Nate Chinen

UMG on / YouTube

Pianist Robert Glasper is rightly known for setting a groove, but he's just as adept at set

To hear the broadcast version of this story, use the audio player above.


For more than 25 years, Tony Malaby has been one of the most riveting saxophonists in jazz — a dauntless explorer who's also at home with direct emotional expression. His ability to toggle between traditional and experimental modes has been a trademark since he released an auspicious debut album, Sabino, at the turn of the century.

More than most, 2021 was a year of mixed results — an endless scroll of gains and losses, halting progress and hard retrenchment. For jazz musicians and the community of listeners around them, it brought confirmation that improvisation is a life strategy. Peering in the rearview, my mind flickers to a moment from midyear: At a community arts space on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, bassist, composer and singer esperanza spalding has taken up a residency with the musicians and scholars who constitute her Songwrights Apothecary Lab.

There's a key metaphor nestled near the midpoint of ...(Iphigenia), the audacious, iconoclastic new opera by Wayne Shorter and esperanza spalding. A revisionary take on a canonical tale — mainly Euripides' Greek tragedy Iphigenia at Aulis, a storm of bloodlust, retribution and obligation — the opera seeks to imbue its namesake character, a young woman sentenced to ritual sacrifice, with some semblance of a soul. As for the metaphor, it arrives when someone exhorts Iphigenia to "open the cemented way by your dandelion sprout." The chorus instantly seizes on that image:

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.

Early in the going on 30, the juggernaut of a pop confessional that happens to be Adele's most surefooted album thus far, we get a curated glimpse of familial intimacy. On a song called "My Little Love," a series of interpolated voice memos intensifies the guilt and vulnerability that Adele carried into her post-divorce life.

There are innumerable photographs of George Wein at the Newport Jazz Festival, the groundbreaking event he co-founded in 1954 and kept producing, in hands-on or emeritus fashion, until his death last month at 95. One of my favorites, by David Redfern, shows only a sliver of his face.

A decade ago, jazz icon Tony Bennett and pop superstar Lady Gaga struck up one of the great Odd Couple partnerships in recent music history. Singing together first on his album Duets II, and then on their co- album, Cheek to Cheek, Bennett and Gaga made history on the charts while proving some things never go out of style.

Now, with Love For Sale, Bennett and Gaga are serving up another round but with a poignant twist: It may be Bennet's final album. He's 95, and has been living Alzheimers disease.

In the grand history of Black American music, no one ever embodied a combination of instrumental prowess, composerly ambition, educational authority and institutional savvy quite like Dr. Billy Taylor. A pianist who honed his skills at the dawn of modern jazz, Dr.

Again and again in Fire Shut Up in My Bones, the magnetically powerful new opera by Terence Blanchard, the focus returns to the torturous weight of a burden carried alone. That weight, shouldered by the opera's central character, stems from his sexual and emotional abuse as a child, and the resulting pain and alienation of his young adulthood.

YouTube

Esperanza Spalding — the vocalist, bassist and composer hailed by NPR Music, with just a touch of

Joshua Redman, 'Facts'

Aug 12, 2021

Mack Avenue Records II, LLC. / YouTube

Facts, it can often seem nowadays, aren't what they used to be.

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.

There's a moment on "Oceans of Time," from a 2016 album by The Cookers, when alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, Jr. takes a solo full of swerving self-assurance. Swinging mightily behind him is the composer of the tune, master drummer Billy Hart.

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.

Impulse! Records / YouTube

What does "Reclamation'' mean to Brandee Younger?

Edition Records / YouTube

Groove is foundational for Nate Smith, a brilliant drummer known for holding it down with everyone from Brittany Howard to Dave Holland to Van Hunt.

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.

Erroll Garner, the effervescent and boundlessly inventive jazz pianist and composer, died more than 40 years ago, at the age of 55. A household name and major concert attraction in his prime, he has recently regained a measure of cultural cachet thanks to the Erroll Garner Project, which made a splash five years ago with an expanded rerelease of Garner's landmark album, Concert By the Sea.

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.

Last year, the International Jazz Day All-Star Global Concert affixed a hopeful coda to the cruelest of months. And for pandemic precautionary reasons, the event was fully virtual, with a carefully produced montage of performances and salutations from around the world. This year's International Jazz Day arrives at quite a different moment, in some respects — though still a good distance from a post-COVID reality.

YouTube

The National Endowment for the Arts has inducted a new class of NEA Jazz Masters every year since 1982, honoring more th

Since breaking through as an anointed acolyte of John Coltrane in the 1960s, and even more since his own outflow of spiritually charged albums in the '70s, tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders has possessed a seeker's sound, a voice on his instrument that seems to harbor cosmic secrets.

Chick Corea was the recipient of 23 Grammy awards, the most of any jazz artist ever, when he died shockingly last month, at 79. He could add two more to his tally at the 63rd Grammys this Sunday: Best Improvised Jazz Solo, for his crisp piano excursion on "All Blues," and Best Jazz Instrumental Album, for Trilogy 2, on which that performance appears.

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.

Ralph Peterson Jr., a drummer, bandleader, composer and educator whose lunging propulsion and volatile combustion were hallmarks of a jazz career spanning more than 40 years, died on Monday in North Dartmouth, Mass. The cause was complications from cancer, his manager, Laura Martinez, tells NPR Music; Peterson had been living with the disease for the last six years. He was 58.

Vijay Iyer recorded Uneasy, his forthcoming ECM album, at the close of 2019, in the waning light of what's sometimes wryly hailed as "the before-times."

"It was really on the cusp of, well, the rest of everything," Iyer, a pianist and composer of exceptional renown, tells NPR Music. "I'm really glad to have this document of what we used to be, and what we will be again. This is a reminder of what's possible: how we can be together, how we can move together, how we can build something together."

This story was updated at 9:28 p.m. ET on Thursday, Feb. 11.

The keyboardist, composer and bandleader Chick Corea — one of the most revered figures in contemporary jazz, but an artist whose work spanned fusion to classical — died on Feb. 9 at age 79.

Pages