WSSB 90.3 FM

Alex Ariff

It's no shocker that jazz and Sesame Street go hand in hand. The show has a long tradition of featuring jazz artists, such as Wynton Marsalis, as special guests, and some of the TV show's most famous music has found a life within the jazz ecosystem. These topics were all explored on a recent episode of the radio show Jazz Night in America, which also featured concert material from A Swinging Sesame Celebration at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

It wasn't your typical crowd in the Rose Theater one afternoon last fall, for a sold-out concert by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. For one thing, every grown-up in the audience seemed to be accompanied by an excited child or two. Then there were the guest artists, whom everybody knew on a first-name basis: Big Bird, Elmo, Rosita, Oscar, Abby. Bert and Ernie.

Christian McBride was 19, a vigorous young bassist just making his name on the scene, when he paid his first visit to the Newport Jazz Festival as a member of Jazz Futures. Skip ahead some 30 years, and McBride is the artistic director of the festival, as well as our esteemed host at Jazz Night in America. It's in these dual capacities that he helped curate the music in our three-part Newport Jazz Festival Special.

Wynton Marsalis has always been deeply engaged in the subject of American race relations. The issue was a crucial part of his education as a young musician in New Orleans, and it has been a core preoccupation of his own work going as far back as Black Codes (From the Underground), a trailblazing album from 1985.

Jon Batiste spent his 33rd birthday playing an intimate, private concert with his band in the round while Jazz Night in America captured the show. He kept it classy, donning a suede jacket and playing selections from his two latest Verve releases, Chronology of A Dream and Anatomy of Angels.

Jazz and the visual arts have always enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship. Last year the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis put that bond front and center with an ambitious original program called Portraits of America: A Jazz Story.

"It just takes time, time to get it right." René Marie wrote that line for a tender song about an extramarital affair, but it could easily apply to the arc of her jazz career, which began when she was in her 40s.

Marie has built her career on the foundation of truth-telling songs like that one, "Go Home." She's the rare jazz vocalist who has put songwriting at the very heart of her enterprise, addressing the human condition through an unvarnished personal lens.

"I think a part of growth in general is being comfortable in your own skin," Linda May Han Oh says, "and being comfortable with really who you are."

What that means in her case is manifold: A jazz bassist of undeniable authority, with the working affiliations to show for it; a Malaysia-born, Australia-raised resident of Harlem, N.Y.; a composer-orchestrator of burgeoning stature; an artist working to change perceptions of "women in jazz," both through positive action and just by being her bad self.

Not quite a decade ago, "the world's only global musical instrument museum" opened in Phoenix. The Musical Instrument Museum, or MIM, now boasts almost 14,000 objects and instruments in their collection, with 370 exhibits from all over the globe — a testament to music's universal human truths. "We're doing the same stuff in different parts of the world," says Lowell Pickett, Artistic Director of the MIM Music Theater, "and we're using the same materials to make the instruments. We're using them to express the same emotions."

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