The pianist and composer Vijay Iyer frames his new trio recording, Break Stuff, around the idea of musical breaks: "a break in music is still music: a span of time in which to act," he writes. Formally, he's referring to breakbeats and other musical breakdowns, but more generally, Iyer's trio exploits opportunities to rupture convention.

Stanley Cowell On Piano Jazz

Apr 24, 2015

Marian McPartland hosts pianist Stanley Cowell for this 1999 episode of Piano Jazz, recorded before an audience at NPR's studios in Washington. Known for his brilliant and highly personal approach, Cowell bridges traditional and contemporary styles of jazz. He and McPartland challenge each other in inventive duets, and Cowell performs his composition "Equipoise."

Originally broadcast in the winter of 1999.

Set List

  • "Bright Passion" (Cowell)

In mid-century Philadelphia, dozens of organists reshaped jazz into a popular, swinging, danceable contemporary music. Often in trios with drums and guitar or saxophone, these organ players made church instruments into portable orchestras — a tradition that continues to the present day in Philadelphia.

It's not as if there were ever clear paths for cello players beyond the European classical tradition, but Akua Dixon made one for herself. The New York City native found work in the pit band of the Apollo Theater, the multi-racial Symphony of the New World, and the bands of many jazz musicians — including drummer Max Roach's Double Quartet. As she developed her jazz chops, she also started her own string quartet, featured prominently on her new self-titled album. Akua Dixon also features her crafty arranging for strings over jazz standards and Afro-Latin grooves.

The 2015 NEA Jazz Masters Concert

Apr 20, 2015

In a concert and ceremony at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, the National Endowment for the Arts recognizes its 2015 class of Jazz Masters. The performance will be webcast live Monday at 7:30 p.m. EDT here and via arts.gov, jazz.org, wbgo.org and Sirius XM radio.

Jazz musician and composer Charles Lloyd has what you might call an "eclectic" resume.

The saxophonist has played with hundreds of jazz musicians — but also B.B. King, the Beach Boys, tabla master Zakir Hussain.

Tonight, Charles Lloyd will be inducted as a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master. He's being honored, in part, for fusing jazz with musical styles from other places and times.

You can hear that on his new album, Wild Man Dance, which features two ancient instruments from Europe.

Henry Mancini On Piano Jazz

Apr 17, 2015

Composer, arranger and pianist Henry Mancini (1924–1994) wrote some of the most memorable tunes of the modern era. Throughout his career, he recorded more than 90 albums and won 20 Grammys and four Oscars.

To mark what would have been Mancini's 91st birthday, Piano Jazz brings you this episode from 1985. He discusses his muse — the movie screen — and performs several favorites, including "Days Of Wine And Roses."

Originally broadcast in the spring of 1985.

Among the celebrations of Billie Holiday's centennial birthday anniversary is a new album from Cassandra Wilson. In Coming Forth By Day, one of today's top jazz vocalists salutes one of her idols, drastically rearranging the Holiday songbook.

Jazz Night In America features Cassandra Wilson's blues, country and folk-tinged delivery as she performs her Billie Holiday tribute, and catches up with some key collaborators of both Wilson and Holiday herself.

Jazz pianist and composer Myra Melford's latest album is a suite of music inspired by the Memory Of Fire trilogy — a three-volume history of the Americas by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano.

More simply, it's the recorded debut of what she calls a "killer band."

In an interview with NPR's Arun Rath, she explains the genesis of Snowy Egret — the name of both her new album and the group behind it.

Carmen McRae On Piano Jazz

Apr 10, 2015

Vocalist Carmen McRae (1920-1994) was an expert on rhythm, deft phrasing and personal, bittersweet ballads. Her enigmatic, dark contralto voice helped place her among the pantheon of great female jazz singers.

In 1994, McRae received the Jazz Master Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. On this 1985 episode of Piano Jazz, McRae accompanies herself for "As Long As I Live" and joins host Marian McPartland to perform "Carmen's Blues."