WBGO Blog
  • Myra Melford's Myriad Sounds

    March 25, 2021

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    Myra Melford at Jazz at Lincoln Center (Image Credit: © Frank Stewart/JALC)

    What does a line from a James Joyce novel sound like on the piano? Or a scribble from the visual artist Cy Twombly? Can you translate the organic architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright into music? For pianist and composer Myra Melford, there is inspiration in all of the above, "a kind of dialogue for me – a thing to bounce my ideas off of."

    For over 30 years, Melford has carved out a musical identity by channeling extra-musical influences while drawing on the history of jazz piano, from James P. Johnson to Thelonious Monk to Cecil Taylor. She can tap into a multitude of styles, any of which might spring to life in an improvisation. In the words of a friend and collaborator, flutist Nicole Mitchell, "she's purely unstoppable."

    On this episode of Jazz Night in America, we'll explore a few of her many facets, as she expresses herself in a variety of ensembles. From her egalitarian unit Trio M, with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Matt Wilson, to the malleable Snowy Egret quintet, which enables her to take flight in any direction. We'll also hear Melford in a big band setting with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

    Musicians:

    Snowy Egret: Myra Melford, piano; Ron Miles, cornet; Liberty Ellman, guitar; Stomu Takeishi, bass; Tyshawn Sorey, drums.

    Trio M: Myra Melford, piano; Mark Dresser, bass; Matt Wilson, drums.

    Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra: Ali Jackson, drums, tambourine; Dan Nimmer, piano; Carlos Henriquez, bass; Kenny Rampton, trumpet; Marcus Printup, trumpet; Greg Gisbert, trumpet; Elliot Mason, trombone; Chris Crenshaw, trombone; Vincent Gardner; trombone; Victor Goines, tenor sax, soprano sax, clarinet, bass clarinet; Ted Nash, alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet, flute, piccolo; Sherman Irby, alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet, flute; Walter Blanding, tenor sax, soprano sax, clarinet; Paul Nedzela, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Wynton Marsalis, trumpet; Myra Melford, piano.

    Set List (all songs by Myra Melford):

    • Trio M, "Promised Land"
    • Snowy Egret, "City of Illusion"
    • Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Myra Melford, "The Strawberry"
    • Snowy Egret, "Small Thoughts"
    • Trio M, "The Guest House"

    Credits:

    Writer and Producer: Sarah Geledi; Host: Christian McBride; Music Engineer: Rob Macomber; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand; Senior Director of NPR Music: Lauren Onkey.

    Copyright 2021 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • Pianist Helen Sung: From Classical Outsider To The Jazz Inner Circle

    March 4, 2021. Posted by Alex Ariff.

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    Helen Sung (Image Credit: Ayano Hisa/Jazz at Lincoln Center)

    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.

    Raised by immigrant parents in Houston, Sung showed early promise on piano — but seemed destined for classical music until her mid 20s. Pursuing improvised music took a leap of faith, but she was soon admitted to the Thelonious Monk Institute for Jazz, where she received affirmation from the masters, and began to lay the groundwork for her own career.

    On this episode of Jazz Night, we'll hear Sung play "Into the Unknown" with her quartet: John Ellis on tenor saxophone, Rueben Rogers on bass and McClenty Hunter on drums. Their set, recorded at Dizzy's Club, also features tunes by (and for) Thelonious Monk, and a note of social conscience. "Jazz is such an honest art form," she says. "And so as an artist, I want to be on the side of truth."

    Musicians

    Helen Sung, piano; John Ellis, tenor saxophone; Reuben Rogers, bass; McClenty Hunter, drums

    Set List

    Songs by Helen Sung unless otherwise noted

    • "Carolina Shout" (James P. Johnson)
    • "Into the Unknown" 
    • "Bye-Ya" (Thelonious Monk)
    • "Brother Thelonious" 
    • "Lament for Kalief Browder" 
    • "Hope Springs Eternally"

    Credits

    Writer and Producer: Alex Ariff; Host: Christian McBride; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Music Engineer; Rob Macomber; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand; Senior Director of NPR Music: Lauren Onkey.

    Copyright 2021 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • A Fine Romance: Jazz & Valentine's Day

    February 11, 2021

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    (Image Credit: Ayano Hisa/Jazz at Lincoln Center)

    "The stars fill the sky / So in love with you am I," wrote Cole Porter in "So In Love," one of countless adored songs within the Great American Songbook, and performed with stirring reverence by vocalist Brianna Thomas in this week's concert.

    The holiday setlist from Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2018 reads like a love letter to the tradition, with numbers that highlight the many different matters of the heart, specifically frustration, longing and joy. And singer Vuyo Sotashe, alongside Thomas and the appropriately named Valentine's Day Big Band, navigate these emotions expertly.

    We'll also toast the musical relationship known as the duet with some tracks from our host Christian McBride's favorite pairings, as well as scorching takes of "Miss Brown To You" and "I Cried For You" from our concert.

    If you're in the mood for the "roses and teddy bears" kind of love, fear not. There's also plenty of swoon-worthy sweetness in the assortment for you to enjoy.

    Musicians:

    Riley Mulherkar, music director/trumpet; Vuyo Sotashe, vocals; Brianna Thomas, vocals; Tatum Greenblatt, trumpet; Mariel Bildsten, trombone; Julian Lee, reeds; Lucas Pino, reeds; Immanuel Wilkins, alto saxophone; Gabe Schnider, guitar; Chris Pattishall, piano; Barry Stephenson, bass; Sammy Miller, drums

    Set List:

    • "Sing Me A Swing Song" (Hoagy Carmichael / Stanley Adams)
    • "So In Love" (Cole Porter)
    • "While We're Young" (Alex Wilder / Morty Palitz)
    • "Miss Brown To You" (Richard A. Whiting / Ralph Rainger / Leo Robin)
    • "I Cried For You" (Gus Arnheim / Abe Lyman / Arthur Freed)
    • "I Loves You, Porgy" (George Gershwin / Ira Gershwin)
    • "God Bless The Child" (Billie Holiday / Arthur Herzog Jr.)

    Credits:

    Writer and Producer: Trevor Smith; Host: Christian McBride; Music Engineer: Rob Macomber; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand; Senior Director of NPR Music: Lauren Onkey.

    Copyright 2021 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • Lost (And Found) In Yonkers: The Billy Lester Story

    January 28, 2021. Posted by Alex Ariff.

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    (Image Credit: Anna Yatskevich /Courtesy of Newvelle Records)

    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."

    The situation changed only a few years ago when Lester was in his early 70s. A chance encounter led to an acclaimed album on the boutique Newvelle record label, which he made with the impeccable rhythm team of Rufus Reid on bass and Matt Wilson on drums. And in the fall of 2019, this trio played two sets to a packed house at the Jazz Standard — Lester's long-overdue debut in a New York City jazz club, and an absolute triumph at that.

    This show features highlights from that special evening, which also poses a question: how did the spotlight elude this fine pianist for so long, and why? We'll get to know Lester as a person, and we'll see how his ascetic profile and purist instinct extend a tradition modeled by his mentor, the late Sal Mosca, who in turn learned from the groundbreaking jazz modernist Lennie Tristano. The spirit of discovery so prized by Tristano's disciples is ever-present in the music of Billy Lester — and we're proud to let you in on the secret.

    Musicians

    Billy Lester, piano; Rufus Reid, bass; Matt Wilson, drums.

    Set List

    • "What is This Thing Called Love?" (Cole Porter)
    • "All The Things You Are" (Jerome Kern / Oscar Hammerstein II)
    • "These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)" (Jack Strachey / Eric Maschwitz)
    • "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To" (Cole Porter)
    • "(Back Home Again in) Indiana" (Ballard MacDonald / James F. Hanley)

    Credits

    Writer and Producer: Alex Ariff; Contributing Producer: Nate Chinen; Host: Christian McBride; Music Engineer: Rocky Russo; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Technical Director: David Tallacksen; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand; Senior Director of NPR Music: Lauren Onkey.

    Read more

  • In Memoriam: Jazz Night Radio Remembers 10 Musicians Who Altered The Shape Of Jazz

    December 17, 2020

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    Jazz Night In America's 2020 In Memoriam program includes Jimmy Heath, Lee Konitz, CÃ ndido Camero, Tony Allen, Annie Ross, Freddy Cole, Gary Peacock, Henry Grimes, Wallace Roney and McCoy Tyner. (Image Credit: Bernard Benant, Jonathan Chimene/WBGO, David Kaufman, Tom Pich)

    If you've been a jazz fan for any length of time, you know farewells are an essential part of the deal. But this was a harder year than most, as the ravages of a pandemic compounded and quickened the scope of our losses, especially during a heartbreaking stretch last spring.

    All told, more than 40 notable figures from the realm of jazz and improvised music died in 2020. What they took with them was an incalculable reserve of wisdom and experience. What they left behind is a monumental body of work, spanning all conceivable corners of sound and style. The state of the art would be different today without their examples.

    In this special episode of Jazz Night in America, we map a segment of that terrain — hailing 10 musicians whose lives and contributions altered the shape of jazz, in one fashion or another. Going by seniority, they are percussionist Cándido Camero; saxophonists Jimmy Heath and Lee Konitz; singers Annie Ross and Freddy Cole; bassists Gary Peacock and Henry Grimes; pianist McCoy Tyner; drummer Tony Allen; and trumpeter Wallace Roney.

    We did our best to tell their stories, and share their music, in the time allotted — leaving out many other deserving souls, from Andy González to Ellis Marsalis to Jimmy Cobb. That's no judgment on their excellence or the depth of their experience. And Jazz Night took care to acknowledge a wider circle of artists and advocates in a video short that we've published alongside this hourlong radio program. The music plays on, and the memories endure.

    Set List:

    • Jimmy Heath, "Picture Of Heath"
    • Lee Konitz, "All Of Me"
    • Gary Peacock (with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette), "My Foolish Heart"
    • Henry Grimes (Profound Sound Trio), "Futurity"
    • Annie Ross (Hendricks, Lambert & Ross), "Twisted"
    • Freddy Cole, "The Joke Is On Me"
    • Càndido Camero, "Candido's Camera"
    • Tony Allen (with Hugh Masekela), "We've Landed"
    • Wallace Roney, "Bookendz"
    • McCoy Tyner, "Reaching Fourth," "Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit"

    Credits:

    Writers and Producers: Nate Chinen and Sarah Geledi; Contributing Producer: Alex Ariff; Host: Christian McBride; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Technical Director: David Tallacksen; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand; Senior Director of NPR Music: Lauren Onkey.

    Special thanks to Simon Rentner, Murray Street Productions, and the Jazz At Lincoln Center archives.

    Copyright 2020 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.