Alex Ariff

At the heart of any successful jazz enterprise is a spirit of resourcefulness. It's what leads an improviser to navigate a tricky passage, or a bandleader toward fresh ideas. And on the eastside of Portland, Ore. back in 2014, it's what led a few enterprising souls to create the Montavilla Jazz Festival — an event whose DIY mindset extends to the musicians on the bill.

It's not hard to imagine a world where a search for the phrase "jazz connoisseur" turns up a photo of the grinning mug of Phil Schaap. As a historian and educator, a Grammy-winning reissue producer, a curator and a pontificator, Schaap has more than earned his prestigious stature as the 2021 A.B.

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.

Public acknowledgment took its time finding Billy Lester. A pianist devoted to searching for a new form of modern jazz, he spent more than half a century on the outskirts of New York City, quietly honing his craft. "I just figured I'd go to my grave without any kind of recognition," he says plainly, "and I was at the point in my life where I totally accepted that."

It's no shocker that jazz and Sesame Street go hand in hand. The show has a long tradition of featuring jazz artists, such as Wynton Marsalis, as special guests, and some of the TV show's most famous music has found a life within the jazz ecosystem. These topics were all explored on a recent episode of the radio show Jazz Night in America, which also featured concert material from A Swinging Sesame Celebration at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

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"I think a part of growth in general is being comfortable in your own skin," Linda May Han Oh says, "and being comfortable with really who you are."

Here are a few indisputable truths about Andy Bey. First things first: as he approaches 80, Bey occupies the first rank of living jazz singers. He has led a circuitous career — starting out as a prodigy, slipping into obscurity, experiencing a late renaissance.

Cannonball Adderley was a mere 46 when he died, of a brain hemorrhage, in 1975.

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