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Billy Strayhorn, pictured here in the 1940s, wrote more than 1,000 works, most of them for Duke Ellington.
William P. Gottlieb/Library of Congress
November 29, 2015 Though overshadowed during his own lifetime by his employer, Duke Ellington, the composer-arranger wrote more than 1,000 pieces. Here are takes on his most famous tunes.
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June 26, 2015 With more than six million visitors from around the world, downtown Montreal hosts one of the world's biggest events of its kind. Hear some of the native talent on display this year.
Nina Simone's voice may have had a limited range, but its unique power and melancholy made for a legendary effect when paired with her genre-crossing piano.
June 24, 2015 There are certain figures in jazz history whose iconic status can be telegraphed by a single name. The pianist and singer Nina Simone seems to be ascending to that place of pop-culture reverence.
Eddie Henderson performs three times at the 2015 Winter Jazzfest.
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January 8, 2015 The 11th annual music marathon now features artists from around the world, but its main attraction is still the chance to hear new ideas from New York's top improvisers.
The audience at the main stage of the Newport Jazz Festival.
Adam Kissick for NPR
August 1, 2014 The Newport Jazz Festival turns 60 this year, and NPR Music will be there for the anniversary. When we're not recording, we'll be checking out bands led by Vijay Iyer, John Zorn, Ron Carter and more.
Cezar Altai/Courtesy of the artist
June 13, 2014 Rio de Janeiro has often been the crucible of Brazilian song — a tradition that continues today. As the world's eyes turn to Brazil, hear five songs from Rio's jazz-influenced Flame Collective.
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Wynton Marsalis leads a group of musicians through upper Manhattan's Riverside Church for the New Orleans-style funeral of vibraphonist Lionel Hampton in 2002.
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May 25, 2014 Around 1945, jazz's traditional funeral rites manifested in a more modern form of tribute. Now, some of the music's most powerful tunes are written in memory of late colleagues. Hear five examples.
Sun Ra's music sounds like it was intercepted from another world.
Baron Wolman/Courtesy of the artist
May 22, 2014 Sifting through the overwhelming catalog of the Afro-futurist jazz master is a daunting task. To celebrate Sun Ra's centennial, we picked five essential songs that lay his otherworldly evolution bare.
Armando Peraza, center, was a key member of Santana for nearly three decades.
Bruno Marzi/Splash News/Corbis
May 1, 2014 It's hard to imagine a musical career that included musicians as varied as Charlie Parker and Carlos Santana. But such was the resumé of Armando Peraza after almost 70 years of making music.
The vocal trio KING features production from Paris Strother, a jazz-trained pianist.
Alyssa Tumino/Courtesy of the artist
April 25, 2014 This weekend's Art of Cool Festival in Durham, N.C., aims to expand the audience for improvised music. So it's booked performers from modern R&B, hip-hop and beyond with deep jazz influences.
Jayne Cortez in 1996. The poet often recorded her poems to improvised music.
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April 11, 2014 Structured and free, sonic and rhythmic, poems and jazz music seem like natural partners. For National Poetry Month and Jazz Appreciation Month, here are some notable collisions between the two.
James Brandon Lewis' second album, Divine Travels, came out in early February.
Ingrid Hertfelder/Courtesy of the artist
February 14, 2014 It may seem as if jazz recordings have slowed to a flurry, but it's more like a blizzard, with dozens already coming down in the new year. Hear highlights from a few albums worth shoveling out, by Archie Shepp, Edward Simon, James Brandon Lewis and more.
Donny Hathaway remains widely admired in jazz, but much of his repertoire has yet to be tapped by improvisers.
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January 17, 2014 The singer-songwriter remains influential in jazz, but improvisers have yet to fully mine his repertoire. Here are a few of the attempts so far, from musicians such as Kenny Garrett, Carmen Lundy and George Benson.
Lionel Loueke (left) and Miguel Zenon (right) join Jeff Ballard in the drummer's rhythm-oriented trio.
Andrea Boccalini/Courtesy of the artist
January 8, 2014 The New York music marathon turns 10 this year and expands far beyond its modest origins, but it remains a place to discover new views of improvisation. Hear tunes from groups like the Jeff Ballard Trio, Tillery and Aruán Ortiz's Orbiting Quartet.
The gospel/folk singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe was accompanied by a jazz orchestra on her debut recording.
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December 5, 2013 The songs were a byproduct of slavery in the U.S. But after being passed along by generations of African-American musicians, they were later embraced by a variety of improvisers, including Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Grant Green and John Coltrane.
Keyboardist and producer Bob James' 1970s work helped to establish the sound of smooth jazz — and lives on in hip-hop samples galore.
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October 17, 2013 Professing love for Bob James' music can yield a side-eye in some circles, as his 1970s work is seen as a progenitor to smooth jazz. But he certainly knew his way around a catchy melody and an infectious riff — as legions of rap and house producers have discovered through sampling.
In a conversation aired on WBGO, Jessye Norman credits the study of jazz with her understanding of song interpretation.
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September 20, 2013 As a fledgling classical soprano in New York, Norman went to hear singers like Mabel Mercer perform. She tells WBGO's Rhonda Hamilton that her study of jazz vocalists influenced the way she interprets songs — including operatic arias.
Monty Alexander (left) and Ernest Ranglin are known for their fluency in both jazz and Jamaican popular music.
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August 30, 2013 In the '50s, Jamaican musicians combined Caribbean calypso and American jazz and R&B to create ska — the foundation of future developments like reggae. Now, jazz musicians are closing the circle of influence. For late summer, here are five songs inspired by the island's characteristic riddims.
Woody Shaw made his first recordings 50 years ago at age 18.
Tom Copi/San Francisco
August 14, 2013 The jazz trumpeter who made his first recordings 50 years ago this summer might be his instrument's least appreciated giant. Perhaps the trumpeter of the 1970s, Shaw was an icon for the generation that followed, as well as an innovator on his horn.
Dee Alexander is among the artists leading a band for the first time at the 2013 Newport Jazz Festival.
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July 31, 2013 Whether career sidemen, appealing experimentalists or critically acclaimed bands finally getting a look, new names are getting invited to the granddaddy of jazz festivals with greater frequency. Hear music from some of this year's crop, including Jonathan Batiste, David Gilmore and Dee Alexander.
Louis Armstrong spoke out against the federal government regarding racial issues, but happily played the National Anthem at Newport in 1960.
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July 4, 2013 Jazz has become a point of pride for Americans: a homegrown art form forged from folk traditions. Still, the black jazz pioneers who lived through eras of discrimination have a complicated sense of pride in the U.S. Hear five improvised takes on American patriotic songs, from the reverent to the ironic.
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June 27, 2013 Montreal is a city of two cultures: French and English, usually commingling, sometimes colliding. The Montreal International Jazz Festival — Canada's grandest music event of the year — props up the city's elite Francophones. Here are five French or Quebecois artists featured this year.
Duke Ellington rehearses for a 1973 concert in London's Westminster Abbey.
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May 23, 2013 The great composer and bandleader was distraught over the 1967 death of Billy Strayhorn, his songwriting and arranging partner of 28 years. But Ellington took Strayhorn's passing as an impetus, born of necessity, to increase his own productivity. Here are five examples.
Woody Herman in 1946.
William Gottlieb/The Library of Congress/Flickr
May 16, 2013 He was a soulful reedman, an amazing talent scout for decades and a bandleader of one of the country's most popular acts. Born in 1913, Herman led "Thundering Herds" that were both big draws and well-respected by the likes of Igor Stravinsky. Here are five recordings which still sound fresh today.
Jimmy Hamilton (left) and Harry Carney were among the reedmen who played clarinet for the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
William Gottlieb/The Library of Congress
May 9, 2013 Clarinetist and composer Ben Goldberg says his is an "instrument that at times responds better to the oblique glance than direct confrontation." He picks five players who have worked with the difficult horn, yielding unique and personal beauty in the process.
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