The music is only about 100 years old, but it's already seen scores of geniuses creating joyful noises against all odds. We examine time-honored masterpieces and tell the narratives around them — and in doing so, refract the cultural history of the United States and beyond.

Evidently, pianist Kris Bowers' bookshelf includes James Baldwin's uncollected writings and Robin Kelley's biography of Thelonious Monk.

Support NPR

Support NPR

NPR Shop

Support The Programs You Love

Kenny Burrell performs at his 80th birthday concert in 2011.
Clockwise from top left: Anthony Braxton, Keith Jarrett, Richard Davis, Jamey Aebersold.
Kenny Clarke performs at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1968. He spent the second half of his career in Europe.
The late documentary filmmaker Jean Bach stands next to an enlarged 1958 photograph of many jazz musicians titled "A Great Day in Harlem." Her documentary about the photo shoot was nominated for an Academy Award in 1995.
Frank Wess appears at a tribute concert in 2007.
Sathima Bea Benjamin in 1974.