Alex Ariff

Bobby McFerrin was onto something when he titled his second album The Voice. At the time, in the mid-1980s, it was a sobriquet more readily associated with Frank Sinatra — but in its definitive clarity, loaded with implications, no term could have been better suited to his art.

Thanks to the new Steven Spielberg production, West Side Story is back in the popular discourse.

About 50 years ago, pianist Stanley Cowell and trumpeter Charles Tolliver embarked on a bold venture together. In the face of a tough business climate, at a time of constriction in the record industry, they started their own label, Strata-East Records, breaking in its catalog with the self-titled debut by their own working band, Music Inc.

Mel Brown's family moved to Portland, Ore. from Arkansas in the early 1940s. He was born in 1944 — the last of six siblings and the only native Oregonian. By high school, Brown's skill for drumming was plain, and by the time he was 19 he had already secured a gig playing with soul-jazz breakout Billy Larkin and Delegates.

At the heart of any successful jazz enterprise is a spirit of resourcefulness. It's what leads an improviser to navigate a tricky passage, or a bandleader toward fresh ideas. And on the eastside of Portland, Ore. back in 2014, it's what led a few enterprising souls to create the Montavilla Jazz Festival — an event whose DIY mindset extends to the musicians on the bill.

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When the pandemic paused festivals around the world, the scrappy, first-rate Exit Zero Jazz Festival kept the music going.

If you know of Endea Owens, there's a good chance you know her as house bassist for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Her role in that setting is foundational, laying the groove that gives bandleader Jon Batiste room to soar.

As an aspiring young saxophonist, Julian Lee would often get introduced as "Mike's kid." His father, Mike Lee, has a sterling reputation as a jazz educator, and as a saxophonist in bands led by heavyweights like Jimmy Heath and Oliver Lake.

It's not hard to imagine a world where a search for the phrase "jazz connoisseur" turns up a photo of the grinning mug of Phil Schaap. As a historian and educator, a Grammy-winning reissue producer, a curator and a pontificator, Schaap has more than earned his prestigious stature as the 2021 A.B.

There's a composition by pianist Helen Sung titled "Into the Unknown," from her 2018 album, Sung With Words. A bright, bustling tune with a melody full of rhythmic feints, it captures the radiant spirit that Sung brings to any bandstand. And the song's title says something about her unconventional path to a life in modern jazz.

Public acknowledgment took its time finding Billy Lester. A pianist devoted to searching for a new form of modern jazz, he spent more than half a century on the outskirts of New York City, quietly honing his craft. "I just figured I'd go to my grave without any kind of recognition," he says plainly, "and I was at the point in my life where I totally accepted that."

It's no shocker that jazz and Sesame Street go hand in hand. The show has a long tradition of featuring jazz artists, such as Wynton Marsalis, as special guests, and some of the TV show's most famous music has found a life within the jazz ecosystem. These topics were all explored on a recent episode of the radio show Jazz Night in America, which also featured concert material from A Swinging Sesame Celebration at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

It wasn't your typical crowd in the Rose Theater one afternoon last fall, for a sold-out concert by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. For one thing, every grown-up in the audience seemed to be accompanied by an excited child or two.

Charlie Parker, the incandescent avatar of modern jazz, didn't live to see 35. His centennial is upon us, and with it comes a chance to celebrate his legacy — as a quicksilver alto saxophonist, a voracious musical thinker and a crucial link in the chain of jazz tradition. Bird, as he was fondly known, gave us a lexicon as well as a literature.

Wynton Marsalis has always been deeply engaged in the subject of American race relations. The issue was a crucial part of his education as a young musician in New Orleans, and it has been a core preoccupation of his own work going as far back as Black Codes (From the Underground), a trailblazing album from 1985.

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"It just takes time, time to get it right." René Marie wrote that line for a tender song about an extramarital affair, but it could easily apply to the arc of her jazz career, which began when she was in her 40s.

Not quite a decade ago, "the world's only global musical instrument museum" opened in Phoenix. The Musical Instrument Museum, or MIM, now boasts almost 14,000 objects and instruments in their collection, with 370 exhibits from all over the globe — a testament to music's universal human truths.

Here are a few indisputable truths about Andy Bey. First things first: as he approaches 80, Bey occupies the first rank of living jazz singers. He has led a circuitous career — starting out as a prodigy, slipping into obscurity, experiencing a late renaissance.

Cannonball Adderley was a mere 46 when he died, of a brain hemorrhage, in 1975.

"I don't believe America was founded to be one dimensional," pianist Cyrus Chestnut asserts. "It's various different people coming together, quote unquote, to develop something hip."

If you're even a casually observant jazz fan, you might think you know a thing or two about Joe Lovano. A tenor saxophonist with dozens of albums to his name, most of them made during a roughly 25-year tenure on Blue Note Records, Lovano is one of the most instantly identifiable musicians on the jazz landscape and on the New York scene.

Makaya McCraven — a drummer-producer-bandleader-composer who sums up his MO with the evocative term "beat scientist" — has lately been on the hottest of hot streaks. His album Universal Beings was hailed as one of the best albums of 2018, by outlets ranging from The New York Times to Rolling Stone. (In the NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll, it came in at No.

Terence Blanchard wrote his first piece of music for a Spike Lee joint nearly 30 years ago. The movie was Mo' Better Blues, which revolves around a brooding jazz trumpeter played by Denzel Washington. Blanchard was on set to ghost those trumpet parts, but at one point, Spike heard him playing a theme at the piano, and asked him to write an accompanying string arrangement.

"I've been drunk with music all my life," Charles Lloyd muses, "and it's been my spiritual path. And the times that I was knocked off my mooring, I just found a way to get back up."

What makes a first-tier jazz legacy? A signature instrumental style, recognizable within a phrase or two. A body of exceptional recordings, in the studio and in concert. A legion of imitators, great and small. A sense of broad cultural relevance. Maybe even a hit song or two.

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