Ben Sidran, 'Talking Jazz' with the Masters

Ben Sidran

As a host of NPR jazz programs, Ben Sidran says he approached his interviews with the intent "to demystify the jazz musician." hide caption

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Jazz pianist Ben Sidran's latest release is a 24-CD boxed set, and not a second of it features any actual music.

Talking Jazz contains 60 interviews with jazz greats, conducted when Sidran was host of NPR's award-winning Sidran on Record. Long-time public-radio listeners may also remember Sidran as host of another NPR series, Jazz Alive.

Sidran, whose career in music spans multiple genres and decades, recently sat down with Scott Simon to discuss his compilation.

"From the beginning, when I started to do my interviews for National Public Radio, I kind of took it as my mission to demystify the jazz musician, and the life of the jazz musician, and show that these guys are just like the rest of us, only more so," Sidran says.

Talking Jazz presents a wide spectrum of personalities in and around the music, from such legends as Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins to underappreciated or forgotten virtuosi like Jay McShann and Emily Remler. The conversations were collected during a significant historical moment in the 1980s, according to Sidran.

"It makes you realize that we're all living in the middle of history all the time, although sometimes in retrospect we can see it was historic," he says.

Sidran specifically recalled his encounter with Miles Davis. Though Davis was notoriously difficult to talk to, Sidran remembers "just the opposite."

"When I hear that [interview], the first thing I hear are the waves on the beach," he says. "I was sitting on the deck of his beach house in Malibu with him. And he was sitting across from me, and he was drawing on this pad."

The interviews frequently illuminate aspects of the musicians' creative processes.

"[Davis] actually is one of the great advocates of putting creative people in a room and mixing it up and seeing what happens," Sidran says.

But for Sidran, the idea of a jazz oral history extends beyond the production of the music itself. "It keeps coming back to this for me: These people embody something," he says. "They embody not just the notes, but a way of life and an approach."

Ben Sidran's Talking Jazz is available online, at www.talkingjazz.com.

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