Jazz Night in America

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released.


A continuity and a break: That's the history of The Bad Plus in a nutshell. An acoustic piano trio with the combustion properties of a post-punk band, it emerged in the early 2000s to an uproar — its surging attack and shrewd repertoire were framed as a radical split from the jazz tradition. Gradually a more perceptive view emerged, one that acknowledged where the band was really coming from.

There's an emblematic photograph of Herbie Hancock on the back cover of his album Sunlight, which he began recording 40 years ago this month. He's depicted against a red backdrop with a Sennheiser vocoder headset on his cranium, which is bowed in deep focus.

Credit: William Gottlieb / Adam Cuerden

The fruitful collaboration between Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington is widely known to have brought us such classics as "Take The 'A' Train," "Chelsea Bridge" and "Isfahan." But behind the music, Strayhorn's life and identity were complex.

In 1965, the trumpeter, composer and arranger Thad Jones and the drummer Mel Lewis found themselves with a book of Big Band music originally intended for the Count Basie Orchestra — and nobody to perform it. So they made their own.

In the late 1930s, a bespectacled white man who played the clarinet was a teen idol. That was Benny Goodman, and he got to be that way from leading a quartet with Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa — one of jazz's first racially integrated bands.

Pioneering bassist and composer Jymie Merritt was born in Philadelphia in 1926. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, he made a name for himself nationally but also founded a groundbreaking Philadelphia-based band that continues to inspire today’s generation of jazz artists.

NPR’s Jazz Night in America honored Jymie Merritt with a special concert this past January at World Cafe Live. The concert will air on WRTI, Sunday, April 10th at 8 pm. Watch video here!

 In the greater jazz world, Danilo Pérez is a respected pianist. In his homeland of Panama, he's a national icon and cultural ambassador, and not just for his artistry. Ever since he returned to perform in his war-torn homeland in the 1980s, he's seen the potential for jazz to be a vehicle for social change, and spent much of his time offstage seeding this vision in the form of youth music education programs.

Even if you don't know anything about jazz, it's quite possible you've heard the music of saxophonist Kamasi Washington: That's him on the latest albums by Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus. But that's only the very tip of his iceberg.

Is there a modern-day equivalent to Duke Ellington? Or Ornette Coleman?

Who are the people today who think differently about jazz — who have created new forms, and expanded the musical vocabulary?

For 30 years, saxophonist Steve Coleman has been pushing the music forward, traveling the world to collect new sounds, rhythms and ideas. Along the way he's mentored many of the most exciting younger artists in jazz — musicians like Ambrose Akinmusire, Jason Moran and Vijay Iyer.

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