Field Recordings

Steve Coleman And The Invention Of New LanguagesWBGO

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

Jacky Terrasson. Philippe Levy-Stab/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Philippe Levy-Stab/Courtesy of the artist

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Jacky Terrasson On Piano Jazz

Back in 1995, the young pianist demonstrated extraordinary talent on standards.

Jacky Terrasson On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/487065269/487071612" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Aaron Parks. Bill Douthart/Courtesy of ECM Records hide caption

toggle caption Bill Douthart/Courtesy of ECM Records

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Aaron Parks On Piano Jazz

The prolific pianist was still in his teens when he joined Marian McPartland for this 2001 session.

Aaron Parks In The Studio

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/485228786/485229737" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Randy Weston. NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR

Jazz Night In America

Randy Weston At 90

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

The eminent pianist was the guest of honor at this year's Panama Jazz Festival.

Randy Weston At 90

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/484419476/484422409" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Ray Charles and Marian McPartland. Courtesy of Vanguard hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Vanguard

Jazz Night In America

The Ray Charles Songbook

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

Trumpeter Kenny Rampton launched his career with the great performer. He presents that music live.

The Ray Charles Songbook

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/484407414/484419129" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Valerie Capers. David Katzenstein/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption David Katzenstein/Courtesy of the artist

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Valerie Capers On Piano Jazz

The pianist and educator shows off her classical chops in a solo during "It Could Happen To You."

Valerie Capers In The Studio

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/484230476/484313442" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Monty Alexander. Crush Boone/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Crush Boone/Courtesy of the artist

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Monty Alexander On Piano Jazz

The Jamaican-born pianist, known for his rhythmic approach, joined Marian McPartland in 1991.

Monty Alexander In The Studio

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/482469803/482492744" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Brandee Younger and Edmar Castañeda. Courtesy of the artists hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artists

Jazz Night In America: The Radio Program

Return Of The Jazz Harp

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

Brandee Younger and Edmar Castañeda are bringing the ancient instrument back to the music.

Return Of The Jazz Harp

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/482494560/482495987" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Alan Clare. Allan Warren/Wikimedia Commons hide caption

toggle caption Allan Warren/Wikimedia Commons

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Alan Clare On Piano Jazz

In 1990, the British pianist joined host Marian McPartland from the BBC's London studios.

Alan Clare On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/480295874/480633264" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Dena DeRose. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Dena DeRose On Piano Jazz

In a 2001 session, the singer and pianist joined host Marian McPartland for a program of standards.

Dena DeRose On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/479740933/479741803" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Back To Top