Every December, a select group of the most celebrated pianists in jazz converge on the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The holiday classics which come out of their fingers are captured by NPR Music for our annual holiday celebration, A Jazz Piano Christmas.
For this, the 22nd edition, there was holiday music with swing and sabor. A bebop master rubbed shoulders with a Latin jazz icon. And an up-and-coming pianist preceded a musician whose time in the spotlight has very much come.
Four musicians played this year's special, recorded during two live sets at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater. The program is hosted by NPR's Felix Contreras.
Alfredo Rodriguez is a product of Cuba's rigorous music education program, where students learn both classical and Afro-Cuban music traditions. He was barely in his twenties when he met legendary producer Quincy Jones at a jazz festival. His new mentor gushed, "[Rodriguez] is very special and I do not say that easily because I have been surrounded by the best musicians in the world my entire life ... and he is the best!" Rodriguez suggested classic melodies within a uniquely spacious approach.
Barry Harris, now 82, has lived much of the jazz history that younger musicians turn to for inspiration. Coleman Hawkins, Dexter Gordon, Cannonball Adderley — some of the most celebrated names in jazz had one thing in common: his piano. He's also part of the continuum of jazz as a frequent lecturer and workshop leader, schooling many generations of disciples in swing. With good humor and great time, he made his second appearance on A Jazz Piano Christmas.
Eddie Palmieri has dedicated himself to learning the traditions of Afro-Caribbean music, and to moving it forward. As a bandleader and composer, he has been an important part of the history of this music. And after nine Grammys and over 50 years in the music business, his importance has been recognized widely. He gave the Kennedy Center Crowd a very rare and very intense solo performance.
Jason Moran was booked for his musical vision and his commitment to using tradition to expand the boundaries of jazz. Then, he became a colleague. Moran was recently selected to be the Kennedy Center's Artistic Advisor for Jazz, meaning that he'll be working with the folks who book this show and the entire Kennedy Center jazz season. With this performance, he succeeds Dr. Billy Taylor as only the second such curator since the post was inaugurated in 1994.
Audio of performances which did not make the final hour-long program can be found in the inset column to the left. Of special note: The second of two sets, per A Jazz Piano Christmas tradition, ended with a round robin performance of "Jingle Bells." This year's version quickly grew both playful and abstract — and ended with a cake being wheeled on stage, to celebrate the upcoming birthdays of Barry Harris and Eddie Palmieri.
- Dr. Billy Taylor, "Merry Christmas" [previously recorded]
- Alfredo Rodriguez, "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town"
- Barry Harris, "Christmas Time Is Here"
- Barry Harris, "I'm Dreaming Of A White Christmas"
- Eddie Palmieri, "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"
- Eddie Palmieri, "We Three Kings"
- Jason Moran, "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing"
- Jason Moran, "Go Tell It On The Mountain"