to an event that, for all its glittery pomp, often resembles an extended family reunion. The atmosphere onstage tends toward gracious warmth, wry humor and broad inclusion, and there are usually a handful of sterling musical exchanges to savor. That's no less true of the live concert stream, which I've gratefully watched on those occasions when I couldn't be in the room.

    This year's class is as accomplished as they come, with Dee Dee Bridgewater on vocals, Dr. Lonnie Smith on organ, Dave Holland on bass, Dick Hyman on piano and Ira Gitler representing the ranks of jazz journalists. As always, their legacies will be celebrated in multiple forms, through spoken as well as video tributes, and in performance. I'll be on hand to cover the event, and my recap will appear on Tuesday morning. But this page is where you can watch it unfold in real time.

    Copyright 2017 WBGO and The Kennedy Center. To see more, visit WBGO and The Kennedy Center.

  • Muldrow Meets Mingus

    March 23, 2017

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    Jason Moran (left) and Georgia Anne Muldrow celebrate Charles Mingus during a program at the Kennedy Center. (Image Credit: Jati Lindsay/Courtesy of the Kennedy Center)

    At a glance, Georgia Anne Muldrow isn't the obvious pick to create an interpretive tribute to the bassist and composer Charles Mingus. She was born in 1983, four years after Mingus died at 56. Her music stands well outside the jazz perimeter, aligning more with the Afrocentric current that flows through underground hip-hop, avant-R&B and psychedelic soul. She isn't a bassist like Mingus, but rather a singer, rapper and beat-making producer. Her village elders include the rapper Mos Def, the producer Madlib and the vocalist Erykah Badu.

    But Muldrow, like Mingus, hails from Los Angeles — and that's far from the most salient commonality between them. She grew up with his music courtesy of her father, Ronald, a working jazz musician. And she gravitated to Mingus' example as a creative maverick, a political activist and an outspoken advocate for black America — someone who, in her words, "expressed the truth."

    Jason Moran, the acclaimed pianist and composer, recognized the potential here. As the Artistic Director for Jazz at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., he commissioned a concert program called "Muldrow Meets Mingus." It took place earlier this year at the Kennedy Center's Crossroads Club, and Jazz Night in America was there for the rehearsals as well as the world premiere, which featured audacious musicians like alto saxophonist Darius Jones, trombonist Ku-umba Frank Lacy and drummer Karriem Riggins.

    In this irrepressibly funky episode of Jazz Night, you'll hear excerpts of the concert, including Muldrow's reimagining of Mingus' "Fables Of Faubus" and "Goodbye Porkpie Hat." You'll also hear insights from Muldrow, Moran and the critic Greg Tate, who approvingly calls out the shamanistic aspects of this music.

    "When you hear someone like Georgia, who has such a wide palette of sounds and inspirations and execution," Moran says, "you know that's a real artist." "Muldrow Meets Mingus" represents a celebration of that spirit, full of extravagant risk and equal reward.

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

  • Jazz On Film And The Problem Of The Mad Creative Genius

    February 24, 2017

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    Trumpeter Lee Morgan and wife Helen in 1970. The couple's tragic story is the subject of the documentary I Called Him Morgan, directed by Kasper Collin. (Image Credit: Kasper Collin Produktion AB/Courtesy of the Afro-American Newspaper Archives and Research Center)

    It's been a good year so far for jazz at the movies. La La Land, a modern-day love story in the style of Jazz Age musicals, has a heap of Oscar nominations. Elsewhere, in a much quieter affair, the documentary film I Called Him Morgan — based on the story of jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan — will open theatrically next month.

    Both of these films caught the eye of Christian McBride, Philly-bred bassist and host of NPR's Jazz Night in America. He joined Audie Cornish on All Things Considered to talk about how the two stories offer contrasting visions of the working jazz musician; hear their conversation at the audio link and read an edited version below.

    Audie Cornish: I Called Him Morgan is a film by Kasper Collin. It played at a few festivals in 2016, and it's about Lee Morgan, who was shot by his wife in 1972. Had you heard of the story of Lee Morgan before this?

    Christian McBride: Absolutely. Lee Morgan not only was one of the greatest trumpet players in the history of jazz, but he was also a Philadelphian — so if you were a jazz musician from Philadelphia, Lee Morgan is one of the first names that you hear. And I think when something like a crime of passion is involved, that story is always going to be told. I heard about it probably as early as 8 or 9 years old before I even really knew much about jazz. But the documentary is very thorough: You get to hear stories about Lee Morgan directly from the men and women who were there, who knew him, who saw him, who were there the night he was killed.

    [When he died,] Morgan artistically had progressed from being simply a post- Dizzy Gillespie, post-Clifford Brown trumpeter, to really being on the cusp of some very progressive music. He was really about to get to something big.

    The film depicts drug addiction, violence — it really presents Morgan as someone who's very flawed, not innocent himself. Do you think this kind of traffics in the stereotypes of the tragic jazz figure?

    More than anything else, I think it depicts our interest in always wanting to find the jazz musician who was on drugs or has been in violent relationships. We have some sort of fixation with that. Somehow, the story of the jazz musician who ends up victorious, who kinda strays away from the drugs or the violence or the alcohol or that sort of lifestyle — that's not fun to watch, somehow.

    But the most important thing, which I hope happens, is that someone will get curious to actually go back to find out about Lee Morgan's music. It's about the music that he made that touched people, that inspired people and inspired a whole generation of trumpet players.

    This brings me to La La Land, because that movie been talked about so much in the context of its music. This is a story of a couple that falls in love: He's a jazz pianist, she's an aspiring actress. I want put to you the criticisms that I've heard of this movie — number one, that it's got too simple an idea of what jazz is, almost like a trapped-in-amber ideal of the music.

    You know, after I saw this movie, my first thought was, "Who would focus on how jazz is portrayed in this film?" To me, the story of "jazz," quote-unquote, is not as important as the story of these two young people trying to pursue their dream.

    So you're fine with it being a backdrop.

    It is a backdrop, you know? I don't think anybody is going to see this movie and their first, second or third thought is "jazz." To me, this is a love story.

    But I think at a certain part of the film, there is this discussion. Because the Ryan Gosling character, he kind of considers himself this evangelist for the music — teaching her to love it, complaining about people not listening to it anymore. And at one point he joins a band led by John Legend, who's doing something a little more, let's say, complicated.

    Well, a little more commercial, shall we say.

    I'm not an expert, but I remember sitting there and thinking, this is nothing like what young, up-and-coming jazz artists are doing at all — who are getting commercial success.

    I don't think that scene was really made to depict what's happening now. I think what it's trying to give an example of is: Here's this young, as you say, evangelist for traditional jazz. He's trying to be the most dedicated jazz pianist that he can be — but he's not getting any work. So then, John Legend offers him a gig: "Look, it's not straight-ahead jazz, but hey — you need a gig." And at some point he decides, "Yeah, you're right, I do need to work. I do need to pay my bills." And musicians are confronted with that all the time. It happens more often than not. And it's happened throughout generations, too. Musicians who want to play their own music, or they want to play music that moves them — a lot of times, it's not that easy to do that. So they might have to take a gig in a band that they may not necessarily want to play in, stylistically. They may play in pit orchestras, or in a TV band. That's not necessarily what they may want to do, but they have to work. We are musicians, but we are also professional people.

    Finally, the unspoken thing, I think, has been about where you have movies about jazz and there are not people of color at the forefront of it.

    Well, I was thinking of some of the movies of the past that have sort of been jazz-based: I think of Cabin in the Sky, or Stormy Weather, or Carmen Jones, or A Man Called Adam, or 'Round Midnight, or Mo' Better Blues, or Love Jones, or Miles Ahead. I'm not sure I focus too much on the race thing as I concentrate on, the jazz musician is always despondent, the jazz musician is always the underdog, the jazz musician is always the one who has these drug problems or alcohol problems or problems with violent relationships. We want to see a movie where a jazz musician actually wins in the end.

    You take another movie like The Man With The Golden Arm, where Frank Sinatra plays a heroin-addicted drummer, and I'm thinking, "Wow, OK — it doesn't matter if you're black or white." You just have to be a jazz musician, and they're gonna put you on something: heroin, cocaine, something.

    There is that issue in the history, but I wonder if it has to do with the broader stereotype of the mad creative genius.

    I suppose, but the thing is: There's so many mad creative geniuses who've never gone through that. Maybe one day someone will make a movie about Wayne Shorter. He's one of the greatest mad creative geniuses ever and he never went though that. So that would be a nice, victorious, wonderful, interesting story to see.

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

  • A Jazz Fact Check Of 'La La Land'

    February 23, 2017

    Whatever else you might say about the themes of La La Land — that it's a film about the ins and outs of young romance, or the pros and cons of creative ambition, or the movie musical as a renewable art form, or the culture of Hollywood, or the state of jazz (more on that in a sec) — you'd have to acknowledge the line it draws between illusion and disillusion.

    Without giving anything away, that tension lends obvious subtext to the title of Damien Chazelle's film — and essential motivation for its opening and closing set pieces, which pivot from drab reality to Technicolor fantasy. This is a proven strategy in the movie musical playbook: You'll find it in touchstones ranging from the MGM classic Singin' In The Rain to Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg to Lars von Trier's Dancer In The Dark. Chazelle knows this history and works it to his advantage, as the accolades for his film have already demonstrated, however many of its record-tying 14 Oscar nominations pan out Sunday night.

    The current La La Land backlash has a lot to do with awards-season overhype, and the unremittingly personal dimensions of its story, at a moment when everything feels political. In jazz circles, there are more pointed gripes about the film, which stars Ryan Gosling as a journeyman piano player enthralled by the mystique of the music, and eager to evangelize his passion — particularly to his aspiring-actress girlfriend, played by Emma Stone.

    There are many hot takes about what the film gets wrong, or what it gets right, about jazz. But what hasn't been explored enough is the way in which its central contrast, between the glossy ideal and the grainy particulars, plays out among jazz musicians in Los Angeles. That's the subject of this episode of Jazz Night In America, which explores a pocket of the scene that La La Land purports to speak for.

    In the radio episode, we'll hear from prominent Los Angeles jazz musicians like drummer Peter Erskine, who played on the film's soundtrack, and keyboardist John Beasley, whose résumé includes all manner of commercial work as well as the MONK'estra, his own big band. And in both the audio and the documentary short, we check in with Josh Nelson, a pianist and composer whose Los Angeles-centric Discovery Project is about the real stories beneath the surface, or behind the façade. (Nelson, the son of a Disney theme-park Imagineer, auditioned to be Gosling's hand double in the film. But we'll let him tell you that story himself.)

    There's a lot more to the story of jazz in Los Angeles than anyone could tell in one sitting. What you'll find here are a few vivid impressions, and some illuminating insights. As in La La Land, this is a moment to consider facts on the ground even as the focus shifts in a dreamy flyaway.

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