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Big Plans for Jazz Appreciation Month 2021 on WRTI

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WRTI is your home for all things jazz, and you’ve spent a lot of time with us over the last year. You've told us the music is soothing, uplifting, and your connection to the outside world. At a time when everything has screeched to a halt, jazz has persisted, and WRTI continues to bring it to you. While you've listened from home, and artists have worked from home, things have been done differently, but still sound fabulous.

During this Jazz Appreciation Month, WRTI is shining the spotlight on the pivots that have occurred in order to keep this art form alive through one of the most challenging years for entertainment. How we  have interfaced with music has became different, and how artists have presented their work to us has also changed. Yes, it has been more remote, but it has also, in many cases, been more intimate.

And the NPR Live Sessions Videos of the Week that we, at WRTI, have curated for April reflect that heightened intimacy. Beginning on April 12th, we will officially commence our partnership with genre-bending pianist, musical omnivore, and do-everything producer Greg Spero and Tiny Records, the label he founded in 2020 to feature breakout artists and ensembles like electric bassist MonoNeon, drummer Terreon “Tank” Gully, and the Spero-led Spirit Fingers. Each month, beginning in April and extending for the foreseeable future, WRTI will feature a new video from Tiny Room Sessions, the Spero-produced series of video singles highlighting these emerging artists, as our NPR Live Sessions Video of the Week.

On April 19, we’ll be rolling out our @Home video series. This will be very much what it sounds like, but with the artists on board, it may very well sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before. We’ve received video submissions from recording artists from all over the world, who’ve conceived of and recorded new music from the one place it was absolutely safe to do so during the pandemic: home.

So, each month, we’ll also bring you brand new @Home content as our NPR Live Sessions Video of the Week. The series will feature those like Lili Añel, Ola Onabule, and Mervin Toussaint, who’ve graced our Live Sessions’ pages before, first timers like saxophonist Greg Osby and trumpeter Alonzo Demetrius, and stone-cold legends like Robin Eubanks. All fresh content, all presented to you in the comfort of your abode, from the comfort of theirs.

And stay tuned for previously unreleased content from WRTI’s Performance Studio, brought to you by WRTI’s intrepid in-house production team led by J. Michael Harrison and Tyler McClure who make NPR Live Sessions a reality each week, as well as selected once-a-month performances from Chris’ Jazz Cafe. That’s four unique streams of content, all feeding NPR Live Sessions each month, bringing you a fresh and diverse video music experience each and every week!

And that’s to say nothing of our Jazz Albums of the Week. We’re highlighting artists like pianist Emmet Cohen and vocalist Sachal Vasandani, who’ve been so instrumental in keeping “live” music going virtually during this pandemic, as well as gearing up for a multi-pronged celebration of new, previously unreleased material from Coltrane contemporary Hasaan Ibn Ali. But look out especially for special features on the new album from master drummer and vibraphonist Joe Chambers, who recently (and safely) recorded three tunes in WRTI’s Performance Studio, playing vibes on two tunes with mallets that once belonged to Milt Jackson! His new album, Samba De Maracatu, will be our Jazz Album of the Week for the week beginning April 26th, and as a special bonus that week we’ll be featuring all three of the tunes he recorded in our Performance Studio on WRTI’s NPR Live Sessions page. It’s an embarrassment of riches!  

And our playlists will feature jazz from artists like Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mike Boone, Spike Wilner, Fred Hersch, Lisa Hilton, Lara Downes, and Jeff Coffin--and ensembles like Temple University’s Jazz Band-- all of whom, despite obstacles, have been so active bringing the music we’ve all needed to us in truly innovative new ways. And be sure to listen for the artists whose instruments were silenced too soon this year, from Ralph Peterson and Wallace Roney to Bootsy Barnes, Chick Corea, and, unfortunately, too many more.

On the brighter side, it’s been a full year since we partnered with Jazz Philadelphiato celebrate our Hometown Heroes. This initiative was born during April 2020, when Jazz Philadelphia had their own big pivot to celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month virtually (VJAM). To celebrate one year of honoring the cream of the Philadelphia crop, three heroes will be celebrated each week! You can find them onlinehereand on WRTI’s Facebook and Instagram pages. Keep your eyes peeled for Bobbi Booker’s piece marking one year of Hometown Heroes.

Closing out April is International Jazz Day, but it’s also not lost on us here at WRTI that April is also National Poetry Month. How best to celebrate both? How about with a book of poetry conceived and executed by local poets, where each piece is inspired by a song immortalized by the High Priestess of Soul, Miss Nina Simone? Yes, please! Philly Jawns, a new poetry anthology in tribute to Nina Simone will be the topic of a Zoom webinar and panel discussion organized by the book’s co-editor Deborah-Powell Wright and emceed by WRTI’s J. Michael Harrison at the end of the month and promises to be the perfect way to celebrate both International Jazz Day and National Poetry Month.