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Ring In The New Year With Jazz

Hiromi Uehara.
Rodger Bosch
AFP/Getty Images
Hiromi Uehara.

This year at NPR Music ends the way the previous 29 have for NPR and its jazz partners WBGO and WGBH: with live jazz, all night long. The annual Toast of the Nation features jazz groups welcoming the new year across the country, from New York to Los Angeles and Boston to New Orleans. You can listen in starting at 8 p.m. ET, or stream broadcasts of many NPR member stations online. Afterward, NPR Music is archiving all the concerts if you're out and about on New Year's Eve — or you just want to re-live the fun.

You can find the whole calendar at this year's Toast of the Nation preview page. But for now, here are some musical samples of what's to come.

For more entries in the Take Five series, click here. And don't forget to subscribe to the Jazz Notes newsletter.

Ring In The New Year With Jazz

Charles Mingus

The Mingus Big Band rings in the new year at the Jazz Standard in New York City with music from three seminal Charles Mingus albums, all issued 50 years ago. Mingus had a legendary band in 1959, and his compositions from that time include everything from gospel hollers and church music to lush ballads, swinging dance numbers, bebop and the blues. The albums (Mingus Ah Um, Mingus Dynasty and Blues and Roots) have inspired musicians and listeners for decades. Now, the Mingus Big Band puts its own stamp on the music, with new arrangements featuring renowned instrumentalists Ku-umba Frank Lacy (trombone), Randy Brecker (trumpet), Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums) and Boris Kozlov playing Mingus' famous lion-head bass. Mingus' music is at all times soulful, passionate and personal, as in this classic tune from Mingus Ah Um. --Mark Schramm

Tom McDermott / Evan Christopher

Citations of New Orleans as "the birthplace of jazz" have become trite enough to blunt the actual importance that the city's Creole dance music had on the origin of "America's classical music." On Danza, pianist Tom McDermott and clarinetist Evan Christopher connect the dots of the Cuban-based contradanza (i.e. the habanera) to its cousins: tango, choro, ragtime and what jazzman Jelly Roll Morton referred to as "The Spanish Tinge." In Morton's dolorous three-part dance "Mamanita," McDermott and Christopher elucidate the habanera base, then add a modern New Orleans touch to early jazz. (In particular, dig the reference at 1:30 to Mel Lastie's "Keep On G'Wine," a regular feature for Crescent City piano wizard James Booker.) For Toast of the Nation, the Evans/McDermott duo adds a sousaphone-playing upright bassist and a New Orleans drummer who brings the rich tapestry that is New Orleans rhythm. --Josh Jackson

Pink Martini

Is it lounge or is it swing? Is it world music or is it classical music? Is it jazz or is it samba? If you think one band couldn't possibly do them all, have a listen to the 12-piece "little orchestra" called Pink Martini. The band's three albums — Sympathique, Hang on Little Tomato and Hey Eugene! — profess a mastery of all kinds of music as Pink Martini deftly refuses to be labeled a one-genre ensemble. The group brings its eclectic stylings to the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles this New Year's Eve. Like a great cocktail that's simultaneously smoky, spicy and smooth, the tune "Let's Never Stop Falling in Love" has it all. With a splash of orchestral strings, smooth lyrics and a swig of a cha-cha, Pink Martini will have you raising your glass for more. --Andrea Jackson-Gewirtz

Jake Shimabukuro

Jake Shimabukuro played a solo set at the Highline Ballroom in New York early in 2008 and stirred it up with the resonant warmth of his four-string ukulele, conjuring musical details worthy of an orchestra. Right then, I vowed to hear him again on Toast of the Nation. Shimabukuro is a genre-demolishing artist who plays jazz, blues, funk, classical, bluegrass, folk, flamenco and rock. It's all with the mission of showing everyone that the ukulele is capable of much more than just traditional Hawaiian music. On Nov. 9, Shimabukuro closed the 2008 San Francisco Jazz Festival with another solo concert, recorded for later release. Highlights will follow Pink Martini (and anticipate midnight in Alaska and Hawaii) on Toast of the Nation. George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is one of my favorites, which you'll hear a live version of here. To steal a sign-off from Shimabukuro's manager, Kazusa Flanagan, "Peace, Love & Ukulele!" --Becca Pulliam, Toast producer


With jazz taught in universities and conservatories more widely than ever, there's no shortage of jazz chops in the world today. But pianist Hiromi Uehara has seemingly styled her art after her technical faculties. Nothing if not intensely energetic, she designs compositions to feature her powerful, percussive and constantly active movement in both hands. When joined by her quartet, Hiromi's Sonicbloom (with bassist Tony Grey, drummer Martin Valihora and guitarist Dave Fiuczynski), it translates to High-Romantic lyricism, jazz-fusion electronics and arena-rock bombast. Hiromi's Sonicbloom brings a high-energy kickoff to 2009's Toast of the Nation broadcast, as she performs a set from where all four members met: the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass.

Dizzy Gillespie

Like many of his peers, Dizzy Gillespie got his start in jazz playing in Swing Era big bands — the big-draw acts of their time. So it was natural for him to be drawn toward his own large ensemble. But from the moment he first put together a Dizzy Gillespie big band in 1946, his was different: Here would be a group that spoke the new language of bebop, with the percussive elements of Afro-Cuban music (among other pan-Latin stylings). Throughout the rest of his career, Gillespie would reconvene a big band when he could — a tradition that continues today, long after his 1993 death. Alumni of Gillespie's many different bands (including jazz masters in their own right, such as Jimmy Heath, Slide Hampton, James Moody and Paquito D'Rivera) still get together to ensure that Gillespie's dazzling songwriting gets heard with the power and verve it demands. And on Toast, the Dizzy Gillespie All Stars (the big-band edition) will play a special celebration with the vocal quartet New York Voices, live from the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Copyright 2008 WBGO