Field Recordings

Steve Coleman And The Invention Of New LanguagesWBGO-FM

The Asian-American singer Jen Shyu speaks several languages, among them English, Spanish, Portuguese and various East Asian tongues from China, Taiwan and East Timor. But then she started performing with saxophonist Steve Coleman. None of her native tongues would serve for his knotty tunes; "doo-bop-a-da" scat singing wasn't going to cut it, either. So she had to devise her own sound and fury — perhaps signifying nothing formally, but full of intense personal feeling.

Steve Coleman has long been known as an inventor of language — a composer who draws equally from rigorous examination of music theory, esoteric natural science and myth, and Charlie Parker. But you don't have to speak his language to be entranced by it. There's flow, and pulse, and delightful chord changes. And, yes, it's a little disorienting, which seems like part of the point. "What human energy could have inspired this sound?" you wonder. Exactly.

Coleman's vision was on display when his band Five Elements played the Newport Jazz Festival last year. But we wanted to know more. So we brought him, Shyu and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson into the ruins of Fort Adams for a more intimate, stripped-down look at his music. We also asked him for a translation into the English language: "If anything, that's what this music is," he later told us from The Jazz Gallery in New York City. "It's a lot of different influences, coming from different places — plus, whatever's coming from inside you, which is the main thing."

Set List
  • "Ritual" (Coleman)
Credits

Producers: Mito Habe-Evans, Patrick Jarenwattananon; Additional Videography: Erik Jacobs; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; Production Assistance: Caleb Curtis; Special thanks to: Newport Jazz Festival, Josh Jackson, Tim Wilkins, Michael Downes, David Tallacksen/WBGO, The Jazz Gallery; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann, Keith Jenkins

[+] read more[-] less

More From Jazz

Carlos Henriquez in The Bronx. Lawrence Sumulong for Jazz at Lincoln Center hide caption

toggle caption Lawrence Sumulong for Jazz at Lincoln Center

Jazz Night In America

Carlos Henriquez: The Bronx Pyramid

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

The bassist spends a lot of time in Manhattan for Jazz at Lincoln Center, but his roots are uptown.

Carlos Henriquez: The Bronx Pyramid
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/476077535/476086613" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Ayako Shirasaki. Patrick Wamsganz/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Patrick Wamsganz/Courtesy of the artist

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Ayako Shirasaki On Piano Jazz

Hear the Japanese pianist perform her compositions "Falling Leaves" and "Far Away."

Ayako Shirasaki In The Studio
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/474388065/474390434" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Barbara Lea on the cover of A Woman In Love + Barbara Lea + Lea In Love. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Barbara Lea On Piano Jazz

The respected vocalist joins Marian McPartland for a tribute to songwriter Hoagy Carmichael.

Barbara Lea In The Studio
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/473497507/473504650" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Paul Bley. Hans Kumpf/Courtesy of ECM Records hide caption

toggle caption Hans Kumpf/Courtesy of ECM Records

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Paul Bley On Piano Jazz

The avant-garde pianist performed original motifs and a free duet with Marian McPartland in 2000.

Paul Bley In The Studio
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/472695170/472696689" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Marian McPartland. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

The Music Of Marian McPartland On Piano Jazz

Hear McPartland's compositions performed by Sarah Vaughan, Cleo Laine and more.

The Music Of Marian McPartland
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/471849097/471851264" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Harold Mabern. Gabe Palacio/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Gabe Palacio/Getty Images

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Harold Mabern On Piano Jazz

McPartland caught the Memphis-born pianist for a session just before he left for a 1991 Japan tour.

Harold Mabern In The Studio
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/470957914/470960257" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Back To Top