Jnennifer Pickering

Photo courtesy of LEAF

Founder and director of LEAF Community Arts

For Jennifer Pickering, all art is both local and global and LEAF is that philosophy in action.


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Photo by John Abbott

1983 NEA Jazz Master and 2010 National Medal of Arts recipient

This week, the great tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins turned 90 years old. To celebrate, we’re revisiting my 2017 interview with this 1983 NEA Jazz Master and 2010 National Medal of Arts recipient. Sonny Rollins has been the jazz player’s jazz player and acknowledged as jazz’s greatest living improviser. He’s always been an adventurous musician-- unafraid to change or to embrace the sounds of calypso, Latin, avant-garde, funk and R&B. His solo work is unsurpassed-- either playing solo gigs or when performing with his band launching into long, extemporaneous unaccompanied cadenzas. As he said in the interview, “I like to play by myself. And, I'd like to go out and play by the water, by the ocean. I go in the park, anyplace where I can be alone with my saxophone… I always like to put all the music in my head, create it myself, patterns, ideas, thoughts, passages, anything like that… the greatest thing in the world is to be playing your instrument… because it's you and the universe.” Sonny’s universe also included many legendary musicians including Coleman Hawkins, Miles Davis, and his closest friends John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk. This is a thoughtful and insightful conversation with an American genius. Enjoy it.


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Photo by David Tallacksen, courtesy of WBGO

2020 NEA Jazz Master

Dorthaan Kirk has been named a 2020 NEA Jazz Master for her jazz advocacy…and it’s easy to see why. For more than forty years, Dorthaan has been a major force at WBGO, Newark Public Radio—the only full-time jazz station in the New York/New Jersey area. She had been married to the brilliant jazz multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk who died tragically young. After his death, Dorthaan wondered what her next step would be when a phone call changed everything: someone was starting a jazz radio station in Newark; would she interested in coming on-board? She was, and the rest is history. Dorthaan took on the role of special events and community relations coordinator at WBGO, bringing with her creativity, tenacity, a knowledge of the music business and firm friendships with many musicians. Among the programs she spearheaded at WBGO are its Jazzathons—a live 24 hour musical fund-raiser, the WBGO art gallery which supports local artists and opens the station to the community so they might enjoy the art, and, dearest to Dorthaan’s heart, the WBGO children’s concert series where musicians have been introducing children to jazz through two generations. Dorthaan is a great talker—as she will be the first one to tell you—so it’s a podcast filled with stories, memories and love for the people who make and support jazz.

2020 National Heritage Fellow, Singer, Songwriter

2020 National Heritage Fellow Singer/Songwriter William Bell was the first male solo artist signed by the legendary Stax record label in the early 1960s. With his great sense of melody, rhythm, and lyrics as well as one of the best voices in the business, Bell played a pivotal role in creating a new genre of music known as Southern soul or the Memphis sound. In this podcast, William Bell discusses the pivotal role Stax played in his life and the lives of so many kids in Memphis. We talk and listen to some of his biggest hits like “Born Under a Bad Sign,” and “I Forgot to be Your Lover”, his collaboration with Booker T. Jones and his 2016 Grammy-Award winning album “This Is Where I Live” which he recorded under the newly revived Stax label. He is a born story-teller with a voice like velvet and a lifetime in music.


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Photo courtesy of SFJAZZ

Founder and Executive Artistic Director, SFJAZZ

Founder and executive artistic director of SFJAZZ Randall Kline takes us behind the scenes of Fridays at Five—a weekly digital series which offers hour-long concerts filmed at the SFJAZZ Center over the past six-plus years. It’s another example of performing artists and presenters stepping up during the pandemic in creative and innovative ways to share the art that keeps us all going. And—to no one’s surprise—SFJAZZ is leading the way. A national and international leader in jazz creation, presentation, and education, SFJAZZ is the biggest presenter of jazz on the West Coast—with over 200,000 customers and students going through the doors of the SFJAZZ Center each year. So, when the center had to close temporarily because of the pandemic, the organization went to work and quickly introduced Fridays at Five. For a nominal monthly fee, viewers can hear and see music performed by the likes of Terrance Blanchard, and NEA Jazz Masters Branford Marsalis and Dave Holland. Additionally, patrons still get to mingle with one another, as well as with SFJAZZ staff, board members, and musicians via a live chat. Back in April, I spoke with founder and the executive artistic director of SF Jazz Randall Kline about jazz, Fridays at Five, and the origins SFJAZZ itself, including the role the Arts Endowmen played in its growth.


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Photo by  Zack DeZon

Playwright, composer, lyricist

Playwright, composer, lyricist Michael R. Jackson's play A Strange Loop had an extraordinary year--it has won Lambda Literary Award for Drama, the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama becoming the first musical to win a Pulitzer for drama without a Broadway run, the first time it was awarded to an African-American for a musical and only the second time an African American received the award for drama.(The NEA funded the world premier which was produced by Playwrights Horizons.) A Strange Loop in the words of its author," about a Black queer musical theater writer who works as an usher at a Broadway show who is writing a musical about a Black queer musical theater writer who works as an usher at Broadway show who's writing a musical about a Black queer musical theater writer...as he cycles through his own self hatred." The show is bawdy, joyous, disturbing, funny and heart-breaking. The songs are often bouncy and hummable while the lyrics can tear at your heart. Michael R. Jackson has said he never thought the play would ever be produced, so he just wrote what he wanted. (There's a lesson here). And his mission statement is "is to make works that are as challenging as they are entertaining." He succeeded. In this podcast, we learn about the strange loop A Strange Loop has taken from its beginning as a monologue to its recent full-scale production. Michael talks us through some of the songs, we learn how his career goal changed from writing for soaps to writing for musical theater and much more. Michael is smart, funny, and extraordinarily engaging. (And the music is great!) Enjoy!


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Photo Credit Toshi Sakurai, courtesy Chick Corea Prod.

Pianist, composer and 2006 NEA Jazz Master

Pianist, composer and 2006 NEA Jazz Master Chick Corea is a musical shape-shifter. Beginning a brilliant solo career in the mid-1960s, Chick has moved effortlessly from straight-up jazz to avant-garde, from bebop to fusion. In addition to his 23 Grammy Awards, Corea has also won 4 Latin Grammys. Aside from being a sensitive interpreter of Mozart, Chick has also composed contemporary classical music including concerti, string quartets and other symphonic works. Over his five-decade long career, Chick’s list of collaborators read like a veritable “Who’s Who” in jazz. They include Stan Getz, Mile Davis, Anthony Braxton, Bobby McFerrin, Gary Burton, Béla Fleck Christian McBride and Rubén Blades. We spoke with Chick last December to ask him for his thoughts about his long-time collaborator 2020 Jazz Master Bobby McFerrin—but of course, who would miss the opportunity to talk to Chick Corea about Chick Corea? In this music-filled podcast, Chick discusses his music, his many collaborations, his love of performing and composing classical music and the importance of play when he takes the stage. He’s deeply thoughtful—loaded with charm and generosity. Enjoy!


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Photo by Joseph Blough

Saxophonist, composer and 2020 NEA Jazz Master

Saxophonist, composer and 2020 NEA Jazz Master Roscoe Mitchell is a musical seeker. He’s interested in sound and its colors. He is one of the most influential (and prolific) jazz musicians around who nonetheless says he has never been as excited or inspired as when I spoke with him in December 2019. And this from one of the original members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and one of the founders of the Art Ensemble of Chicago! Our interview was on my birthday—and it was the best present I could have received. Roscoe Mitchell—aside from being a fabulous musician--is an eloquent philosopher about music. Speaking with him was a true pleasure and I hope you’ll feel the same listening to this podcast.


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Photo by Richard Kholer

Bassist and 2020 NEA Jazz Master

Bassist and 2020 NEA Jazz Master Reggie Workman is aptly named. The man might not have played with everyone in jazz, but he has come close. I don’t want this to turn into a list of Workman’s gigs, so I’ll just touch on some of the major ones: He was a member of both the John Coltrane Quartet playing in such legendary recordings as Live at the Village Vanguard, and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers during one of the band’s great line-ups. According to Reggie, Coltrane and Blakey were very different leaders: Coltrane gave his band a lot of freedom while Blakey knew exactly what he wanted. Because he could play any style of jazz from the American songbook to avant-garde, he became the go-to bassist for Blue Note Records backing folks from Abbey Lincoln to David Murray. He’s also led his own groups like the Reggie Workman Ensemble and performed in collaborative trios. In this wide-ranging conversation, Workman talks about what makes a good supporting artist and what he was looking for when he began his group. As professor at the New School for more than 30 years, Workman also talked about teaching and helping young musicians to understand “there are mistakes (in jazz),…but you have to be able to justify each note.” This music-filled podcast is a look at a fascinating artist.


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Courtesy of Col Don Schofield

Commander and Conductor The US Air Force Band

Commander and conductor of the US Air Force Band Colonel Don Schofield leads a remarkably diverse set of musicians. The Air Force Band consists of 172 members and six ensembles playing music that ranges from rock to jazz to brass to an orchestra. (We can't forget the string ensemble or the fabulous Singing Sergeants!). They play over 1600 performances around the world each year with a repertoire that is expansive and extensive. In this tuneful podcast, we learn how it all comes together, why Colonel Schofield went from music teacher to military service member, and why leading the U.S. Air Force Band is his dream job.