Nate Chinen

There's a composition by pianist Helen Sung titled "Into the Unknown," from her 2018 album, Sung With Words. A bright, bustling tune with a melody full of rhythmic feints, it captures the radiant spirit that Sung brings to any bandstand. And the song's title says something about her unconventional path to a life in modern jazz.

Ralph Peterson Jr., a drummer, bandleader, composer and educator whose lunging propulsion and volatile combustion were hallmarks of a jazz career spanning more than 40 years, died on Monday in North Dartmouth, Mass. The cause was complications from cancer, his manager, Laura Martinez, tells NPR Music; Peterson had been living with the disease for the last six years. He was 58.

Vijay Iyer recorded Uneasy, his forthcoming ECM album, at the close of 2019, in the waning light of what's sometimes wryly hailed as "the before-times."

"It was really on the cusp of, well, the rest of everything," Iyer, a pianist and composer of exceptional renown, tells NPR Music. "I'm really glad to have this document of what we used to be, and what we will be again. This is a reminder of what's possible: how we can be together, how we can move together, how we can build something together."

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This story was updated at 9:28 p.m. ET on Thursday, Feb. 11.

The keyboardist, composer and bandleader Chick Corea — one of the most revered figures in contemporary jazz, but an artist whose work spanned fusion to classical — died on Feb. 9 at age 79.

John Coltrane composed these words in December 1964, as part of a poem he called A Love Supreme.

I have seen God – I have seen ungodly – none can be greater – none can compare to God.

Public acknowledgment took its time finding Billy Lester. A pianist devoted to searching for a new form of modern jazz, he spent more than half a century on the outskirts of New York City, quietly honing his craft. "I just figured I'd go to my grave without any kind of recognition," he says plainly, "and I was at the point in my life where I totally accepted that."

I can think of no better summation of our shared experience over the last year than "A World Lost," the title of the piece that opens Maria Schneider's Data Lords. A slow, foreboding dirge in an oblong time signature, it instantly sets a tone of somber contemplation.

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Everyone can relate to the stillness and solitude that prevailed at times this year. For jazz musicians, those moments presented new possibilities. Here to tell us about it is Nate Chinen from member station WBGO and Jazz Night in America.

In the Afro-Caribbean musical tradition, the essential pulse on the low end can be conjured in a single word, tumbao. But within that word, there are worlds — as we know from the shining example of bassist and bandleader Israel López Valdés, known to all as Cachao.

It wasn't your typical crowd in the Rose Theater one afternoon last fall, for a sold-out concert by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. For one thing, every grown-up in the audience seemed to be accompanied by an excited child or two.

A hard-bop stalwart. An avant-garde original. A ceiling-shattering bandleader. A bebop-obsessive broadcaster. These are some brief descriptors for the incoming class of NEA Jazz Masters, announced this morning by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Toshinori Kondo, an improvising trumpeter whose daring instinct and deep expressive resources slashed through a spectrum of experimental and ambient music, died on Saturday in Kawasaki, Japan. He was 71.

His sons, Sora Kondo and Yota Kondo, announced his death on his website, noting that he died peacefully. No cause was given.

Steve Grossman, a saxophonist whose lunging projection, sure rhythmic footing and clarity of attack helped propel him into the spotlight in the 1970s, notably in bands led by Miles Davis and Elvin Jones, died on Aug. 13 at Glen Cove Hospital in Glen Cove, N.Y. He was 69. The cause was cardiac arrest after a long illness, his brother Myles Grossman confirmed to NPR.

Pianist Micah Thomas is having the jazz equivalent of a standout rookie season. Just within the last several weeks, he finished his graduate studies at Juilliard and released a terrifically assured debut album called Tide.

It introduces an artist of superb technical facility, along with something even more striking — a deep understanding of the sprawling lineage of modern jazz piano and a youthful determination not to get caught retracing anybody's steps.

Helen Jones Woods, who played trombone with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, a history-making all-female big band that toured widely during World War II, died of COVID-19 on July 25 in Sarasota, Fla. She was 96.

Her daughter Cathy Hughes, founder and chairperson of the broadcast media company Urban One, confirmed the details of her death to NPR.

Six years ago, Maria Schneider, the meticulous jazz composer and orchestrator, embarked on a project with David Bowie, the polymorphic pop vanguardist.

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The first time around was special, and everyone knew it.

Wynton Marsalis has always been deeply engaged in the subject of American race relations. The issue was a crucial part of his education as a young musician in New Orleans, and it has been a core preoccupation of his own work going as far back as Black Codes (From the Underground), a trailblazing album from 1985.

In the liner notes to John Coltrane's 1964 album Live At Birdland, Amiri Baraka (then writing as Le Roi Jones) contemplated the gift the saxophonist and his band offered with this music inspired by the horrific deaths of four Black girls in a Birmingham church bombing inspired by white supremacist hatred. "Listen," Baraka wrote. "What we're given is a slow delicate introspective sadness, almost hopelessness, except for Elvin [Jones], rising in the background like something out of nature... a fattening thunder, storm clouds or jungle war clouds.

The summer of 1968 looked like the summer of 2020. Americans were in the streets protesting racism, among other things. And a high school student in Palo Alto, Calif., got in on the action by enlisting the help of a jazz legend. Danny Scher came up with the idea to book Thelonious Monk to play his school's auditorium and now, a professional recording of this concert will be released publicly for the first time on July 31. The album is called Palo Alto.

Every working musician has a story to tell about the upending jolt of this spring, when the pandemic officially took hold. For pianist Brad Mehldau, that story begins with the interruption of his trio's European tour, and the cancelation of a planned trip back to New York.

Jimmy Heath made one of his first appearances on record as a member of Dizzy Gillespie's band, late in 1949. Released on Capitol under the title Dizzy Gillespie And His Orchestra, it featured Heath on alto saxophone alongside his fellow Philadelphian, an up-and-comer named John Coltrane.

Ambrose Akinmusire was in the eighth grade, a budding trumpeter in Oakland, Calif., when he made his first excursion to a jazz club. Through a radio contest, he'd won tickets to the local mainstay, Yoshi's, unaware of the creative portal he was opening.

In an alternate timeline, I know precisely how I would have spent the evening of April 17. The dynamic South African pianist Nduduzo Makhathini had been booked for an album-release engagement at Dizzy's Club, the in-house nightclub at Jazz at Lincoln Center. I was looking forward to hearing his band in that room — not only because Makhathini's stateside appearances are few and far between, but also because the urgent, questing spirit of his music is something best experienced in person and in close quarters, as a form of communion.

Bucky Pizzarelli, a tasteful sage of jazz guitar who spent the first phase of his career as a prolific session player and the last phase as a celebrated patriarch, died on Wednesday in Saddle River, N.J. He was 94.

Guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli, his oldest son and regular musical partner, said the cause was the coronavirus.

A few weeks ago, as the city of New Orleans was preparing to institute a stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus, Nicholas Payton got to work.

Wallace Roney, a trumpeter and composer who embodied the pugnacious, harmonically restive side of post-bop throughout an illustrious four-decade career, died this morning at St. Joseph's University Medical Center in Paterson, N.J. He was 59.

The cause was complications from COVID-19, according to his fiancée, Dawn Felice Jones. She said Roney had been admitted to the hospital last Wednesday.

Wallace Roney, a trumpeter and composer who embodied the pugnacious, harmonically restive side of post-bop throughout an illustrious four-decade career, died this morning at St. Joseph's University Medical Center in Paterson, N.J. He was 59.

The cause was complications from COVID-19, according to his fiancée, Dawn Felice Jones. She said Roney had been admitted to the hospital last Wednesday.

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