Jazz

The 2020 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll

Jan 14, 2021

Below are the results of NPR Music's 8th Annual Jazz Critics Poll (my 15th, going back to the poll's beginnings in the Village Voice). These are the jazz albums that lit up a dark, unsettling year. Maria Schneider's Data Lords was the critics choice — no surprise, though relative unknown Sara Serpa's victory in the Vocal category in a year when both Kurt Elling and Gregory Porter released new albums was.

In the 2019 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll, five of the top 10 new releases were recordings led or co-led by women artists — a startling 50%. In fact, it is the largest number of projects led by women in the top 10 since the annual poll began 14 years ago, surpassing 2018, when women comprised a third of those rankings.

French jazz pianist, bandleader and composer Claude Bolling, whose work spanned jazz clubs, the big screen, and Carnegie Hall, died Tuesday at the age of 90. His death was announced by his representatives.

In 1977, the first Jazz Alive New Year's Eve special was broadcast live from The Cookery and The Village Gate. The tradition continues with Toast of the Nation, NPR's annual holiday special that rings in the New Year with jazz.

A few months ago I was scrolling through my phone and found that Jon Batiste had shared my new single with his Instagram followers. I DM'd him my thanks and we chatted about the music and its composer, a Black woman named Florence Price who was a brilliant musical pioneer in the 1930s. We talked about the trailblazers who've come before us and about the work we do to honor their legacy.

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.

If you've been a jazz fan for any length of time, you know farewells are an essential part of the deal. But this was a harder year than most, as the ravages of a pandemic compounded and quickened the scope of our losses, especially during a heartbreaking stretch last spring.

NPR / YouTube

One unique aspect of jazz is that it never stops honoring the musicians who've shaped its sound.

In the weeks after this year's Mardi Gras celebrations, New Orleans experienced one of the most explosive COVID-19 outbreaks in the country. Since then, music has largely been missing from a city that depends on it.

Parades have been canceled for the upcoming Mardi Gras season and indoor performances are prohibited. Outdoor performances, no matter how small, require a permit. The restrictions, meant to limit the spread of the coronavirus, have devastated professional musicians and affected other aspects of the city's vibrant music scene, including education.

This holiday season, Jazz Night in America presents your favorite holiday classics, courtesy of Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra saxophonist Sherman Irby and his band.

MUSICIANS

Sherman Irby, alto saxophone; Steve Turre, trombone; Isaiah J. Thompson, piano; Gerald Cannon, bass; Chris Beck, drums; Camille Thurman, vocals.

SET LIST

Pages