Nate Chinen

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Masters award, which comes with a $25,000 prize, is widely described as United States' highest honor for jazz. Today, the NEA announced its four newest recipients of the prize: pianist Joanne Brackeen, guitarist Pat Metheny, singer Dianne Reeves and producer Todd Barkan.

For a long stretch of his early performing career, vibraphonist Gary Burton was always the youngest man on the bandstand. A child prodigy from Indiana, and then an onrushing force on the scene, he apprenticed with the great Nashville guitarist Hank Garland before going on tour with pianist George Shearing, followed by tenor saxophonist Stan Getz.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.


There's a memorable stretch in Hudson, the debut album by a new jazz supergroup of the same name, when a megaton of subtext finds expression in purely musical terms. It happens in the second half of "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," a cover of the apocalyptic Bob Dylan song.

Sonny Rollins wasn't really thinking about the formation of an archive as he went about his life and career over the last 60 years — as a tenor saxophonist of unsurpassed stature, an artist of active spiritual and social engagement, and an embodiment of jazz's improvisational ideal.

The low end has always been terra firma for Buster Williams, one of the all-time great bassists in modern jazz.

Moses Boyd Exodus ended its performance at the 2017 South by Southwest music festival with a rampaging take on its trademark tune, "Rye Lane Shuffle." Drummer Moses Boyd, the band's young founder and namesake, rumbled freely on his toms, joined by a fervent-sounding Binker Golding on tenor saxophone. The groove that emerged was Nigerian Afrobeat by way of a modern jazz metropolis — one with every resource at hand.

When Dee Dee Bridgewater learned that she would become a 2017 NEA Jazz Master, a succession of thoughts and feelings flooded her mind. The news came as a total shock, as she tells it: "It was so far out of my orbit and just my whole sphere of thinking," she said in a conversation at NPR this spring, hours before she formally received her award.

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, the firebrand trumpeter from New Orleans, doesn't go in for small gestures. His current project is The Centennial Trilogy, a three-album series intended to confront a range of societal issues, especially as they relate to the African-American population. The style of this new work carries a no less ambitious agenda, blending aspects of post-bop, trap and electronics, according to the non-idiomatic designation that Adjuah likes to call "Stretch Music."

Record Store Day, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, is a consumer ploy in the guise of a cultural event. Or, depending on your vantage, maybe it's the other way around. Whatever the case, record stores across the country and around the world are happily (or gamely) bracing for impact: Record Store Day 2017 falls this Saturday, April 22, with a wave of exclusive releases, in-store appearances and other retail enticements.

This year's class of NEA Jazz Masters is as accomplished as they come, with Dee Dee Bridgewater on vocals, Dr.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

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The NEA Jazz Masters Award is often described as the nation's highest honor for a living jazz musician. From the first its program has celebrated a broad aesthetic range — its inaugural class of honorees, in 1982, consisted of bebop icon Dizzy Gillespie, his trumpet precursor Roy Eldridge and the interstellar visionary Sun Ra. As those initial inductees show, the roll call of NEA Jazz Masters have represented striking diversity within the uppermost echelon of achievement in this music.

There's no shortage of poignant moments in I Called Him Morgan, Kasper Collin's mesmerizing new documentary about the life and death of jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan. One moment, about half an hour into the film, has stuck with me since I first saw it, lingering like an afterimage or the hook from a song.

Muldrow Meets Mingus

Mar 23, 2017

At a glance, Georgia Anne Muldrow isn't the obvious pick to create an interpretive tribute to the bassist and composer Charles Mingus. She was born in 1983, four years after Mingus died at 56. Her music stands well outside the jazz perimeter, aligning more with the Afrocentric current that flows through underground hip-hop, avant-R&B and psychedelic soul.

Whatever else you might say about the themes of La La Land — that it's a film about the ins and outs of young romance, or the pros and cons of creative ambition, or the movie musical as a renewable art form, or the culture of Hollywood, or the state of jazz (more on that in a sec) — you'd have to acknowledge the line it draws between illusion and disillusion.

Buried somewhere in the fathoms of YouTube is a recent clip of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, apparently filmed with a smartphone in Santiago de Cuba. The band, synonymous with the ebullient spirit of New Orleans, is playing a staple of its book, Professor Longhair's "Go to the Mardi Gras." What's notable about this version of the song, from December of 2015, is the punchy assist provided by some Cuban percussionists, who fall right into step with its second-line groove.

"It can be maddening to deal with a political environment where it seems like the truth has no purchase anymore," says Darcy James Argue, the hyper-literate composer who leads the Secret Society, a postmodern big band. Argue has spent a lot of time recently thinking about that maddening environment — not just as a matter of civic engagement during a chaotic election season, but also because it forms the crux of Real Enemies, his most recent work.

The Fred Hersch Trio brings a seductive and crafty intelligence to its version of "We See," the Thelonious Monk tune. Articulating its melody at the piano, Hersch slips in a few leisurely pauses, which slow down and stretch out the form. Then, in the bridge, he ratchets up to twice the speed, evoking the frenetic whir of the factory machinery in Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times.

Among the qualities that make Brad Mehldau and Chris Thile a not-quite-unlikely pairing — virtuosity, curiosity, a natural drive to bridge divisions of style — the one that may run deepest is a sense of resonant, articulate melancholy.

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