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Jazz Today

Friday, September 26 2014

Singing Across Continents: An Interview with Somi

Somi is a not-exactly jazz singer with roots in Africa and the American midwest, and she has made the year's most amazing record, evoking the spirit of Lagos, Nigeria.


Monday, August 18 2014

The Sonny Rollins / ‘New Yorker’ Controversy and Jazz’s Image Problem

Why do jazz folks always sound so defensive about the music they love? Why can’t they take a pie in the face from Django Gold?


Tuesday, July 15 2014

Smokin’ Modernism Is Alive and Well in the Upper West Side

Smoke Sessions Records is doing it old-school: recording the best musicians in New York playing mainstream jazz that cooks.


Wednesday, June 18 2014

Talent Will Out: Singer-Songwriter Nicky Schrire on Making It in New York

South African jazz singer Nicky Schrire has made three tremendous records, but she isn't well known. That ought to change.


Wednesday, May 7 2014

On the Upswing: Craig Handy and Second Line Smith

Saxophonist Craig Handy has a killer new band that combines the jazz-funk of Jimmy Smith with a New Orleans second line groove.


Wednesday, March 19 2014

Is Blue Note Records on the Rise, Again?

One of the great treasures of jazz's past, the Blue Note record label, seems to be enjoying a new golden age. Here are two reasons why.


Friday, January 31 2014

How Can a Listener Ignore the Influence of the Market on the Beautiful Art of Jazz?

Some will tar a record with being “commercial” due to preset notions of what one might think an artist should be doing, rather than listening for what he actually is doing.


Tuesday, December 10 2013

The Endless Well of Latin Jazz

This was another banner year for Latin Jazz, a genre that is so rich and established that it hardly a subset of jazz as much as a glorious thing unto itself.


Monday, November 18 2013

Big Is Beautiful: Large Bands, Worlds of Sound

The year 2013 has featured some of the most exceptional and inventive orchestral jazz in years.


Tuesday, October 22 2013

How That Flawed Man Flew: Beyond the Myth of Charlie Parker

Chuck Haddix's new biography of the great alto saxophonist unearths fresh details of his early life—and helps us to see more clearly his genius and his tragedy.


Wednesday, September 11 2013

“Later”, Marian McPartland

The great jazz pianist and NPR host of "Piano Jazz", Marian McPartland, left us a few weeks ago. She will be missed.


Wednesday, August 14 2013

Bassist Stephan Crump, from Pop to Avant-Garde and Back Again

Bassist Stephan Crump makes pop with his wife Jen Chapin, experimental improvisation with guitarist Mary Halvorson, and he's a great mainstream player, too. What can't he do well?


Tuesday, July 16 2013

Everything Old Is New Again: Reimagined Jazz Standards

Two young musicians, singer Kristin Slipp and pianist Dov Manski, have made an excellent classic recording of startlingly updated jazz standards. Here's how they did it.


Sunday, June 16 2013

The Fearless Trumpeter: An Interview with Terence Blanchard

Terence Blanchard is more than a brilliant jazz trumpeter. His long-standing quintet is one of the most flexible groups in jazz, and his work as a composer of film soundtracks is distinctive.


Tuesday, May 14 2013

David Sanborn May Not Be Cool—But He’s Sure Copied a Lot

David Sanborn may be the most imitated man in instrumental music. His ripe rasp on alto saxophone has been aped a thousand times over. Yet he's gotten little respect in true jazz circles.


Tuesday, April 16 2013

Ode to the Return of the Clarinet

Why did you leave jazz, O Clarinet? Did you ask too much of us, or did we ask to much of you? Either way, you've returned with a sleek, expressive vengeance!


Wednesday, March 27 2013

Wynton Marsalis’ ‘Blood on the Fields’, Still Genius

Is anything ever as wonderful as it seemed when you first fell in love with it? Some things are. Some things become even sweeter over time.


Wednesday, February 20 2013

‘Why Jazz Happened’ Makes Its Points Like a Snazzy Lawyer in the Courtroom: Zip, Zam, Zot

New Orleans to swing, swing to bop, bop to cool, cool to hard bop, hard bop to free jazz—"jazz style periods" are so often presented like this. But jazz's transformation often shifted independently of cultural happenings, and those shifts were far from linear.


Tuesday, January 29 2013

Saxophonist Jon Irabagon Takes Us By Storm

Suddenly saxophonist Jon Irabagon is everywhere: releasing his own music, starring as a sideman on wildly varying projects, constantly showing us that jazz can be whatever we want it to be.


Tuesday, December 11 2012

Swing Guitarist John Pizzarelli Really Does Have the World on a String

John Pizzarelli is a blazing swing guitarist whose music is among the most consistent pleasures and most reliably smart expressions of the “The Great American Songbook” of the last 25 years.


Monday, November 19 2012

The Many Voices of Trumpeter and Composer Dave Douglas

Dave Douglas is a big tent figure: someone with room on his label and in his bands for all kinds of players and all kinds of sounds; his many bands, his side players, his record label -- each blossoms with beautiful strength and diversity.


Tuesday, October 23 2012

A Tale of Two (Too Unsung) Tenors—Saxophone Tenors, That Is

Bill McHenry and Michael Blake are both tenor saxophonists in their 40s who play with imagination beyond convention—and ought to be known more widely. October brings brilliant recordings from both.


Tuesday, September 25 2012

Is Innovation Required in Jazz Today?

Should jazz require a higher degree of innovation than its erstwhile colleagues in musical invention? It is, after all, an art premised on improvisation; musical invention in the moment.


Sunday, August 19 2012

Luciana Souza’s Multi-Directional Approach to Jazz Singing

The singular Brazilian-American singer, Luciana Souza, has two new albums out in August, utterly different and utterly her.


Sunday, July 15 2012

Three I’ve Ignored, Shame on Me: Elliot Sharp, Mike Reed & Joe McPhee

Like future friends who keep inviting you to parties even though you’ve never even RSVP'd, these artists have a benevolent persistence. Really, it’s about time I checked them out, and I'm glad I did.


Tuesday, May 15 2012

Esperanza Spalding Stays the Jazz Course While Norah Jones Gets Indie

The two most recent albums by these jazz artists, Esperanza Spalding's Radio Music Society and Norah Jones' Little Broken Hearts, go in different (and good) directions.


Sunday, April 8 2012

Jazz’s Wizard of Wit—and Much More—Dave Frishberg

Pianist, singer and songwriter Dave Frishberg, something of a cracked lovechild of Stephen Sondheim and Woody Allen's, is a too-little known miracle. The writer of hip ditties like "Peel Me a Grape" is also much more.


Wednesday, March 14 2012

The Vijay Iyer Trio Takes Over

The finest jazz album of 2012—or of the whole millenium—has been delivered by the music's greatest band, The Vijay Iyer Trio.


Wednesday, February 15 2012

Rock Is the New Jazz. Sorry, Rock.

Here's some advice from good old Jazz to its cousin Rock about what happens when people stop listening to you.


Monday, January 30 2012

Jazz Triumphs of 2011 That Only a Fool Could Miss

Critics can be fools, particularly in their own eyes. Here are five jazz discs from 2011 that should have been on my top ten list but slipped from view, then. It's not too late to dig them.


Monday, January 9 2012

Remembering Paul Motian: The Drummer Who Quietly Shook Things Up

It may seem odd to call a drummer “quiet”, but Paul Motian was Mr. Subtle. From the start of his career until the last months of his life, he was shaking things up. Quietly. Brilliantly.


Monday, November 21 2011

Sympathetic Vibrations

There's a renaissance for the vibraphone in jazz, even though many folks don't even know this instrument exists.


Sunday, September 18 2011

A ‘Dear John’ Letter to Jazz: To Hell with Loving You

Jazz is unpopular, pretentious, sexist, a window-dressing for those seeking "class", and more. Why shouldn't I give up loving it?


Sunday, August 21 2011

The Off-Handed Cool of Michael Franks

Is he just a "smooth jazz" hack? Or is Michael Franks a real jazz singer whose best work from the '70s remains a viable way to sing today?


Sunday, July 10 2011

Does ‘Treme’ Hate Modern Jazz?

Watching Treme, one might get the impression that modern jazz is the soundtrack for the soulless, and therefore has no place in New Orleans, pre- or post Hurricane Katrina.


Thursday, June 9 2011

Sorry, Parents of All Those Little Prodigies Out There, Jazz Is Not for Amateurs

Don’t you think that a 14-year-old singing “My man don’t love me, treats me awful mean” is kind of screwy?


Monday, May 16 2011

Jane Ira Bloom’s Sinuous Soprano

It's embarrassing that jazz is so sexist. Jane Ira Bloom, however, breaks the mold, playing with feminine style but not a hint of schmaltz.


Wednesday, April 13 2011

An Infectious Case of Jazz Fanaticism

What happens when you take two friends who know little about jazz to a club for a night of totally spontaneous "eek-onk" music? The results can be surprising.


Sunday, March 6 2011

The Blessing and the Curse of the Grammys

Bieber Fever raged when Esperanza Spalding bumped the boy aside to claim the 2011 Grammys Best New Artist award, but do jazz fans really give a damn about the Grammys?


Tuesday, February 15 2011

Clean Feed Records and Mary Halvorson: Promises of Good Things to Come in Jazz

The promise of great jazz for the next year, or ten, was struck in 2010 by guitarist Mary Halvorson and Clean Feed Records.


Sunday, January 2 2011

Modern Guitar Stripped Bare: An Interview with Rez Abbasi

The Pakistani-American jazz guitarist reflects on playing beyond cliché, playing acoustic, finding unity, and making a living.


Tuesday, November 30 2010

Rebirth in the Tremé: New Orleans Ascendent

When the band broke into the repetitive horn line of “Hurricane”, the Tipitina’s crowd went utterly and gloriously berserk, joining the band in screaming “Heeeay!” after certain particularly ripping runs.


Monday, October 25 2010

Cedar Walton and Jazz for the ‘Young and Foolish’

The journey into the history of jazz can be a serious thrill ride. Still young, sometimes still foolish, the old stuff happens to remain seriously exciting if you just find the right time and place to listen.


Thursday, September 30 2010

Steve Coleman: Saxophone Funkmaster, Musical Philosopher, Shaman, Baffler

If Steve Coleman didn't turn out to be the lovechild of James Brown and Charlie Parker that I first thought he was, then he ultimately turned into someone more interesting, if less fun.


Sunday, August 8 2010

Ten Reasons to Love Jason Moran

With his new recording Ten, pianist Jason Moran marks a decade of playing by his great Bandwagon trio. Listeners should count themselves lucky.


Monday, June 28 2010

Jazz Ain’t Dead, But Charlie Parker Is—So Let’s Move On, Shall We?

If Charlie Parker rose from the dead I have no doubt that he'd cheer on the hip hop orchestras and Bugge Wesseltoft's piano thumping electronica. He would definitely be a fan of Esperanza Spalding.


Tuesday, June 1 2010

Nikki Yanofsky: Forever Young

The 16-year-old Canadian singer Nikki Yanofsky is taking the jazz world by storm. She wants to be more than just a phenom or a jazz singer. Has she got what it takes?


Wednesday, April 21 2010

It’s Not Who You Know, It’s What You Do with Who You Know

Bassist and composer Dave Holland has been making adventurous, melodic jazz for 40 years with the likes of Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Sam Rivers, Anthony Braxton, Stan Getz, Pat Metheny and many others.


Tuesday, March 16 2010

The Nonchalant Brilliance of John Pizzarelli, Jr.

John Pizzarelli is cool enough to be modern but hot enough to be 'old' -- and he knows what he's doing with that voice, even if he's no Sinatra.


Wednesday, February 17 2010

Celluloid Dreams: How to Film a Melody

How do you paint a picture of a melody? How do you tell a story about a D-major-7 chord or a C-minor-melodic scale? How do you make a film about harmonic innovation or the division of a measure into overlapping polyrhythms?


Monday, January 11 2010

Overlooked Jazz Gems of 2009

The year 2009 was a such a good one for jazz that even some music that had been neglected stands out as stellar. Layman catches up with music he never should have missed.


Tuesday, December 15 2009

Reviewing Jazz of 2009: Wherefore Art Thou, Blue Note?

The best jazz of 2009 did not come, even a little bit, from the storied "major labels" of jazz. What happened to Blue Note and Verve this year?


Monday, November 23 2009

Spinach and Broccoli Music: An Interview with Composer and Drummer John Hollenbeck

John Hollenbeck recombines the familiar in compositions that are startlingly new. His new Eternal Interlude is among the best jazz of 2009. Here, he explains his quirky, fresh methods.


Wednesday, October 21 2009

Is there Virtue in Virtuosity?

Two recent releases by leading saxophonists Chris Potter and James Carter raise the question of the utility—or the misuses—of virtuosity in jazz.


Tuesday, September 15 2009

Jazz Cellist Peggy Lee’s ‘Fever’

Peggy Lee—the cellist, not the late singer—is nevertheless all about singing of a sort. She talks to PopMatters about creativity and collaboration in the beautiful city of Vancouver.


Wednesday, August 19 2009

Hip-notized by a Male Billie Holiday

Discovering the first collection of duets between popular singer Tony Bennett and jazz pianist Bill Evans popped my top and buttered my bread.


Wednesday, July 22 2009

Jennifer Lee: The Bay Area Diana Krall

Jennifer Lee is not the typical, seductive jazz singer in a little black dress, holding a martini and giving you a late night wink. But she is a heck of a singer and musician, and she's ready to be heard.


Wednesday, June 10 2009

Great Vibrations: An Interview with Gary Burton

Our jazz critic talks to Gary Burton about his reunion with Pat Metheny, about starting a "gentle" jazz-rock group, and that no one seems to know what a "vibraphone" really is.


Thursday, May 14 2009

Some Sing with Swing

With spring comes a rush of jazz vocalists and some of them can actually sing. Others ... not so much.


Thursday, April 9 2009

Long Live Blossom Dearie

Blossom's music exuded a sparkling kind of elegance and quick wit. Hers was the kind of jazz you could imagine in the really good Woody Allen movies. She was the Dorothy Parker of jazz.


Wednesday, March 18 2009

Songlines: Small Is Beautiful

Songlines has its finger on the pulse of the most important improvised music being made in North America these days.


Wednesday, February 18 2009

Ravi Coltrane: The Son Also Rises

Tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane manages to look backward without seeming stale, and manages to deflect his sound off of his father's without either outright rejection or pale imitation.


Thursday, January 22 2009

Middleman: Joshua Redman and Jazz’s Vanishing Division

"The position of not taking a side has endured." Joshua Redman talks about the hoary division between tradition and innovation, the spatial approach to doubled rhythm sections, and jazz's academic antidote.


Wednesday, December 17 2008

No Piano No Problem

Two new albums by piano-less quartets offer big doses of fun -- urgent rhythms, slabs of blues feeling, melody and invention with hardly any limit -- but also provide thrill-rides of surprise.


Wednesday, November 5 2008

R.I.P. Smooth Jazz, Round Two

Smooth Jazz truly is the music of the gesture. It is music of the pose. It is music -- maybe particularly when it is made by a skillful musician -- that hints at real music without being real music.


Wednesday, October 8 2008

Selling the Melody

From the lips of Melody Gardot -- heard in her swinging Cole Porter for an automobile -- there's another tentacle of jazz pushing forward, finding its way into our ears.


Wednesday, August 20 2008

Looking Back at Brubeck

Dave Brubeck has been incredibly popular, neither simplistic nor crass, yet critics have never much liked his music. What if you listen to him -- to his long career -- with fresh ears?


Wednesday, July 16 2008

Double Standards

What does it say about our time and place that our two boldest -- maybe best -- jazz singers, Patricia Barber and Cassandra Wilson, are returning to singing standards again?


Thursday, June 26 2008

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

Even today there are distinctive characteristics to American and European jazz styles. Which strain of music is most forward-looking? Which suggests the most promising vanguard for a music that seems to lose listeners even as its creativity expands?


Wednesday, May 28 2008

Tangled Up in Blue Note

"Blue Note" means there's a certain sound to a record, a style that is tight and sharp and funky but also adventurous. If jazz is music to shout about, Blue Note records may be the most shout-worthy of all time.


Wednesday, April 16 2008

R.I.P. Smooth Jazz, 1985-2008?

With two of the US' major "smooth jazz" radio stations defunct to the fickleness of format change, the time to mourn the cheesy sub-genre is now. But what made Smooth Jazz not really jazz at all?


Monday, March 10 2008

The Gap: Charles Lloyd

Saxophonist Charles Lloyd enjoyed periods of critical acclaim, popular celebration, eccentric withdrawal, and general trivialization. He was easy to ignore if you came of jazz fan age after 1970, and that's a shame.


Wednesday, January 30 2008

The Gap: Bix Beiderbecke

It's never too late to get hip to a good thing. I've finally opened my ears to '20s-era Bix Biederbecke.


Wednesday, January 2 2008

The Gap: Paul Bley

Paul Bley seems to be that rare jazz musician who has made a romance with the avant-garde seem easy on the ears.


Wednesday, November 14 2007

A Laughing Dilemma, Revealed

Jazz and its fans have grown all too serious. The genre could use a clown prince or two.


Tuesday, October 16 2007

Bass Reflections

Recently, two most idiosyncratic jazz bass players, Miroslav Vitous and Eberhard Weber, released riveting, odd, ambitious recordings, suggesting the importance of the bass tradition to the larger history of the music.


Wednesday, September 19 2007

Swept off My Feet by “Newcomer” James Carney

Current musicians like Brad Mehldau or Greg Osby are the equivalents of Albert Pujols or Mariano Rivera: future legends that walk among us today. Now you're on notice: James Carney may just be a master in the making.


Thursday, August 9 2007

A Critic’s Grab-Bag

The most rewarding work as a critic is not in evaluating the flow of big menu items from established artists, but in sampling the little dishes that come along -- like this quartet of obscure, interesting stuff from 2007's first half.


Monday, May 21 2007

Playing Pop in the Jazz/Soul Shadow

Layman shares Thai food with the band, and discusses the wonderfully uncategorizable music of The Jen Chapin Trio.


Thursday, April 12 2007

The Little Label That Could: An Interview With Cryptogramophone’s Jeff Gauthier

"I want every album I produce to take the listener on a journey, perhaps to places they've never been before." Cryptogramophone Records founder Gauthier talks L.A. jazz, musical community, and embracing change.


Thursday, March 8 2007

Celebrating John Coltrane, Personally

Spurred on by a couple of anniversaries, a new podcast "Traneumentary", and plenty of memory, Layman reflects on the music and meaning of John Coltrane.


Wednesday, December 20 2006

How an Unremarkably Wonderful Work Is the Most Successful Jazz Album, Ever

How can it be, in fact, that Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas is perhaps the only universally adored record in jazz history -- the Sgt. Pepper's of improvised music?


Wednesday, November 1 2006

A Reluctant ‘Jazz’ Hero: An Interview with Trumpeter, Composer, and Arranger Steven Bernstein

The prolific trumpeter talks shirking musical definitions, finding challenging middle ground between 'fake jazz' and 'real musicianship', touring with They Might Be Giants, and turning down Jay-Z.


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