Nate Chinen

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. Then there were the guest artists, whom everybody knew on a first-name basis: Big Bird, Elmo, Rosita, Oscar, Abby. Bert and Ernie.

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.

The NEA Jazz Masters fellowship, America's highest honor reserved for jazz musicians, is typically bestowed by the National Endowment for the Arts in grand fashion with a gala and all-star tribute concert. This year it was set to take place at San Francisco's SFJAZZ Center in April, but it had to be rescheduled due to the coronavirus pandemic. And so, like the artists being honored, the NEA opted to improvise, transforming the event into a virtual presentation with musicians beaming in from locales across the country.

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.

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.

Christian McBride was 19, a vigorous young bassist just making his name on the scene, when he paid his first visit to the Newport Jazz Festival as a member of Jazz Futures. Skip ahead some 30 years, and McBride is the artistic director of the festival, as well as our esteemed host at Jazz Night in America. It's in these dual capacities that he helped curate the music in our three-part Newport Jazz Festival Special.

The Newport Jazz Festival was in full, glorious stride during the 1960s, featuring top-shelf talent not only from jazz but also the realms of soul, rock and more. That's the backdrop for The Stars Shine, episode two of our three-part Newport special.

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

The Newport Jazz Festival was just one year old when the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet blazed onto its stage in 1955. By 1960, when pianists Dave Brubeck and Horace Silver each played a rollicking set, the event was an institution, known all over the world. And so it remains today — though there's something to be said about the fest in that formative era, when every step forward was historic.

The first time around was special, and everyone knew it. But ask any member of the former Joshua Redman Quartet — Redman on saxophones, Brad Mehldau on piano, Christian McBride on bass, Brian Blade on drums — and he'll confirm there was some magic in the air when they reconvened last fall at The Falcon in New York's Hudson Valley, breaking a 25-year hiatus.

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.

Freddy Cole, whose debonair yet unassuming vocal style lighted his way through a distinguished jazz career in and out of the shadow of his older brother, Nat King Cole, died on Saturday, June 27, at his home in Atlanta, Ga. He was 88.

His manager, Suzi Reynolds, did not specify a cause of death but said he had been suffering of late from cardiovascular issues.

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.

Jazz and the visual arts have always enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship. Last year the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis put that bond front and center with an ambitious original program called Portraits of America: A Jazz Story.

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.

Richard Teitelbaum, an electronic artist, keyboardist and composer who combined an interest in non-western musical languages with a focus on experimental practice, died on Thursday at HealthAlliance Hospital in Kingston, N.Y. His wife, the classical pianist Hiroko Sakurazawa, said the cause was a major stroke. He was 80.

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. Guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli, his oldest son and regular musical partner, said the cause was the coronavirus. He was 94.

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