Wayne Shorter didn't release any new music in 2017. But that's not to say the eminent saxophonist, composer and NEA Jazz Master had anything less than a banner year. In the spring he returned to Newark, for the first time in ages, as the honored guest of a festival at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
Every year around this time, the jazz community takes the measure of its highlights and bright moments — along with a tally of its losses. And while it's true that important jazz artists leave us every year, 2017 was tougher than most.
This was an excellent year for jazz on record, across every possible iteration of style. (If you're seeking evidence for the claim, consult the 2017 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll.) But it's always worth pointing out that albums only tell part of the story, which often assumes different dimensions at street level, where the music pulses in real time.
A couple of weeks ago, saxophonist Jeff Coffin called up two musician friends. His first question to them was simple: How would you like to make a Christmas album? His next question was a little more pressing: Are you free over the next few days?
In three-quarter profile, half-smiling at the camera over his elaborately tattooed shoulder, New Orleans trumpeter Irvin Mayfield, Jr. appeared on the cover of the April 2015 issue of the venerable Louisiana music monthly Offbeat.
Nowadays, the quietly elegant and celebratory recordings by pianist Vince Guaraldi have become as much a part of the holidays as the sound of unwrapping presents. And every year we are treated to at least one interpretation of that classic Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack by one of the pianists on NPR's A Jazz Piano Christmas. This year is no exception.
Pianist Don Pullen (1941–1995) was known for his melodic brilliance, swirling chords and glissandos; his kinetic, cascading piano attack could ignite any band. He gained his first experiences playing African-American church music and R&B, and his career took off when he joined Charles Mingus' band in the 1970s. He went on to form his own quartet with saxophonist George Adams.
Airing on the second Sunday and Wednesday of each month, Piano Excursions celebrates the broadest range of jazz piano, hosted by Jed Distler, the Classical Network's Artist-in-Resident, and host of the 2017 ASCAP Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson Award winning program Between the Keys.
Beegie Adair, the Nashville native with a distinctive flair for the piano, has worked with jazz, pop and country. She's played for movie and TV soundtracks, been in concerts, festivals and clubs, and put in many orchestra appearances.