meta-scriptOne Night In The Eyes Of Eternity: How 'In Common III' Speaks To Jazz As An Intergenerational Form |
Walter Smith III, Matthew Stevens, Kris Davis, Dave Holland, Terri Lyne Carrington
(L-R) Matthew Stevens, Kris Davis, Terri Lyne Carrington, Dave Holland, Walter Smith III

Photo: Pierce Johnston


One Night In The Eyes Of Eternity: How 'In Common III' Speaks To Jazz As An Intergenerational Form

Saxophonist Walter Smith III and guitarist Matthew Stevens' new album, 'In Common III,' features an enticing guest: the legendary bassist Dave Holland. It's a reminder that jazz provides particularly fertile soil for intergenerational dialogue.

GRAMMYs/Apr 22, 2022 - 08:00 pm

Jazz may be a web, but the strands can become somewhat calcified. Musicians can get too comfortable playing with the same people over and over; expectations can grow static. For saxophonist Walter Smith III and guitarist Matthew Stevens, that reality planted the seed of In Common, a multi-album series featuring outstanding musicians of all ages and backgrounds in fresh combinations.

"We wanted to get outside of who our normal touring circles are because sometimes that can be pretty specific," Smith explains to "You see a million other people at your concerts, or you go to their concerts, or you see them at festivals, but there isn't always an opportunity to play with everybody that you want to play with." 

For the inspired third entry, In Common III, released last March on famed jazz label Whirlwind Recordings, the pair teamed up with pianist Kris Davis, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington. (Previous installments involved vibraphonist Joel Ross, bassist Linda May Han Oh, drummer Nate Smith and other heavyweights.)

But aside from simple camaraderie and getting out of comfort zones, the In Common series opens up a window into jazz's unique capacity as a intergenerational artform. Smith, Stevens and Davis are in their forties; Carrington is in her fifties; Holland is 75. Age isn't merely a spectrum of "younger" or "older" in jazz; it speaks to a taxonomy of lineages and schools of thought.

Holland played with foundational figures like Miles Davis and Chick Corea and recorded cerebral classics as a leader, like 1972's Conference of the Birds. But before diving into the In Common crew's experience playing with him, it's worth examining their performances with younger musicians, like Ross.

Despite Ross being in his early twenties, playing with him wasn't merely a case of bolstering an emerging musician. Ross has been central to the recent boom period for Blue Note Records signings, acting as a hub for monster talent from his generation, like saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins.

Read More: We Pass The Ball To Other Ages: Inside Blue Note's Creative Resurgence In The 2020s

And although he was playing with musicians two decades his senior on 2018's In Common, it wasn't a one-way street of elders instructing youngsters.

"I would not say we were nurturing younger talent because when we played with Joel, he was the bes. He was way better than anybody else," Smith says. "So, he was nurturing us, even though he was very small." (For 2020's In Common II, they enlisted pianist Micah Thomas, born in 1997, who Smith also describes as "very small" at the time.)

Carrington, who's won three GRAMMYs and been nominated for four, calls herself something of a "bridge between generations." When considering intergenerational interplay, she thinks of her "biggest influence and mentor," the drum godhead Jack DeJohnette.

Before In Common III, Carrington hadn't worked much with Holland over the past 35 years — she'd played with him as a teen at DeJohnette's house, but that was mostly it. But when she reconnected with the bassist, it clicked. Holland and DeJohnette's deep-rooted stylistic connection — like in Gateway, the pair's '70s trio with guitarist John Abercrombie — meant playing with Holland was a breeze.

"Sometimes, I try to move away from that time period [represented by Holland and DeJohnette]. I'm not saying I'm successful, but I do try," Carrington tells "But then, if I play with somebody like Dave, it puts me right back into that feeling of nostalgia, in a sense. It's this certain bounce, this swing that I often try to run away from in some ways."

"My dad once told me you can't run away from who you are," she adds. "And that stays in my brain."

You Can’t Learn That In School

It would take a lifetime to grasp the enormity of intergenerational dialogue in jazz. Charles Mingus cited his formative influences as Duke Ellington and church, and played on Duke's classic 1962 trio album Money Jungle with drummer Max Roach. And numberless jazzers learned at the feet of Barry Harris, a sort of Gamaliel of Detroit when it came to bebop language.

But it's worth noting some more contemporary examples, starting with the experiences of the In Common gang. When Davis first played with the far-out bassist, composer and educator William Parker, who's now 70, she had an experience that would be foreign to an average jazz-school student.

"I was in my early twenties, he called me for a gig, and I came to his house for a rehearsal," Davis, who also heads the independent label Pyroclastic Records, tells "He pulled out this piece of paper with his composition, and it was all crumpled and barely legible."

At first, this didn't jibe with what Davis considered "professional" in music — neatly-written charts, clean presentation. Then, she had a lightbulb moment. "I was like, 'Oh, wow! This can be done in different ways,'" she says. "We're going to play the gig and the music's going to happen, whether the paper's crumpled or not."

When he was a similar age, Stevens remembers rehearsing with the organ master Dr. Lonnie Smith, who passed away in 2021 — as did Harris. As in Davis' experience with Parker, the very un-New School casualness of the affair belied entirely new educational pathways.

"He was watching some daytime talk show, and he didn't want to start rehearsing until it was over," Stevens tells "So I pulled up a chair from his kitchen and watched the end of 'The Tyra Banks Show' or something like that."

Stevens thought he had arrived prepared: "He'd been like, 'Learn this record,' and I'd learned it and made notes for myself and it was a really big deal for me." But then Dr. Smith had him throw all of it out, instructing him to play tunes the elder musician sometimes didn't even remember the names of.

"If I asked him what a chord was, he would be like, 'I don't know; come look at my hands. It was that kind of thing: 'It's this sound; it's not that,'" Stevens remembers. Despite only playing with Dr. Smith a handful of times, that comfort zone-exploding experience stuck with him or life.

Today, Stevens is an educator and references that moment with his students. "It speaks to the process of how the elders learn and teach the music," Davis says in response from a parallel Zoom window. "That's something you can't gain from your peers or [those] younger."

When Walter Smith first played with the GRAMMY-winning drum pioneer Roy Haynes, he got a crash course in the primacy of melody. After getting chided once or twice for not playing a line note-for-note in the Cole Porter tune 'My Heart Belongs to Daddy,' he played a variation he thought worked — and learned a lesson in response.

"What are you doing? If you don't play the melody the way it's supposed to go, it doesn't line up with what's happening with the lyric," Haynes told Smith, as Smith paraphrases. "I set it up, and if you're not going to play it through my setup, then why are we doing this?"

"That changed how I looked at playing melodies forever," Smith says.

The elders also laid perspective on these musicians. When Carrington played with 11-time GRAMMY-winning saxophone legend Wayne Shorter when she was 21, she exited the bandstand feeling defeated and self-loathing about her performance. Shorter replied: "Music is just a drop in the ocean of life."

"He got me thinking differently about that. Develop your life and the music will come, because it's just a part of life," Carrington adds. "And if you focus too much on the music, it's never going to happen because you're not developing the rest of yourself. 

"I used to complain about hotel rooms," she continues. "He told me, 'What's one night in the eyes of eternity?' Which really helped me to this day when I get to a hotel room that's s***y."

Shorter's attitude tracks with his uber-ambitious opera with the much younger bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding, Iphigenia.

A Diversity Of Interplay

If you think intergenerational give-and-take is just in the province of small-group jazz, it's not — it applies to every context and format. Iphigenia is worth singling out, as it’s unconventional a jazz format as you could imagine.

An update of Euripedes' classical play Iphigenia at Aulis, the program marked the fulfillment of a long-simmering dream for the now-88-year-old Shorter. When he proposed it to Spalding, she felt a "stirring in my spirit."

"We should make that happen," Spalding, now 37, recalled thinking at the time, speaking to the New York Times. "He's your mentor, your elder. You just want to do what's needed."

Read More: How Esperanza Spalding Triangulated Music, Wellness & Scientific Inquiry On Her New Album Songwrights Apothecary Lab

Spurred by both creative inspiration and Shorter's physical limitations due to age and a metabolic tremor that precluded writing music by hand — much less playing the horn, Spalding made sure his vision would be realized, taking a year off from Harvard and heading to Los Angeles.

You'd have to see it to grasp it, but it includes eye-popping Frank Gehry set designs and the simulated slaying of five women and two deer — set to music by an orchestra and Shorter's longtime quartet: pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade, all who are GRAMMY winners themselves.

Spalding — who has won five GRAMMYs herself, including one in 2022 for Best Jazz Vocal Album — wrote the libretto and sang the lead role of Iphigenia. "My gift is that I'm not in opera. My gift is that I don't know how to write these stories. My gift is that I don't know the tropes," she told the Times

And coming to that idiom with a clean slate — as well as working with a musician who helped form the building blocks of her idiom — resulted in something breathtakingly strange and gorgeous.

Keep Seeking Out Examples

How can you keep abreast of intergenerational jazz — past, present and future? You can start by following the musicians that played in In Common III

For a project by 78-year-old saxophonist and composer Henry Threadgill  — a 13 album boxed set called Baker's Dozen — Carrington recently recorded with a handful of younger musicians, including trumpeter Milena Casado and bassist Devon Gates.

"I'm excited about that because it reminded me of when I was younger and in my twenties and you had just one day to go in the studio and make a record and you couldn't fix anything," Carrington says. "I was trying to approach it like that."

Smith cites many other examples: drummer Johnathan Blake with 78-year-old pianist Kenny Barron, saxophonist Jaleel Shaw with 97-year-old Haynes, pianist Jason Moran with 84-year-old saxophonist Archie Shepp.

But in the immediate rearview is their experience of playing with Holland on In Common III — and all involved cite it as positive and upbuilding.

"He bridges both worlds, as maybe I do in some ways of improvised music and playing more straight-ahead musical forms," Davis says. "And I think we share a commonality there and the understanding of the music."

Do younger and older musicians often find each other more similar than different — as the title of the In Common series acknowledges? Absolutely.

But in jazz, as in so many other areas of life, the truth remains: Only by learning, absorbing and appreciating the knowledge of those who came before can you believably take a swing at success.

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Julian Lage
Julian Lage

Photo: Alysse Gafkjen


On New Album 'Speak To Me,' Julian Lage Blurs His Universe With Other Jazz Heavies

Julian Lage has released four winning albums on Blue Note Records, and he's still gaining momentum. His eclectic new album, 'Speak to Me,' reflects "different chapters in one story."

GRAMMYs/Mar 8, 2024 - 06:35 pm

Can two different types of songs happen at once, and not clash, but complement each other?

On "Northern Shuffle" — the second track on his new album, Speak to Me Julian Lage is trying to do just that.

Therein, his rhythm section of bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King mostly lay back — and Lage and saxophonist Levon Henry go to town.

"You have a shuffle feel, but then you have these somewhat irrational bursts of all the rubato things," guitarist and composer Lage tells from his home in New Jersey. "It's almost like a Paul Motian tune mixed in with a blues. That's a cool study of two different worlds somehow coming together."

These cross-currents make Speak to Me come alive. The six-time GRAMMY nominee's first three albums for Blue Note Records — 2021's Squint, 2022's View with a Room and 2023's The Layers — stuck with a narrower aesthetic, and winningly so.

"I actively tried to limit the scope of the last handful of records I've made so that it would be — let's say, electric guitar trio-dominant," Lage explains.

But on Speak to Me, which arrived March 1, Lage merges his universe with others' — that of  innovative pianist Kris Davis, woodwind maestro Levon Henry and keyboard extraordinaire Patrick Warren. Plus, he doesn't solely pick electric or acoustic — like Neil Young, and other greats of both instruments, he splits the difference.

From opener "Hymnal" to closer "Nothing Happens Here," Davis, Henry and Warren flow along with Lage's working trio, where Roeder and King comprise the base of the triangle.

"It's just six people playing and listening and responding, and that's it. That's the record," Lage glows. "That was a beautiful thing about this particular group of people — that they were looking at it from an improvisational point of view, not a worker bee point of view."

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Last time I saw you play, you were accompanying Kris Davis at the Village Vanguard. Can you start by talking about your creative relationship with her?

I'm glad you were at that show. That turned out to be a nice record — Kris's band.

Kris and I met through our mutual friend, [writer, poet and record producer] David Breskin. This was years ago. She did a record [in 2016] called Duopoly. I hadn't played with Kris and didn't know Kris. I knew of her.

So, David said, "Kris is making this record." And he played a part in it. He said, "Let's just book the session. You come by and record a couple of duo songs and see how they go."

It really was an immediate connection. And it was just fun and beautiful. Those songs ended up on the record and then, every six months, eight months, we would find ourselves in a situation where we would play some duo shows.

And then, as she put together that week at the Vanguard, I was so honored to be invited to be in the band and then make that record. As we were getting Speak to Me together, and I was thinking of who to include, who to invite,  it just seemed like this natural progression to ask Kris to come into the album and merge our worlds.

And I'm so glad she was a part of it. She's incredible.

Can you talk about how the rest of the Speak to Me contributors constellated?

Well, on the record, it's Dave King on drums and Jorge Roeder on bass, and Patrick Warren on keyboards, Levon Henry on woodwinds, and Kris on piano. Jorge and Dave comprise what has been my working trio for several years.

So, that's the center of the ensemble. And then Patrick and Levon and Kris — as Joe Henry would call it — create these weather systems that pass through the frame at any given moment. 

It is important to me — to all of us — that they didn't feel like they're interlopers in the working trio. Because that's a danger you run into when you have a new ensemble mixing with a more established band.

And much to our delight, that's not at all what happened. Everyone created a space and held a space for it to become something unique in and of itself. Not a trio plus, but a genuine sextet or quintet at times. And it's all orchestration. What I like about it is it stems from improvisation, so no one has parts.

What was going on in your musical life that engendered this freewheeling spirit?

[Long pause, sigh] I don't know! [Chuckles]

I like writing songs a lot. And for a recording, in the past at least, I've written a lot more than we use. I have just a fascination with exhausting everything you can think of, and then I like that approach. And then once the cast is in place, editing out the pieces that don't feel like they celebrate the nature of those players. Really focusing on the pieces that endear themselves to this particular group.

And at the time, what I noticed was: a lot of the music I was writing was spiritual in nature, in the sense that a lot of them were refrains. They weren't rhythm changes; they weren't modern jazz tunes.

You hear that on something like "Nothing Happens Here," or "Hymnal," or "Speak To Me," or "South Mountain." A lot of these tunes could be played as rolling, rubato pieces; they could have a groove. They could be really any number of things.

So, an answer to your question: I think that what was going on for me at that time — evidently, just from what I hear on the record — is looking for music that has a certain amount of clarity and also a lot of space around it. That's the music that I needed to play, I needed to hear and be a part of just for my own sanity. I feel like I wrote the music to calm my own system down — or to nurture it, to maybe be more accurate.

And that type of writing lends itself well to freedom, and to everybody contributing whatever they contribute. Almost more in the spirit of Carla Bley or somebody, who writes these incredible pieces where the architecture is so fluorescent, but it's also invisible. Like you're left with just, What are the players contributing? So, I think this is healing music.

Can you think of any records in the overall jazz canon that acted as a prototype, or an archetype, for what you're doing on Speak to Me?

Let me frame it this way, perhaps: my true nature really is split between acoustic guitar and electric guitar. That's a simple divide.

And so, the main thing for me on this record was just not shutting out that other world. Not shutting out the acoustic in favor of the electric, and not shutting out the electric guitar for the acoustic, and the way the band responds around each instrument is so distinct.

So, you get a lot of mileage out of just shifting the guitar — because everyone's touch also shifts, and also their decisions shift. And instead of tenor saxophone with the electric guitar songs, there's clarinet with the acoustic.

As far as records in the jazz canon, the real prototype and archetype is the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Probably him the most, but also Count Basie — or any larger jazz ensemble where the whole point is that you can use variety and surprise to give a sense of innovation, but it's always held together by the songs.

In many respects, Speak to Me, as a record, is more aligned with an older era of jazz just by its variety — which isn't that varied, as things go. For me, it is. But if you listen to it enough, you realize, Oh, it is just one band. It's one statement. It's just different chapters in one story.

So, I would definitely look to Billy Strayhorn and Duke as huge influences for this album.

I love "Omission." It makes me feel like I'm riding through the Hollywood Hills listening to Blue or something. How did you dig into that aesthetic so believably?

I was trying to write a song for Charlie Watts, basically, is what was going through my head. And although I'm aware of Laurel Canyon and that sound, it wasn't…

Not that I'm saying you were actively trying to do that!

Oh, no, no, no, I took no [umbrage with that]. Even I hear it, and I'm like, Holy cow, that sounds like that, too!

But going into it, I was really mesmerized by Charlie — his beat on "Loving Cup." So, I was playing these different songs that fit to that beat. But frankly, because I had no desire to really reference something that overtly, I scratched the song from the record date.

We were in the studio for about two and a half days. On the first day, we did most of it. On the second day, we basically finished it. And then at some point, I talked to Joe and I just said, "I don't think this is good for the record, but I have this melody stuck in my head." And he said, "Well, just start playing it and we'll figure it out." So, then, he played it and everyone played a part, and that was it.

In a lot of ways, it's as much a surprise to me as anyone, how that presents. And it's funny, because I've since played that song live without an acoustic guitar in a jazz trio format as a completely different piece, and it's equally exciting to me. Because it's about the theme to me, more than the treatment.

But that record just so happened to capture that particular treatment, which is cool. I love that that happened, but it wasn't terribly deliberate, is all I can say.

Can you talk about tunes like "Northern Shuffle" and "76," where you get playful and dig into the blues in a subtly irreverent way? Blues is intrinsic to jazz, as we all know, but this is a different thing.

It is, really. It's part of the music. And also, those are shuffles. The shuffle feels are even more specific once you're in the world of jazz. And I love them, and Dave King plays shuffles better than anyone. They're just amazing.

I'd say "Northern Shuffle" is a cool example of really two songs happening at once. You have a shuffle feel, but then you have these somewhat irrational bursts of all the rubato things. It's almost like a Paul Motian tune mixed in with a blues. That's a cool study of two different worlds somehow coming together.

And I started as a blues guitar player, so pointedly that it feels only appropriate. "76" is similar. That's a little bit more straightforward in terms of the feel, but then you have Kris Davis playing on it in this way that brings in the world of avant-garde in a different way.

So, yeah, it's just a play of oppositional things in a way that to us as a band, aren't that dissimilar. The avant-garde, improvised music and blues is one thing. So those songs are about that.

But it's nice that they have a tinge of just a different aesthetic, a different growl. But because they're coming from the space of improvised music, they make sense with the other songs too.

The first time I interviewed you, it was around the time of Squint. You said something that stuck with me — that when you watch old videos of yourself, you almost feel like you were better then, because you weren't thinking about it as much. What's the state of your thinking on that?

Well, I appreciate that sentiment still. I think often as a younger player, it's easy to look to the future and go, Well, this isn't good, but down the road, I'll be good. It's baked into any practicing musician's mind.

But often, in my experience, when I look back at older stuff or I listen back, I can hear the person. Despite my insecurities or desires to get better, there was always somebody there, you know what I mean? There's someone there.

And maybe with some perspective and time, I can just appreciate that person and go, "Wow, way to go. Yeah, you didn't possess what you possess now, but who cares? You were doing that thing that you did at that time." So it's more just an appreciation for it than anything.

So, I do feel that when I hear things — absolutely.

We Pass The Ball To Other Ages: Inside Blue Note's Creative Resurgence In The 2020s

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.

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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."

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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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Samara Joy 2023 GRAMMYs
Samara Joy at the 2023 GRAMMYs

Photo: JC Olivera/WireImage via Getty Images


Samara Joy Won Best New Artist At The 2023 GRAMMYs. What Could It Mean For The Wider Jazz Community?

The jazz-vocal phenom won big at the 2023 GRAMMYs, including a golden gramophone for Best New Artist. This could have a dramatic effect on an essential and primary yet too-often marginalized genre.

GRAMMYs/Feb 24, 2023 - 03:35 pm

When young jazz luminary Samara Joy accepted a golden gramophone for Best New Artist at the 2023 GRAMMYs, the sequence of expressions that flitted across her visage seemed to cover the entire spectrum of feeling.

The 23-year-old vocalist born Samara Joy McLendon had already won a GRAMMY for Best Jazz Vocal Album at the Premiere Ceremony, for her acclaimed second album and Verve debut, Linger Awhile. This win during the CBS telecast was an entirely different beast. 

The artist who just a few years ago had been a promising undergrad and audibly nervous on the phone now stood onstage at the arena before global megastars from Taylor Swift to Lizzo to Adele — not to mention 12.55 million people at home.

Speaking to in its wake, Joy likened the experience to living "in a parallel universe or a movie."

"I'm still in shock and disbelief because I truly didn't think that I would be in the position to receive such an honor," Joy said of the Best New Artist win, where she forged ahead of fellow nominees like Brazilian star Anitta, genre-blending singer/songwriter Omar Apollo, British indie oddballs Wet Leg, and her fellow rising jazzers DOMi & JD Beck.

"I am, however, grateful for the honor, because it reassures me of the fact that I want to continue pursuing music and growth as a musician," Joy continued. "This signifies the beginning of a musical journey that I'm nervous but excited to embark on."

While Joy's  post-show comments focused on her continued development as an artist, the effect of her win quickly became conspicuous. Less than two weeks after the Feb. 5 ceremony, she appeared on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" to perform the recitative standard and Linger Awhile cut "Guess Who I Saw Today."

But it's worth considering what this General Field win means not only for Joy, but the jazz community writ large. Like other genres that appear deeper down the GRAMMY nominees list — from classical to reggae to spoken word — jazz can be treated as a little niche, partitioned off into a corner of the music landscape. Even the most heralded rising talents seldom rocket to celebrity status.

It's only once in a while that jazz completely and utterly perforates the mainstream — like in 2020, when Pixar's Soul was released, featuring consulting work from real-deal musicians from deep in the NYC scene, like Jon Batiste and Terri Lyne Carrington.

Some of these breakthroughs have happened at the GRAMMYs. In 2003, the charismatic and versatile Norah Jones swept the General Field, winning GRAMMYs for Best New Artist, Album Of The Year (for Come Away With Me) and Record Of The Year (for "Don't Know Why"), on top of wins for Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Pop Vocal Performance.

Five years later, Herbie Hancock — one of the most brilliant harmonic thinkers of the 20th century, and 21st — won Album Of The Year for River: The Joni Letters, his tribute to his old collaborator and fellow game-changing genius Joni Mitchell. In that category, the album beat out Kanye West's Graduation and Amy Winehouse's Back to Black.

In 2011, bassist, composer and vocalist Esperanza Spalding won Best New Artist and has been a steady presence at the GRAMMYs ever since, winning right up to the 2022 GRAMMYs (Best Jazz Vocal Album, for SONGWRIGHTS APOTHECARY LAB) and landing a nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for her work with Wayne Shorter, Terri Lyne Carrington, and Leo Genovese on that year's Live at the Detroit Jazz Festival.

Additionally, at the 2022 GRAMMYs, Lady Gaga paid tribute to her collaborator, Tony Bennett, with a performance of "Love for Sale" and "Do I Love You" — both from their final duets album, which won Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album at that year's ceremony. (Previously, their album Cheek to Cheek won in the same category, at the 2015 GRAMMYs.)

On top of all that, other crossover artists with jazz connections, from Jacob Collier to Robert Glasper to Thundercat, have made big splashes at Music’s Biggest Night.

Despite operating under the "jazz" umbrella, all these artists are wildly divergent in almost every possible way. Joy is connected to a jazz-vocal tradition that snakes way back in history, back to when her heroes like Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Carmen McRae were dropping jaws.

"I'm overjoyed at Samara's success. But not surprised," Lisa Goich-Andreadis, the Director of Awards and Jazz Genre Manager at the Recording Academy, tells "The first time I heard her voice, I couldn't believe that it was coming out of a 22-year-old. It has the richness and depth of the legends that came before her. She channels something out of another era. Her rise is well-deserved."

What makes Joy fresh is that it's her doing this music, channeling it through her vibrant abilities and irresistibly vivacious spirit. There are a lot of singers doing standards, but there's only one Joy. 

"She f—ing deserves it, man," pianist Geoffrey Keezer, who took home a GRAMMY for Best Instrumental Composition at the same ceremony, tells "She can sing her butt off, and I don't know her personally, but from everything I see, she seems like a really nice person, and really humble and down-to-earth. I think it's fantastic."

Keezer sees Joy's triumph at the 2023 GRAMMYs as a reminder, loud and clear, that jazz is no antiquated or peripheral artform. Rather, it is a vibrant and alive genre very much in the now. 

"The whole umbrella genre is Black American Music, and jazz is the branch of it that has a swing beat," he explains. "So, it's just as current and relevant as anything else. There's all these different branches of the same tree. When the one that swings wins, it's just nice to have that recognized as: Yes, we're still here. This is still part of it, and it's important, and it's where it all came from."

To Goich-Andreadis, Joy's win is significant because it shows that she's being noticed by a wide audience far afield from the jazz community — including that of such esteem as the pre-GRAMMYs MusiCares Persons Of The Year event, which honored Motown titans Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson.

"She received a rousing standing ovation by the crowd, with honorees Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson leading the way," Goich-Andreadis remembers of her performance. "It's great to see a representative from this genre touching so many with her talent."

Keezer views Joy's ascent as part of a greater mass of acknowledgement, including that of Spalding, Hancock, and five-time GRAMMY winner Billy Childs — a rising tide that lifts all boats. "I think cumulatively, it opens doors," he says. "It gives the general public, I almost want to say, permission to like this music and think it's cool.

"Audiences are smart, man. People want to hear good musicianship," he continues. "You watch the Olympics to see Simone Biles, or tennis to see Serena Williams, or whatever. You want to see human excellence in real time, in front of your eyes. So, that's what we're seeing with Samara Joy. She's the real deal, and she's doing it right in front of you with no gimmickry and no Auto-Tune."

As to the wider impact of her big wins, Joy can't prognosticate. She only hopes to move the needle.

"I hope that this win means that jazz musicians will be paid a bit more attention and respect for their contributions to music as a whole," Joy says. "It really is a wonderful community that deserves some more shine than it's been given. It's a small step but a step nonetheless."

No matter what happens, perhaps the essence of this victory is simply that the flame is proudly preserved and bore by a worthy ambassador. "Samara is carrying on this very treasured and important musical tradition," Goich-Andreadis says. "Jazz is America's gift to the world."

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