John Hammond appears on Mountain Stage, recorded live at the Culture Center Theater in Charleston, W.Va. One of America's foremost acoustic blues artists, Hammond began his career more than 50 years ago.
Mannie Fresh, the legendary New Orleans producer and DJ, was our guest for the first live episode of Microphone Check. We taped at NPR's headquarters in Washington, D.C. at the end of May, and the conversation was predictably warm, sharp and funny. Mannie regaled the crowd with stories about Cash Money Records, the making of Juvenile's 400 Degreez, Lil Wayne's career, Mantronix and his dad. And he played us a new song from what he's working on now: an album with Brooklyn rapper Mos Def.
From time to time, where Vikings once held sway, a piece of jewelry, a coin or a tool is unearthed somewhere in northern Scotland or eastern England. What would the Norsemen raiders who left these artifacts in their wake have made of our haul of Nordic music?
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In the middle of our live interview with Mannie Fresh at NPR's headquarters in D.C., Ali asked Mannie how he approaches DJing — does he play what he wants to hear? Or does he feed the crowd? "When I want you to understand something, I remix it," Mannie said. "If it's Earth Wind and Fire, and you not getting it, I'ma make you get it."
Norway's Thomas Dybdahl had spent the better part of his career in New York City, but for his latest release, What's Left Is Forever, he found himself spending more time in Los Angeles. In addition to the new surroundings, Dybdahl also experimented with different ways of recording, opting for a simpler approach than in the past. The result was a throwback sound layered with funky grooves, something you can surely hear in the song "This Love Is Here To Stay."
Blue Note Records has been many things over the course of its 75 years: a label responsible for blinding jazz innovations, a home for the titans of hard bop and soul jazz, a place for smart, sly, jazz-inflected pop creations.
One constant running throughout its history is improvisation. Its records have showcased jazz soloing in every possible mood and temperament. Its artists, both the jazz legends and those journeymen who are little regarded today, have helped shape the ever-evolving notion of what a solo is and what it can be.
Apple announced Wednesday that it is acquiring Beats Electronics, agreeing to pay $3 billion for the audio equipment and subscription streaming music service founded by Dr. Dre and producer Jimmy Iovine.
Blue Note Records is the kind of record label that people like to call "storied" — so celebrated and impactful that no one narrative can capture its essence. From swing to bebop and hard bop, through fusion and the avant-garde, Blue Note has been telling the story of jazz in the grooves of its records since 1939 — and for its 75th anniversary, it's releasing remastered vinyl editions of some gems from its catalog. But the real legacy of the label is too big to capture on disc.
During the 1960s, Wayne Shorter came to the fore not just for his talent on saxophone, but also for the compositions he created. Whether with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers or with Miles Davis' quintet, or on his own string of solo albums, Shorter's harmonic conception, sense of space and bending of music-theory rules destined many of his tunes to become jazz standards.
Norah Jones fans likely remember Come Away With Me — the 2002 recording which introduced her smoke-infused twang to the world. That album, like all of hers since, came out on Blue Note Records, merging her voice with those of major jazz artists of yesterday and the present.
In a stretch of Blue Note albums throughout the 1950s, '60s and even early '70s, alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, now 87, emblematized the hard bop and soul jazz that we now consider "straight-ahead." The old dog has resisted certain new tricks in music — "no fusion, no confusion" is his motto — but he's certainly expanded his palette of dirty jokes to include, well, modern medicine. At the Blue Note at 75 concert, Donaldson warmed up the crowd and gave it some of his classic greasy polish. Sweet Poppa Lou was accompanied by organist Dr.
Pianist McCoy Tyner and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson first connected on record in 1966, on Hutcherson's album Stick-Up! They must have realized they were musically simpatico — they've continued to work together for nearly five decades now. At the Blue Note at 75 concert, they didn't say a word, but locked into a miniature set of Tyner's classic compositions with ageless grace.
Formed in Dallas, Old 97's first got together more than 20 years ago. The band's latest album, Most Messed Up, hearkens back to the wild spirit of earlier albums like Too Far to Care; its sprawling opening track, "Longer Than You've Been Alive," recalls the group's history and has lead singer Rhett Miller fully embracing his rock 'n' roll lifestyle.
Arvo Pärt's devout, contemplative, seemingly timeless music speaks to modern listeners as almost no other composer's does. It has the purity and gravity of monastic chant, the clarity of minimalism and a profound spirituality. These qualities have helped it find a broad audience outside the confines of classical music.
Star mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato gave the 2014 commencement address at Juilliard Friday — and it's a memorable one, both for her words and by DiDonato's own example as someone whose own career began under low heat.
Ryan Lott, the beat genius behind Son Lux, loves to dismantle rhythms, crafting off-kilter synth and programmed patterns. It's an often disorienting form director Geoff Hoskinson recreated and realized beautifully in the video's jump-cut visuals.
Outside the concert hall at Occidental College, in Los Angeles' Eagle Rock neighborhood, children are invited to test out the instruments the Santa Cecilia Orchestra will play later. Alexa Media Rodriguez, 8, says she and her family have never before been to an orchestra concert. She heard about the orchestra when some of the musicians visited her school.
"I brought my dad, my stepmom," she says, "my sister, my brother and my sister's cousin ..."
That's the thing about this orchestra, says conductor Sonia Marie De Leon De Vega: The children are bringing the parents.
Paul Cebar Tomorrow Sound appears on Mountain Stage, recorded live on the campus of Ohio University in Athens. An institution in his native Wisconsin, Cebar has been a prime mover and promulgator of funky Afro-Caribbean-inflected Americana since the 1980s. His material has ranged from surf instrumentals and blues-rock to worldbeat and many points in between.
The Parkington Sisters appear on Mountain Stage, recorded live on the campus of Ohio University in Athens. Hailing from the town of Wellfleet, Mass., each of the four sisters writes music and plays multiple instruments. Rose plays piano, guitar and accordion; Ariel and Sarah play violin and viola; and Nora plays violin and percussion. Together, they have a dynamic stage presence that's at once harmony-laden and dark — equally at home in clubs, theaters and symphony halls.
Memphis singer songwriter Amy LaVere specializes in lyrics that are more barbed than her sweet soprano prepares you for. Our music critic, Robert Christgau, thinks she's never gotten that balance quite as right as she has on her new album, "Runaway's Diary."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RABBIT")
AMY LAVERE: (Singing) Old man, I hear they call you rabbit...
New York City singer-songwriter Laura Cantrell returns to World Cafe with songs from No Way There From Here — her first album of new material in eight years, though she released a well-received Kitty Wells tribute record in 2011.
Cantrell moved to New York to attend college and stayed there, taking a Wall Street job to finance her passion for country music, both as a performer and as a DJ with a popular show on the radio station WFMU. She's originally from Nashville, where she recorded the new album.
Robert Cray performs on Mountain Stage, recorded live at the Culture Center Theater in Charleston, West Virginia. Unlike many blues guitarists of his generation, Cray found his way to his instrument not through the blues, but through The Beatles. And while his is now widely considered to be one of America's premier blues players, Cray's nimble vocals allow him to skirt the edges of R&B, soul and pop music.
The Brooklyn band Landlady will release its first full-length album, Upright Behavior, this summer. Jazz enthusiast Adam Schatz leads the adventurous five-piece folk-rock band. Hear two songs from Landlady's debut on this edition of World Cafe: Next.