meta-scriptExploring The GRAMMYs' Jazz Field Nominees |


Exploring The GRAMMYs' Jazz Field Nominees

Go inside the nominations in the Jazz Field categories for the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

You've seen the list of nominees, now take a closer look at the artists nominated in the Jazz Field for the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards.

The nominees in the Jazz Field stretch from veteran artists to newcomers, with five-time GRAMMY winner Randy Brecker, 16-time GRAMMY winner Chick Corea, three-time nominee Fred Hersch, and two-time winner Sonny Rollins earning two nominations each. The women of jazz take the lead in the Best Jazz Vocal Album category with previous nominees Karrin Allyson, Terri Lyne Carrington and Tierney Sutton going up against newcomer Roseanna Vitro and GRAMMY winner Kurt Elling.

Best Improvised Jazz Solo

In the Best Improvised Jazz Solo category, seasoned artists mix with a newer crop of jazz luminaries. Tenor saxophone legend and Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Sonny Rollins, whose previous GRAMMY Awards include Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual Or Group for This Is What I Do in 2001, is nominated for "Sonnymoon For Two," from Road Shows Vol. 2. Pianist Chick Corea earned his 56th career GRAMMY nomination for his solo outing on "500 Miles High" from the album Forever, which he recorded with Stanley Clarke and Lenny White. Corea's most recent GRAMMY win came in 2009 for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual Or Group for Five Piece Band — Live. Another jazz veteran on the list is two-time GRAMMY-winning bassist Ron Carter, who is up for his solo on "You Are My Sunshine," from This Is Jazz. Also garnering nominations are well-established jazz mainstays, trumpeter Randy Brecker for "All Or Nothing At All" from The Jazz Ballad Song Book, and pianist Fred Hersch for his solo on "Work," from Alone At The Vanguard.

Best Jazz Vocal Album

The Best Jazz Vocal Album category is dominated by women, who earned four of the five nominations. Percussionist Terri Lyne Carrington showed a strong vocal presence on her eclectic album The Mosaic Project. This is the second GRAMMY nomination of her career, following her nod for Best Jazz Fusion Performance for her 1989 debut, Real Life Story. Three-time GRAMMY nominees Karrin Allyson and Tierney Sutton are also in the running, the latter garnering a nod for her eclectic and American music-geared concept album, American Road. Allyson is nominated for her ballad-heavy project 'Round Midnight. Roseanna Vitro, a celebrated vocalist who released her debut album in 1982, earns her first GRAMMY nomination for her jazz-flavored ode to a pop songwriting icon, The Music Of Randy Newman. Kurt Elling, up for his album The Gate, is no stranger to the GRAMMY Awards. Elling has received nine nominations previously, and won his first GRAMMY in 2009 in this category for Dedicated To You: Kurt Elling Sings The Music Of Coltrane And Hartman.

Best Jazz Instrumental Album

Partly because the blend of improvisation and content is a key factor in jazz, three of the Best Improvised Jazz Solo nominees this year are also present in the Best Jazz Instrumental Album category. Corea, who reunited with his old fusion band allies from Return To Forever, Clarke and White, for an acoustic jazz mode, is up for Forever. For Hersch, piano has been the instrument of choice and the source of his long strong reputation as an artist, educator and bandleader. He is nominated for his solo piano album Alone At The Vanguard. Rollins captures his second nomination for the latest installment in his series of live albums, Road Shows Vol. 2. Tenor saxist Joe Lovano and Us Five reach back a few generations to pay tribute to the late Charlie Parker on Bird Songs. Up-and-coming pianist Gerald Clayton, son of big band leader John Clayton, scored a nod for Bond: The Paris Sessions. The lone band nominated in the category are two-time GRAMMY winners Yellowjackets. The fusion quartet are up for their album Timeline.

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

In this category, the nominees vary in age and experience across several decades. Six-time GRAMMY nominee Gerald Wilson has been a stalwart West Coast-based pillar of the big band scene dating back to the '50s, lending credence to the title of his nominated album with the Gerald Wilson Orchestra, Legacy. Lauded Puerto Rican-born alto saxist/composer Miguel Zenón has graduated from emerging to established artist, and has expanded the ensemble scope for his nominated album, Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook. The Latin jazz element is also strongly represented in 40 Acres And A Burro, from Arturo O'Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, a band that grew out of the group led by O'Farrill's father, Chico O'Farrill. Arturo O'Farrill previously won a GRAMMY for Best Latin Jazz Album for his tribute to his father, 2008's Song For Chico. GRAMMY-winning bassist and gifted bandleader Christian McBride earned a nod for his foray into the big band world, The Good Feeling, with the Christian McBride Big Band. Tapping into the riches and opportunities of the legendary European big band scene, trumpeter Brecker earned his large ensemble moment in the sun with The Jazz Ballad Song Book, featuring the DR Big Band.

Who will take home the awards in the Jazz Field categories? Tune in to the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards on Feb. 12, taking place at Staples Center in Los Angeles and airing live on CBS from 8–11:30 p.m. (ET/PT). 

Follow for our inside look at GRAMMY news, blogs, photos, videos, and of course nominees. Stay up to the minute with GRAMMY Live. Check out the GRAMMY legacy with GRAMMY Rewind. Explore this year's GRAMMY Fields. Or check out the collaborations at Re:Generation, presented by Hyundai Veloster. And join the conversation at Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Lakecia Benjamin
Lakecia Benjamin

Photo: Elizabeth Leitzell


Meet The First-Time Nominee: Lakecia Benjamin On 'Phoenix,' Dogged Persistence & Constant Evolution

"I decided the best thing I could do is to take my future into my own hands," says the ascendant alto saxophonist. Lakecia Benjamin shares her road to the 2024 GRAMMYs, where she's nominated for three golden gramophones for 'Phoenix.'

GRAMMYs/Jan 10, 2024 - 04:13 pm

Lakecia Benjamin didn't call her last album Pursuance just because it's a Coltrane tune. Sure, that guest-stuffed 2020 album paid tribute to John and Alice — but also to Benjamin's indomitable doggedness.

And over Zoom — where she looks crisp and prosperous in futuristic, trapezoidal glasses and a chunky, ornate gold necklace — Benjamin's tenacity is palpable.

"You've got to just say, Until the day I die, I'm not going to stop," Benjamin declares to "I only have one gig today. Okay, tomorrow I'll have two. The next day I'll have three, and I'm not going to leave. I'm not going to stop. Oh, I don't have a record deal. I'm not stopping."

So much could have tripped her up for good: The jam sessions she was laughed out of, with a dismissal to "Go learn changes." The epic cat-herding session for
Pursuance, which could have fallen apart completely. The car accident she suffered in 2021, on the way home from a gig, which could have easily been fatal.

Benjamin just wanted 2023's Phoenix to be a worthy entry in her growing discography. The jazz saxophonist didn't have GRAMMY dreams; she didn't even presume it would be more successful than Pursuance.

Now, Phoenix is nominated for three golden gramophones at the 2024 GRAMMYs: Best Instrumental Album, Best Jazz Performance ("Basquiat") and Best Instrumental Composition ("Amerikkan Skin").

"I was just trying to tell my story about what happened to me, what's continuously happening to me," Benjamin says of Phoenix, which was produced by four-time GRAMMY-winning drummer and composer Terri Lyne Carrington. "Just trying to give people an idea of what it's like to be resilient, what it's like to not give up, what it's like to fight.

Read on for an interview with Benjamin about her journey to the GRAMMYs, and where she unpacks her personal dictum, which should apply to creatives the world over: "Keep going. Keep going. Keep going."

This interview has been edited for clarity.

What role have the GRAMMYs historically played in your life?

I remember being a little kid, watching the GRAMMYs and all. As a musician, at least in America, it's the highest award you can get.

It's something that you dream about. You dream about being nominated. You dream about walking on that stage. You dream about being in that audience, seeing your other peers and superstars performing. I personally dreamed about the red carpet.

Are there past jazz nominees that you found super inspiring?

All of them, really. Chick Corea, Christian McBride, Ron Carter, Terri Lyne, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter. There are just so many.

I first interviewed you for JazzTimes about your album-length tribute to John and Alice Coltrane, Pursuance. What was the underlying theme of Phoenix?

Just the idea that things are possible. You don't have to get things done in a certain timeline, in a certain frame. You just have to keep going, with a lot of determination. That was my goal.

I did not think that the reception would have been bigger than Pursuance. There's no way I saw that coming. It's been a really wild rollercoaster year, for sure.

Working with Terri Lyne Carrington was a huge step. It seems like you were swinging for something bigger. What was that thing?

She was actually the catalyst for the whole thing. I picked her before I even had the music — everything — because I wanted someone that could get the best out of me. Someone who's going to tell me the truth, tell me when it's not good enough, tell me what's not possible.

I felt that the guests that I have picked in mind — and they had already agreed to the project — were in her sphere of people that she's worked with. I felt she could understand my dedication in this project to highlight women musicians, and to highlight [how] women musicians have had to climb the ladder, and sometimes they fall back down and climb back up again.

I felt that her story is a true testament of that. I just felt she embodied where I am right now, and what I'm trying to do.

Terri Lyne commands such a musical universe. You could have made Phoenix with so many different configurations and ensembles. What made these particular folks perfect to tell your story?

The fact that [pianist] Patrice Rushen started as a jazz musician, moved into the pop world, super megastar, back into the jazz world, back into the trenches, still teaching and still educating.

Angela Davis — a huge iconic figure — had her own adversities. They all represent in their own stories the idea of persevering, the idea to keep going, but also doing that while operating at an extremely high level.

As a musician myself, there's always self-doubt about the past. I wish I did this when I was younger, I wish I made this choice, I wish I pushed harder, blah, blah. But it took until my thirties to realize that I have all this life to live. I don't have to cram everything into the now and beat myself up. It seems like you had a similar moment of self-realization.

I guess I still have those struggles as well too. I think we all do, but I think you start to realize you're alive right now.

You can't control what you did 10 years ago. You can't control what you did five years ago. You can only control what's happening right now, and you could sit around and sit in that regret and doubt, and that becomes your story. Or, you could choose to get up and decide, I'm going to make a new reality for myself. I'm going to brand myself, and I'm going to try to accomplish the things that I'm dreaming about.

Why dream about, If I had known this 10 years ago, I would've did this? But it's right now, you know it. You can go ahead forward and try to get there. You don't have to listen to other people's limitations, the part of their life and their reality. But it's not a part of yours.

We're all on Jazz Instagram. We see everyone competing over gigs and vibing each other out. It seems like you're trying to get out of that rat race and be like Terri Lyne, where it's a whole life — a continuum.

That's what I started thinking. Even as a bandleader, everyone's in this pool, crabs in a barrel trying to drag each other down, waiting for a call, waiting to say, "I have more gigs," waiting to say, "I have more GRAMMYs," and I decided the best thing I could do is to take my future into my own hands.

If I become a bandleader, if I'm making the calls, I'm the one doing this. I have a little bit more control, and then I can choose to say, You know what? I'm going to try to live out my dreams, and if it doesn't work out for me, I can die knowing I gave it my all. I did everything I can to get the things I want in life.

And to me, that's enough — if I know that I've tried the very best I can to do something.

What helped you get out of that tunnel-vision mindset?

I wouldn't say I'm all the way out of it, because those thoughts creep in; you're programmed this way. But I do think you have to just say, There's no other road I can take. I'm going straight. I'm not going through the sewer. If there's a roadblock, I'm not going to the left. I'm going straight down this road.

When I did Pursuance [I thought], You know what? I got all 45 of these cats up in here. I did it myself, on my dime, on my time, the way I wanted to do it.

After that, there's immense pressure. What's going to happen with Phoenix? Is it going to be good enough? Is it going to be this? And to know I was able to tell my own story. I was able to get these guests the same way, figure it out, get this music together and get it together, lets me know that I may be crawling to get there, but I'm getting there.

I'm moving forward, and I'm doing it in a way that I'm getting better as an artist. I'm not just getting more, I guess, accolades and noteworthy my actual talent is because I'm choosing to put the music first.

Here's a spicy question. How have people treated you differently now that you're a first-time GRAMMY nominee?

It's only happened recently, but it is drastically changing. I will say that. There are some people that this whole year, the last two years, it started to seriously change. There are people that went from thinking, I'm just an ambitious girl out there, "Good luck. She's trying her best," to taking me a little bit more seriously when I have these [nominations]; they're not dreams anymore. They're like, "She's making things happen."

Where are you at in your development as a saxophonist? What's the status of you and the horn?

I've got a long way to go, but you spend three years playing Coltrane, you'll definitely expedite the process of: at each gig I'm forced to be at a certain level, minimum.

I think I'm making some progress — and we'll have to battle that out with Terri Lyne, but I think I'm getting better, and that's the most important thing. I wish I could expedite that a little faster, but these albums are just pictures of where I am at the time.

John and Alice were such outstanding models for how to live a creative life.

It's inspiring. I tell you that. For everyone out there that is wondering how to keep pushing forward, how not to give up, every time you get a minor victory, that's another example of going the right way.

My first two albums were projects that were more, let's say, ear friendly. You would think people would gravitate to that more because they understand that music is more contemporary, and they [performed] decently.

But then I come out with this Coltrane project and it does exponentially better, and that's being true to myself, then I do another project that's even deeper into the pool of what it's supposed to be, and then has even more success.

I just think that we got to spend less time trying to find these gimmicks, and people really respond when something is authentic, when it's a live show and they see you pouring your soul out there authentically, that's what gravitates them — not trying to find a way to get over on them.

"Get over on them." What do you mean by that?

I feel like that's what a gimmick is. If I say, I'm going to hold this note for 10 minutes because the audience will really love it. I'm trying to find a way to convince them that this is good, this is cool.

I'm like, Let me dress up in this outfit, because this'll convince them. Rather than just coming out and just being like, This is who I am. This is what it is. And putting it all on the stage, and then they can see authentically, This is who I'm voting for.

Do you see a lot of charlatans out there in the jazz scene, just trying to dazzle with cheap tricks?

I will say that I pray for humanity to be more authentic.

Terri Lyne Carrington Is Making Strides For Inclusion And Mentorship In Jazz. And You Can Hear All Of Them In Her Sound.

Ne-Yo performs onstage during halftime at the game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena on February 26, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia
Ne-Yo performs onstage during halftime at the game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena on February 26, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia

Photo: Paras Griffin/Getty Images


NE-YO To Headline 2024 GRAMMY Celebration, Taking Place Feb. 4 In Los Angeles

The Recording Academy will close out GRAMMY Week 2024 with the 2024 GRAMMY Celebration, the official after-party to celebrate Music's Biggest Night, immediately after the 2024 GRAMMYs on Sunday, Feb. 4, in Los Angeles.

GRAMMYs/Jan 10, 2024 - 01:59 pm

The Recording Academy has announced three-time GRAMMY winner NE-YO as the headliner of the exclusive 2024 GRAMMY Celebration — the Recording Academy’s Official After-Party for the 2024 GRAMMYs, which honors the winners and nominees of Music’s Biggest Night. As well, current GRAMMY nominee SuperBlue: Kurt Elling and Charlie Hunter will perform in the GRAMMY Celebration Jazz Lounge; Ben Bakson will be the evening’s DJ.  

Taking place at the Los Angeles Convention Center immediately following the 2024 GRAMMYs, officially known as the 66th GRAMMY Awards, on Sunday, Feb. 4, the GRAMMY Celebration will bring the industry together to commemorate a year of musical milestones and honor the GRAMMY nominees and winners who shaped the year in music.

“The GRAMMY Celebration serves as the perfect finale to Music’s Biggest Night, uniting the nominees and winners of the 66th GRAMMY Awards to revel in their year’s worth of accomplishments,” Recording Academy Chief Operating Officer Branden Chapman said. "As an Academy committed to serving, uplifting and advancing the music community, we look forward to the GRAMMY Celebration each year — a momentous occasion where our shared passion for music is celebrated and meaningful connections are made."

Levy, the hospitality partner at the Los Angeles Convention Center, will present this year's chef-curated menu. Following the event, the Recording Academy will once again partner with the charitable organization Musically Fed — whose mission is to mobilize the music industry in the fight against hunger — to repurpose leftover food to feed those in need in the local community. The organization works with artists, promoters, management, and venues nationwide to donate unused backstage meals to community organizations that feed the unhoused, hungry and food insecure. Musically Fed will also repurpose food from this year's GRAMMY Awards and the MusiCares Person of the Year Gala.

The 2024 GRAMMY Celebration is a private, ticketed event.

The 2024 GRAMMYs, officially known as the 66th GRAMMY Awards, will air live from the Arena in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 4, from 5-8:30 p.m. PT/8-11:30 p.m. ET, broadcasting live on the CBS Television Network and streaming live and on-demand on Paramount+. (Live and on demand for Paramount+ with SHOWTIME subscribers, or on demand for Paramount+ Essential subscribers the day after the special airs)^.

^Paramount+ with SHOWTIME subscribers will have access to stream live via the live feed of their local CBS affiliate on the service, as well as on demand. Paramount+ Essential subscribers will not have the option to stream live, but will have access to on-demand the day after the special airs.

Stay tuned for more updates as we approach Music's Biggest Night!

How To Watch The 2024 GRAMMYs Live: GRAMMY Nominations Announcement, Air Date, Red Carpet, Streaming Channel & More

Kendrick Lamar GRAMMY Rewind Hero
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic


GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

Looking for more GRAMMYs news? The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are here!

He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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Christian McBride
Christian McBride

Photo: Ebru Yildiz


Christian McBride On His New Jawn's 'Prime' And How Parameters Gave Him Creative Freedom

On the new album by his New Jawn project, 'Prime,' eight-time GRAMMY-winning bassist and composer Christian McBride keeps new and old associates on their toes.

GRAMMYs/Mar 9, 2023 - 08:41 pm

Are you familiar with the concept of a chordless ensemble? In jazz, it refers to a group format without a chordal instrument, like a piano or guitar. Without such instruments to underpin the chord changes, the music can become spacious — exuding what one writer characterized as "a devil-may-care freedom."

But for Christian McBride, who just released an album with his chordless quartet, freedom is relative.

"I feel like I almost have more responsibility because it's not my goal to play free without some sort of gravitational pull to it," the eight-time GRAMMY-winning bassist, composer, arranger and bandleader tells "Freedom is much more exciting when there are some sort of parameters, or you have something to break through."

So, in adding another entry to the catalog of revered chordless jazz albums — Albert Ayler's Spiritual Unity, Sonny Rollins' Way Out West, Lee Konitz' Motion, numberless Ornette Coleman masterworks, et al — McBride assembled the best men for the job. Those are trumpeter Josh Evans, saxophonist and bass clarinetist Marcus Strickland, and drummer Nasheet Waits. 

Together, they comprise Christian McBride's New Jawn — another vehicle for the mastermind in parallel to his other ensembles, such as Inside Straight and the Christian McBride Big Band

Their album, Prime, released Feb. 24, marks an intrepid new chapter for McBride and his colleagues. Therein, the quartet utilizes the frameworks of originals (like McBride's "Head Bedlam" and "Lurkers," Strickland's title track, Waits' "Moonchild," and Evans' "Dolphy Dust") alongside compositions by Coleman, Sonny Rollins and Larry Young to challenge and galvanize each other.

"At this point, I just concentrate on making sure that these cats are in the most comfortable situation —  or maybe not so comfortable, so they might have to dig a little deeper," McBride said in a statement. "It's a balance."

To hear how that balancing act is executed, just listen to the fantastic Prime — and read on for an in-depth interview with McBride about the past, present and future of the New Jawn, and how freedom often needs guidelines to be truly free.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Tell me how Christian McBride's New Jawn came to be. How did you constellate with these fellow masters?

I started doing a residency at the Village Vanguard back in 2009, I believe it was. Starting around 2012, my residency went from one week to two weeks, and so I always had an opportunity to bring a second band or have some sort of a week where I could experiment with some group that I didn't usually play with.

In December of 2015, I thought I wanted to try a new group — something that was a 180 degree turn from what I had been doing. My trio with [pianist] Christian Sands and [drummer] Ulysses Owens Jr. recorded a live album at the Vanguard the year before, and we had also released an album called Out Here in 2013. I just wanted to do something completely different.

Marcus Strickland is someone that I have worked with many times in the past. Nasheet Waits is someone that I knew for a very long time, but hadn't had a chance to work with very much. I had talked to a few musicians who I respected, and I told them what I had in mind: I wanted to do a pianoless quartet, a group that was kind of on the outskirts — not all the way out, but just kind of walking that fine line.

A lot of people said "For what you are describing, you might want to check out Josh Evans." I knew who Josh was — I hadn't played with him yet — so I kind of YouTube-stalked him. I went and heard him a couple of times at Smalls, and he was the guy. So, that's how the New Jawn first got together in December of 2015.

And that's been my main unit pretty much ever since. I still have Inside Straight; that's been my longest running group. I still have my big band, but the New Jawn has been the group that I've probably played with the most since 2015.

Tell me more about your long relationships with Marcus and Nasheet.

I don't really have a lot of history with Nasheet before this group, because I first met him in the mid '90s when he was playing with my friend Antonio Hart. I just always loved the way he played, and then, of course, he became a member of Jason Moran's Bandwagon trio. That trio has been pushing the limits — the outer limits, so to speak — for quite some time.

I became a bigger fan of Nasheet's after I heard him with Jason, so I just took a shot in the dark. I said, "Hey, man, come play this Vanguard gig with me."

We did one gig together in 2011 or early 2012, with Jason [and saxophonists] James Carter and Hamiet Bluiett. It was a tribute to [pianist] Don Pullen, and that gig was so wonderful, I knew that if we had a chance to play together on the regular, that it would be special. So, that's pretty much my history with Nasheet.

Marcus Strickland, I had done some playing with his twin brother E.J. in the late '90s when he was a student at the New School, and I think I first met Marcus when he was playing with [legendary drummer] Roy Haynes. It was in the early 2000s.

We finally started playing together when we made a few gigs with [drummer] Jeff "Tain" Watts' group, and that must have been around 2004, 2005, somewhere in there. Marcus also started subbing for [saxophonist] Ron Blake in my band, the Christian McBride Band, when Ron got the gig with “SNL.” So, yeah, Marcus and I go back 20-plus years.

Christian McBride New Jawn

*Christian McBride's New Jawn. Photo: Ebru Yildiz*

Can you talk about the freedom that a chordless ensemble confers?

Well, I always feel like freedom is relative, because it's not so much the band or having chords or no chords. It's the concept of the band, the band leader, just sort of your collective MO.

As a bassist, I feel like I almost have more responsibility because it's not my goal to play free without some sort of gravitational pull to it. Freedom is much more exciting when there are some sort of parameters, or you have something to break through.

If you go on stage and you just simply play free without a landing point or some sort of navigation, then I feel like you're kind of running in a circle, or you're just running with no destination — and when you finally land somewhere, you're kind of like, Now what? Now, that could be fun for the musicians, but I have a feeling it may or may not be that fun for the person that's listening to you.Playing in this particular group, I like the fact that we play songs that have a form, but we don't always follow that form. We break through that form, but we eventually come back to it, which is what... That's why Miles Davis' Second Great Quintet was so special, because they used the form to show what could be done if you break it down and then reconstruct it. So, that's what we try to do in this group.

There are some inspired writing contributions from all members of the group, as far as I understand, and renditions of Larry Young, Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman tunes. How did this particular sequence of songs come to be? I'm sure you four all work on so many things and are inspired by so many things that there were a lot of contenders for the record.

So, we recorded this at the end of 2021, I believe. We were fresh off of the gig at the Vanguard, so a lot of the stuff that we recorded were things that we had worked on that week.

It wasn't really that difficult to figure out what the material was going to be. I think putting a recording together is not that dissimilar to putting a set together. You want to make sure you start off with something exciting — something that's going to lock the people in as best as you think you can, and then you just try to shape it so it's a good listening experience.

I'd love to home in on three of the originals. The title track, written by Marcus, was inspired by a battle in the Transformers movies; you're quoted as calling it "one of the baddest tunes you've ever heard."

Marcus had recorded that on one of his solo albums a few years before [2011's Triumph of the Heavy, Vol. 2, and his version also had no chords. So, he obviously knew that this song would be a perfect fit for this band.

It's got a really great melody; it's got a very interesting bassline. It's a bassline that pretty much stays kind of locked in throughout the solo section, and it just makes for a lot of exciting movement throughout the piece. Marcus composed something really hip there.

"Moonchild", written by Nasheet, has this incredibly potent vibe. Can you talk about how you jointly landed on that kind of crawling, crepuscular feeling?

What I love about Nasheet is that he's known for being this volcanic drummer, but the two prettiest songs that this band plays were both written by Nasheet: "Moonchild" on this new album, and "Kush" on our first album.

So, his creative spectrum is quite broad. And I think the way we recorded it, is we were rehearsing it. That song originally had tempo, but when we were kind of reading it down and kind of learning it, we were reading down the music separately, so we weren't playing it together. And Nasheet said, "Hey, I kind of like it like that; let's play it rubato."

We played it a couple of times, and then Josh and Marcus kind of worked it out where they could still play it in unison, but not quite in time. And again, that's kind of what I mean by having some parameters — having a little bit of a form so you can kind of tug, you could push, you could pull. And that's the way that came about.

Finally, the one I wanted to home in on is "Dolphy Dust" — my personal favorite on the record. What does Dolphy mean to you and collectively, what can you speak to for his presence in all your creative lives?

Well, that's Josh Evans' tune, as you know. Josh is a big time historian.

And it is sort of weird how being a historian in jazz gets interpreted, because some feel that knowing the history of jazz is a necessity, and some people think being a historian puts creative shackles on you. As in, you're not able to create music without always having some sort of conscious historical reference. I feel when Josh wrote this song, he told me that this was something that he just heard in his head.

He kept hearing the melodies slowly over the course of a couple of weeks — like, four bars here, four bars there. And when he finally flushed it out and it became a song, he said, "Yeah, I feel like this has some Dolphy-isms in it."

It's hard because, again, I think with jazz connoisseurs, even if you don't write a song that references somebody like Eric Dolphy, somebody's going to do it anyway. I feel like Eric Dolphy plays as much of a part in our creative and jazz history lives as Max Roach or Booker Little or Jackie McLean or anybody who was a part of their era at that time.

Dolphy, of course, was one of the important figures in jazz in the early '60s. He tragically died young, which always, sadly, adds to a myth of people. It's weird. I hear people now talk about how important Roy Hargrove was. It's like, well, he actually was that important when he was alive. But now that he's not here, we recognize how important he is.

So I think with Eric Dolphy, he is equally as much a part of our intake of jazz history as anyone. But Josh captured that spirit in this piece accidentally. He was not thinking of Eric Dolphy when he wrote that song. He thought of that after he wrote it.

In the press release, you said: "At this point, I just concentrate on making sure that these cats are in the most comfortable situation — or maybe not so comfortable, you know, so they might have to dig a little deeper." How do you bring the musicians out to where their feet might not exactly touch the bottom?

Well, again, when you play a music as creative as jazz or some sort of improvisational music, the fun part — the challenge — is you do know where you're going, but you kind of don't know how you're going to get there.

Or you have a route planned out because you know that's how you need to get to where you have to go, but sometimes a road might be closed, you'll get detoured, there'll be a traffic jam. And sometimes, when you're playing this kind of music, somebody in the band could always divert you to another route.

And that's what the fun part is about playing this music. You want the band to feel like you all can trust each other, because when those detours happen, you know you're not going to get led off the cliff. Or, if you do get pushed off the cliff, there's going to be someone at the bottom to catch you so you don't crash.

So that's what I mean about putting musicians in a situation where they feel comfortable, but not too comfortable.

I look forward to your run at Dizzy's soon. How's the chemistry between you four — or, by extension, you and any accompanists you work with — different on stage versus in the studio?

Well, the audience acts as sort of a fifth band member, which is why it can be difficult sometimes for jazz artists to create when the audience is kind of not interacting. I don't always blame the audience for that, because I know some artists don't want the audience to interact. I need the audience to interact. We're all human beings. We're playing for you. We're not playing at you.

It's never been my MO to play for the audience and say, "Hey, I need you to shut up and pay attention so you can understand how deep and how great we are." I play music, so I can say "Look, I need you to tell me if I'm correct, that these musicians up on stage are as great as I think they are. But in order for you to do that, you have to listen. Right?"

But I don't want you to sit on your hands and be nervous [about] interacting. So I've always been a person of the people. Yes, they do need to concentrate — I need audiences not to be rude — but I do want you to let me know how you're feeling about the music.

That's where things get different live versus in the studio when we just have each other. And frankly, that's enough too; that's fine.

You're each other's audiences.

Exactly. That's right.

Jeff Coffin On His GRAMMY-Nominated Album Between Dreaming And Joy, Constant Education, Playing With Dave Matthews & Béla Fleck