Grammy Award-winning musician Esperanza Spalding has a problem with using the phrase "protest song" to describe her new recording, "We Are America." The song, along with its accompanying music video, demands congressional action to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.
" 'Protest' doesn't seem accurate to me," she tells NPR's Celeste Headlee. "We weren't thinking of a 'protest' song, we're thinking of a 'let's get together and do something pro-active, creative and productive' song."
Pianist, composer and author Kenny Werner is known for his 1996 book Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within, which has become a university textbook for improvising musicians and other artists. His album of original compositions, No Beginning No End -- a meditation on loss, death and renewal — was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 2010.
Working as a jazz musician in the 21st century is difficult enough, but hardly anybody tries to make a go of it with a big band anymore. Yet that's exactly what Ted Nash does on his latest album, Chakra.
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Born and raised in Houston, pianist Robert Glasper literally grew up in jazz clubs. His mother performed with a jazz band, and she preferred to bring her young son with her, rather than leave him with a sitter. Glasper and his mother were also active in music at their church — his mother sang and played piano, and by age 12, her son had assumed some of the piano duties.
Two Rivers achieves long meters at breakneck speeds, even in non-Western modes and odd.
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"I feel as though there's almost two streams going through my veins, two bloodstreams," says trumpeter and composer Amir ElSaffar, leader of Two Rivers. "A lot of my life has been about reconciling the two."
Tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin came to New York in 1958. Pianist Horace Parlan heard him and invited Ervin to sit in one night with a band he worked in. That's how Ervin got hired by bassist Charles Mingus, who featured him on albums like Blues and Roots and Mingus Ah Um.
In 1963, the jazz pianist George Shearing, an enormously popular act in his day, made an album that was unusual for him. He asked his new, 20-year-old vibraphone player to write an album of contrapuntal, classical-music-inspired compositions, and recorded them with a woodwind quintet atop a jazz rhythm section. It's out of print now, but Out of the Woods received good reviews, and it remains an early career highlight for its young architect, Gary Burton.