Tom Cole

This new year, how about some new music? Music that maybe you've told yourself you really don't like — like opera, hip-hop or country. This month, we're bringing in some people to help you mix up your playlists. First up, we asked NPR's senior arts editor, Tom Cole, on how to get into jazz.


On the power of deep listening

Updated at 10:07 p.m. EDT

On Tuesday afternoon, at 5:07 p.m., Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb sent an email to staff that began this way:

"Dear Members of the Company,

Plácido Domingo has agreed to withdraw from all future performances at the Met, with immediate effect. We are grateful to him for recognizing that he needed to step down."

For the past year, NPR has been taking a deep look at American anthems and all the forms they can take. These are the songs that unite us, inspire us or say something about what it means to be an American — songs as traditional as Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land," or as defiant as Public Enemy's "Fight the Power."

The City of Chicago on Thursday filed a civil complaint against actor Jussie Smollett trying to recoup the cost of his complaint to police that he'd been the subject of a racist and homophobic attack.

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.

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As 2018 comes to a close, we're going to take a moment to remember some of the musicians we lost this year. Here is our annual musical montage.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RESPECT")

Updated at 2:50 p.m. ET Friday

Classical guitarist John Williams reached millions of ears and even hit the charts when he played the main theme to the Oscar-winning 1978 film The Deer Hunter. But by then, Williams was already a classical star on a major record label who'd toured the world many times over.

He released his latest album, On The Wing, earlier this year. And although he announced a retirement from touring a few years ago, he's now 76 and still plays every day.

"But I love doing it so it's not a problem," he says.

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(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN ABERCROMBIE'S "BACKWARD GLANCE")

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After four chords, the notes start to fly — Danilo Brito and his four collaborators, three Brazilians and one American, are off like jackrabbits in front of a hound, having hustled their instruments to the Tiny Desk at the end of a North American tour.

Brito a 32-year-old mandolin player, made his first record when he was a teenager, plays a type of music called choro (pronounced "shore-oo").

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You probably shouldn't be reading this — just listen to Derek Gripper play and watch his fingers work. You can see and hear his classical training from his first notes behind the Tiny Desk.

Thirty years ago this week, an unknown filmmaker walked into a club in Washington, D.C., with a videotape in his hand. It was one of those nights when anyone could screen their work ... but this was the first public screening of a short documentary that's gone on to become the very definition of a cult classic.

Derek Gripper was a musician with a problem. He'd been playing classical music since he was 6 years old — violin, then piano and finally guitar. He was poised for an international career as a classical guitarist. But he remembers going to the homeland of one of his favorite composers, Johann Sebastian Bach.

"It felt kind of strange," he says. "It felt strange to be in Germany playing Bach to them."

Jean-Baptiste "Toots" Thielemans, the Belgian-American musician who cut a singular path as a jazz harmonica player, died in his sleep Monday in his hometown of Brussels. He was 94.

Watching a Terence Davies film is like watching paintings come to life. On the other hand, the filmmaker jokes, "The people who don't like my films say it's about as interesting as paint drying."

Still, Davies (pronounced "Davis") has plenty of defenders. More than one critic has called him Britain's greatest living film director, and French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard — who was famously not a fan of British moviemakers — called Davies' 1988 full-length feature breakout, Distant Voices, Still Lives, "magnificent".

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We're going to travel up the California coast now to remember one of the architects of the San Francisco Sound of the '60s.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEBODY TO LOVE")

"I consider the guitar as this sort of multi-faceted instrument," says Janet Feder, "that can make and do all of these other things."

Chime like a bell, or gong, buzz like a locust, or rattle and hum.

The National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, two federal grant-making agencies aimed at investing in American culture, turn 50 on Tuesday. There will be a yearlong celebration commemorating the agencies' history — and future.

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Guitarist and composer John Scofield's 2015 album is called Past Present. And that's what it is: four jazz musicians very much in the moment, looking back at events that informed the music they're playing—and listening back to a sound three of them created some 20 years ago.

Bert Jansch's approach to a traditional folk song is on full display in this recording of "Blackwaterside," made during a show at London's 12 Bar and originally released in 1995. It's an approach the Scottish singer-guitarist developed in the early 1960s; one that was more about evoking the mood and feel of a song than a slavish devotion to historical interpretation.

It seemed as if he'd go on forever — and B.B. King was working right up until the end. It's what he loved to do: playing music, and fishing. Even late in life, living with diabetes, he spent about half the year on the road. King died Thursday night at home in Las Vegas. He was 89 years old.

Pat Dowell, a freelance film reporter for NPR, died on Sunday. Dowell had been dealing with health issues for some time, but her death came as a surprise. She was 66 years old.

Pat was a freelancer for us for close to 30 years. Before that, she was a film critic for a number of publications and first appeared on our air in that capacity in 1974, when she talked to then-All Things Considered host Susan Stamberg about the TV series Rhoda and feminism.

Pianist Ralph Sharon, the longtime accompanist for Tony Bennett, died March 31 at age 91. In the audio link above, Tom Cole has a brief report for NPR's Morning Edition, and below, Walter Ray Watson filed this remembrance for NPR Music.

Guitarist and composer John Renbourn co-founded the group Pentangle and went on to become revered by guitarists around the world. Renbourn was found dead of an apparent heart attack at his home in Scotland on Thursday, after failing to show up for a concert. He was 70 years old.

This year saw the reissue of two vintage albums by Fleetwood Mac: the hugely popular Rumours,and the last album to feature the band's founder, Peter Green, called Then Play On.

"I think it's one of the most beautiful records and exciting records ever made," Rolling Stone senior writer David Fricke says. He wrote the liner notes for the reissue.

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