Tom Cole

This new year, how about some new music? Music that maybe you've told yourself you really don't like — like opera, hip-hop or country. This month, we're bringing in some people to help you mix up your playlists. First up, we asked NPR's senior arts editor, Tom Cole, on how to get into jazz.


On the power of deep listening

Andres Segovia popularized the classical guitar. Julian Bream took it to the next level.

Updated at 10:07 p.m. EDT

On Tuesday afternoon, at 5:07 p.m., Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb sent an email to staff that began this way:

"Dear Members of the Company,

Plácido Domingo has agreed to withdraw from all future performances at the Met, with immediate effect. We are grateful to him for recognizing that he needed to step down."

Classical guitarist John Williams reached millions of ears and even hit the charts when he played the main theme to the Oscar-winning 1978 film The Deer Hunter. But by then, Williams was already a classical star on a major record label who'd toured the world many times over.

He released his latest album, On The Wing, earlier this year. And although he announced a retirement from touring a few years ago, he's now 76 and still plays every day.

"But I love doing it so it's not a problem," he says.

Mention Austria and music in the same phrase and some people will think Haydn and Mozart. Others will think of The Sound of Music, with its singing Von Trapp family. In recent years, another musician has been added to this list: Wolfgang Muthspiel, one of the most respected jazz guitarists playing today.

Derek Gripper was a musician with a problem. He'd been playing classical music since he was 6 years old — violin, then piano and finally guitar. He was poised for an international career as a classical guitarist. But he remembers going to the homeland of one of his favorite composers, Johann Sebastian Bach.

"It felt kind of strange," he says. "It felt strange to be in Germany playing Bach to them."

Jean-Baptiste "Toots" Thielemans, the Belgian-American musician who cut a singular path as a jazz harmonica player, died in his sleep Monday in his hometown of Brussels. He was 94.

Jazz guitarist John Scofield has had a pretty remarkable career. Without even finishing music school, he found himself on the Carnegie Hall stage playing with jazz legends Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan. Then it was on to Miles Davis, his own successful jazz-funk fusion groups, and even greater exposure playing with jam bands.

"I consider the guitar as this sort of multi-faceted instrument," says Janet Feder, "that can make and do all of these other things."

Chime like a bell, or gong, buzz like a locust, or rattle and hum.

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