NPR Staff

For most contemporary music consumers, listening to jazz is a historical exercise. Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue is, at the time of writing, still No. 3 on Billboard's Jazz Albums chart 61 years after it was released, much to the chagrin of the artists making music in the same tradition today.

Regardless of which euphemism one uses – "starting a new chapter," or "one door closes, another opens" – I always find endings difficult.

Sitting at the Yamaha grand piano in his Brooklyn apartment, surrounded by two laptops, an iPad, a monitor, a video camera and studio lights, Dan Tepfer plays the first of Bach's "Goldberg" Variations. The piano is a Disklavier, which can record and play back. When he finishes, Tepfer taps a button on his iPad, triggering the piano to play back what he's just recorded with the notes inverted, as if the score were turned upside down.

We celebrate Threadgill's induction to the 2021 class of NEA Jazz Masters, with a rare retrospective from 2014 that celebrates the genius of Henry Threadgill.

Henry Threadgill's music has always pushed boundaries. Two tubas with two guitars, a "sextett" with seven members, a free-improvising trio with an instrument made of hubcaps, a dance orchestra: Nothing is off the table.

"The greatest woman jazz pianist in captivity." "The greatest woman jazz pianist in the world." "Highly acclaimed as a deluxe tickler of the ivories." "One of the foremost swing pianists of either sex." By 1936, then-25-year-old Mary Lou Williams' reputation already preceded her. The pianist's primary gig — Kansas City band Andy Kirk and His Clouds of Joy — was taking off, booked for packed dances around the country alongside artists like Louis Armstrong.

The members of the Guarneri Quartet — at least its three original members — have known each other for a long time. They went to music school together and, just for fun, played string quartets.

In the 2019 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll, five of the top 10 new releases were recordings led or co-led by women artists — a startling 50%. In fact, it is the largest number of projects led by women in the top 10 since the annual poll began 14 years ago, surpassing 2018, when women comprised a third of those rankings.

Collecting the names of musicians who die in any single span of time, as NPR does at the end of each year, can be an occasion for tribute or reflection or an exercise in collapsing days, a gateway to a specific moment of pain or gratitude. The truth at the end of 2020 is that the tremendous and overwhelming volume of loss nearly renders the need for that kind of reminder irrelevant. Throughout this relentless year it has been constantly renewed.

This has been a booming year for composer John Luther Adams. His 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning orchestral work Become Ocean has been re-released as part of a trilogy. Recordings of new string quartets have just come out. And he's just published a memoir, Silences So Deep: Music, Solitude, Alaska. The title was inspired by a line in "Listening in October," a poem from the late John Haines:

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.

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