Nate Chinen

At one point during the final stretch of this year's Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tenn., you could have pried yourself away from a distortion-jacked Sun of Goldfinger show to join a clutch of fans hurrying over to see The Art Ensemble of Chicago. In making that calculation (a typical one, for Big Ears), you'd have been weighing two wildly different experiences with one notable thing in common: Both groups have an affiliation with the sonically adventurous label ECM Records.

There comes a moment in almost any performance by vibraphonist Joel Ross when he seems to slip free of standard cognitive functions and into a bodacious flow state. Invariably, he's in the midst of a heated improvisation. Maybe he's bouncing on his heels, or bobbing like a marionette. His mallets form a blur, in contrast to the clarity of the notes they produce. The deft precision of his hammering inspires a visual comparison to some tournament-level version of Whac-A-Mole.

Two eminent avant-garde elders, a chameleonic vocal improviser, and a pioneering community organizer and presenter will make up the 2020 class of NEA Jazz Masters, according to an announcement this morning by the National Endowment for the Arts.

The four incoming inductees — saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, bassist Reggie Workman, vocalist Bobby McFerrin, and jazz advocate Dorthaan Kirk — will officially be recognized next April 2, during a tribute concert and ceremony at the SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco.

If you're even a casually observant jazz fan, you might think you know a thing or two about Joe Lovano. A tenor saxophonist with dozens of albums to his name, most of them made during a roughly 25-year tenure on Blue Note Records, Lovano is one of the most instantly identifiable musicians on the jazz landscape and on the New York scene. But he didn't come from nowhere.

John Zorn, the prolific and brilliantly iconoclastic composer, realized a dream of sorts last year when he released The Book Beriah — a box set of 11 new albums, featuring as many different groups interpreting music he had written for that purpose.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify and Apple playlists at the bottom of the page.

Herbie Hancock took a moment during the International Jazz Day All-Star Global Concert to address some fraught geopolitical realities.

Not that Hancock, in his dual capacity as UNESCO goodwill ambassador and chairman of the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz, got into specifics, or really needed to. Speaking from a podium at Hamer Hall in Melbourne, Australia on Tuesday night, he just extolled the spirit of cooperation and exchange in jazz, "at a time when internal and external relationships among so many countries are unsettled."

Herbie Hancock and Kamasi Washington, two of the biggest names in jazz, will join forces for a North American co-headlining tour this summer.

In 2005, even as the flood waters that rose in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina subsumed his home along with countless others, Allen Toussaint was reluctant to leave his city. But the elegant architect of New Orleans rhythm and blues was left with no other option. Just a day after his evacuation, in an interview with Rolling Stone, he described the experience less in terms of what had been lost than what could yet be gained.

"When I was younger," Sherrie Maricle says, "it was almost a mission to blend in with all the men I was playing with.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify and Apple Music playlists at the bottom of the page.

Makaya McCraven — a drummer-producer-bandleader-composer who sums up his MO with the evocative term "beat scientist" — has lately been on the hottest of hot streaks. His album Universal Beings was hailed as one of the best albums of 2018, by outlets ranging from The New York Times to Rolling Stone. (In the NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll, it came in at No.

Bill Frisell has made no secret of his fondness for the music of James Bond films. An elite jazz guitarist with a gift for shadowy lyricism, he recorded the title theme to You Only Live Twice a few years ago for an album of movie music. Frisell then included the main Goldfinger theme on Small Town, his painterly duo effort with bassist Thomas Morgan.

Terence Blanchard wrote his first piece of music for a Spike Lee joint nearly 30 years ago. The movie was Mo' Better Blues, which revolves around a brooding jazz trumpeter played by Denzel Washington. Blanchard was on set to ghost those trumpet parts, but at one point, Spike heard him playing a theme at the piano, and asked him to write an accompanying string arrangement.

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