Credit Margot Schulman / Courtesy of the Kennedy Center
Nicole Mitchell grew up in California, but Chicago is where she became the original artist she is today. From her mid-20s into her 40s, she played and taught there, and composed and presented complete works for creative spirits like science-fiction novelist Octavia Butler (Xenogenesis Suite) and musician Alice Coltrane (Where the Paths Meet the Sea).
Credit William Gottlieb / Library of Congress via Flickr
Born in 1921 in Greenville, N.C., Billy Taylor moved to Washington, D.C., at age 5. He grew up in a musical family and tried his hand at various musical instruments, including guitar, drums and saxophone, but was most successful at the piano.
The next time you go to see live jazz in a club, and the band is playing original compositions, look closely in front of the musicians. Sometimes there'll be stands holding sheet music. There's nothing wrong with this per se, especially if the music is a bit complicated. But sometimes there'll be no need for stands, as the musicians have memorized the material. It's impressive, but it also signals a certain commitment, one borne of having rehearsed and performed together often. You frequently see this in tight bands that know what they're doing.
Charlie "Bird" Parker was one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. In his brief life, Parker created a new sound on the alto saxophone and spearheaded a revolution in harmony and improvisation that pushed popular music from the swing era to bebop and modern jazz.
Professing love for Bob James' music can yield a side-eye in some circles. Jazz purists routinely view the keyboardist's 1970s period as a progenitor to smooth jazz — an idiom they frequently react to as if it were a sign of the apocalypse.