Archive For The “Music” Category

Bridget Kearney Taps Into The ‘Exhaustion’ Of Being A Woman In New Song

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Bridget Kearney Taps Into The ‘Exhaustion’ Of Being A Woman In New Song

Lake Street Dive’s Bridget Kearney wrote “Being a Woman,” a track on the band’s new album, Obviously. She says she wanted to convey exhaustion.

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Andra Day On Portraying BilIie Holiday And The Enduring Strength Of ‘Strange Fruit’

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Andra Day On Portraying BilIie Holiday And The Enduring Strength Of ‘Strange Fruit’

Grammy-nominated singer Andra Day, in a still from The United States Vs. Billie Holiday.

Takashi Seida/Courtesy of Paramount Pictures Corporation

Takashi Seida/Courtesy of Paramount Pictures Corporation

The song “Strange Fruit” was written by a man named Abel Meeropol in the 1930s — but it will forever be associated with Billie Holiday. The lyrics vividly describe a lynching, and this haunting protest song is central to the new movie The United States Vs. Billie Holiday. The Grammy-nominated singer Andra Day plays the title character. The role is Day’s acting debut, but she has already won a Golden Globe for her performance.

“Andra Day” is actually her stage name, a tribute to Holiday herself: Day has been a fan since she was about 11 years old. The artist grabbed it from “Lady Day,” which is a nickname Holiday received from Lester Young, one of her greatest friends. “I love the relationship between her and Lester Young,” Days says, “the amazing, incomparable Lester Young. And he gave her the nickname Lady Day and she called him ‘The President’ or ‘Prez’ for short. And then he named her mother ‘The Dutchess’ — well, that’s Billie’s telling of it, and she would always refer to them as ‘The Royal Family,’ so. I love the name ‘Lady Day.’ It’s, you know, it feels regal to me.”

Andra Day spoke with NPR’s Ari Shapiro about the pressure of playing Billie Holiday, how she initially rejected the role and the enduring intensity of “Strange Fruit.” Hear the radio version at the audio link, and read on for an edited transcript.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Ari Shapiro: I’m just trying to imagine how a child would relate to this song, “Strange Fruit,” which is so central to this film.

Andra Day: I mean, at 11 years old, even though I didn’t know all the details of what she was talking about, it’s felt. You know what I’m saying? It’s in my DNA. It’s in our DNA.

Our DNA as a country, you mean.

Yeah, I think as a nation. And as a people, as Black people … I remember being very quieted by the song, almost sort of prostrated. All I knew was it made me sad — it made me know that whoever this woman was seeing, made me concerned for her … I knew that she sacrificed. I knew there was some loss. There was such pain there and it was … it stunned me as a child. It really just struck me.

Did the fact that your first acting role wound up being Billie Holiday feel like the universe had conspired in just the right way? Or was it like, your first ever race is suddenly the New York City Marathon? What’s the experience?

Definitely the latter. [Laughs] It just felt like, “Oh, so you want me to do a movie and you want me to do this role?” To be honest with you, my first reaction was actually, “Hell no.” I really didn’t wanna do it. And it turns out Lee [Daniels] didn’t want me to do it either.

Lee Daniels, the director, didn’t want you to do it?

No, he did not want me. It was his manager and his people being like, “You gotta meet her, you gotta meet her,” you know? And my people telling me the same, so. I’d give people the visuals: him and I sitting in that meeting looking at each other like, “What the hell are we doing here?” [Laughs]

So, what won you over? Like, what tipped the scales for you?

You know, for me, I’m a very deeply spiritual person. At least, I like to try and consider myself as one. And so, it was two things in particular. It was prayer, ultimately. I remember kind of being lost in devotion, and I was reading and meditating on a scripture. I was actually trying to pray to get out of it. [Laughs] It was one of those, “Oh God, please God, make this go away!” And instead, what was in devotion that day was a scripture about being caused to do an act of great faith. Not to have somebody do something for you, or to make something go away, but to be caused to weather the storm and to do an act of great faith. And I was like, “Ah… ” And the other thing was meeting Lee, you know. He had such a need to tell her story authentically, to show her as a layered human being. ‘Cause it wasn’t until he was, you know, this age that he understood who Billie was, in that that she was a fighter and that her legacy was intentionally suppressed.

A recording of “Strange Fruit” released by Andra Day in 2017, in partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative.

YouTube

So, one of the driving forces of this film is the FBI’s fear of the song “Strange Fruit,” which describes a lynching in these vivid, poetic, awful terms. Can you tell us about what the FBI was so afraid of?

First of all, thank you so much for saying “awful terms,” That’s one of the things for me on set, I realized calling “Strange Fruit” a beautiful song is almost like a slap in the face of what she was trying to do. You know? What makes it beautiful is its truth. But it’s a horrific song. And what they were afraid of was that “Strange Fruit” is truth. It is sheer, unadulterated, uncompromising truth. And when you are trying to persist in a social climate of inequity, in a system of racial inequality – those systems are built on lies, and they’re built on deception. And obviously, a system like that can really only be dismantled with truth and with light. Exposing these dark places, which, that’s what “Strange Fruit” threatened to do. She was integrating audiences. She was trying to fight for equality. And they wanted a system of supremacy — and she was fighting against that.

Day, as Billie Holiday in The United States Vs. Billie Holiday, performing “Strange Fruit.”

YouTube

You know, we so often hear artists talk about the power of art. But the fact that the FBI was afraid of the power of this song says something. And I just wonder what — for you — as a singer, that history tells you about the real world impact that your craft, your music, can have?

First of all, it just reminds me that it is power, you know? You hear this phrase all the time, right, that “Music is the only thing that can enter your psyche without permission.” But it is actually that powerful. I think what its power is is not just the power to move and to shake things, but it’s the power to heal. And in healing, things need to be moved. And they need to be shook. And they need to be torn down or built up, you know. And we see it — we saw it during the ’60s, right, with all of this, sort of, renaissance of artists creating all this protest music surrounding race, surrounding the war. That just reminded me so powerfully, like, “That’s what music does — it heals.”

Can you tell me what it was like to deliver the line, “Your grandkids will be singing ‘Strange Fruit,’ ” knowing that, here we are, 70 or so years later, talking about the song, listening to the song? The song lives on longer than any of the characters in the movie.

When I tell you, even just saying it — hearing you saying it — just gave me goosebumps. That s*** sat in my spirit so heavy and that felt — I was so happy to deliver that. It felt like the final blow. I know that I’ve sung that song. I know her grandkids and so on and so forth. The grandkids of the world have sung that song, ’cause I’ve done it myself. And so, I was also armed with that additional layer, playing her. So, a part of me was like, “Billie Holiday sang it to him,” and then the other part of me was like, “Yeah, b****! We will be singing it! Yes! Yes!” [Laughs] I was like, “You right, sis. We singin’ it.”

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Dudamel And L.A. Philharmonic Reunite For Socially Distanced Virtual Concert Series

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Dudamel And L.A. Philharmonic Reunite For Socially Distanced Virtual Concert Series

Gustavo Dudamel during a press conferece on Sept. 30, 2009 in LA, around the time he was named the music director of the LA Philharmonic.

Gabriel Bouys/AFP via Getty Images

Gabriel Bouys/AFP via Getty Images

After months of lockdown, on a glorious sunny day, I got to watch the Los Angeles Philharmonic rehearse at the famous, near-empty Hollywood Bowl. A year into the pandemic, live concerts are still a rarity in this country, but the LA Phil has been recording concerts here for its online Sound/Stage series.

There were only about seven others scattered in the audience of the vast amphitheater; in sneakers and jeans, conductor Gustavo Dudamel led the orchestra in a piece by composer John Adams, Grand Pianola Music.

Onstage, the musicians were seated 12 feet apart, all wearing facemasks except for the wind players, who were each isolated with plexiglass partitions around them.

“As soon as you start playing, all you hear is yourself,” Greg Roosa, the LA Phil’s second horn player, told me during a break. “It’s really, really hard to kind of hear off in the distance, and you have to really watch the conductor.”

Roosa’s wife, Amy Jo Rhine, is the orchestra’s third horn player. She added, “We have to be hypersensitive to everything that’s happening around us, even more so than normal.”

Dudamel told me he and his orchestra were anxious to perform together, so they were up for anything, including the plexiglass walls. “It creates a different acoustic environment that we are not used to,” he said. “But, you know, we decided to take the challenge. And it was very, very, very challenging.”

The premiere episode from the first season of Sound/Stage.

YouTube

The concerts the LA Phil recorded last summer and fall are featured on the Sound/Stage series, which streams on its website. The first season opened with an episode called “Love in the Time of COVID,” complete with overhead shots of the lonely Hollywood Bowl and Los Angeles, and a reading of a Pablo Neruda poem.

The second season, which begins today, March 5, launches with a performance of Camille Saint-Saëns’ The Carnival of the Animals. In addition, Dudamel’s nine-year-old son Martín and other children narrate animated folktales.

In other episodes, Dudamel interviews celebrity friends about their musical inspirations, similar to a fundraising series the LA Phil released this past month with the conductor in conversation with Katy Perry, Julie Andrews, Common and others.

The second season of Sound/Stage includes chats with chef José Andrés and performances by Columbian musician Carlos Vives, gospel duo Mary Mary, opera star Nadine Sierra and others. The online series also offers virtual field trips to the Hollywood Bowl and Walt Disney Concert Hall for school children.

“It’s been a very difficult time for this orchestra, and it’s great they’ve been able to keep up their spirit of experiment and innovation at this period,” said Alex Ross, classical music critic at The New Yorker. He was also invited to watch the orchestra perform at the Hollywood Bowl last summer.

Ross says the LA Phil is known for championing new and diverse music, and that this series goes far beyond videotaped concerts some other big orchestras have made during lockdown. “They haven’t pretended like everything is normal,” he said. “So you see the orchestra on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl, but then you see all the empty seats, so you’re reminded the audience is absent. There’s a kind of a loneliness. And I think they’ve been able to use that as a kind of expressive way to show this yearning of the musicians and Gustavo Dudamel to reach out to the audience that’s not there.”

During the past year, LA Phil musicians continued to be paid, but the orchestra lost much of its revenue from the concerts it holds at the Hollywood Bowl, the Ford and Disney Hall. Two of the musicians, flutist Cathy Karoly and her cellist husband Jonathan, collected donations for the orchestra by putting on their own series of chamber music recitals outside their home in Pasadena.

“My colleagues and I had very different ideas about how long we would be out of work, ranging from a couple of months to me saying, no, this is going to take more than a year,” said Karoly. She says she and her husband wanted to continue playing music and not get rusty. They said they were happy to return to the Hollywood Bowl to tape the Sound/Stage concerts.

Percussionist Matthew Howard agreed with them that being back onstage together was amazing. “Even with these restrictions,” he said, “it just feels so nice to make music with people, not via Zoom.”

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Pianist Helen Sung: From Classical Outsider To The Jazz Inner Circle

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Pianist Helen Sung: From Classical Outsider To The Jazz Inner Circle

Helen Sung

Ayano Hisa/Jazz at Lincoln Center

Ayano Hisa/Jazz at Lincoln Center

There’s a composition by pianist Helen Sung titled “Into the Unknown,” from her 2018 album, Sung With Words. A bright, bustling tune with a melody full of rhythmic feints, it captures the radiant spirit that Sung brings to any bandstand. And the song’s title says something about her unconventional path to a life in modern jazz.

Raised by immigrant parents in Houston, Sung showed early promise on piano — but seemed destined for classical music until her mid 20s. Pursuing improvised music took a leap of faith, but she was soon admitted to the Thelonious Monk Institute for Jazz, where she received affirmation from the masters, and began to lay the groundwork for her own career.

On this episode of Jazz Night, we’ll hear Sung play “Into the Unknown” with her quartet: John Ellis on tenor saxophone, Rueben Rogers on bass and McClenty Hunter on drums. Their set, recorded at Dizzy’s Club, also features tunes by (and for) Thelonious Monk, and a note of social conscience. “Jazz is such an honest art form,” she says. “And so as an artist, I want to be on the side of truth.”

Musicians

Helen Sung, piano; John Ellis, tenor saxophone; Reuben Rogers, bass; McClenty Hunter, drums

Set List

Songs by Helen Sung unless otherwise noted

  • “Carolina Shout” (James P. Johnson)
  • “Into the Unknown”
  • “Bye-Ya” (Thelonious Monk)
  • “Brother Thelonious”
  • “Lament for Kalief Browder”
  • “Hope Springs Eternally”

Credits

Writer and Producer: Alex Ariff; Host: Christian McBride; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Music Engineer; Rob Macomber; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand; Senior Director of NPR Music: Lauren Onkey.

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KCRW Presents Lockdown Listening: Thundercat

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KCRW Presents Lockdown Listening: Thundercat

Stephen Bruner is Thundercat.

Carlos Gonzalez/The onepointeight

Carlos Gonzalez/The onepointeight

Thundercat is one of Los Angeles’ most accomplished and in-demand musicians. A frequent collaborator with Flying Lotus, he’s also contributed to albums by Erykah Badu, Kamasi Washington and Kendrick Lamar, the latter of whom won a Grammy with Thundercat in 2016 for the single “These Walls.” Most recently Thundercat has come into his own as a solo artist. His fourth album, It Is What It Is, was released in April 2020 on Brainfeeder. For the Lockdown Listening playlist, Thundercat spoke with KCRW about the night Jaco Pastorius changed his life, the importance of listening to albums from the beginning, and the record that helps him through strange times.


Interestingly enough, I kinda got here before this happened.

With all the tenets of what brought about the new album, It Is What It Is, I found myself just needing a moment. And it doesn’t feel like what I wasn’t doing already. I don’t feel like, “Oh god, the world’s ending!” I mean, I already knew the world was ending. It just feels like “everything in its place” a bit. And everybody needed a moment to have this introspective, like … “Am I a terrible person?” And it’s like, “Yeah! Live with that!”

There’s so much music. And sometimes you forget different places you’ve been and visited, and some places you visit quite frequently.

EGBERTO GISMONTI

One artist I’ve revisited is Egberto Gismonti and his album, Academia de Danças. It’s one of my favorite Egberto albums. The composition is ridiculous. It feels like music genuinely from the brain, and it’s immediately beautiful, immediately overwhelming. He leaves no stone unturned in the idea of the compositions that are on this album. And I love it. It’s pure in sound and melody and harmony to a major degree. The whole album is a journey. I don’t want to change one song.

There’s one song I love on the album that maybe I’ve played by itself: “Vila Rica 1720.” But anytime I put it on, if I start from “Vila Rica,” I get weirded out and have to start from the very top, because getting to “Vila Rica” is what makes it really special. It’s like, you can’t put on Jaco Pastorius‘s album and start at “Portrait of Tracy.” You have to hear that from the beginning, because that’s a very tender moment that you don’t want to separate from the album.


YouTube

JACO PASTORIUS

My dad used to listen to a radio station at night, because he’d sit up and read and practice and do stuff after we went to sleep. And he wakes me up around three o’clock in the morning and pulls me into the bathroom. He’s like, “Check this out.” And it was “Portrait of Tracy” on the radio. My dad tried to convey to me that it was one guy playing the bass by himself: this four-string instrument that I had been practicing. And when that actually set in, it sparked this weird possibility, and I became infatuated and really wanted to understand what that meant. It blew my mind.

And within the next couple of days, my dad came home with the CD. And I emulated my dad in a certain respect where I would wait until everybody went to sleep. And I would sit down and open my art book, and I would listen to Jaco’s album really low, and then I would practice to it. But it was that moment of hearing “Portrait of Tracy” where it turned my whole entire life around.


YouTube

EVANGELION

Evangelion may be the greatest Anime soundtrack. I’ve been listening to Evangelion 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone by Shiro Sagisu, and the key song is “Cruel Dilemme.” That composition sits in a really introspective space in the cartoon where every character is trying to figure out things in their mind. It also makes me sit and think a bit when I hear it.


YouTube

STEVE KUHN

One album that has helped me through weird moments like this is Steve Kuhn from 1971. The very end of the album is extremely beautiful; it gets really intense. There’s one track called “Ulla” and another called “The Meaning of Love.” I love it. It’s a beautiful picture, and it helped me to comprehend things, life a bit, you know. And as I’m thinking about it, I hope it does that for whoever listens to it too.

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New Compilation Of Old Tunes Is ‘An Alternate History Of The World’s Music’

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New Compilation Of Old Tunes Is ‘An Alternate History Of The World’s Music’

NPR’s Ari Shapiro talks with Jonathan Ward on his new 100-track compilation of early recordings from around the world called Excavated Shellac: An Alternate History of the World’s Music.


ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Many histories of early recorded music focus on stuff like this…

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “CRAZY BLUES”)

MAMIE SMITH AND HER JAZZ HOUNDS: (Singing) Now I’ve got the crazy blues since my baby went away.

SHAPIRO: …Or this.

(SOUNDBITE OF GEORGE GERSHWIN’S “RHAPSODY IN BLUE”)

SHAPIRO: But at the same time record labels were pressing Mamie Smith and George Gershwin’s music, they were doing the same thing all over the world, like in Nigeria.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “ARTHUR PREST”)

TUNDE KING: (Singing in non-English language).

JONATHAN WARD: What most people probably don’t know is that the recording industry existed everywhere, and it was huge and massive. An extraordinary amount of music was recorded around the world, and almost none of it is available.

SHAPIRO: Many of these fragile discs have been broken or lost over the years, and amateur music historian Jonathan Ward has been carefully assembling a collection of them. He’s now released a hundred tracks with histories of each song and performer. He calls the collection “Excavated Shellac: An Alternate History Of The World’s Music.” And we started by talking about a recording from Panama with a sharp political message.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “COGE EL PANDERO QUE SE TE VA”)

GRUPO ISTMENO: (Singing in non-English language).

WARD: There were very few recordings made in Panama prior to the 1950s – about a grand total of 22, actually – mostly captured by American recording engineers who probably were en route to somewhere else. This piece is by the Grupo Istmeno. What is interesting about this track is that it is a protest song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “COGE EL PANDERO QUE SE TE VA”)

GRUPO ISTMENO: (Singing in non-English language).

WARD: The lyrics are stridently anti-U.S. and against the depopulation of Indigenous people in the Canal Zone when the canal was being built about 15 years prior to when the recording was made.

SHAPIRO: And it was made in 1928, right?

WARD: That’s right. And I’m sure the engineers had no idea what they were recording.

SHAPIRO: But the lyrics are, like, if we don’t leave, they will kick us out, those sons of Uncle Sam.

WARD: Yeah, exactly. They want to take it all. And the natives of Panama, we cannot even breathe like the free for freedom.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “COGE EL PANDERO QUE SE TE VA”)

GRUPO ISTMENO: (Singing in non-English language).

SHAPIRO: The title of this collection, “Excavated Shellac,” refers to the kind of material that was used to make these old discs. Can you tell us about the physical process of creating these recordings?

WARD: Sure. The entire process back then was both crude and ingenious. You had these beeswax masters that, if you were recording in the tropics, you had to ship back to Europe to get them metal-plated, and then the masters were destroyed. And then all the copies of records were then shipped all the way back to the point of sale, which sometimes could be Africa or Southeast Asia or Brazil or who knows where.

SHAPIRO: So these record labels would actually send engineers on ships to port cities and say, record what you find there. And just to give an example, like, we’ve got one track here from Zanzibar in 1930.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUBEIT BIN AMBAR’S “TAKSIM HIJAZI”)

SHAPIRO: Tell us about that.

WARD: The East African recording market really exploded in the late 1920s, and the music that was captured was largely a style called taarab. It’s a music that’s very much influenced by music of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. And this piece was actually recorded on Zanzibar in 1930 – first time anyone had made commercial recordings there – and features Subeit bin Ambar playing an improvisation on a localized version of the oud.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUBEIT BIN AMBAR’S “TAKSIM HIJAZI”)

SHAPIRO: As you know, there is a long, unhelpful history of white people presenting, quote-unquote, “ethnic music” or “world music” to Western audiences. And I know you’re aware of this colonialist cliche, but how do you think about your role in presenting music from other cultures from other parts of the world?

WARD: You know, I thought about this throughout the entire process. And practicing cultural sensitivity as best as I knew how, really, was paramount for me. And that means you might own the records, but you don’t own the music. So I did my best in this project to remove any strain of romanticism from the text. I reached out to as many people who knew a lot more than me around the world. I looked at as much scholarship as I could find. And yet I still feel like projects like this are forever unfinished. You know, I would be embarrassed if this was canonized in a way. It’s meant to be a building block.

SHAPIRO: Does the project risk falling into these same familiar colonialist tropes? – because, you know, what does the track from Panama have in common with the track from Zanzibar other than they are made by non-white, non-Global-North performers singing in a language that’s not English?

WARD: That’s absolutely a good question. The linchpin is the recording industry and how it worked. When engineers were in Panama, they were also in Zanzibar. They were also in Czechoslovakia. That is the umbrella with which this project can be viewed. But I also believe that listening to music from different cultures can provide a serendipity. You didn’t realize that you wanted to explore a certain type of music further until it was presented to you in that way. I have no real problem with a variety, so long as it’s not exoticized.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAPIRO: Once you have found one of these recordings, how difficult is it to find the story behind the musicians?

WARD: Extremely difficult sometimes – you know, sometimes, you can’t find anything at all. And sometimes, it’s very difficult to get lyrics translated. For example, I was looking hard for a translation in a Filipino language, Ilocano.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “PIRITIPIT”)

VALENTIN EUGENIO: (Singing in Ilocano).

WARD: And I ended up getting a translation from the man who wrote the Ilocano-to-English dictionary, and even he had trouble understanding most of it. Some of the words were so old-fashioned. He said, I really don’t know. You know, this is extremely difficult.

SHAPIRO: And what are these lyrics that you had to work so hard to translate into English?

WARD: It is actually kind of a naughty love song. He says things like, you call me a cat with my long mustache. You call me a bukto (ph) fish and a water buffalo butting his horns. There’s all this sort of vague sexual innuendo throughout a quarreling husband and wife.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “PIRITIPIT”)

EUGENIO: (Singing in Ilocano).

SHAPIRO: All right. Let’s go out on a song. Can you give us a deep cut within this collection of deep cuts?

WARD: Sure. Well, there’s a lot to say about the famous music of Portugal called Fado. This man, Julio Silva, he was pretty influential during the early 20th century but sort of unhappy with his recording career, switched to become a painter. And unfortunately, he died destitute. But in 1927, he gave us this.

(SOUNDBITE OF JULIO SILVA’S “FADO MELANCOLICO”)

SHAPIRO: Jonathan Ward – the new collection of early recorded music from around the world is called “Excavated Shellac: An Alternate History Of The World’s Music.”

Thank you so much.

WARD: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF JULIO SILVA’S “FADO MELANCOLICO”)

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Jack Harlow: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert

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Jack Harlow: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert

Credit: Courtesy of the Artist

The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music’s Tiny Desk (home) concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It’s the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.


Jack Harlow’s Tiny Desk (home) concert feels like the arrival of a rap superstar. Tucked in a homey-looking space in Los Angeles surrounded by bookshelves and vintage furniture, the Louisville, Ky., emcee delivers a performance with the confidence of an old pro. His set, however, is the first time he’s relied solely on live instrumentation to bring his songs to life. “It’s been a long time since I had a chance to perform and I’ve never done it like this,” he says.

This is a far stretch from the kid with loose curls and specs frolicing with his hometown friends, but his success should serve as a reminder of the importance of artist development. He’s been able to slow cook for a few years, consistently dropping mixtapes and visuals until he landed a big hit last year in “WHATS POPPIN.” That performance earned him a Grammy nomination ahead of his very impressive debut album, Thats What They All Say.

For this turn at the Tiny Desk, Harlow, his band and some background singers deliver a megamix of highlights from the album. The orchestration underscores his sentimental and introspective side on songs like “Same Guy” and “Funny Seeing You Here,” but it also elevates the melody, which is the true hero here. Over the past few years, the 22-year-old rapper has steadily ticked the boxes for a successful career, and this showing undoubtedly checks the performer section.

SET LIST

  • “Rendezvous”
  • “21C / Delta”
  • “Funny Seeing You Here”
  • “Same Guy”
  • “Creme/ONCE MAY COMES”
  • “Whats Poppin”

MUSICIANS

  • Jack Harlow: vocals
  • O’Neil “Doctor O” Palmer: keys
  • Rico Nichols: drums
  • Joe Cleveland – bass
  • Rob Gueringer: guitar
  • Erik B: vocals
  • Chimera Patrice: vocals
  • Porcha Clay: vocals

CREDITS

  • Video: Ace Pro, Chadrick Fellers / WastedPotential, Donald Turner, Karis West, Kylie Hazzard
  • Audio: Nickie Jon Pabón, CJ Blair
  • Playback: Kenny Woods
  • Backline: Jonathan Castillo

TINY DESK TEAM

  • Producer: Bobby Carter
  • Video Producer: Morgan Noelle Smith
  • Audio Mastering: Josh Rogosin
  • Tiny Production Team: Bob Boilen, Kara Frame, Maia Stern
  • Executive Producer: Lauren Onkey
  • Senior VP, Programming: Anya Grundmann

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Album Review: Julien Baker Embraces Struggles With Addiction In ‘Little Oblivions’

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Album Review: Julien Baker Embraces Struggles With Addiction In ‘Little Oblivions’

Tennessee songwriter Julien Baker’s new album “Little Oblivions” reveals new folds in the musician’s road to recovery from addiction.


MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Julien Baker does not mince words. The Tennessee songwriter’s music offers a candid portrait of a young woman raised in a devout Christian home who went through addiction, recovery and relapse, all before turning 25. Our reviewer Miguel Perez says her latest album, called “Little Oblivions,” reveals new folds in the musician’s road to recovery.

MIGUEL PEREZ, BYLINE: The first time I heard Julien Baker, she was singing songs off of her debut album in the patio of an Austin bar. It was 2016. She was 20 years old then, singing softly about God and substance abuse onstage, alone, with just her guitar.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “SPRAINED ANKLE”)

JULIEN BAKER: (Singing) Wish I could write songs about anything other than death.

PEREZ: Her new album in many ways doesn’t deviate from this spirit. Baker’s still brutally honest, unflinching in her study of addiction. But whereas her past projects painted her struggles in simple, gentle lines, “Little Oblivions” opts for broader, bolder brush strokes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “HARDLINE”)

BAKER: (Singing) Blacked out on a weekday. Still something that I’m trying to avoid.

PEREZ: Baker has added drums, keyboards and mandolins to her sparse arrangements. The production sounds fuller and more layered, gently swelling into these big, beautiful waves.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “HARDLINE”)

BAKER: (Singing) Say it’s not so cut and dry. Oh, it isn’t black and white. What if it’s all black, baby, all the time?

PEREZ: Even the rollout was grander. Poet Hanif Abdurraqib wrote an essay to accompany news of the album. Baker, he says, is a writer who examines their own mess not in a search for answers, but sometimes just for a way out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “HIGHLIGHT REEL”)

BAKER: (Singing) Passed out in the back of a cab. Could you pull over? I think that I’m trapped.

PEREZ: After several years of sobriety, Baker relapsed in 2019. “Little Oblivions” does not offer much in the way of resolution, simply an embrace of failure, an acknowledgement that recovery from addiction doesn’t always follow a straight path. Baker says songs like “Faith Healer” confront the dissonance a person struggling with substance abuse can feel, knowing drug use is harmful but still craving the relief it offers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “FAITH HEALER”)

BAKER: (Singing) Faith healer, come put your hands on me. A snake oil dealer, I’ll believe you if you make me feel something.

PEREZ: But Baker isn’t worried about wrong or right, just the reality of her recovery. Mistakes will be made. People will get hurt. And life will go on. Her voice, bright and assured, doesn’t crumble under the weight of her faults.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “RINGSIDE”)

BAKER: (Singing) So you could either watch me drown.

PEREZ: Instead, Baker’s songs seem to draw power from her flaws, as if to say, I’m human. I’m working on it. That is good enough.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “RINGSIDE”)

BAKER: (Singing) Want to fix it, but I don’t know how.

KELLY: Julien Baker’s new album “Little Oblivions” is out now. Our reviewer Miguel Perez is a reporter for KERA in Dallas.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “RINGSIDE”)

BAKER: (Singing) While all your friends are going out.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Ralph Peterson Jr., Drummer Who Re-Enlivened Hard Bop, Dead At 58

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Ralph Peterson Jr., Drummer Who Re-Enlivened Hard Bop, Dead At 58

Ralph Peterson Jr., performing in 2012 at Symphony Space in New York.

Dave Kaufman

Dave Kaufman

Ralph Peterson Jr., a drummer, bandleader, composer and educator whose lunging propulsion and volatile combustion were hallmarks of a jazz career spanning more than 40 years, died on Monday in North Dartmouth, Mass. The cause was complications from cancer, his manager, Laura Martinez, tells NPR Music; Peterson had been living with the disease for the last six years. He was 58.

The sheer, onrushing force of Peterson’s beat, paired with his alert ear and agile dynamism, made him one of the standout jazz musicians to emerge in the 1980s. Part of a striving peer group known as the Young Lions, which coalesced around the resurgence of acoustic hard bop, he distinguished himself early on as a powerful steward of that tradition.

“It’s music that revolves around richly ambiguous harmonies and shifty, mercurial melodies,” wrote Jon Pareles in 1990, reviewing a performance for the New York Times. “Difficult as it is to play, Mr. Peterson and his group rekindled the style’s sense of risk and triumph.”

Risk and triumph, each inextricable from the other, aptly describes nearly all of the music associated with Peterson — as a locomotive engine on the first several albums by trumpeter Terence Blanchard and saxophonist Donald Harrison; as a leader of bands like Triangular, a venturesome piano trio, and the Fo’tet, with a frontline of saxophone and vibraphone; and as the anointed heir of Art Blakey, a hard-bop progenitor and drummer-bandleader of the Jazz Messengers, whose ranks produced several generations of major jazz talent.

Because of his own role in that band, Blakey didn’t often work with other drummers. Peterson was a notable exception, initially as the second drummer in a Jazz Messengers Big Band. He became Blakey’s protégé — and after the master’s death in 1990, his torchbearer and successor. Peterson devoted his 1994 Blue Note album Art to Blakey’s music and memory, and later formed the Messenger Legacy, a wrecking crew of other prominent Jazz Messengers alumni.

Peterson often emulated facets of Blakey’s style — like a press-roll crescendo on the snare drum, an object lesson in tension and release — with unabashed vigor, confident that his own musical persona was capacious enough to accommodate them. “I think if you don’t know how to play like somebody else first, you can never arrive at what somebody can identify as your own style,” he said in a 2011 interview with pianist George Colligan, an occasional collaborator.

Among the many others in Peterson’s circle were saxophonists Steve Wilson, Craig Handy and Wayne Escoffery; clarinetists Don Byron and Todd Marcus; cornetist Graham Haynes; and pianists Geri Allen, Michele Rosewoman, Orrin Evans and Uri Caine. Some of those musicians featured Peterson in their bands; most of them played in his.

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On a 2001 album called The Art of War, Peterson served as the anchor for a band of younger players: Evans, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, saxophonist Jimmy Greene and bassist Eric Revis. They bring the requisite fire and commitment to his tune “Freight Train,” whose title suggests one of the go-to metaphors his playing frequently inspired.

Born in Pleasantville, N.J., on May 20, 1962, Ralph Peterson Jr. came up in a family of drummers: his grandfather played drums, and so did four of his uncles. He started on drums at age 3, but it was as a trumpeter that he made his way into the jazz studies program at Rutgers University.

Partly through the benediction of Blakey, he took off as a drummer in the revivified hard-bop mode, bringing an explosive quality that defied any complaint of stale conservatism. After appearing on albums by Out of the Blue, a band assembled by Blue Note Records as a vehicle for young jazz players, Peterson made several of his own releases for the label — starting in 1988 with Triangular and V, both featuring Geri Allen.

With the Fo’tet, active through the ’90s, Peterson explored a pugnacious and slippery form of post-bop, finding an essential partner in Bryan Carrott on mallet percussion. The group devoted entire albums to jazz repertory (Ornettology, The Fo’tet Plays Monk), but also served as a vehicle for new music. The Reclamation Project, released on Evidence Music in 1995, consisted entirely of Peterson compositions, including some bearing titles – “Turn It Over,” “Song of Serenity,” “Acceptance” – that hinted at his own winding path.

Ralph Peterson Jr., photographed during a session at WBGO in 2019.



Jonathan Chimene/WBGO



Jonathan Chimene/WBGO

In his 20s, with a career on the rise, Peterson struggled with drug addiction. Years later, after finding sobriety, he often pointed to that experience as a cautionary tale for his students at the Berklee College of Music, some of whom became collaborators on the bandstand. Peterson formed the GenNext Big Band as a crucible for Berklee talent, patterned after the Blakey big band; its first album, in 2018, was a Blakey tribute titled I Remember Bu.

Peterson released that album on his own Onyx Music, which he formed a decade ago, partly out of frustration with the unavailability of his Blue Note recordings. Among the other albums on Onyx are Onward and Upward, by the Messenger Legacy, and two titles by Aggregate Prime, an exploratory quintet featuring Gary Thomas on saxophone and Mark Whitfield on guitar.

On a 2016 album titled Triangular III, Peterson enlists a former student, Luques Curtis, and his brother, pianist Zaccai Curtis. Here is the trio playing “Backgammon,” a Walter Davis, Jr. tune; the footage captures Peterson’s powerful presence on drums, and the way he could shift the emphasis in a performance from one moment to the next.

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Peterson’s next album, due out this spring, will also feature the Curtis brothers, along with vocalist Jazzmeia Horn and percussionist Eguie Castrillo. He titled it Raise Up Off Me, referring in part to the experience of Black Americans with law enforcement.

A lifelong embodiment of the warrior philosopher, Peterson also ran a Taekwondo studio in Boston; he received his ranking as a fifth dan black belt in 2019, as he was fighting cancer. Speaking with Bill Milkowski for a DownBeat profile the previous year, Peterson was open about what he had endured.

“I guess it’s the Klingon in me,” he said with a laugh, alluding to the bellicose Star Trek species. “I’ve had enough chances to be dead, but I’m grateful to be alive. And the focus and intensity and pace at which I’m now working and living is directly related to the spiritual wake-up call that tomorrow isn’t promised.”

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Demetria Bannister, 28: Kirk Franklin’s ‘The Storm Is Over Now’

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Demetria Bannister, 28: Kirk Franklin’s ‘The Storm Is Over Now’
Demetria or "Demi" Bannister, of Columbia, S.C., died at the age of 28.

Courtesy of Rayechon McQueen

More than 500,000 people have died in the U.S. from COVID-19 since the pandemic hit this country and the world just over a year ago. NPR is remembering some of those who lost their lives by listening to the music they loved and hearing their stories. We’re calling our tribute Songs Of Remembrance.


Demetria was a teacher in Columbia, S.C., for elementary school students. And she was 28 years old.

We seem to have a lot of family members that actually sing and play, like, instruments and stuff. So, we’ll just be sitting down or just playing instrumentals and just singing together. And that started off at a very young age. I can’t remember how old I was, and Demetria, of course, was always older than me, but she always was singing and I started because of her.

Sometimes, we’d be in the car together, just making a song while we were riding. And Demetria was such a playful and funny person. And that was just with anybody she was encountering — it didn’t matter if she knew you or not. She was just gonna be playful — that was just her.

Something that I’m really gonna truly miss is just playing and singing with her. Just being behind her, watching her take over. And when I say take over, I mean take over. I mean, she was such a star. She was really such a star.

I chose “The Storm is Over” because a couple of years back, me and Demetria had went on Facebook Live and sung it together. And when we sung it, we sound so good. I guess it’s the message, really. The song says, “No more cloudy days / They’re all gone, gone away / I feel like I can make it / The storm is over now.” And that was the part that she used to sing.

Even though what happened was sad, it was still beautiful how many lives she touched. And I will say that, if you had run into her, you definitely gonna remember her. She left her mark — without her even trying. I promise you that. —Rayechon McQueen, cousin

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