MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “MOONGLOW”
Welcome to Afterglow, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
This week, it’s my seventh annual Grammy Award preview show, exploring some of the Grammy nominees in the vocal jazz category, and other related categories, including Best Traditional Pop Album. This past year was a strange one for the music industry, so as a result, this is a strange year for the Grammys. For one, the award show itself has been postponed by two months because of COVID-19. But also, while some Grammy award veterans are present, there is also a slate of new voices, including Somi and Thana Alexa, perhaps signaling a change in some jazz trends.
It’s a 2021 Grammy Award Preview, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC - KENNY WASHINGTON, “I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING”
The great Kenny Washington from his 2020 album What’s The Hurry with the 1932 Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler classic “I’ve Got The World On A String.” Guitarist Jeff Massanari was featured on that particular track. Washington is a veteran jazz singer, and has been based out of the Bay Area for decades. While he won a Grammy in 2014 as the guest vocalist on a Tropical Latin album by the group the Pacific Mambo Orchestra, his nomination this year for the best jazz vocal album marks his first as a solo artist. [:31]
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re saluting the Grammy nominees in some vocal jazz-related categories. Coming up, we’ll hear some nominees in the Best Traditional Pop categories as well as the best vocal and instrumental arrangement category. But first, I want to feature the artists nominated for the Best Jazz Vocal Category.
Let’s start with a familiar voice: Kurt Elling. Elling is a veteran of this particular category, having been nominated 13 times (including this year), and winning once in 2010 for his album Dedicated To You. His nomination this year is for the album Secrets Are The Best Stories, a collaboration with pianist Danilo Pérez. Pérez wrote much of the music for the album, and Elling wrote almost all of the lyrics. He also includes several previously written jazz songs, for which he wrote new vocalese lyrics. Let’s hear one of those now.
This is Kurt Elling with his version of the Jaco Pastorious song “Continuum,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - KURT ELLING, “A CERTAIN CONTINUUM”
Kurt Elling and pianist Danilo Pérez from their album Secrets Are The Best Stories, a more experimental album, and one of the nominees for the Best Jazz Vocal Album category at the 2021 Grammy Awards. That was the song “A Certain Continuum,” based on the Jaco Pastorius song “Continuum,” here with new original lyrics by Elling.
Another nominee in the Best Jazz Vocal category at this year’s Grammy awards is another jazz veteran Carmen Lundy, although this is her first nomination. Lundy has been recording for over 40 years now, getting her start in the late 1970s singing with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. As a solo artist, Lundy has been recording mostly her own original music, and her latest album Modern Ancestors is no exception. Lundy also plays keyboard, guitar, and percussion on several of the tracks as well.
Let’s hear a track from that album now. This is Carmen Lundy with her original song “Clear Blue Skies,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - CARMEN LUNDY, “CLEAR BLUE SKIES”
Carmen Lundy, with her original song “Clear Blue Skies” from the album Modern Ancestors, one of the nominees for the Best Jazz Vocal Album at the 2021 Grammy Awards.
Our next Grammy nominee in this category is a relative newcomer, the singer Somi. Somi’s style blends jazz with the sounds of her African roots (her parents were immigrants from Rwanda and Uganda and Somi was mentored by the legendary South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela). Somi’s style has often been compared to Nina Simone, not only for her soulful and expressive voice, but also her activism. Immigration and black identity are frequent topics on her albums.
Her album Holy Room: Live At Alte Oper With Frankfurt Radio Big Band, recorded in 2019, has been nominated for a Grammy this year, her first nomination. And let’s hear a song from this album, an original that first made an appearance on her 2017 album Petite Afrique.
This is Somi live in 2019 with “Black Enough,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - SOMI, “BLACK ENOUGH”
The artist Somi from her 2020 album Holy Room: Live At Alte Oper With Frankfurt Radio Big Band, a nominee for the Best Jazz Vocal category at the 2021 Grammy Awards. That was her original song “Black Enough.”
Our last Jazz Vocal nominee is also a first-time nominee, the Croatian-American singer Thana Alexa (TAH-nah). Alexa’s latest album is called Ona, the Croatian word for “she,” and on this album, female empowerment is at the center. Many of the songs are her own reflections on female identity—both the joys and the struggles—and celebrations of women in Thana Alexa’s life. Many of the songs are originals, but I’ll play for you one of the covers, which takes on a new resonance through Alexa’s specific lens of feminism and power structure.
This is singer Thana Alexa with the 1985 Tears For Fears song “Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - THANA ALEXA, “EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD”
Thana Alexa from her 2020 album Ona, a nominee in the Best Jazz Vocal category at this year’s Grammy Awards. That was her version of the Tears For Fears classic “Everybody Wants To Rule The World.
Another Grammy nominee in the background right now, Ambrose Akinmusire (ah-kin-MOOSE-siree). We’ll have more 2021 Grammy nominees, including nominees in the Best Traditional Pop category, in just a bit. Stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring some Grammy nominees, ahead of this year’s Grammy awards, scheduled to take place this weekend. One category where many vocal jazz artists have shown up, besides of course the Best Jazz Vocal Album category, is the Best Arrangement category, specifically the Best Arrangement of instruments and vocals.
Several jazz singers are featured in this category, including the Portuguese jazz singer Maria Mendes, the American artist Becca Stevens, and the veteran jazz and neo soul singer Meshell Ndegeocello.
The artist I want to feature now is someone who has been getting a lot of buzz this year, and someone who I’ve featured on the show before, the jazz-pop wunderkind Jacob Collier. Collier’s latest album Djesse Vol. 3 is actually up for Album of the Year this year, against artists like Coldplay and Taylor Swift. Collier’s arrangements are maximalist and soaring, intricate soundscapes that capture jazz, pop, soul, R&B, hip hop, and experimental art music, all created in his childhood bedroom. The song he was nominated for was his original song “He Won’t Hold You,” which features the marvelous rapper Rapsody performing a verse.
Here is Jacob Collier and Rapsody with “He Won’t Hold You,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JACOB COLLIER, “HE WON’T HOLD YOU”
Jacob Collier and the artist known as Rapsody, performing “He Won’t Hold You,” a track off of Collier’s Grammy-nominated album Djesse Vol. 3. That particular track is also up for a Grammy in the Best Arrangement category this year.
Another nominee in the Best Instrumental and Vocal arrangement category is the jazz vocal group known as saje (S-A-J-E). The four members of this group include jazz singers Sara Gazarek, Amanda Taylor, Johnaye Kendrick, and Erin Bentlage, each accomplished singers in their own right. Gazarek, in fact, earned a Grammy nomination last year for her solo album Thirsty Ghost.
Sara, Amanda, Johnaye, and Erin (S-A-J-E) are also songwriters, and together they wrote their Grammy-nominated song, a folk-inspired reflection with delicate and nuanced harmonies, performed flawlessly.
Here is the group saje with their original song “Desert Song,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - SAJE, “DESERT SONG
The vocal group saje (S-A-J-E), consisting of jazz singers Sara Gazarek, Amanda Taylor, Johnaye Kendrick, and Erin Bentlage, performing their original song “Desert Song,” a nominee in the Best Arrangement category at this year’s Grammy Awards.
Moving on now to the Best Traditional Pop category. This category typically belongs to Tony Bennett. He has won the award 13 times out of his 16 nominations. Bennett is not nominated this year, and in fact, his particular brand of 1950s jazz-pop is only mildly featured this year. Sure, one of the nominees is Renee Zellwiger doing her Judy Garland impression from the 2019 film Judy. But you also get an album by Burt Bacharach, known for his 1960s pop sound, and an album by James Taylor, known for his 1970s folk sound.
Let’s hear two nominees in the traditional pop category, beginning with that album by Taylor. On this album, called American Standard, he brings his 1970s singer-songwriter style to traditional pop songs from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Here is James Taylor with the 1939 Billie Holiday song “God Bless The Child,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JAMES TAYLOR, “GOD BLESS THE CHILD”
MUSIC - RUFUS WAINWRIGHT, “ALONE TIME”
Singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright with his original song “Alone Time,” from his 2020 album Unfollow The Rules. Before that, we heard James Taylor with the Billie Holiday standard “God Bless The Child,” from his album American Standard. Both of those albums are nominated for the Best Traditional Pop Album at this year’s Grammy Awards.
The final nominee we’ll look at this hour also comes from the Best Traditional Pop, and it’s probably the most traditional of the five nominees. It’s from Harry Connick Jr, his seventh nomination in this category, and the album True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter. Calling it traditional does not detract from this album—it’s a sparkling, energetic interpretation of many jazz favorites, all arranged and orchestrated by Connick himself. And the consistently high quality across the board with this album reminds you exactly why Harry Connick Jr. is often considered the best of the jazz-pop vocalists working today.
Here is Harry Connick Jr. with his version of Cole Porter’s classic “I Love Paris,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - HARRY CONNICK, JR., “I LOVE PARIS”
Harry Connick Jr with “I Love Paris,” a track off of his Grammy-nominated album True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter.
In the background right now, another 2021 Grammy-nominee, the late jazz legend Chick Corea. Thanks for tuning in to this Grammy-award edition of Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - CHICK COREA TRIO, “ALL BLUES”
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.
Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow